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Detroit Lions 2023 training camp Day 3 observations: Goff, St. Brown firing on all cylinders

The Detroit Lions offense is hitting its stride, with Jared Goff and Amon-Ra St. Brown leading the way.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Detroit Lions continue to stack acclimation training camp practices and now have three under their belt. During the first week of practices (four in total) the Lions can add 15 minutes of new practice time each day as they build toward a full, two-and-a-half hour practice in pads—which can happen on the fifth day of training camp.

On Tuesday, the Lions were able to hold a two-hour practice, and while they’re still prevented from wearing full pads, they did add on spider shells—a smaller, lighter, and approved version of pads during this acclimation process—and spent a bit more time working on team drills.

Attendance/injury

Marvin Jones (NFI), Emmanuel Moseley (PUP), and Hendon Hooker (NFI) remain on the Lions injury lists, while yesterday’s injured players—C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Jameson Williams—also missed practice and are expected to miss a few days.

Jones, Gardner-Johnson, and Williams were seen working with trainers on Tuesday. Jones continues to look close to ready to return, as did Williams, who was moving with little-to-no resistance. Gardner-Johnson was not as far along as the other two and was walking with a bit of a limp as he exited the field. Gardner-Johnson declined to speak with the media but did say, “I’ll be better” as he entered the team's facilities. All three seemed to be in good spirits when they were able to rejoin their teammates and each stayed through the completion of practice.

First-team offense

The Lions' first-team offense continues to stack positive days as their efficiency continues to rise. For the majority of the day, Jared Goff was able to move the offense effectively, even when the Lions introduced new skill players into the mix with the top unit. While players like Denzel Mims, Trinity Benson, Tom Kennedy, and Antoine Green got some looks with Goff, he still continued to rely on the guys he trusts, namely Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds, and Sam LaPorta.

St. Brown had a very impressive day, registering four touchdowns and making catches all over the field. Quick out to the flat: touchdown. Fake block and slip coverage versus Cam Sutton: touchdown. Hurry to the line and catch the defense setting up, quick out: touchdown.

But St. Brown’s best touchdown catch of the day came on the best throw and catch of camp so far. On the play, St. Brown ran his route to the back of the end zone and crossed over the middle. Rookie Brian Branch was in a good position, trailing slightly behind as Tracy Walker was crossing in front. Goff fired a bullet to St. Brown and it somehow made its way through a maze of hands right to St. Brown, who not only fully stretched out to secure it, but tip-toed the back of the end zone for the score.

“I feel like we have a pretty good connection already,” St. Brown said after practice. “I know what (Goff) likes. He knows the way I like to run my routes. I’m starting to see what he sees, he’s telling me what he’s seeing, what he’s expecting, so we’re on the same page, for the most part. So if we can just keep that up, I feel like the sky is the limit for us.”

LaPorta continues to integrate himself with the starters and every day he looks more comfortable. If not for St. Brown's impressive touchdown catch, LaPorta high-pointing a Goff pass 25 yards downfield over Alex Anzalone would have earned catch-of-the-day honors.

LaPorta also scored twice on the day. Goff hit him in the flat after he fake blocked then leaked out into the flat for an easy score. The other came while working with the second team, running straight at Malcolm Rodriguez, then breaking off toward the sidelines for an easy outlet pass from Nate Sudfeld. Despite working with the starters, the Lions are trying to get LaPorta as many reps as possible and that means working with the first, second, and third teams.

The starting right guard spot continues to be a battle and it was Graham Glasgow’s turn in the rotation.

“We told those guys, the best man’s going to play,” coach Dan Campbell said at his Tuesday morning press conference. “So, we’re keeping our eyes open. Certainly, we like Graham because he has flexibility to play center and guard and that was kind of the starting point there but we’re not going to just say well you’re just a backup. We’re going to let him duke it out with Vaitai here and a lot of it too is, ‘Alright, does V get his legs back under him? How’s this coming off the injury? How’s he doing?’ And there again it’s early, it’s day three and he seems to be doing pretty good here, but I’d say it’s open. I’d say it’s open.”

Unfortunately, Vaitai looked like he may have suffered a minor injury late during team drills but it was not evident how much it was bothering him. He didn’t return to practice, but it was unclear if it was due to injury or if the team was just trying to get Colby Sorsdal some second-team reps in the final team drill for the second day in a row.

First-team defense

Like with LaPorta, the Lions are also trying to get fellow second-round rookie Brian Branch as many reps as possible. He primarily saw time with the second team on Tuesday—Will Harris took most of the first-team reps in place of Gardner-Johnson—but Branch got on the field with the starters in red zone drills, while also getting extra time with the third team. Branch got another pass breakup on Tuesday, giving him at least one PBU in each training camp practice so far.

Another new wrinkle we saw during individual drills was with the linebacker group. Earlier in the week, we pointed out that some SAM edge rushers (Charles Harris, James Houston, and Julian Okwara) were getting linebacker reps to expand their roles. On Tuesday, we saw the hybrid defensive backs (Branch and Harris) taking linebacker reps as well.

This use of a defensive back at the linebacker level (which some teams identify as the “Star” position) is a new role but one we expected to see after the selection of Branch—who played a similar role at Alabama. Branch is highly effective in the box and getting him reps with the linebackers is a natural way to get him on the field in obvious passing situations.

Goff has had a solid camp so far, and for most of Tuesday’s practice, he was perfect on the day. That came to an end on the final two throws of the day, when one of his passes went low, deflected off Kalif Raymond, and was almost intercepted. The second errant pass came when Goff forced the ball downfield (it was a one-minute drill) and Kerby Joseph intercepted the ball to end practice. Joseph also had a sweet tackle-for-loss when he blitzed off the edge, slipped a tackle, and was in position to make the stop.

Aidan Hutchinson also had a few stops in the backfield on Tuesday and seemed to be constantly disrupting the pocket. He registered a tackle-for-loss, a would-be sack, and was not fooled on an end around that tried to bait the defense with a play-action in the opposite direction.

Derrick Barnes also had a very solid day, especially in coverage. Twice in red zone drills, Barnes broke on a ball being passed to a running back and recorded a pass breakup on each. Unfortunately, after having an hour and 55 minutes of great play, he made a mistake during the one-minute drill, slowing down his pursuit thinking LaPorta was going out of bounds—and then paying the price when the rookie turned it upfield. He was pulled in favor of Jack Campbell, who finished out the drill.

Like Branch, Campbell spent most of the day with the twos but was with the first team during red zone drills.

Second-team offense vs. defense

Teddy who?

Nate Sudfeld continues to impress with the second team, making the Lions' interest in Teddy Bridgewater somewhat surprising. Bridgewater certainly has a better resume and has a history with Dan Campbell, but Sudfeld has more than held his own in Lions camp so far.

On Tuesday, Sudfeld may have found his favorite target in Maurice Alexander, as the pair hooked up on multiple occasions, including two touchdowns. A possible third touchdown was debated amongst the media, but most thought he failed to complete the catch.

Romeo Okwara is backing up Hutchinson and made a few solid plays on Tuesday, including registering a would-be sack. Ifeatu Melifonwu had another notable pass breakup. But the story of the second-team secondary continues to be UDFA rookie Starling Thomas.

Thomas is not only firmly in the mix for the team starting gunner role, but he has consistently been with the second team at corner. He is fast, feisty, and physical, and he is using his skills to get noticed.

“I’m definitely feeling more comfortable within the system,” Thomas told Pride of Detroit after practice. “Every day I just feel more comfortable, it comes with the reps and going out there and playing full speed. I feel like once you start playing full speed, things start to slow down and become easier and easier, you just have to keep on competing every day. It’s a grind. The offense is really good, so it makes me get better too.”

Thomas’ (5-foot-10, 194 pounds) willingness to compete showed up on a run play where he was asked to take on a block from Germain Ifedi (6-foot-6, 338 pounds). Ifedi blocked Thomas past the whistle and carried the play out of bounds and Thomas took exception. The two grabbed each other's facemasks and tussled a bit before the scuffle went to the ground and the pair were separated.

That intensity and unwillingness to back down will surely make Dan Campbell smile.

Third-team offense vs. defense

Mohamed Ibrahim looked very slippery on Tuesday, twice breaking off 10+ yards runs before he was contacted. He also showed a very nice jump cut in the backfield to escape a tackle-for-loss.

After being snubbed from the second team outside corner rotation, Chase Lucas looked like a fire was lit under him for the second half of practice. He would have got home on a blitz from nickel, easily beating a Justin Jackson block, and was moving with purpose. He also spent some time with defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn one-on-one after practice.

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