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Lions minicamp Day 3 observations: Offense finishes strong despite Jameson Williams drops

The Detroit Lions offense looked the best it has been all camp, but Jameson Williams’ drops still linger menacingly.

Detroit Lions Training Camp Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Detroit Lions minicamp came to a close on Thursday with a couple of high-pressure drills to end the three-day practice sessions. While practice was much shorter than the previous two days, there were plenty of observations to be had, particularly from the full-team drills.

Before we get into that, let me unload my notebook from the first half of practice.

Walkthrough/individual drill scattered thoughts

Calvin Johnson appearance

Megatron was at practice today. Word is he was scoping out the field/equipment for his camp, which will take place at the facility this weekend. I oversaw a friendly interaction between him, ownership, and Rod Wood.

Graham Glasgow at center

While it has mostly been Ross Pierschbacher at center in place of Frank Ragnow, it was Glasgow who took most of the walkthrough reps at that position, while Pierschbacher was at right guard. But as outlined in our Day 3 participation report, the entire starting offensive line took the field during team drills.

Linebackers with hands?

When the team broke into positional drills, I spent the most time with the defense. The linebacking crew is always one of the most entertaining, thanks largely to positional coach Kelvin Sheppard.

In this drill, he was asking the linebackers to drop one-by-one into coverage, and he would fire a side-armed ball to them with a fair amount of velocity. As the drill was coming to an end, rookie linebacker Jack Campbell made a one-armed catch that drew “oohs” and “ahhs” from his teammates. Not to be outdone, Alex Anzalone stepped in a few reps later and mirrored Campbell’s one-armed catch—and made it look effortless.

Testing out skill position players’ arms

As they’ve done in previous years, the Lions held a short session in which they allowed wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends to test their arm as a passer. Amon-Ra St. Brown started the session with an absolute 30-yard dime. The biggest surprise came from Shane Zylstra, who looked natural in both of his throws. His second pass was perfectly lofted to... Jared Goff, who made a nice one-handed grab for some extra flare.

Situational drill

The Lions only had one set of full team drills. And as coach Dan Campbell teased at his pre-practice presser, it was a situational drill.

Here was the scenario:

Offense is down 9 points, 1:59 left, starting on their own 25-yard line.

It’s worth noting that while this was technically 11-on-11s, the offensive and defensive lines were essentially doing walkthroughs, just making sure they were where they needed to be without actually contacting or “pass rushing.”

The Lions gave the first and second teams chances to succeed. Before we get into the results, here are important personnel notes:

  • The entire first-team offensive line was together, including Frank Ragnow at center and Halapoulivaati Vaitai at right guard
  • Ifeatu Melifonwu was at safety (in place of Tracy Walker), C.J. Gardner-Johnson at nickel, Will Harris at outside corner (in place of Jerry Jacobs/Emmanuel Moseley)

First teamers

Goff quickly got the Lions into scoring position with two plays to Amon-Ra St. Brown, who continues to be the most consistent player on the field. Between St. Brown’s pickups of 10 and 29 yards, Ifeatu Melifonwu (at safety) had a textbook breakup of a well-thrown bomb to Kalif Raymond. A nice post route from Josh Reynolds picked up 17, as well.

Things slowed down a little in the red zone, as Alex Anzalone had perfect coverage on a wheel route to Jermar Jefferson, forcing an incomplete pass. Then Jameson Williams broke wide open in the end zone against Cameron Sutton, but he attempted to catch the ball—which was thrown slightly behind him—with his body, and the ball bounced off his shoulder and fell incomplete. It was one of two significant drops from Williams on the day.

After a fourth-and-4 conversion from Brock Wright, Jared Goff eventually found Williams, who nicely toe-tapped in the end zone for a score with 59 seconds left.

With a simulated onside kick recovery, the offense then had 55 seconds from their own 45-yard line to get into field goal range. Gardner-Johnson did his best to keep the offense at bay with a nice pass breakup on a pass intended for St. Brown. However, a couple plays later, the Gardner-Johnson and Sutton had a coverage breakdown, and St. Brown broke free on a wheel route for a 34-yard touchdown. The third-year receiver celebrated by throwing the ball directly over my head. (I’m hoping the Lions don’t release the video because I flinched HARD.)

I’ll have more on the kickers later, but they gave Riley Patterson an opportunity to kick a 52-yard field goal anyways to “win” the game, but he missed the kick.

Second teamers

It wasn’t as easy for the second-team offense, as several reserve defensive backs made plays. After tight end Sam LaPorta picked up 6 yards on a short route vs. Brian Branch and Williams picked up another 10 on a curl, the defense started to lock down.

Steven Gilmore nicely broke up a pass to Antoine Green (but he may have been called for pass interference). Saivion Smith had the nicest defensive play of the day by sticking with Williams on a deep shot and knocking the ball away.

However, a crisp corner route from Kalif Raymond on Starling Thomas V got the offense deep into the defense’s territory. The offense couldn’t punch it in, though. On third down, backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld tried to force a ball to Williams in triple coverage in the end zone, and there was a pretty intense collision between Williams and a few defensive backs, including Thomas. A few were slow to get up, but everyone was fine.

Parker Romo stepped in to kick a 52-yard field goal of his own, but the kick was wide left.

To keep the drill going, the Lions pretended he made it, and “recovered” an onside kick, setting up Drive 2:

26 seconds left, down six points, starting on their own 45-yard line.

After a checkdown to Jefferson, Sudfeld again targeted Williams, and the first-round pick couldn’t bring the ball in. The throw was a little high, but it was plenty catchable for Williams, and it would have set the offense up nicely inside the 20-yard line. At this point, the drops are frequent enough to warrant a certain level of concern.

In full desperation mode, the offense had one final play from the 29-yard line. Tom Kennedy caught the ball on a crossing route, cut up field, and lateraled to Jefferson. After the ball bounced around a bit, it eventually wound up in Matt Nelson’s hands, who nearly scored. The offense celebrated, but he was clearly “down” before reaching the end zone.

Kicker battle cools down

After both kickers missed their 52-yard attempts during the team drill, the Lions ended practice with a KICKER OFF between Patterson and Romo.

Granted it was a fairly windy day, but it was not a very impressive performance for either kicker. Here’s how the 10-kick challenge played out:

(kick distances are estimates, X = miss; O = make)

Of note, Romo’s final game-winning kick bounced off the right upright and in.

Through all of offseason activities, I would say Romo and Patterson were about equally accurate, but Romo clearly has the bigger leg. Meanwhile, Michael Badgley did not attempt a single competitive kick during practices open to the media. It’s unclear if he’s dealing with an injury or if—as the incumbent—he’s already “in” for training camp and Romo/Patterson are battling to be his challenger. Either way, Badgley may be the biggest winner here, because, after a strong start to OTAs from both of the other kickers, it was a struggle to the finish line.

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