The 2023 Detroit Lions training camp held their second practice on Monday and while several players impressed, there were two injuries that acted as reminders that things don’t always go as expected.
No changes to the injury lists as Hendon Hooker (NFI), Marvin Jones (NFI), and Emmanuel Moseley (PUP) were the only three players not in attendance on Monday. Coach Dan Campbell provided a bit of clarity surrounding Jones and gave an update on Moseley, which were both positive.
The big news of the day came when C.J. Gardner-Johnson went down with a leg during 11-on-11’s after some mild contact. We will be updating the story on the injury as news comes in, and it’s too early to speculate the severity of it, but early reports are very positive.
There is optimism that #Lions DB C.J. Gardner-Johnson's knee injury is not serious, per sources.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) July 24, 2023
More tests to come after CJGJ went down in practice today, but as one source put it: “He’s fine.”
Hopefully, we will get an update when we talk to Campbell again on Tuesday.
The other in-practice injury was more mild, but also involved a big-name player: Jameson Williams. After a designed play to Williams, he pulled up and exited the field. He immediately went over to see the trainers, but after just a few minutes of being stretched out, he re-joined his teammates. The Gardner-Johnson injury occurred not long after that and the Lions wisely kept Williams on the sidelines for the remainder of practice. Williams stayed with his group, had his helmet—and a football—and didn’t seem to be overly impacted by the injury.
Stepping up in Gardner-Johnson’s absence
When Gardner-Johnson went down, the rest of the Lions team needed to keep practicing. Time is limited in training camp, and the Lions needed to stay on track in order to accomplish their overall plans. It’s also important for the team to not dial back their intensity too much, because if they dial things back too much, they can risk more injuries.
Enter Tracy Walker, who kept things rolling on the defense with increased vocalness and leadership in the secondary. As we discussed in our most recent POD Mid-Week Mailbag podcast, Walker is one of the team’s defensive leaders in the secondary and it’s a natural move for him to step up when another veteran goes down.
Walker would finish the day with a terrific interception off of Nate Sudfeld and an over-the-top punch-out pass breakup on a pass from Jared Goff to Sam LaPorta. It’s worth noting that both of those big plays came after Gardner-Johnson’s injury.
While things seem optimistic about Gardner-Johnson, if he were to miss any time, we would likely see an increase in snaps from rookie Brian Branch and veteran Will Harris, who has been mainly on the outside during camp, but did get a few looks at nickel. Branch also had a terrific over-the-top, punch-out pass breakup on UDFA rookie Dylan Drummond that drew a lot of praise from defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn.
More defensive standouts
Speaking of pass breakups, Cam Sutton had a very technically impressive breakup while covering Josh Reynolds—punching up through the hands of the receiver and dislodging the ball. It was a great back-shoulder throw by Goff, but Sutton was in perfect position and made a beautiful play on the ball.
Josh Paschal also got his hands on a ball at the line of scrimmage, knocking down a quick pass from Sudfeld. Paschal lined up opposite of tackle Matt Nelson, who bull-rushed him back to the quarterback.
Linebackers Jack Campbell and Malcolm Rodriguez put up a pair of tackles for loss, working their way through the second-team offensive line. Safety Brady Breeze also had what would be a sack on a delayed blitz while working with the twos.
One of the things the Lions have focused on during individual drills during camp is to not waste a single one of Goff’s throws. If he is throwing the ball in any capacity, Goff has a habit of making sure one of the first-string offensive skill players is the target, typically one of Amon-Ra St. Brown, Jameson Williams, Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, Jahmyr Gibbs, Sam LaPorta, or Brock Wright.
Offensive rookies making an impact
It’s only Day 2 of camp but Gibbs and LaPorta have firmly integrated themselves with the starters. Yes, both will still split time with David Montgomery and Wright respectively, but the rookies are dynamic options who can help this team right now. Lions coaches award production and so far both Gibbs and LaPorta have impressed.
Colby Sorsdal has been repping primarily with the third team at right guard, but he saw some time with the second team on Monday. He is still a work in progress, but he is making enough noise that he is getting some low-key opportunities. Of note: Sorsdal was the last lineman off the field following practice, as he and Levi Onwuzurike were getting in some extra work doing one-on-one drills.
Antoine Green is not yet getting his turn repping with the “starters” group, but he is showing up with the second team. In the final session, Green shifted into the seam and stretched the field, catching a contested pass 30+ yards down the field.
Hendon Hooker is still unable to practice with the team, but after practice, he continues to get some work in. He is routinely throwing the ball and looks more fluid in his movement than he did in the spring. Re-gaining lateral movement will be key, but signs are encouraging that he is making obvious progress.
Welcome to Detroit, Denzel Mims
After not repping in team drills during Day 1 of camp as he acclimated to the team/playbook, Denzel Mims was with the second team on Day 2 and was quickly making some solid plays.
“I already got the system kind of down,” Mims told the media following practice. “Been (coming) in early, staying late, pretty much got the playbook down already.”
Mims’ speed is as advertised and it showed up on a deep ball, where he showed the skills to get underneath and let the ball come to him. A bit later on, he showed off his speed again, getting vertical down the sideline and easily catching a great ball from Sudfeld.
His third catch, a terrific one-handed reception, may have been the best catch of the day regardless of player. On a shallow crossing route, after he uncovered past the offensive line, Sudfeld led him a bit too far, but Mims fully stretched out and snagged it with his fingertips.
Terrific showing for the new receiver, who has something to prove.
Other offensive notes
The Lions are indeed rotating Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Graham Glasgow through starting reps at right guard. On Day 1, Glasgow got the start, but it was Vaitai’s turn on Day 2. Expect this rotation to continue as long as this battle plays out.
The Lions RB3 battle appears to be a close one to follow in camp, but Campbell raised a few eyebrows during his Monday morning press conference when he said Justin Jackson was “at least a number three back” for the Lions. Now, Campbell went on to say there was “competition with Craig (Reynolds) and (Jermar) Jefferson and those guys,” but that was a solid vote of confidence for Jackson.
That may have lit a bit of a fire under Reynolds because he looked sharp on Monday. He had one silky smooth run that went for distance and overall looked like he might be the front runner for the job. We’re still a long way away from this role being settled, but it’s good to have healthy competition brewing.
Special teams: Kick returns and field goals
After spending Sunday working on punt returns, the Lions shifted to kick returns and field goals on Monday.
Jackson—the Lions 2022 kick retuner—was first up on returns, followed by Maurice Alexander, Kalif Raymond, Jahmyr Gibbs, and Jermar Jefferson. Jackson also worked as a starter on the team’s kick coverage units, illustrating his value beyond just offense.
Both kickers Riley Patterson and Parker Romo were perfect on the day, going five-for-five on kicks from 32, 37, 39, 42, and 44 yards. Each had one kick that was close to missing but the other four were pretty solid successes.