For the first time this year, the Detroit Lions opened organized team activities (OTAs) to the media, although 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 full 11v11 work with the full roster. So we got our first glimpse of Team 2022 as a (mostly) whole team on a mild, overcast Thursday afternoon.
Here are my biggest takeaways from Thursday’s practice.
Here are the players I didn’t see at all during practice:
TE TJ Hockenson
DT Michael Brockers
RAND Romeo Okwara
EDGE Eric Banks
DT John Penisini
Hockenson was clearly at the OTA drills on Wednesday, when he did one of the highlights the Lions posted on social media. His absence is certainly odd, but given that head coach Dan Campbell hasn’t mentioned him in his injury updates, I don’t think there should be anything to worry about at the moment.
The absence of Brockers and Okwara should come as no surprise. Okwara is still recovering from an Achilles injury, while Brockers is the most experienced player on the team and players in his position usually take OTAs, which – as a reminder – are voluntary.
The status of banks and penisini is unknown.
In addition to these absences, the following players were not seen much in training:
WR Jameson Williams
TE James Mitchell
TE Derrick Deese
LT Taylor Decker
CB hunt Lucas
CB Jerry Jacobs
The only upset in this group is seventh-round rookie Chase Lucas. However, Lucas was jogging and moving for most of training so it doesn’t look like his absence from the squad will last long.
Taylor Decker gave an update on his status after the workout.
“I had a foot injury last game of the year, rehabilitated it all offseason and just had some of the aftermath of it all,” Decker said. “Really just wise to deal with it so it doesn’t linger any further. Basically the opinion I got was that it’s something that will get better, it’s just kind of a pain in the ass that will take a little time. Just be smart now.”
Jerry Jacobs doesn’t look too far off either. He was engaged throughout practice, often mimicking individual cornerback drills a few paces behind the rest of the team. That’s promising considering he tore his cruciate ligament just over five months ago.
As for Jeff Okudah, early in the workout he engaged in full 11-on-11 drills, performed at about three-quarters speed, but didn’t do much else the rest of the way, including positional drills. He was still active and moving, but the lions are obviously taking it easy on him.
There have only been two notable position changes, and it’s unclear how permanent either will be.
With Okudah and Jacobs out for most of practice, it was Will Harris who became cornerback and made his debut against Amani Oruwariye. This obviously isn’t an entirely new position for Harris as he played almost exclusively cornerback towards the end of last season, but much of it was injury related. Again, this could be related to 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 corners, nickels, all of that,” Harris said after practice. “It pretty much depends on the needs of the team. Whatever they want me to go out and do, I’ll do it.”
The other notable change of position concerns Ifeatu Melifonwu, picked in the third round last year, who got a lot of safety work on Thursday. Now, Melifonwu still has plenty of reps even on the outside corner, but this appears to be a test from the coaching staff to see how the defender reacts as a sophomore.
“The plan (defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn) and the coaches just asked me to try,” Melifonwu said. “I’m a football player, so they kind of want to put me in different places (and) see what works. If you have versatility and know the other position just in case something happens.
According to Melifonwu, this was the first training session of the week in which he played a good chunk of both, meaning they relied heavily on him as security throughout the week. Again, it’s not clear if this is a long-term move or if the Lions are simply diversifying his skillset. We know that in the past they liked to cross-train their DBs.
Estimated starting lineup
Excluding the players who didn’t attend practice or didn’t participate, the starting defense looked like this:
LE: Charles Harris
DT: Jason Cornell
DT: Alim McNeill
DT/RE: Levi Onwuzurike
OLB/RE: Julian Okwara
LB: Alex Anzalone
LB: Derrick Barnes
CB: Jeff Okudah/Will Harris
CB: Amani Oruwariye
S: Tracy Walker
S: DeShon Elliott
At Nickel, AJ Parker was the starter.
On offense they rotated receivers too much to get a sense of whose turn it was, but the offensive line looked like this:
LT: Penei Sewell
LG: Jonah Jackson
C: Frank Ragnow
RG: Halapoulivaati Vaitai
RT: Matt Nelson
During some defensive drills, the Lions rotated linebacker pairings to give us a sense of what the current depth chart looks like at those inside linebacker spots. Here were 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 beginner has to work their way up from the bottom of the depth chart. However, head coach Dan Campbell noted how much he likes this space and believes the stiff competition will bring out the best in them.
“Of all the guys that we have in this room, there’s going to be a bloodbath there,” Campbell said. “There’s a lot of experience, there’s a lot of youth, there’s a lot of energy. I think when you combine it with the type, and on top of that, every one of these guys that’s in there is competitive. They are very competitive. I just think man when we get the finished product out and the two or three that’s left there’s going to be more than that, but I think, I think we’re going to be excited about these guys.”
One Minute Exercise
Campbell noted before training that he wanted to get into more competitive, situational football earlier in the off-season than in Year 1 this year. So, about halfway through practice, each quarterback performed the team version of a one-minute drill. The scenario: 45 seconds from your own 40-yard line. This is how it played out:
Goff initially found DJ Chark for a big win on a crosser over the middle. He beat Harris by a couple of strides and Goff hit him nicely in the crotch. However, the drive has stalled from there. Goff threw a high post route to Josh Reynolds and despite a jumping effort, it slipped through his fingertips. Goff forced Reynolds to throw the next, the second was stopped by Harris. Detroit went for a 50-yard field goal attempt and Austin Seibert pushed it wide. They lined up again from about 43 yards away, and it hit Seibert.
Boyle’s drive lasted exactly one game. Cornerback Mike Hughes jumped in front of a fast slant destined for Caliph Raymond and brought it home. As you’d expect, the entire defense chased him into the end zone to celebrate.
David Blough (aka The Part I Push Up Aidan Hutchinson)
Blough got into a good rhythm early, connecting first with running back Greg Bell on a wheel route that was just out of reach of linebacker Derrick Barnes. He then fired a nice throw between Ifeatu Melifonwu (to safety) and cornerback Cedric Boswell. Wide receiver Corey Sutton made an impressive full-extension hold on the game.
There, however, the drive stalled, almost entirely because of second overall winner Aidan Hutchinson. Detroit was in their NASCAR package, which meant Hutchinson actually got kicked in (with Jarrad Davis on the sidelines for some time). And while he was up against the reserve offensive lineman, his exit and explosion were just way too much, and he came to quarterback with three straight games.
In the end, the offense had to settle for a field goal. Riley Patterson doinked one from 45-50 yards off the left post, and as they headed for a 43-yard field goal, he kicked it wide to the right. Not a good day for the Lions kickers.
As always, the Lions had a one-on-one competitive drill near the end of practice to get the juices flowing. Today they ran the exact same drill as they did in the rookie minicamp – which is basically a “special team drill” where just one player tries to make an open field tackle 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 they won a drill, while Aaron Glenn danced every time the defense won. At one point, the defense made such a big play that Glenn went down and rolled onto his back like a breakdancer.
The exercise culminated in one final pre-determined rep: Caliph Raymond vs. Jarrad Davis. While Davis may have gotten his hands on Raymond, the seedy wide receiver ultimately got the best of Davis from an aggressive angle and blew past him. The offense went absolutely in the pants.
- Will Harris had a day of ups and downs, scoring at least two pass separations but also being beaten once by Chark.
- Not only did Jashon Cornell get a lot of first-team reps, but I think he knocked down two passes at the line. As someone who could benefit from Detroit’s four-man front-base defense, don’t sleep on Cornell.
- Another player to watch out for: Linebacker Anthony Pittman. During his interview with Tim Twentyman, Linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard said that Pittman “has built a clinic so far.” During a seven-a-side practice session, Pittman was part of the cover team that forced Boyle to hold the ball for a few seconds before eventually throwing it away. After the play, Pittman and Sheppard shared a hip bump.