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Detroit Lions 2023 training camp Day 6 observations: Defense puts up strongest day of camp

The Detroit Lions defense had another impressive day in pads, making plays at all levels during Saturday’s training camp practice.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

Season ticket holders were in attendance on Saturday as the Detroit Lions held their sixth training camp practice of the offseason, and their second in pads. The rain was off-and-on today, arriving early and late, but for the most part, fans got to see practice in the sunshine.


There were a few changes on the injury report today—which Jeremy Reisman covered in detail in a separate piece—but the cliff notes include:

  • Jameson Williams and Marvin Jones Jr. still working with trainers
  • C.J. Gardner-Johnson returning to limited practice (no team drills)
  • Antoine Green taking a day off to recover from heat exhaustion
  • Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Penei Sewell also missed practice with no explanation
  • James Houston and Jalen Reeves-Maybin appeared to suffer injuries during practice, exited play, and did not return.

Offensive line dominates in 1-on-1 drills

With Sewell not practicing, Matt Nelson stepped into the right tackle spot and drew Aidan Hutchinson for the first one-on-one rep of the day. Hutchinson won cleanly. After that, the offensive line won 30 of the next 34 battles. It was not close either.

Amongst the starters, Taylor Decker has yet to lose a rep in drills and has been very steady throughout camp, no surprise from one of the most veteran players on the team. Jonah Jackson once again looked sharp, absolutely stopping Christian Covington in his tracks. While Frank Ragnow handled Brodric Martin.

The reserves also showed very well. Obinna Eze continues to look sharp and strong, earning very positive marks in my notebook for dispatching both Josh Paschal and Julian Okwara. Germain Ifedi overwhelmed James Houston, who looked like he may have slipped on the wet grass. And UDFA Brad Cecil won reps at both center (beating Chris Smith, Benito Jones) and guard (winning against Romeo Okwara).

The four defensive linemen that I credited with winning reps outside of Hutchinson were Martin over Logan Stenberg, Josh Paschal over Connor Galvin, John Cominsky over Graham Glasgow, and Alim McNeill over Kayode Awosika.

Defensive sets the tone early in team drills

On the very first play of team drills, rookie Brodric Martin set the tone for the day. At the snap, Martin punched and shed Frank Ragnow who was sliding over to block him. Martin was in the backfield in an instant, and laid a huge, engulfing hit on David Montgomery, stopping him 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

“The center came to me,” Martin told Pride of Detroit. “I struck him and shed him as quick as I could. I make sure to try and put my hands on the offensive players before they put their hands on me. Once I shed him off, the ball carrier was right there.”

On the next play, the offense paired a tight end up opposite Hutchinson, who held him up and set the edge, then shed him to the side and dipped back in for the run stop for no gain. Textbook edge play from the second-year defender.

Nearly the entire first series of 11-on-11s featured big plays from the defense. The offense tried a quick out to Denzel Mims that was submarined by Jerry Jacobs for no gain. Derrick Barnes blitzed and blew up Jahmyr Gibbs in the backfield. Nate Sudfeld executed a play-action rollout left and as he turned his body turned around to the line of scrimmage, Jack Campbell was there for a would-be sack. Paschal also got in on the action, stopping Mohamed Ibrahim for a tackle-for-loss to close out the session.

More standouts in the front-7

The defensive line was active on the day overall. Romeo and Julian Okwara were each credited with sacks, as was Benito Jones, and Levi Onwuzurike was close enough that it warranted mentioning.

Charles Harris has also been expanding his game and dropping into coverage more. He drew a tough assignment when asked to cover Amon-Ra St. Brown, who cut back after the catch and caused Harris to overrun, leading to YAC. Harris wasn’t the only one fooled on the play though as Tracy Walker also landed on his butt trying to adjust with the Sun God. Harris also drew coverage assignments against Gibbs and Sam LaPorta, illustrating they’re not taking things easy on him.

Derrick Barnes also continues to stand out registering a tackle for loss early in practice and another solid run stop at the line of scrimmage. Not to be outdone, Malcolm Rodriguez got another tackle for loss and continues his fight for early reps.

Youth in secondary stepping up

Brian Branch was held without a pass breakup for the first practice this camp, but he did register a sack on a blitz, rushing free off the edge and not biting on play-action. Reps with the first team are now becoming a regular thing, as he continues to look like he will be a large part of this defense.

UDFA cornerback Steven Gilmore is now stacking recognizable days. After a nice showing on Friday, Gilmore forced two turnovers on Saturday. His interception came after Romeo Okwara caused pressure, and Sudfeld rushed a throw inside, while Maurice Alexander broke outside, setting up an easy pick. Later, he gave up reception to Mims but timed a punch to dislodge the ball, which was recovered by Saivion Smith.

“Yeah, we like Gily,” coach Dan Campbell said in his morning press conference. “We liked his tape too when he was coming out and he has some awareness about him, he has some instincts, he has ball skills, pretty good movement skills. I think for him, it’s going to be some of it – along with development – is the physical development. He’s not a real big guy. He has to get a little bit of mass on him, get a little bit stronger... We’re excited about him.”

While Walker fell victim to the St. Brown shimmy, he also had a terrific pass breakup at the line-of-scrimmage and nearly had two interceptions that he could reel in.

Ifeatu Melifonwu found some success working in the box and looking comfortable when operating in the middle of the field. Things get a little dicier when he gets pushed to the outside and missed tackles on Jahmyr Gibbs and Shane Zylstra, getting an earful from defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn.

Chase Lucas continues to take advantage of the new opportunities given to him because of injuries. He had one of the most exciting plays on the day, stunting an attempted hurdle from Jermar Jefferson.

I talked to Lucas after practice and he noted that the Lions coaches have been shifting him around to help cover for injuries but that he feels confident in all those roles. His goal is to become his own version of Will Harris, where he can become a player who coaches can rely on to play anywhere in the secondary.

Offensive skill players

During individual drills, Denzel Mims has taken Jameson Williams’ spot in the rotation in receiving passes from Jared Goff. And we also saw James Mitchell was splitting reps with Brock Wright at the second tight end spot (Sam LaPorta takes TE1 reps), which is a new wrinkle. Mims is slowly working his way up the depth chart and with Antoine Green not practicing, he is getting more looks.

Gibbs starting to look like a weapon in space—quick to break runs outside, really tough to cover in space. On a route, he got loose down the left sideline and was three steps ahead of Malcolm Rodriguez, but Sudfeld was looking the other way and never saw him. That could have been the biggest play in camp if Sudfeld simply turned left.

Overall, the run game has still looked subdued, though there were flashes. David Montgomery had a few runs where he picked up chunk yards, showing nice pop to break it outside. Craig Reynolds showed good patience to press the line and find daylight. But for the most part, the big holes resulting in big gains have yet to materialize.

The two biggest plays of the day came in the passing game from uncommon sources. Goff hit Trinity Benson on an important 23-yard gain during the team’s one-minute drill, while Adrian Martinez hooked up with Derrick Deese for their own 20+ yards gain. Expect more offensive production when the team shifts into more offensive-friendly practice formats in the coming days.

Special teams notes

The Lions kicker battle rages on in camp with it still being too early to determine a clear leader. Both Riley Patterson and Parker Romo saw five kicking attempts today, from 33, 41, 44, 47, and 50 yards. Patterson missed from 33 yards (the second time in camp he has missed from that distance) but both he and Romo made the remainder of their attempts. Interestingly enough, both kickers seemed to get more accurate as the distance was increased and both kicks from 50 yards were the best on each kicker’s day.

At long snapper, Scott Daly and Jake McQuaide continue to rotate who takes first reps on the day, with nothing clearly separating either as well.

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