For the first time this year, the Detroit Lions opened Organized Team Activities (OTA) to the media, though it was technically the third practice this week for the team. During OTAs, teams are still not in full pads, but they are allowed to do a full 11v11 job with the whole squad. So, on a mild, overcast Thursday afternoon, we got our first glimpse of Team 2022 as a (mostly) full team.
Here are my biggest takeaways from Thursday’s practice.
Here are the players I didn’t see at all during training:
TE TJ Hockenson
DT Michael Brockers
EDGE Romeo Okwara
EDGE Eric Banks
DT John Penisini
Hockenson was clearly at Wednesday’s OTA workouts, as he made one of the highlights the Lions posted on social media. His absence is certainly curious, but since head coach Dan Campbell didn’t mention it in his injury updates, I don’t think there’s anything to worry about at this time.
The absence of Brockers and Okwara should come as no surprise. Okwara is still recovering from an Achilles injury, while Brockers is the team’s most veteran player, and players in his position usually take OTAs off, which, as a reminder, are voluntary.
The statuses of Banks and Penisini are unknown.
In addition to these absences, the following players haven’t been seen doing much in training:
WR Jameson Williams
TE James Mitchell
TE Derrick Deese
LT Taylor Decker
CB Chase Lucas
CB Jerry Jacobs
The only surprise among this group is seventh-round rookie Chase Lucas. However, Lucas jogged and moved most of the workouts, so it doesn’t look like his absence from the list will be long.
Taylor Decker gave an update on her status after practice.
“I had a foot injury in the last game of the year, I was rehabbing the whole offseason and just had some of the residual effects of it all,” Decker said. . “Just being smart about it really so it doesn’t just keep lingering. Basically the opinion I had was that it was something that was going to get better, it’s just kind of a pain in the ass that will take a little time. Just be smart about it right now.
Jerry Jacobs isn’t looking too far either. He was engaged during all practices and often mimicked the cornerbacks’ individual drills just steps away from the rest of the team. That’s promising considering he tore his ACL just over five months ago.
As for Jeff Okudah, he participated in a full 11-on-11 to start the practice – which takes place at about three-quarters the speed – but didn’t do much else the rest of the way, including stance exercises. He was still active and moving around, but the Lions are clearly slowing things down with him.
There have only been two significant position changes, and it is unclear to what extent either will be permanent.
With Okudah and Jacobs out for most of practice, it was safety cornerback Will Harris who was the first-time substitute against Amani Oruwariye. It’s obviously not a completely new position for Harris, as he was almost exclusively playing cornerback towards the end of last season, but a lot of that was down to injury. Again, it could have to do with the Lions being shorthanded at the corner, and Harris admitted he’s still learning all the positions.
“I’m still in my playbook, still learning safety, still learning corner, nickel, all that stuff,” Harris said after practice. “It varies depending on the needs of the team. All they want me to go out and do is what I’m gonna do.
The other notable positional change involves last year’s third-round pick Ifetu Melifonwu, who had a ton of work at safety Thursday. Now, Melifonwu still has plenty of rep in the outside corner, but this seems like a test from the coaching staff to see how the second-year defensive back reacts.
“The plan (defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn) and the coaches just asked me to try it,” Melifonwu said. “I’m a football player, so they kinda want to put me in different places (and) see what works. If you have versatility and know the other position in case something happens.
According to Melifonwu, it was the first practice of the week in which he played a good game of both, meaning they relied heavily on him as a safety during the week. Again, it’s unclear if this is a long-term move or if the Lions are just diversifying their skill set. We know from the past that they like their DBs to be cross-trained.
Estimated starting composition
Excluding players who weren’t in training or participating, here’s what the starting defense looked like:
THE: Charles Harris
TD: Jason Cornell
DT: Alim McNeill
DT/RE: Levi Onwuzurike
OLB/RE: Julian Okwara
LB: Alex Anzalone
LB: Derrick Barnes
CD: Jeff Okudah/Will Harris
CD: Amani Oruwariye
S: Tracy Walker
S: DeShon Elliott
When he was in nickel, AJ Parker was the starter.
On offense, they turned receivers too far to get an idea of who was leaving, but the offensive line looked like this:
LT: Penei Sewell
LG: Jonah Jackson
C: Franck Ragnow
RG: Halapoulivaati Vaitai
RT: Matt Nelson
During some defensive drills, the Lions rotated the linebacker pairings to give us an idea of what the current depth chart looks like at those spots inside the linebackers. Here are the pairings, in repeat order:
- Anzalone and Barnes
- Jarrad Davis and Chris Board
- Josh Woods and Shaun Dion Hamilton
- Anthony Pittman and Malcolm Rodriguez
- Natrez Patrick and James Houston
Obviously, it should come as no surprise that the rookie has to work his way up from the bottom of the depth chart. However, head coach Dan Campbell noted how much he loves this venue and believes the strong competition will make the most of it.
“Of all these guys we have in this room, it’s going to be a bloodbath in there,” Campbell said. “There’s a ton of experience, there’s a ton of youth, there’s a ton of energy. I think when you combine it with the type, and on top of that, every one of those guys that are in there is competitive. They are very competitive. I just think, man, when we come out with the finished product and the two or three that are left standing there will be more than that, but what I’m saying is I think we’re going to be excited about these guys -the.
One minute exercise
Campbell noted before practice that this year he wanted to participate in more competitive situational football earlier in the offseason than they did in Year 1. So, around the middle of practice , each quarterback ran the team’s version of a one-minute drill. The scenario: 45 seconds left from your own 40-yard line. Here’s how it happened:
Goff found DJ Chark first for a big win on a crosser down the middle. He beat Harris by a few steps and Goff hit him hard in stride. However, the drive stalled from there. Goff threw a high post route to Josh Reynolds and despite a jumping effort, it slipped past his fingertips. Goff forced the next to throw to Reynolds, with the second being interrupted by Harris. Detroit settled for a 50-yard field goal attempt and Austin Seibert pushed it wide. They lined up again at around 43 yards out and Seibert got through.
Boyle’s practice lasted exactly one game. Cornerback Mike Hughes jumped past a fast tilt intended for Kalif Raymond and took it home. As you might expect, the entire defensive roster chased him into the end zone in celebration.
David Blough (AKA the part where I exaggerate Aidan Hutchinson)
Blough picked up a good pace early, connecting first with running back Greg Bell on a wheelie route just out of linebacker Derrick Barnes’ reach. He then threw a nice throw between Ifetu Melifonwu (to safety) and cornerback Cedric Boswell. Wide receiver Corey Sutton made an impressive catch at full extension on the play.
However, that’s where the reader stalled, and almost exclusively because of second overall pick Aidan Hutchinson. Detroit was in their NASCAR package, which means Hutchinson was actually kicked inside (with Jarrad Davis seeing some time on board). And as he faced a reserve offensive lineman, his start and outburst was just too much, and he came in at quarterback on three straight plays.
Finally, the attack had to settle for a basket. Riley Patterson hit one on the left post from about 45 to 50 yards, and when they went to a field goal from 43 yards, he threw it right. Not a good day for Lions kickers.
As always, the Lions staged a one-on-one competitive drill towards the end of practice to get the juices flowing. Today they performed the exact same drill they performed at rookie minicamp – which is basically a ‘special teams drill’ where there is only one player trying to make a tackle in the open field in a limited area.
The coaching staff was perhaps the most entertaining part of the drill, as Duce Staley mimicked the offensive player’s moves every time he won a drill, while Aaron Glenn danced every time the defense won. At one point, the defense made such a big play that Glenn got down and spun on his back like a breakdancer.
The exercise culminated in a final predetermined rep: Kalif Raymond versus Jarrad Davis. While Davis may have got his hands on Raymond, the sneaky wide receiver finally got the better of an aggressive angle Davis took and blew through him. The offense has gone completely crazy.
- Will Harris had a day of ups and downs, counting at least two pass breakups, but was also beaten by Chark once easily.
- Not only did Jashon Cornell get plenty of first-team reps, but I think he also had two assists down the line. As someone who could benefit from Detroit’s four-man forward base defense, don’t sleep on Cornell.
- Another player to watch: linebacker Anthony Pittman. During his interview with Tim Twentyman, linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard said that Pittman “has set up a clinic so far.” During a seven-on-seven drill, Pittman was part of the cover team that forced Boyle to hold the ball for several seconds before finally throwing it away. After the play, Pittman and Sheppard shared a hip bump.