Detroit Lions 2022 training camp Day 6 observations: Physicality intensifies
The Detroit Lions were in pads for the second time during 2022 training camp, and according to coach Dan Cambell during his morning press conference, they are on ramping up the energy level planned on Tuesday.
If you missed any of our camp observations so far, you can find them here:
No changes to the PUP/NFI lists, as Romeo Okwara, Jameson Williams, Josh Paschal, Jerry Jacobs, CJ Moore, and Jason Cabinda remain unavailable to practice.
Tight end Devin Funchess and offensive tackle Dan Skipper returned to full practices, and while they were still not regular players in the rotation, they were not held out of any style of drill. The same can’t be said for rookie tight end James Mitchell, who has been limited to individual drills and some 7-on-7 work but has yet to make his 11-on-11 debut, as he is still in the re- acclimation phase.
The Lions were missing two players who were healthy on Monday: Tight end TJ Hockenson and defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike. Hockenson did seem to have a little hitch in his walk and was typically slow moving around the practice field, but he assured the media after practice that he was “good” while walking into the facility. Meanwhile, Onwuzurike, who went down in the trenches among a pile of bodies late in Monday’s practice, was not present at Tuesday’s practice in any capacity.
During practice, the Lions had two players of note that required trainer assistance due to injury: Wide receiver Quintez Cephus and nose tackle Alim McNeill. Cephus, after securing a brilliant catch in one-on-ones, injured his leg and needed two trainers to escort him off the field. McNeill went down in a trench pile, took a few reps off to meet with trainers, but was back in on special teams the next series, and secured a sack the following series that.
Increasing physicality/intensity on the practice field
Campbell noted at his morning press conference that he thought the players were a little subdued on Monday after their day off, and while things looked better on film, the plan was to try and increase the team’s energy level.
In order to accomplish this, after walkthroughs and stretches, the team went right into one-on-one drills, then spent the rest of the day alternating between 11-on-11s and special teams. Typically, the team mixes in 7-on-7s more, but with the goals they had for the day, they apparently wanted to keep things more competitive and physical.
And physical they were.
Increasing physicality and competitive drills is a double-edged sword. There are lots of benefits to seeing guys “play real football,” but you also walk the line of incurring injuries. While the Lions only had two notable injuries—and the potentially significant one in Cephus came in one-on-ones—there were a lot of times players ended up on the ground for worse—like in the situation where McNeill was dinged.
There were several instances where a player in the trenches went to the ground and it had a domino impact on those around him. Other times, running backs were getting knocked to the ground by linebackers (hello, Malcolm Rodriguez, again) or safeties who were simply supposed to wrap them up.
We also saw Will Harris take a swing at Amon-Ra St. Brown after an 11-on-11 rep, an incident that was quickly broken up by Kalif Raymond with no coaching interjection. Harris spent the rest of the day on the second team, but it’s unclear if that was because of this incident, or simply part of the planned rotation that we have seen all camp between him and Jeff Okudah.
But there are a lot of positives that can be gleaned from this type of practice as well. After getting whipped by the offensive line on Monday, the defensive line did a really nice job of clogging rushing lanes between the tackles, and when the hole presented itself, it was quickly filled by a defender—save one play but we’ll get to that in a minute.
We also got to see an entire 11-on-11 segment where the defense sent a blitzer on every rep, which forced the offense to make quick decisions and react to pressure. This approach of forcing the offense to deal with pressure is designed to help the offense get used to uncomfortable situations, and in turn, should help them down the road. This intensity is tough to replicate when not in pads.
At this stage, the Lions are stacking days and situations, which will help the team be prepared for the regular season. At the same time, you have to hope if they continue to practice in this manner that they can still do it safely and avoid any severe injuries.
Running back variety
The Lions have different styles of running backs, but on Tuesday, they showed they are capable of getting desired results with each. I’m not sure I have seen D’Andre Swift lose a one-on-one battle in camp yet. His combination of speed and agility is special and even fast linebackers like Chris Board and Malcolm Rodriguez struggled to stay with him.
Godwin Igwebuike’s speed is also very noticeable on the practice field. I know fans are still hung up on two late-season fumbles and a dropped fourth down conversion, but he has beaten his defender to the sideline on multiple occasions. That’s a notable weapon to have in the arsenal.
Craig Reynolds is still RB3, but for the second day in a row, Jermar Jefferson made a standout play worth paying attention to. After a play-action sweep caused the defense to shift, Jefferson slipped a retreating front that was adjusting to the quarterback. When the ball came back to Jefferson, he secured the catch, powered through a tackling attempt by Saivion Smith, turned on the burners up the sidelines, slipped a diving tackling attempt from Chase Lucas, and 50+ yards later he was dancing at the end zone. Jefferson needs to keep stacking these plays to stay in the mix.
More offensive notes
With the pressure ramped up a bit, and the defense looking to rebound after Monday, the quarterbacks did a bit more scrambling than we are used to seeing. Jared Goff, who is the most limited of the three, showed a bit more range than expected, but it’s still not something the Lions want him doing regularly as the results were inconsistent.
Like at running back, receivers with elite speed—like Kalif Raymond—are nearly impossible to cover in one-on-one drills. Raymond may not be in the mix for a starting job right now, but he is clearly WR4 (with Jameson Williams sidelined) and capable of stepping in if there is an injury.
While we haven’t really seen the offense uncork many deep balls, it was a focal point of the quarterbacks during special teams drills when they were working off to the side. All three quarterbacks took turns throwing 40+ yard passes to DJ Chark and Josh Reynolds who worked on securing catches in the end zone.
With Hockenson not practicing, the Lions used a rotation of tight ends through the starting lineup, most notably: Brock Wright, Garrett Griffin, and Shane Zylstra. No surprise, these are the exact three names Campbell brought up at his morning press conference when discussing what he was looking for in the tight end battle.
On the offensive line, the most notable change I saw was in the comfort level of UDFA Obinna Eze who is repping at left tackle with the second team and is at right tackle with the third unit. He is still a work in progress, but his exceptional length is a problem for defenders.
Aidan Hutchinson rebounds
After getting beat up by Penei Sewell and Hockenson on Monday, Aidan Hutchinson was much more disruptive on Tuesday, showing his ability to adapt and learn quickly.
“He’ll memory bank that and I’m telling you,” Campbell said about Hutchinson getting washed out by Hockenson. “It may happen one more time and I bet that’s about it. So, because he picks up things pretty quick, but listen, it’s good to see, it really is. He needs that.”
Hutchinson found the backfield several times today, recording what would have likely been a sack in 11-on-11s, got a confirmed sack in the final competitive series, and pressured Goff into throwing an interception to Tracy Walker. He also got put on his butt by Jonah Jackson, but that’s all part of the learning process.
More defensive notes
In addition to Hutchinson, several other edge players created pressure today. Julian Okwara, Austin Bryant, John Cominsky, and James Houston all found success. Houston got a tackle for loss after using a sweet shoulder dip inside, beating the tackle cleanly, and driving on the running back. It was one of his more impressive plays in camp and he is slowly starting to make some splash plays.
With Onwuzurike sidelined, Jashon Cornell took his spot in the rotation on the second team. Cornell also had a clean shot at a sack but looked like a hold was not seen by coaches. UDFA Demetrius Taylor saw a few more opportunities today, and as he did on Monday, he sniffed out a screen and used his first-step quickness to close down the play.
At linebacker, Jarrad Davis and Derrick Barnes’ downhill speed on blitzes is downright scary. Davis had several pad/helmet pops today that were significantly louder than any other instance, but that should be no surprise as the athleticism has always been there.
“He’s another guy who showed up yesterday which we knew he would,” Campbell said of Davis. “You put pads on, that’s his deal man, that’s his game.”
Not to be outdone, rookie Malcolm Rodriguez’s ability to diagnose the play and meet the blocker in the hole is simply sensational. He delivered two noticeable big blows today, first meeting TE/H-back Nolan Givan in the gap, and knocking Igwebuike on his butt in the open field—something, as noted earlier, is not an easy task.
The cornerbacks saw a bit of movement today. For the most part, Amani Oruwariye has been playing on the right side of the formation with Jeff Okudah/Will Harris on the other. Today they switched sides. Additionally, Mike Hughes saw more reps on the outside and was in a three-way rotation at the CB4 spot with Mark Gilbert and Bobby Price. As a result, Chase Lucas saw time as the second team nickel, backing up Parker. Hughes didn’t look as comfortable on the outside today, and with Lucas securing an interception in one-on-ones, the nickel corner battle continues to heat up.
The safety group also got their hands on the football today. Both Tracy Walker and Ifeatu Melifonwu undercut routes for pass breakups, while Kerby Joseph had a pair of PBUs, getting his hands in front of a receiver on one play and punching the ball loose on another.
The kickers were back in action on Tuesday, attempting kicks from 38, 43, 48, and 53 yards out. Riley Patterson went a perfect 4-for-4, while Seibert was 3-of-4 after hitting the right upright from 53 yards. Through six days, Patterson is 12-of-13 with his only miss being the first kick of camp from 29 yards. Meanwhile, Seibert is 11-of-13, only missing from distance (48 and 53-yards).