The Detroit Lions and New York Giants were back on the field on Wednesday for their second installment of joint practices ahead of their preseason game on Friday. With joint practices leveling up the intensity, the Lions have heavily focused on their starters, indicating, this may be our last look at the Lions starters for the remainder of this week.
“Being able to get really good controlled work against this opponent in two days of practice, that to me, is about your starters,” coach Dan Campbell said. “But the game will be more about, ‘Hey let’s see some of these guys play in real games.’”
With that in mind, let’s take a look at how the Lions starters did in Wednesday’s practice, while also identifying the reserves that stood out, which should give fans a list of players to keep on their watchlist for Friday’s game.
Not many changes on the Lions injury list on Wednesday. Frank Ragnow (family), Jonah Jackson (finger), Craig Reynolds (undisclosed), Darrell Daniels (undisclosed), and Trinity Benson (leg) all missed practice again, while Denzel Mims (leg) returned to the field and was back in action. Unfortunately, Mims appeared to suffered another aggravation and left practice early again.
Both Campbell and Jackson have indicated that his finger injury is “nothing serious” and he is not expected to miss too much time.
Standouts during 7-on-7s
There was a lot of focus on team drills during practice, leaving just a small window for heads-up individual drills. The offensive and defensive line one-on-one drills were practicing roughly 150 yards away from the media stands, so it was difficult to get any definitive looks at those battles. Meanwhile, the skill players squared up for seven-on-sevens directly in front of the fans.
With both defenses mainly operating in man coverage, both offenses opted for short to intermediate passes and safer throws. For the Lions, that meant a lot of work for Amon-Ra St. Brown and Kalif Raymond, as well as their tight ends. The best play from this session came from Sam LaPorta, who took on and shed a block, then peeled out into the flat for a catch that he turned up for a touchdown.
After Jahmyr Gibbs got the better of the Giants on Day 1, New York’s defenders seemed to pay some extra attention to the rookie on Day 2. Giants’ linebacker Bobby Okereke—who got toasted by Gibbs on Day 1—got a pass breakup covering Gibbs in the end zone on Wednesday. Goal line fades to Gibbs may not be in his wheelhouse.
On defense, the Lions struggled with Darren Waller (covered by C.J. Gardner-Johnson) and Saquon Barkley (covered by Charles Harris), but Kerby Joseph got a pass breakup in the end zone, and there were at least two reps that I deemed coverage sacks.
Note: they ran some more of these drills at varying points of practice, but after watching the first set early on in practice, I shifted locations to get a better look at the defensive and special teams drills—so I missed some of the action.
Offensive standouts during team drills
While I spent the majority of my day watching the Lions defense, the offense did not have their most efficient day, turning the ball over multiple times. Other members of the media helped verify that David Montgomery, Jahmyr Gibbs, and even St. Brown fumbled the ball, while I personally saw Adrian Martinez throw an interception to close out 7-on-7s.
Montgomery did have a very nice series during a red zone drill, slipping to the outside and breaking off a 9-yard run, taking it down to the 1-yard line. While he scored on the very next play, the Lions were penalized and lost 5 yards. On second-and-6, Montgomery picked up a blitzing linebacker, allowing Jared Goff to find St. Brown on an out route in the corner of the end zone for the score.
The second team was not as fortunate and struggled throughout the day. Nate Sudfeld looked off and his errors led to mistakes all along the offense. In the final drill of the day, Sudfeld and the Lions got the ball to start the red zone series at the 18-yard line and immediately took a 10-yard holding penalty. Sudfeld found Dylan Drummond down the seam to get them back in the drive, but a scramble sack by Sudfeld put them back in the hole. On third-and-14, Sudfeld checked it down to Gibbs for just a 2-yard gain, leaving the offense in a fourth-and-12 situation. Sudfeld targeted Gibbs on a wheel route, and while the rookie fought through double coverage to make the catch, he could not get both feet inbounds. Heck of a catch though.
Defensive standouts during team drills
Once again we saw the Lions shifting between four and five-man fronts, while leaning on a secondary that had Cameron Sutton and Jerry Jacobs on the outside, Brian Branch in the slot, with C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Kerby Joseph at safety.
Brian Branch continues to get more run with the first team, and while he made a few really good stand-out plays, he also gave up a couple touchdowns—to Cole Beasley in 7-on-7 and Paris Campbell in team drills—showing that he is still learning. Still, he did register a sack and pass breakup—stripping the ball away from Campbell—and just missed getting home on a blitz.
Chase Lucas had a textbook pass breakup during a red zone drill, fighting up through the arms of the receiver. With Branch getting some run with the starters in the slot, Lucas has been taking reps as the Lions second-team nickel.
Elsewhere in the secondary, Cameron Sutton put together a very nice day against the Giants. He carried Darius Slayton 30 yards down the sideline before jumping up through the receiver's hands for a pass breakup. Sutton had another pass breakup, shadowing his coverage assignment through the slot, and undercutting the route for the stop. Sutton isn’t the fastest corner on the roster, and that shows on deep routes, but he has solid instincts and uses the sideline to his advantage, narrowing the route options for the receivers and forcing catches out of bounds.
Gardner-Johnson, too, has awfully impressive awareness. On a play where the Giants tried a quick bubble screen, Gardner-Johnson sniffed it out from 10 yards deep, closed in a heartbeat, and made the tackle for loss. Gardner-Johnson did get beat on a 30-yard seam pass from Daniel Jones to Slayton, but there was also some blame to be laid on Alex Anzalone who appeared to cut his drop short, opening a window in front of Gardner-Johnson.
Speaking of instincts, Derrick Barnes stepped in front of a running back crossing the middle of the field and had the ball in his hands, only to drop the interception. A very nice play that showed his developing anticipation levels, and he did get credit for a pass breakup.
Malcolm Rodriguez also got his hands on a pass for a breakup. He also got a reaction from the crowd when he delivered a big hit, but unfortunately, he lost his coverage angle on the very next play and gave up a touchdown to a tight end.
Jack Campbell had a bit of a quiet day overall, with his best play coming during a 2-point conversion attempt. Giants backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor scrambled to try and keep the play alive, but Campbell was there to chase him to the sidelines, showing his ability to pursue laterally.
While the back-seven had an up-and-down day in coverage, the Lions' defensive front had a very nice day, specifically Josh Paschal, John Cominsky, and Brodric Martin.
Paschal had a no-doubter sack from a Lions five-man front, then two other close sack calls, where his pressure disrupted the offense. Cominsky also had a clean sack, while creating pressure on another potential sack, and made some solid plays against the run. Martin was close to getting a sack during Paschal’s no-doubter but managed to secure a clean sack later on in practice.
Overall, the Lions still need to work on defending their runs on the outside, but Paschal, Cominsky, and Martin all showed well in run defense when the Giants tried to run the ball between the tackles.
James Houston also made a few key plays with the second team, getting a sack (that went uncalled) and a nice block shed and reduce inside on a run play.
“Play him some at the Sam,” Dan Campbell said of Houston’s projected role this season. “Of course, he was doing a lot for us (last year) because Charles (Harris) was out. Now Charles is back, and Charles is playing at a high level, and mentally he’s locked in. And so for Houston, it’s really the mental [...] the inconsistency, he’s got to get out of that. Because, man, he makes some plays and then it just kind of dips. They’ll be an error here or there. So it’s just something we got to keep working with him. Keep working on his rush, keep developing other moves, and look he’s working at it, and it’s early. He’s another guy we expect him to continue to grow.”
While the Lions have been rotating kickers throughout camp, they exclusively used Riley Patterson during Wednesday’s practice. Patterson made seven field goal attempts—from 33, 41, 43, 46, 48, 52, and 53 yards—while only missing from 51 yards.
Update: Romo was absent from practice as he and his wife welcomed a healthy baby girl into the world.
On the kickoff coverage/return units, we’re starting to see some regular players get early runs with the top unit. Now, special teams contributions won’t necessarily be the reason most players make the roster, but it may be a tiebreaker for some bubble players.
There were seven players who contributed in both drills: Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Malcolm Rodriguez, Derrick Barnes, Anthony Pittman, Will Harris, Starling Thomas, and Jason Cabinda. This should give them all a leg up when roster construction happens.
In addition to the kicker, the remaining three players on kick coverage were Tracy Walker, Kerby Joseph, and Ifeatu Melifonwu. On kick return, in addition to the returner, the Lions rolled out Brock Wright, James Mitchell, and Antoine Green—but he did not look very comfortable. Fun note: UDFA Dylan Drummond fielded some kick returns for the first time in camp, which can only help his case for making the roster.