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Detroit Lions training camp observations: Brian Branch shines in scrimmage

The defense dominated against the offense in the Detroit Lions heated scrimmage practice, and rookie Brian Branch was the star of the day.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Detroit Lions officially close training camp on Wednesday, and they’re going out with a bang. Tuesday’s practice was quite possibly the most intense and physical of any of the past month. Not only was the entire practice just a huge scrimmage—even with a 10-minute halftime break inside the building—but they went live tackling for the entire day, as well.

Clearly, coach Dan Campbell was trying to come as close to simulating preseason action while maintaining control of the situation and setting up scenarios that he wants to work on.

“We’re going to try to put a load on our guys,” Campbell said before practice. “It’s going to be intense. It’ll be pretty physical, so I think yeah, potentially that’s what you could lose (without preseason reps), is some of that, but I feel like we can mimic that in practice, and we can do it in a controlled environment.”

Here’s what I noticed from a long, intense practice as training camp nears its end.

Injury report

The following players did not practice at all:

  • WR Jameson Williams
  • WR Amon-Ra St. Brown
  • S Ifeatu Melifonwu
  • S Saivion Smith

Amongst the group, St. Brown and Melifonwu are clearly the closest to coming back. Both were working with a trainer for most of practice, doing ladder drills and sprints. Campbell didn’t give specifics on St. Brown but was overall very optimistic about his outlook.

“He’s doing good. I mean we weren’t going to play him in Carolina, but he’s doing great,” Campbell said.

As for the other two, both Williams and Smith were at practice, but they were in street clothes and not working with trainers, suggesting they are far from returning.

At least four Lions players suffered injuries during practice, but none seemed too serious. Derrick Barnes had to get his ankle taped up and ended up sharing first-team reps with Jack Campbell the rest of the way. Kerby Joseph suffered an injury on his hand but got it taped up and came back in. Levi Onwuzurike was tended to by trainers, working on his arms, but quickly returned to play. Finally, on the last play of practice, C.J. Gardner-Johnson spent about 30 seconds on the ground with an unclear injury. However, he got up and was clearly in good spirits as the media did interviews around him.

Overall drive results

Because this was such a unique practice, I’m going to break down the results of every individual drive involving the first team. In total, there were 10 series in practice for the first-string offense, which went against the first-string defense every time. Overall, the day heavily favored the defense, and the final score was 63-27. The scoring system was unclear, but here’s my best guess for how it worked:

The offensive scoring was normal, but the defense gained points when:

  • Punt/missed FG: 3 points
  • Turnover: 7 points
  • Fourth-down stop: 5 points

Here’s how each of the 10 drives went for the first teamers, and the key plays in each:

  1. 12-play drive touchdown
  • Kalif Raymond got a big gain when he caught a quick pass, then ducked under a Jerry Jacobs tackle attempt and turned upfield
  • Jahmyr Gibbs got the offense into the red zone with a nice 10-yard run to the outside that showed off his speed and elusiveness
  • David Montgomery punched it from 1 yard out

2. 5 plays, 16-ish yards, PUNT

After gaining a quick first down on a checkdown pass to David Montgomery, Detroit’s offense failed to do much else

  • Charles Harris nearly blew up a pitch to Montgomery
  • Third-and-5, Brian Branch broke up a pass attempt to Kalif Raymond

3. 3 plays, 8 yards, PUNT

  • After an offsides penalty on the defense, the Lions took a deep shot for Josh Reynolds but the pass was off
  • Brian Branch then made a great instinctive play to stop a draw play for just 3 yards
  • On third down Jared Goff had another inaccurate pass behind Kalif Raymond that went incomplete

4. 4 plays, 2 yards, TURNOVER ON DOWNS

After a turnover from the second team (a Brandon Joseph interception), the offense had good field position and squandered it.

  • Jack Campbell stopped a Montgomery run for 2 yards.
  • Aidan Hutchinson notched a sack with Sam LaPorta trying to block him
  • On fourth-and-8, Goff threw a jump ball to Marvin Jones, but a leaping Cam Sutton appeared to get his fingertips on it. Jones nearly still came down with it, but it fell incomplete

5. 2 plays, 28 yards, TOUCHDOWN

After a successful fake punt, the Lions took over just outside the red zone with only 50 seconds left in the half. It took just two plays to score.

  • A quick out to Sam LaPorta, who picked up 4 yards and got out of bounds
  • A 24-yard touchdown run from Gibbs, in which he made several defensive backs miss. This was pretty.

6. 7 plays, 30-ish yards, FG (28-yarder from Parker Romo)

After a failed onside kick to open up the second half, the Lions offense again had a short field to work with.

  • A quick slant to Marvin Jones moved the chains
  • On the next play, Montgomery ran right behind Graham Glasgow for a 13-yard gain and trip into the red zone
  • On third-and-goal, Kerby Joseph was in tight coverage on Sam LaPorta, who stumbled before the ball got there and the pass was incomplete

7. 4 plays, 9 yards, TURNOVER ON DOWNS

  • Onwuzurike got some time with the ones and immediately made a nice run stop on Gibbs after a short gain.
  • The Lions would give the ball again to Gibbs on fourth-and-short (the Lions offense was way down at this point and was in desperation mode). However, the rookie running back ran into a brick wall of defenders for no gain. Aidan Hutchinson appeared to be the first defender in there.

8. 2 plays, 0 yards, INT

  • Gibbs slipped on a well-designed screen, leading to an incomplete pass
  • On the next play, Gibbs was lined out wide with Derrick Barnes in 1-on-1 coverage. Gibbs beat him off the line, but the ball was slightly underthrown, making it a tough catch for Gibbs over Barnes. The ball glanced off his hand and went directly to C.J. Gardner-Johnson.

9. 6 plays, 14 yards, TURNOVER ON DOWNS

  • Brian Branch absolutely blew up a wide receiver bubble screen, shedding a block from Marvin Jones and immediately tackling Josh Reynolds for no gain.
  • On fourth-and-10, the Lions tried a very similar play to Reynolds, and this time Jack Campbell blew it up.

10. 4 plays, 35 yards, INT

  • Backed up at their own 3-yard line, Montgomery immediately gave the offense some room with a 35-yard run behind the right side of the line. After getting to the second level, Montgomery did a good job reversing field, giving Gardner-Johnson a stiff arm, and turning upfield for a huge gain.
  • Branch blew up another draw play for a tackle for loss
  • On the very next play—a third-and-long—Branch picked off a pass intended for Kalif Raymond

Three stars of first-team reps

3. Lions RBs

Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery combined for three rushes of at least 10 yards, showcasing their ability to create explosive plays on the ground. Montgomery clearly operates well in a “full-contact” practice as well.

2. Aidan Hutchinson

A fourth-down stop and a sack. Just another day at the office for Hutch.

1. Brian Branch

As you can probably tell, it was a huge day for Branch, who made five impact plays in 10 possessions. What’s truly impressive is how much he impacts every phase of the game, be it run defense, pass rush, or coverage.

Personnel notes

  • Teddy Bridgewater took every single second/third team rep in practice. It was a day off for both Nate Sudfeld and Adrian Martinez.
  • The Lions continue to rotate Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Graham Glasgow as the first-team right guard. It switched on every possession.
  • The second-team offensive line was back to what we’ve normally seen after a shakeup last week. From left to right: Matt Nelson, Kayode Awosika, Brad Cecil, Colby Sorsdal, Germain Ifedi
  • That said, the third-string offensive line featured a new quirk: Colby Sorsdal playing some right tackle. Obviously, he played tackle in college, but he’s been strictly at guard since landing in Detroit.

Second/third-team observations

  • A strong day from Craig Reynolds, who had a pair of 30+ yard runs, although one was called back due to a penalty. He seems to have a stranglehold on the RB3 job.
  • Bridgewater looked rough today. A lot of misfires throughout the day.
  • His best throw, though, came on a deep shot to Dylan Drummond for 40 yards. The slot receiver beat Will Harris on a vertical route. Another strong day for Drummond, who later made a diving catch to keep a drive alive for the second-team offense.
  • Malcolm Rodriguez had the hit of the practice, blowing up Craig Reynolds almost immediately as the running back caught a pass. Rodriguez continues to have a very strong camp, flashing the same instincts and aggressiveness we have come to know.
  • Speaking of reserve linebacker, Jalen Reeves-Maybin had a strong outing, with a third-down run stop and an effective pressure on a blitz.
  • Antoine Green had the only touchdown for the second team, a well-designed bootleg play that left Green wide open.
  • The kicker competition feels heavily in favor of Riley Patterson, and Parker Romo doinking a 30-yard field off the uprights is not going to help him close the gap.
  • Tuck this away for cutdown date, but cornerback Khalil Dorsey was in on every special team snap that I saw. He also made the special teams play of the day, tipping a punt that was barreling for a touchback to help pin the offense at the 3-yard line. Dorsey still seems like a long shot to make the roster, but the Lions clearly like him on special teams.

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