Final Day of minicamp, June 13 notes and observations

From Birkett, Det FreeP: (Note, this is it until TC, no more practices until then.)

Nine NFL running backs had at least 60 receptions last season, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say Kerryon Johnson will be a part of that group this fall.

Johnson made the highlight play of the Detroit Lions’ final organized team activity practice of the spring on Thursday when he caught a long pass down the sideline for a touchdown.

Johnson’s catch wasn’t jaw-dropping in the Odell Beckham Jr. sense, but it was notable for several reasons. First, and I didn’t see where Johnson originally lined up on the play, but he had an easy 3 to 5 yards on the nearest defender as he streaked down the sideline.

Second, Matthew Stafford underthrew the pass, so Johnson had to cut short his route to make a leaping catch near the goal line as safety Tavon Wilson closed on him from behind.

It wasn’t an easy catch for any player, let alone a running back, but it was one that Johnson made look simple as he crossed the end zone and one that got me thinking about all the ways the Lions can use their No. 1 running back this fall.

Later in practice, Johnson caught another pass that made my notes, a simple check-down in a red-zone drill when he toe-tapped the sideline before going out of bounds.

The Lions have used Theo Riddick as their primary receiving back the last few seasons, and that’s still the role he’s best suited for, assuming he makes the team.

But I’m not sure Riddick is a lock for the 53-man roster – he’d make good trade bait, like Michael Roberts, in my opinion – and if the Lions do decide to go in another direction they don’t need to take Johnson off the field on third downs.

Johnson caught 32 passes in 10 games as a rookie last year and I could see him doubling that production, given the opportunity, this fall.

He’s a slithery runner who always seems to get positive yards on the ground, and he has better hands as a receiver than most gave him credit for coming out of college.

I still don’t see Johnson being much more than a 20-touch-a-game player this fall as the Lions want to preserve his health. C.J. Anderson, Zach Zenner, Riddick and rookie Ty Johnson all have a chance to earn snaps in a backup capacity.

But when the Lions need a play in their two-minute offense or when the game is on the line late, there’s no reason Johnson shouldn’t be on the field.

More observations from Thursday:

• Neither Riddick nor Anderson was on the field Thursday in a practice that felt a little like the last day of school with players getting ready to head home for the summer. Damon Harrison and Darius Slay remain away from the team, of course, and a handful of players sat out team (and in some cases) individual drills nursing injuries including Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, Tommylee Lewis, Chris Lacy, Trey Flowers, Steve Longa and Nick Bawden.

• I don’t know what he’s dealing with, but add Christian Jones to the group of Lions tending to health issues. He did not practice Thursday, but he popped his head briefly out of the practice facility and had a sleeve on his right leg. With him out, rookie Jahlani Tavai took first-team reps at linebacker alongside Jarrad Davis and Devon Kennard.

• After juggling combinations in mandatory minicamp last week, the Lions had their projected starting offensive line back on the field Thursday. That meant Frank Ragnow played center, Graham Glasgow right guard and Kenny Wiggins left guard with the first unit. Luke Bowanko, who signed as a free agent earlier this week, took second-team reps at center, with Joe Dahl at left guard and Oday Aboushi at right guard.

• Johnson’s catch aside, tight end Logan Thomas had the play of the day Thursday when he made a high leaping grab over Tracy Walker in the back of the end zone. The Lions have a ton of size in their tight end room this year, with Thomas (6 feet 6), Jesse James (6-7) and T.J. Hockenson (6-5) looking like a small-college basketball team. Expect Stafford to use it in the red zone this fall.

• Stafford also caught a pass Thursday, when one of his throws was batted back in his face at the line of scrimmage. I didn’t see which defensive player got his hand on the ball, but the whistle blew well before Stafford could turn and run upfield.

• Stafford did get some throwing in with Marvin Jones and Golladay, though neither of the Lions’ top two receivers was really running routes. The trio, plus quarterbacks Tom Savage and David Fales and receiver Jermaine Kearse, threw some mostly stationary fade routes while most of the team was on the far field doing special-teams drills.

• Twice during Thursday’s practice, offensive line coach Jeff Davidson gathered his group in front of one of the two big screens the Lions have on their practice field to watch the previous period. Matt Patricia has touted the educational value of having those boards on the field before, and we saw it in action Thursday.

• In your daily Teez Tabor update: The third-year cornerback had another interception while working with the first-team defense Thursday and downed a punt as a gunner near the 5-yard line (when he actually caught the punt before it landed). Overall, he’s had a positive spring after a rough first two seasons in Detroit.

• Kicker Matt Prater is about the least of the Lions’ concerns given how reliable he’s been during his career. I still got a kick – pun intended – out of one of his field goals Thursday. Practicing on the Lions’ skinny goalposts, which are about half as wide as regular goalposts, he banked a kick off the right upright, then the left upright, before he sailed through. Give him a hundred chances and I’m not sure he could do that again.

• That’s it for observations for the spring. The Lions will kick off training camp somewhere around July 25, and I’ll be back with more observations then.


Cool info on KeJo. I do hope they don’t overuse him.

Would I trade Riddick? No, not unless the deal is too good to turn down, cuz he’s decent insurance IMHO. Unless maybe Ty Johnson really shows like he’s NFL-ready, even in a part-time role.

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From Kyle Meinke, MLive:

ALLEN PARK – The Detroit Lions knew Kerryon Johnson could run the football. They were so sure of it, they traded away one of their picks to go get him in the second round of last year’s draft. And they were right.

Johnson averaged the second-most yards per carry in the league as a rookie, and now the Lions have rebuilt their offense to feature him more prominently.

What we didn’t know, or anyone else for that matter: This guy can catch the football too.

“That was kind of one of the questions we had with him when he came out – not a lot of route-running sort of looks on film,” head coach Matt Patricia said last week. “Which was one of the reasons earlier in the season last year (when) talking about Kerryon, we really didn’t get into too many specifics because there were things we were seeing in practice that I knew would take a while for the rest of the league to kind of see from that standpoint.”

Johnson went on to catch 32 passes (on 39 targets) for 213 yards and one touchdown as a rookie. But at Thursday’s practice, Detroit’s last before the summer break, the young back offered a reminder that he is capable of so much more.

Team rules prohibit me from saying too much about the route or formation, but there was one play where Johnson beat Tavon Wilson deep down the right sideline. Matthew Stafford underthrew him in the end zone, allowing Wilson to catch up and almost camp under the football, but Johnson timed the play perfectly and high-pointed the football right in front of him.

It was a great play from Johnson, don’t get me wrong, but you see this sort of thing all the time from receivers. What was most impressive about the play is that Johnson is a running back without much receiving experience, especially downfield. Yet he made that play look easy and natural.

Not bad for a guy who didn’t run that many routes in college, and it offered a reminder that Johnson is still just scratching the surface of his potential. Detroit is wary of over-using him, so don’t expect him to become an every-down back any time soon, but make no mistake, he can also do a bit of everything.

He could be headed for a big year, and I wouldn’t bet against it. Not with what Darrell Bevell wants to do, and not with how good Johnson is looking.

The Lions’ final practice of the spring certainly had a last-day-of-school vibe to it, so the observations are a little light this week. But here are a few parting shots before the break.

– In today’s episode of the Teez Tabor watch, yes, the cornerback intercepted yet another pass. That makes a least five in practices open to reporters, which is a (very unofficial) team high. He certainly hasn’t been perfect, as I wrote here, and I still question whether the speed could always limit him. Still, there’s no doubt his head is in the right place after making a lot of mistakes on and off the field his first two seasons. He says he’s fallen back in love with the game, and coaches have said they’ve seen the difference. And as we head into the summer break, Tabor has made more interceptions and pass breakups than any other corner in Detroit. (Friendly reminder: No Darius Slay.) What this really means remains to be seen. We’ve seen summer warriors before who flamed out when the pads came on. But making plays is certainly better than not making plays when your career is on the ropes, and Tabor is making plays. He’ll be among the most-watched players in Detroit when training camp opens around July 25.

– The catch of the day, non-Kerryon Johnson edition, might have been Travis Fulgham skying for a football over cornerback Mike Ford. Fulgham was a big-play machine at Old Dominion, and has made a few scattered plays in his first few weeks in Detroit, but none better than this.

– As I wrote last week, Logan Thomas has looked like Detroit’s third-best tight end this offseason. And with Michael Roberts now in New England, his grip on the TE3 position has tightened. He still needs some work on his ball skills, but the athleticism and length are undeniable. On Thursday, he used that athleticism and length to separate from Tracy Walker during red-zone drills and catch a nice touchdown pass – nice enough that players started oohing and aahing. Make no mistake, this guy is seeing a lot of the field this fall.

– The usual suspects remained out – no sense in bringing anyone back right now – and that includes Snacks Harrison and Darius Slay. It’ll be fascinating to see if they show up Day 1 of training camp if they don’t have new deals in hand. Running backs C.J. Anderson and Theo Riddick also didn’t practice. And while receivers Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay continued to sit out team drills, they did also catch a few balls from Matthew Stafford on the side. There’s no reason to think they’re not going to be ready to go Day 1 coming out of the break.

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From Twentyman and O’Hara,

No. 1 & No. 2: First-round pick T.J. Hockenson opened up a goal line passing period pitting the tight ends and running backs against the linebackers and safeties with a touchdown catch. On the next rep, second-round pick Jahlani Tavai got his hand on a Matthew Stafford pass intended for Jerome Cunningham. Detroit’s top two picks made their presence felt early in the drill. – Tim Twentyman

Good hands, linebackers: The Lions have stressed getting turnovers –- with marginal success last year – and making the linebacker tip drill difficult is part of that emphasis. On one play, undrafted rookie Anthony Pittman made a nice catch on a teammate’s deflection of a ball that was deliberately thrown high. On another, Jarrad Davis stretched to catch a ball that was thrown low. – Mike O’Hara

Going deep: The best catch in practice Thursday belonged to running back Kerryon Johnson. Running a route deep down the right sideline, Stafford saw him and heaved it deep toward the end zone. Johnson went up over safety Tavon Wilson to make the acrobatic catch. Johnson caught 32 passes in 10 games last season. He doesn’t get enough credit for how good he is as a pass catcher. – Tim Twentyman

Fales passes: Quarterbacks seem to fit in drills faster than players at most other positions, and that was the case with David Fales. Signed earlier this week, Thursday’s OTA was the first time media got a look at Fales. He seemed comfortable throwing the ball, with no hesitation on where to go. Obviously, there’s more to come in running the offense, but quarterbacks handle the basics quickly. – Mike O’Hara

On-field film session: The Lions have two big screens out at practice that serve as instant feedback to the players showing them the previous rep. They can also be used as kind of a portable film room. During two special teams periods, offensive line coach Jeff Davidson gathered his linemen in front of one of the screens and they went through the film of the previous team period. – Tim Twentyman

Who wants it more: The second best catch in Thursday’s practice belonged to tight end Logan Thomas. The Lions were in a team goal line period. Thomas was thrown a jump ball with safety Tracy Walker all over him. Both players went high for the ball, but the 6-foot-6 Thomas was able to just outstretch the 6-foot-1 Walker for a full extension reception and touchdown. – Tim Twentyman

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Has he made it onto the field yet?

From Jeremy Reisman, PrideofDetroit:

The Detroit Lions wrapped up their organized team activities on a cool Thursday morning. We were on hand to watch their final practice before training camp, so here are our final OTA observations for 2019.

Practice was a little lighter than normal, and not just because Michael Roberts had been traded to New England.

Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay remained sidelined from team activities, but on Thursday receivers Tommylee Lewis and Chris Lacy joined them. Both of those depth receivers were injured earlier in the month and neither participated in individual drills on Thursday.

The running back squad was equally trimmed, as both Theo Riddick and C.J. Anderson were nowhere to be found.

Finally, there were a couple new names on the defensive side of the ball. Startling linebacker Christian Jones did not participate, and appeared to be sporting a slight limp. That left second-round rookie Jahlani Tavai to start at the will linebacker spot all practice. Depth cornerback Marcus Cooper didn’t appear to be present on Thursday.

In positive injury news, rookie tight end Isaac Nauta appears to be close to a full return. He didn’t participate in team drills, but he did more during positional drills than I’ve seen in the past. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a full go at the start of training camp.

Offensive line update
For most of the day, the Lions utilized their most recent offensive front: Taylor Decker, Oday Aboushi, Frank Ragnow, Joe Dahl and Rick Wagner. However, during some red zone drills, they were back to having Kenny Wiggins and Graham Glasgow with the ones.

Also, newly signed center Luke Bowanko got some playing time with the second-team offense.

T.J. Hockenson dominates
All day, it looked like T.J. Hockenson was unguardable. He was especially lethal in red zone drills, where it looked like he pulled in at least three touchdowns on the day. However, it was fellow tight end Logan Thomas who had one of the best plays of practice. In another goal line drill, Thomas somehow managed to out-jump Tracy Walker’s arms and pull down an impressive catch.

It was very easy to see why the Lions moved on from Michael Roberts on Thursday, as Detroit’s tight ends were at their best. However, I did see a couple of drops from Jerome Cunningham.

Two big plays
If not the Thomas catch, there were two other candidates for Play of the Day.

The first came from running back Kerryon Johnson, who burned Tavon Wilson on a route out of the backfield. The pass came up a little short, giving Wilson the opportunity to recover, but Johnson elevated over the safety and pulled down what would’ve been around a 40-yard completion.

The other play came from rookie wideout Travis Fulgham, who outjumped Mike Ford for a big completion that drew some noise from the sidelines. The play put the Lions offense in a first-and-goal situation, and to Ford’s credit, he broke up a pass to Fulgham just two plays later.

Ty Johnson is, indeed, very fast
While we’re on Lions sixth-round picks, Johnson had an opportunity to get more reps on Thursday with Riddick and Anderson out, and he certainly did make an impression. During one set of plays, Johnson was able to easily outrun the Lions’ second-team defense to the edge and pick up potential big gains.

It’s hard to know if Johnson is versatile enough to win a roster spot come September, but he did well for himself on the last day of OTAs.

Random notes:
During special teams drills, it was neat to see the entire offensive line take a knee in front of a video screen and basically have an impromptu film session of the plays they just ran.
Teez Tabor did have another interception on Thursday on an overthrown deep ball from Matthew Stafford. Tabor wasn’t particularly good the rest of practice, however.
That interception came on a fourth-and-10 situation from the offense, who just had a brutal set of plays leading up to that moment. In frustration, Danny Amendola threw his helmet from the middle of the end zone all the way to the sidelines.
Despite that string of plays, the offense mostly had the defense’s number all morning. After the offense beat the defense on a red zone drill, Kerryon Johnson was visibly teasing Tracy Walker, who had to do burpees with the rest of the defense.
Quandre Diggs took a rep as a punt returner, which was the first time I’ve seen that this offseason. Diggs did have two punt returns last season

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From Eric Schlitt, Lionswire:

Thursday marked the final organized training activity of the 2019 offseason for the Detroit Lions and while observations showed us much of the same information we’ve seen over the past few weeks, there were a few notable changes stood out.

Participation report

Heading into six-week break period before training camp the Lions were playing it safe with the health of their players and held out a few more than they have in previous practices.

Running backs C.J. Anderson and Theo Riddick were both missing from today’s practice and no reason was given for their absence. While linebacker Christian Jones was a new addition to the non-participation group as he was not able to take the field today.

The rest of the participation was pretty close to what we have recently witnessed, although some improvement was seen among the tight ends groups, as both Isaac Nauta and Jerome Cunningham returned to practice, with Nauta only doing positional drills and Cunningham back in full.

Cornerback Justin Coleman also an upgrade in health, as he took reps in defensive back drills but sat out the team activities.

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Wide receivers Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones continue to put in work (jogging and catching) on the sidelines and travel with their position group, but are sitting out the physical portions of the workouts. Chris Lacy and Tommylee Lewis — both of whom were injured during previous workouts — spent them beginning of practice indoors (presumably) with trainers and watch practice from the sideline, occasionally playing catch but not jogging.

Fullback Nick Bawden continues to stand on the sidelines with no participation in workouts, as does EDGE rusher Trey Flowers, JACK linebacker Austin Bryant and linebacker Steve Longa.

Darius Slay and Damon Harrison continue to not be in attendance as they are looking for adjustments to their contract.

Offensive line rotation

After last weeks practices saw the Lions swapping their guards out for full sessions, today they were rotating them every series. Kenny Wiggins and Joe Dahl swapped time at left guard, while Graham Glasgow and Oday Abboushi altered at right guard.

Frank Ragnow anchored the center position with the first team, while Leo Kolomatangi and newly acquired Luke Bowanko each saw time at center with the second team.

The new signal caller

Newcomer David Fales was worked in slowly and his snaps were limited but he showed nice touch in red zone situations. It’s still too early to know if he was truly an upgrade over Connor Cook.

Plays of the day

Play of the Day went to Kerryon Johnson who got loose down the right sidelines blowing past Tavon Wilson who was caught flat-footed. Wilson showed nice acceleration to catch up but Johnson was already by him and Matthew Stafford placed a 40-plus-yard bomb that Johnson leaped/dove to grab for the score.

Runner up for the play of the day went to rookie Travis Fulgham who flashed down the sideline and beat tough coverage from Mike Ford. Fulgham perfectly high-pointed the ball 40-yards downfield and strolled into the end zone as defenders fell to the ground around him.

It’s worth noting that Fulgham stayed after practice with a coach working on his routes in the end zone. From what I saw, he was the last player on the field after putting in the extra work.

Another contender for the play of the day came from Logan Thomas who, in red zone drills, high pointed a ball over the extended arms of Tracy Walker. With Walker’s reach, that’s no small feat.

While Johnson, Fulgham and Thomas made some flashy plays, rookie T.J. Hockenson was easily the most versatile and reliable player on offense. Hockenson saw snaps all over the field — inline, outside, and in the backfield — catching anything close to him. Whether he was covered by Wilson, Walker or Will Harris, none of them had the answer for the first-rounder who had arguably his best day of the offseason.

Special teams, positional work and film review

In somewhat new news, Quandre Diggs field a punt today. It was likely just practiced for emergency situations as Diggs has filled in on punt returns in the past, receiving two during the 2018 season for four-yards.

The rest of the usual suspects were there for remaining returns. Danny Amendola and Jamal Agnew were in on both punt and kickoff situations, Ty Johnson got in on the action on kicks, while Brandon Powell and Tom Kennedy saw some time returning punts.

When the majority of the team worked on special team situations, a few key players (who don’t play on special teams) spent time with the quarterbacks and their position coaches, including Jermaine Kearse and Kerryon Johnson.

The offensive line spent this time productively, using it to review the previous 11-on-11 practice session on one of the big screens on the side of the field. The linemen were able to see what just happened, discuss with coaches and make adjustments for the next session. When Kerryon Johnson wasn’t doing drills with running backs coach Kyle Caskey, they joined the linemen in the film review.

Next man up at linebacker

With Christian Jones sidelined, second-round pick Jahlani Tavai stepped into the starting role at WILL linebacker. The second-team saw a lot of rotating bodies including Miles Killebrew and undrafted rookie edge rusher Malik Carney who illustrated his range to play multiple spots. Keep an eye on Carney come training camp who could be playing himself into a roster spot.

Yet another interception for Tabor

After a day that appeared to favor the offense, it was the defense who closed things out on a positive note.

Near the end practice, the team worked on what looked like two-minute drills, where the offense was given the opportunity to move the ball down the field to try to score. The first team drove down the field but when they got into the red zone, Tabor once again secured a pivotal interception, ending the drive. It looked the ball was headed Andy Jones way, but Amendola’s reaction — chucking his helmet 25-yards in disgust — made me question if he was the one who made a mistake.

When the second team took the field it was another interception ending drive, this time by safety C.J. Moore. Moore caught a ball that ricocheted off a tight end and into his waiting arms. He fell to the ground just outside of the end zone, ending the drill.

On a fun final note: After the Moore interception, Tyrell Crosby hovered over Moore as he was in the fetal position guarding the ball. When he lingered on the ground a bit too long, Crosby picked him up by the arm and carried him like a small child back a few yards, dropping him into the end zone. He then turned and looked towards the other offensive lineman and humorously signaled for a safety.

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Today was the 1st day that I can recall any mention of him NOT being there. I think he’s been there but not doing anything to warrant a comment by the beat writers on his play. Not that I remember anyway.

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So this is it until TC starts somewhere in the last week of July. Could be a trade or a signing, but essentially this is the 2019 Lions, for better or worse. I think this team has been noticeably improved, the defense was already playing better towards the last part of the 2018 season, and addition of Flowers, Coleman, Melvin, and a few others makes them look better and deeper.

On offense, the story starts with the new OC and an increased emphasis on the running game. The upgrades at TE ought to help in that regard, plus CJ Anderson is better than Blount was. The trick is going to be how unpredictable they’re going to be, and how many more (or fewer) mistakes they make, like bad throws, drops, fumbles, and flags. If they can get out of their own way then there’s no reason why these guys can’t compete for the division and the playoffs. Absent a bunch of key injuries, but this team is as deep as any Lions team in recent memory IMHO.