After a day off on Thursday, the Detroit Lions returned to the practice field in Allen Park for their fifth practice of training camp. The Lions welcomed in “friends and family” of team employees for this practice and donned pads for the first time this offseason.
Jameson Williams, Marvin Jones, and C.J. Gardner-Johnson all continued to work with trainers on Friday, with each looking much sharper than they did before the break. Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Brian Branch returned to practice after taking Wednesday off. Vaitai looked like he was being worked back in slowly but Branch was full go and making an impact.
For more injury news, Jeremy Reisman covered that more in a separate piece, including a report that Emmanuel Moseley may have had a cleanup procedure on his knee.
Aidan Hutchinson vs. Penei Sewell
One of the best parts of when pads come on in we get to see the big boys in the trenches battling it out. And like most one-on-one drills, the Lions like to take their top studs and pit them against each other right out of the gates.
Aidan Hutchinson vs. Penei Sewell is worth making your way to camp to witness. In their two one-on-one reps, Sewell slightly got the better of Hutchinson in what was close to a stalemate, while Hutchinson showed off his offseason increase in power on the second rep. Hutchinson made an aggressive stab step to the inside of Sewell’s set, then whipped back across his body to the outside, deploying a power-swim move that propelled him past Sewell.
“Besides (Hutchinson) being stronger, he’s a lot more comfortable, you can see it,” Sewell said of Hutchinson after practice. “He’s coming at a different speed, he knows the speed of the game, he knows what he’s doing, he’s got the playbook under his belt now, so just more comfortable.”
Hutchinson has also seen his game expand with the evolution of the Lions' defensive scheme and is not only contributing in multiple ways up front, but he showing his range in coverage. He has had a few practices in a row now where he is dominating up front, which would be a massive advantage to this defense.
More battles in the trenches
Josh Paschal was another defensive lineman that had a clear rep win. Facing off against Germain Ifedi, Paschal used an outside stab step to get the offensive tackle to overset, then caught him with a quick swim move inside to move past him. The second-year defensive end is slowly starting to make his presence felt.
Alim McNeill shed over 20 pounds this offseason and it shows in his quickness. Lining up opposite Colby Sorsdal, McNeill dipped under and past the rookie before he was fully out of his stance. While the speed is impressive, McNeill also still maintains a lot of power. Squaring up against Graham Glasgow, McNeill was stymied at first touch, but his second came with a level of power that rocked the veteran guard—though the matchup likely ended in a draw.
On Glasgow’s next matchup, he drew Christian Covington and locked him up quickly. Covington also lost a rep to rookie center Brad Cecil, which is not ideal for his overall camp profile.
Jonah Jackson was arguably the Lions’ best offensive lineman on Friday. In one-on-ones he beat John Cominsky and Benito Jones, showing his ability to adjust to different types of rushers. Then in team drills, he collapsed Isaiah Buggs on a run play.
Not to be outdone, Decker also had a very strong day, taking down Romeo Okwara (twice) and Charles Harris in one-on-ones.
There were a few highlights amongst the reserves. Obinna Eze showed impressive power that we have not seen previously and looked solid in team and individual drills. He locked down James Houston one-on-one but got beat on a wicked spin move from Houston in team drills. Kayode Awosika handled UDFA rookie Chris Smith twice. Ryan Swoboda took care of Julian Okwara. While rookie nose tackle Brodric Martin got the better of Logan Stenberg.
New wrinkles in the defensive scheme
The Lions continue to expand their defensive scheme install and showed a few new wrinkles to start the new week. We are seeing more movement with the Lions' edge rushers and linebackers, shifting around the field and altering responsibilities.
Without disclosing too much, we saw a lot of players like Hutchinson, Harris, Romeo Okwara, Derrick Barnes, and Trevor Nowaske, expand their roles beyond the basics that their positions require.
Rookie defensemen making noise
Last week we discussed the Lions incorporating more five-man fronts—similar to what they showed in Weeks 17 and 18 last season—and they would typically remove their nickel defensive back to adjust the numbers on the field. On Friday, they found a way to keep both the five-man front and five defensive back formations, by reducing the off-the-ball linebacker usage. When in this set, it was primarily Alex Anzalone and Jack Campbell as the stand-alone backers.
Campbell is earning a lot of trust from coaches and it’s resulting in more opportunities in key roles. One of the highlight plays of the day came during 11-on-11s, when Craig Reynolds caught a curl and turned it upfield, only to be chased down from behind by Campbell, who punched the ball free, then recovered the fumble himself. Exactly the kind of effort play coaches love.
“He’s growing,” coach Dan Campbell said of Jack Campbell in his morning press conference. “Mentally, there’s just little details to the game that you see from spring to the first four practices his details have gotten better. His communication’s gotten better. He does not make the same mistake twice.”
Brian Branch continues to make plays. Despite coming off a foot injury, Branch is matching up all over the field and making plays. He recorded two more pass breakups on Friday, giving him six through the four practices he participated in.
Branch also drew the inevitable task of matching up with Kalif Raymond in one-on-one drills, an incredibly difficult assignment. In their first matchup, Branched batted down the pass. And while Raymond got the better of Branch on the next rep, defeating the rookie with a double move deep, Branch rebounded with blanket coverage on their final matchup—although Raymond still somehow corralled it. He continues to stack positive days.
Another rookie defender who took a positive step in the right direction was UDFA Steven Gilmore. After the Lions shifted Will Harris inside to cover for Gardner-Johnson, they held what looked like a mini-tryout for CB4 last week between Gilmore, Jarren Williams, and Khalil Dorsey. On Friday, Gilmore was running as CB4 opposite Starling Thomas.
It’s hard to know if he will remain in that spot on Saturday, but he had one of the more impressive defensive plays of the day, which will surely help his case. On a designed flare out to Craig Reynolds in the flat, Maurice Alexander’s assignment was to block Gilmore out of the play. But the rookie did a terrific job of shedding the block early in the play, maintained his outside contain, and tracked down Reynolds for a short gain.
First look at the running game
With pads on, we got our first real look at the Lions running game and things looked pretty subdued. The offensive line had a challenging time opening consistent holes as the defensive line collapsed and muddied the box. This isn’t overly surprising, as some drills were clearly designed to only feature the run, giving the defense an advantage, but there are plenty of things to work on for upcoming practices.
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom and there were a few times the offensive line created some opportunities. Jahmyr Gibbs was the beneficiary of one of those frontside holes and he quickly found daylight and was through the gap in an instant. UDFA rookie Mohamed Ibrahim also showed a bit more life, displaying a bit of patience when waiting for a hole to open and aggressively attacking it.
In addition to the front seven showing well in run defense, a couple of defensive backs also got in on the fun, with Cameron Sutton showing great instincts to fill gaps, and Ifeatu Melifonwu registering a tackle-for-loss.
Quick hits on team drills
- Kalif Raymond is a jitterbug with the ball in his hands and the Lions are being creative in finding ways to get him the ball.
- Dylan Drummond got some run with the second team on Friday, showing off some nice YAC after catching the ball in the flat.
- Sam LaPorta is one of the better offensive skill players at gaining YAC, and he gave James Houston problems in coverage on a few occasions.
- Houston is still repping with the third team because he is still struggling with proper angels in coverage. He spent more time chasing than recognizing how to cut the offensive player off from his path.
- Malcolm Rodriguez has quietly been putting together some nice performances and reminding everyone not to forget about him. He secured the only interception of the day.
- Denzel Mims didn't shine on offense today, but he showed an element of special teams coverage/blocking that was positive and unexpected. His resume is barren of special teams snaps but he looked very comfortable in all the special teams drills on the day.
Other special teamers that stood out during team drills included Justin Jackson, Jermar Jefferson, James Mitchell, and Chase Lucas. Lucas looked confident as a blocker, and he and Starling Thomas looked terrific working together. Thomas and Lucas were also in gunner drills, though Thomas was paired with Melifonwu, and Lucas was joined by Trinity Benson.
While we have come to expect positive special teams performance from most of the names in this section, it was Jefferson who caught my eye the most. Special teams is going to be vital for his opportunity to make the roster and it seems like a light has turned on for him. Regardless of if it was blocking or covering, Jefferson has made some notable stride in the third phase.