The Detroit Lions were back on the field in Allen Park on Wednesday for Day 9 of training camp. The team was in shells for practice but fans still got a heavy dose of team drills and a few notable big plays.
Emmanuel Moseley (PUP) and Hendon Hooker (NFI) remain on the team's injured lists, with Moseley officially being placed on the list Wednesday morning, suggesting he is now in Allen Park, as expected. Hooker continues to take scheduled reps with trainers as his rehabilitation continues.
Penei Sewell is out of the league’s concussion protocol, returned to practice, and was involved at his normal rate. Rookie Sam LaPorta also returned to practice after leaving Monday’s practice with an ankle injury and was also no worse for wear.
Ifeatu Melifonwu was not at practice on Wednesday and is dealing with a knee injury, per Dave Birkett of the Free Press. He was not present on the field for any portions of practice. Frank Ragnow was also absent from practice but it’s possible he was missing for family purposes—his wife is expecting the couple's first child.
For more injury updates, including Trinity Benson getting carted off the field during Wednesday’s practice, make sure you check out our injury updates article.
After Monday saw Jameson Williams record several drops, he was quick to rebound on Wednesday making multiple catches throughout the day.
Williams’ biggest catch came on a deep play where he drew Cameron Sutton in coverage and beat him off the snap and flew by him, unleashing his speed. Jared Goff saw Williams’ uncover and unleashed a deep ball roughly 50+ yards downfield where the receiver dove to secure the catch inside the 5-yard line. Williams had created so much separation from Sutton and the safety—who was still trying to close—that he basically rolled into the end zone for a touchdown.
But Williams had an eclectic day overall. He also caught a 20-yard pass down the seam, secured a 10-yard out, a quick pass in the flat that he turned into YAC, and more. It was as good a day from the second-year receiver that we have seen since his arrival in Detroit.
Whenever the team returns after a day off, they typically make a few minor adjustments to their depth chart, giving opportunities to players who earn more reps following impressive performances from the few prior practices.
With Ragnow unavailable, the offensive line saw some shuffling. Graham Glasgow took his spot at the pivot, with Halapoulivaati Vaitai holding down the right guard starting spot. With both Glasgow and Vaitai starting, rookie Colby Sorsdal stepped in and took second-team reps at right guard. One final move with the second team saw Obinna Eze promoted to second-team left tackle, with Matt Nelson playing opposite him. The odd man out in that situation was Germain Ifedi, who slipped back to third-team right tackle.
At receiver, we saw the standard top pass catchers in with the starters—Williams, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, and Marvin Jones Jr.—along with a rotation of Denzel Mims and Dylan Drummond splitting time between the first and second teams. The team seems to be backing Antoine Green off a bit, after trying him with the top group previously, which has opened the door for Mims and Drummond to make this a true competition.
At tight end, the Lions waived/injured Shane Zylstra—who is expected to revert back to the Lions injured reserve. Detroit also waived Derrick Deese Jr. and signed Darrell Daniels and Daniel Helm to replace them on the roster. With Daniels and Helm needing some time to acclimate, the Lions rotated LaPorta, Brock Wright, and James Mitchell through all team drills.
The defense didn’t see as much shuffling as the offense but there were a few notable alterations, including how the Lions were deploying their secondary. As we have seen situationally in previous practices, rookie Brian Branch is going to be a player coaches want to get on the field. On Wednesday, we may have gotten a look at one way that could happen.
Branch got a long look with the first team during team drills, operating out of the slot, while C.J. Gardner-Johnson shifted back to safety with Kerby Joseph. Tracy Walker rotated in with the first and second teams, adding some experience to the second unit, which was without Melifonwu.
While Branch being with the first team is very much worth paying attention to, it’s also important to note defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn’s explanation on Monday, stating that sometimes, reps are simply a different way for a player to gain experience.
“Well, here’s the thing that’s funny to me,” Glenn elaborated. “We hear all the writing that’s going on about guys getting reps with the ones, and just like you said, Branch getting reps with the ones. Listen guys, we’re going to play guys in different packages. We’re going to play guys with the ones, we’re going to play guys with the twos, because you don’t want guys going against the same guys every time. Alright? So don’t get so caught up in where guys are at. That’s been my philosophy for the longest—I learned that from Bill Parcells back in the day, and we’re going to continue to do that.”
With that being said, and with all due respect to Glenn, it’s hard not to read into Branch’s playing time because he’s getting plenty of early rep looks.
Branch’s ability to find the football has led to more opportunities but he is far from alone in creating pass breakups. Players at all three levels have found ways to make plays on the ball, more in this camp than in any other I can remember.
On Wednesday, Aidan Hutchinson got in the passing lane during seven-on-sevens and knocked down a Goff passing attempt. Derrick Barnes blanketed Mitchell in coverage, hit the ball, and forced an incompletion. Alex Anzalone stepped in front of Josh Reynolds and dropped a would-be interception. Saivion Smith had two pass breakups, one covering Williams and another versus Drummond. While UDFA rookie Steven Gilmore got a lot of love from the coaching staff for a textbook breakup on Maurice Alexander.
Technically not a pass breakup, but even more effective, Jerry Jacobs stayed in phase with Reynolds after a catch, grabbed the receiver, but instead of tackling him, punched the ball loose instead forcing a fumble.
All positive signs for an improving secondary.
It’s time to start worrying about Julian Okwara
Keeping Glenn’s comments fresh in mind, another notable shift in snaps from Wednesday included James Houston repping higher in the rotation, contributing on both the second and third teams. Hutchinson and Charles Harris remain the starters, while Josh Paschal and John Cominsky are movable early options along the defensive line. But when the Lions opt for a true reserve edge pair, it was Houston and Romeo Okwara who saw the field, leaving Julian Okwara as the odd man out.
“Consistency,” coach Dan Campbell noted where Julian Okwara needed to improve. “And that’s really always been that for him, which we’ve talked about as well with him. He’s a flash player, man. He does something really impressive and then it just kind of reverts back at times. He doesn’t use what he’s been taught and so he—man, he just has to continually put on tape what he’s been taught and those little flash plays, they have to become the norm. We’re at the point now, we’re year three with him, with us, and so those things have to show up every time because he’s too talented, he just is. And I would say that’s it, consistency.”
The Lions ran two situational drills to close out practice and gave each of their top two units a chance to complete them.
In the first situation, the offense started at their own 44-yard line with six seconds on the clock and one timeout. The goal was to get into field goal range. Goff was able to find St. Brown over the middle for a 17-yard gain, setting up a 57-yard field goal attempt from Riley Patterson. Despite kicking for distance not being his perceived strong suit, Patterson’s kick easily made it through and was right down the middle.
The second team was not as efficient. Nate Sudfeld targeted Williams, but Smith registered one of his aforementioned pass breakups. In an effort to keep the kicking competition fair, the Lions had Parker Romo attempt his own 57-yard kick, which he was also successful with.
The second scenario was similar to the first, offense starting at their own 48-yard line, with 13 seconds on the clock and no timeouts. Goff decided to take a deep shot to Jahmyr Gibbs on a wheel route but overthrew him. With the defense shifting to prevent, Goff’s second attempt went to St. Brown on a quick catch and get out of bounds for 8 yards—which was well short of where they needed to be.
The next evolution in the kicker battle had Patterson attempting from 61 yards, and while he was on target, but he fell short on distance.
The second team was once again unsuccessful, as Sudfeld attempted to hit Mitchell over the middle but Barnes made a play to dislodge the pass. Romo was given the same opportunity to kick from 61 yards, but he also missed, sailing the ball wide right.
Kicker battle rolls on
The Lions kicker battle continues with not much separation between Patterson and Romo, with each having the same level of success on the day. In addition to the two kicks mentioned in the above section, both also attempted kicks from 41, 44, and 48 yards, and each had another miss: Patterson from 48, and Romo from 44.