For the first time this year, the Detroit Lions opened up 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 permitted to do full 11-on-11 work with the entire squad. So on a mild, cloudy Thursday afternoon, we got our first look at the 2022 team as a (mostly) whole team.
Here are my biggest takeaways from Thursday’s practice.
Here are the players that I did not see out there at all during practice:
TE TJ Hockenson
DT Michael Brockers
EDGE Romeo Okwara
EDGE Eric Banks
DT John Penisini
Hockenson was clearly at Wednesday’s OTA practices, as he made one of the highlights that the Lions posted to social media. His absence is certainly curious, but because head coach Dan Campbell didn’t mention him in his injury updates, I don’t believe there should be a reason for concern at the moment.
Brockers and Okwara’s absence shouldn’t come as surprises. Okwara is still recovering from an Achilles injury, while Brockers is the most veteran player on the team, and players in his position commonly take off OTAs, which — as a reminder — are voluntary.
The statuses of Banks and Penisini are unknown.
In addition to those absences, the following players were not seen doing much of anything at practice:
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 was jogging and moving most of the practice, so it doesn’t seem like his absence from the roster will be long.
Taylor Decker gave an update on his status after practice.
“I had a foot injury last game of the year, was rehabbing it all offseason, and just having some of the residual effects from all of that,” Decker said. “Just being smart about it really, so it doesn’t continue to linger. Basically, the opinion I got was it’s something that’s going to get better, it’s just kind of a pain in the ass that will take a little time. Just being smart about it right now. “
Jerry Jacobs doesn’t look too far off, either. He was engaged during all of practice, and oftentimes mimicking the individual cornerback drills a few steps behind 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 full 11-on-11s to start practice — which is run at about three-quarters speed — but did not do much of anything else the rest of the way, including positional drills. He was still active and moving around, but the Lions are clearly taking it slow with him.
There were only two significant position changes of note, and it’s unclear how permanent either will be.
With Okudah and Jacobs out during most of practice, it was safety-turned-cornerback Will Harris who was repping with the first time opposite Amani Oruwariye. This obviously isn’t a completely new position for Harris, as he was playing almost exclusively cornerback toward the end of last season, but much of that was driven by injury. Again, this could be related to the Lions being shorthanded at 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 of that,” Harris said after practice. “Pretty much just varies on the team needs. Whatever they want me to go out and do, that’s what I’m gonna do. ”
The other position change of note is with last year’s third-round pick Ifeatu Melifonwu, who got a ton of work at safety on Thursday. Now, Melifonwu still got plenty of reps at outside corner, too, but this appears to be a test from the coaching staff to see how the second-year defensive back responds.
“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 spots (and) see what works. If you got versatility and know the other position just in case anything happens. ”
According to Melifonwu, this was the first practice of the week in which he played a good chunk of both, meaning they’ve been heavily leaning on him as a safety during the week. Again, it isn’t clear if this is a long-term move or if the Lions simply diversifying his skill set. We know in the past they like to have their DBs cross-trained.
Estimated starting lineup
Not including the players who were not at practice or weren’t participating, here’s what the starting defense looked like:
LE: Charles Harris
DT: Jashon 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
When in nickel, AJ Parker was the starter.
On offense, they rotated the receivers too much to get a sense of who was starting, but the offensive line looked as follows:
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 order of reps:
- 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 little surprise that the rookie will have to work their way up from the bottom of the depth chart. However, head coach Dan Campbell noted how much he likes this room and believes the strong competition will bring the best out of them.
“Out of all those guys we have in that 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’s in there is competitive. They’re highly 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 my point is, I think we’re going to be excited about those guys. ”
Campbell noted before practice that this year he wanted to get into more competitive, situational football earlier in the offseason than they did in Year 1. So around the midway point of practice, each quarterback ran the team’s version of a one-minute drill. The scenario: 45 seconds left starting from your own 40-yard line. Here’s how it played out:
Goff initially found DJ Chark for a big gain on a crosser over the middle. He beat Harris by a few steps and Goff hit him nicely in stride. However, the drive stalled from there. Goff threw a high post-route to Josh Reynolds and despite a leaping effort, it slipped through his fingertips. Goff forced the next to throws to Reynolds, with the second being broken up by Harris. Detroit settled for a 50ish-yard field goal attempt and Austin Seibert pushed it wide. They lined up again from about 43 yards out, and Seibert nailed it.
Boyle’s drive lasted exactly one play. Cornerback Mike Hughes jumped in front of a quick slant intended for Kalif Raymond and took it to the house. As you may expect, the entire defensive roster chased him down into the end zone in celebration.
David Blough (AKA the part where I hype up Aidan Hutchinson)
Blough got in a nice rhythm early, first connecting with running back Greg Bell on a wheel route just out of the reach of linebacker Derrick Barnes. He then darted a nice throw between Ifeatu Melifonwu (at safety) and cornerback Cedric Boswell. Wide receiver Corey Sutton made an impressive full-extension grab on the play.
However, that’s where the drive stalled, and almost exclusively because of the second overall pick Aidan Hutchinson. Detroit was in their NASCAR package, meaning Hutchinson was actually kicked inside (with Jarrad Davis seeing some time at edge). And while he was up against reserve offensive lineman, his get-off and explosion were just far too much, and he got to the quarterback on three straight plays.
Eventually, the offense had to settle for a field goal. Riley Patterson doinked one off the left upright from somewhere between 45-50 yards, and when they moved up to a 43-yard field goal, he kicked it wide right. Not a good day for Lions kickers.
As always, the Lions had a one-on-one competitive drill towards the end of practice to get the juices flowing. Today, they ran the exact same drill they ran at rookie minicamp — which is basically a “special teams drill” where it’s just one player trying to make an open-field tackle in a limited area.
The coaching staff may have been the most entertaining part of the drill, as Duce Staley was imitating the moves of the offensive player any time they won a drill, while Aaron Glenn was dancing every time the defense won. At one point, the defense made such a big play that Glenn got down on the ground and spun on his back like a breakdancer.
The drill culminated in one final pre-determined rep: Kalif Raymond vs. Jarrad Davis. While Davis may have gotten a hand on Raymond, the shifty wide receiver ultimately got the best of an aggressive angle taken by Davis and blew by him. The offense went absolutely nuts.
- Will Harris had an up-and-down day, tallying at least two pass breakups, but also getting beat by Chark once handily.
- Not only did Jashon Cornell get plenty of first-team reps, but I believe he also batted down two passes at the line. As someone who may benefit from Detroit’s four-man front base defense, don’t sleep on Cornell.
- Another player to look out for: linebacker Anthony Pittman. During his interview with Tim Twentyman, linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard said that Pittman “has been putting on a clinic so far.” During a seven-on-seven drill, Pittman was part of the coverage team that forced Boyle to hold onto the ball for several seconds before eventually throwing it away. After the play, Pittman and Sheppard shared a hip bump.