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Detroit Lions 2023 training camp Day 8 observations: Tempers flare as Jameson Williams return

The Detroit Lions saw Jameson Williams return to practice on Monday as the intensity level increased.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Detroit Lions opened Week 2 of training camp by ramping the intensity up and putting the pads on. On Monday, they closed the week the same way.

Following the team walkthroughs and individual drills, the Lions spent the next hour focusing on non-team activities where the team split up into smaller groups. For example, the offensive line/running backs faced off against the defensive line/linebackers in run drills, while the pass catchers took on the defensive backs in passing drills. Additionally, there were one-on-one tackling drills and special teams situational work mixed in during the early work. From there, they alternated between team drills and special teams drills for the remainder of practice.

The overarching themes of Monday’s practice included uncharacteristic drops, a subdued passing attack, improved results in the run game, lots of trash-talking, and steady production from the defense, with several players making noise throughout the day.

Attendance/Injury updates

On a positive note, Marvin Jones Jr. was removed from the NFI list and was a full participant in practice. Jameson Williams also returned to full practice, after missing nearly a week, and Jalen Reeves-Maybin was also fully back in the mix.

James Houston continued to take limited reps and may have a lingering injury. Shane Zylstra took a shot to his leg and required attention from the training staff. He was able to avoid the cart and walked off with support, even doing a bit of walking on his own as he was exiting the practice field. Sam LaPorta, who was on the field early in practice, exited the field without any of the media witnessing it. It’s unclear why he was not present in the back half of practice. Something to keep an eye on for Wednesday, when the team returns to the practice field.

Jameson Williams returns

After missing nearly a week due to a leg injury, Williams returned to a full padded practice on Monday. Maybe it was rust, maybe it was lack of concentration, but Williams’ start to practice had its fair share of drops and errors. Williams was not alone in his drops—Amon-Ra St. Brown dropped two himself—but his misses were noticeable.

Williams also found himself in the middle of a couple of dust-ups with Starling Thomas—who got in a scuffle with Germain Ifedi earlier in camp—and the pair needed to be separated by teammates and coaches. Williams downplayed the incident to reporters following practice:

“I just look at it as football, a physical play,” Williams explained. “We got over it, the next play. Nothing too much.”

Williams went on to say that those scuffles help him stay on his game, and fortunately, as practice rolled on, Williams found his rhythm and was able to contribute on a few stand-out plays.

After Jahmyr Gibbs hit a gaping hole created by the offensive line, he broke left as he got to the second level. Will Harris had the angle to make the tackle, but Williams flew in and delivered a devastating block to free up the sideline for Gibbs—who took it another 25+ yards downfield for arguably the biggest offensive play of camp.

Later on, during seven-on-seven in a red zone drill, Williams showed off his acceleration by shaking coverage from C.J. Gardner-Johnson in the end zone, separating, and creating a wide-open target for Jared Goff to hit for the score.

Dylan Drummond making people pay attention

While it was a bit of an off day overall for the wide receivers—save Josh Reynolds, who has been consistent—there was another pass catcher that stood out: UDFA Dylan Drummond.

For the first week of camp, Drummond has been with the third team, but as Week 2 has progressed, he has been worked in with the second team more and more. He made multiple over-the-middle catches on passes from Nate Sudfeld and Adrian Martinez during team drills and got the better of Tracy Walker in one-on-ones earlier in practice.

He still has a ways to go to rise up the depth chart, but for a player who only made the roster after a tryout during rookie minicamp, he is starting to look like he may stick around in some capacity this season.

Running backs making some noise

While the pass catchers were up and down on Monday, the running backs had arguably their best day of camp.

Gibbs showed solid patience to press the line of scrimmage and wait for his hole to open, as well as the lateral quickness to break off runs outside. His biggest play of the day—where Williams’ block created an outside lane—illustrated a combination of acceleration, vision, and aggressiveness.

David Montgomery isn’t as flashy as Gibbs, but he is consistently finding yardage in between the tackles. When defenders attempt to tackle him, they need to bring proper technique, otherwise, he is running through arm tackles.

The battle for the RB3 spot continues to feature a rotation of Justin Jackson, Craig Reynolds, and Jermar Jefferson. In one red zone drill, the backs were literally rotating each snap with the other competitors. Jackson’s best play of the day was arguably a catch in the flat where he pressed through contact, cut back inside, and gained extra yardage. Reynolds and Jefferson each showed the ability to pick up 5-7 yard gains, and each scored a touchdown in a red zone drill.

UDFA fan favorite Mohamed Ibrahim has been consistently repping with the third team, but like Drummond, could start working his way up into the rotation after the players’ day off on Tuesday.

Aidan Hutchinson dominates... again

This is almost becoming repetitive but Aidan Hutchinson looks like he is going to be a real problem. On Monday, with Penei Sewell on the sideline in concussion protocol, Hutchinson squared up with Matt Nelson and clearly had the upper hand. When the offense used a tight end against Hutchinson, the results were even more lopsided for the Michigan product.

Tackles for loss and sacks are becoming regular things in practice with Hutchinson, but he is also showing veteran savvy when setting the edge. Hutchinson’s power to set the edge, ability to keep himself in the play, and shed his blocks to make plays, fantastic to watch.

Brian Branch will be difficult to keep off the field

Speaking of things becoming repetitive, Brian Branch had another impressive day. I am almost worried about hyping him up too much at this point, but he continues to make tackles for loss, pass breakups, while also showing the ability to live in the box and drop into coverage.

Branch’s ability to see things happen in front of him, process what is happening, and execute his assignment is beyond what you would expect from a rookie defensive back. At this stage, Branch does not project as a starter—and he may never technically fall into a traditional role—but he is going to be very difficult to keep off the field.

C.J. Gardner-Johnson

One of the defensive backs standing in Branch’s way of snaps is C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who arguably had his best day of camp. Gardner-Johnson took his intensity level a notch, mixing things up a bit with Kalif Raymond after one-on-one drills, and delivering a huge hit on Jahmyr Gibbs during team drills.

On the play, Goff worked his way through his progressions, eventually checking down to Gibbs in the flat. Gardner-Johnson sat on the route, saw Goff working through his options, and timed his pursuit toward Gibbs with veteran efficiency. Gardner-Johnson arrived exactly with the ball, delivering a hit that dislodged the ball and drew “oohs” from the fans in attendance.

In the final two red zone sessions of practice, Gardner-Johnson was a vocal leader in setting up the defense and made three pass breakups while covering St. Brown, Denzel Mims, and Zylstra.

Levi Onwuzurike update

Levi Onwuzurike drew one of the biggest positive reactions from multiple coaches during a run fits drill where he blew up his block and got into the backfield for a tackle-for-loss. His impact is still minor at this stage but they are slowly putting more on his plate and hoping for more contributions.

“Interior pass rush,” defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said of Onwuzurike at the morning press conference. “Levi’s naturally strong as a player. Obviously, he didn’t get a chance to do all of the weight room work that you want him to do, so I will say that player is still in the developmental phase. Also, because he didn’t really get a chance to do the things that’s expected of a defensive lineman coming into the NFL, so he still has a ways to go, but I like exactly where he’s at.”

Odds and ends

  • Charles Harris continues to drop into coverage and is progressing, but it may take a bit of time before he gets truly comfortable.
  • Another day, and another display of power from Brodric Martin who single-handedly collapsed a running play, where multiple players ended up on the ground.
  • Chase Lucas took some snaps at single-high safety, as his quest to become a player capable of playing all over the secondary continues.
  • Saivion Smith had a nice pass breakup during team drills and was more of a vocal trash-talker than I remember.
  • Derrick Barnes continues to fly around the field and is very much keeping his name in consideration for a starting job. He did look like he injured his lower body at some point during practice but he played through it. Something to keep an eye on for Wednesday.
  • Antoine Green also came up holding his ankle late in practice and should also be a player participation level to watch.

Special teams

The kicker battle continues to roll on with both competitors attempting field goals from 33, 42, 45, 48, 51. Parker Romo made four, missing from 51, while Riley Patterson also made four and missed from 45 yards.

The blocking drills focused on linebackers, tight ends, and running backs, with Jason Cabinda and Jermar Jefferson standing out with multiple one-on-one wins on the day. Cabinda has been a consistent special teams contributor for years, while Jefferson’s uptick in special team production is highly noticeable and should give him a legitimate shot for the roster.

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