Mini-camp note and observations, Jun 5

While I’m waiting for the beat writers notes and observations to come out, but I saw this from ESPN’s Michael Rothstein:

A bit of a change during part of practice: Joe Dahl (LG) and Oday Aboushi (RG) were working with the first team instead of Kenny Wiggins and Graham Glasgow. Could be a case of getting younger and newer guys reps, but still curious considering both Wiggins and Glasgow did work with the second team instead.

Me: I think Glasgow is a starter somewhere, but it’s hard to say who the 5th starter will be when it counts. The Lions still might sign or trade for somebody. Not counting on it though.

More from Rothstein:

Tom Kennedy, the former pro lax (lacrosse) player trying to make the Lions, had a couple nice catches working with the third team today from Connor Cook. One was for a touchdown. That said, neither backup QB looked particularly sharp today — Cook or current No. 2 Tom Savage.

Chris Lacy might have had the play of the day. He caught a deep pass from Matthew Stafford over a falling Rashaan Melvin in 7-on-7 and would have scored if it were a real play. Lacy is going to be a player to watch come training camp for a depth receiver spot. Other than Kenny Golladay he’s the tallest receiver on the roster at 6-foot-3. Later, he beat Teez Tabor badly in 11-on-11 for what would have been a deep touchdown. Later he had a bad drop on a deep ball where he had a step on rookie Will Harris, who has spent time with the first team at points in the spring.



From Dave Birkett, Det FreeP:

Jamal Agnew was just starting to play a bigger role on defense when he hurt his left knee and missed most of last season.

An All-Pro return man as a rookie, Agnew has said he wants to be more than just a special-teams player, and at the second practice of mandatory minicamp Wednesday, he showed a glimpse of his coverage ability.

With free-agent addition Justin Coleman once again sitting out team drills, Agnew played as the top inside cornerback in the Detroit Lions’ sub-package defenses and delivered the play of practice.

During a full-team drill towards the end of practice, Agnew trailed Brandon Powell out of the slot on a deep corner route. Powell appeared to have a step on the third-year cornerback, but Agnew saw something in Powell that made him turn his head at just the right time to swat the ball away.

Agnew left the media pen after practice before I could get to him as he had treatment scheduled, but he’s a true wildcard in a secondary that still has major questions at the cornerback spot opposite Darius Slay. Rashaan Melvin continues to work as the No. 2 outside corner and is the favorite to win the job, and the Lions paid Coleman a boatload of money to be their primary slot defender. But there’s a whole logjam of cornerbacks after that, and with the amount of dime and quarter defense the Lions use, Agnew has a chance to carve out a role on defense.

Agnew’s numbers as a punt returner dipped significantly before his injury last year – he averaged 4.8 yards a punt return in 2018, compared to 15.4 yards a return in 2017 – and though new special-teams coordinator John Bonamego insisted last week that Agnew remains elite in that area, the more the 2017 fifth-round pick can do the better his chances of making this team.

The Lions continued to focus on third-down situations on Day 2 of minicamp.

Here are some more observations from practice:

The Lions shook up their offensive line Wednesday for the first time time in the practices we’ve seen this spring, but I wouldn’t read too much into the changes. Joe Dahl (left guard) and Oday Aboushi (right guard) took first-team reps, while Kenny Wiggins (left guard) and Graham Glasgow (right guard) worked with the second team.

Matt Patricia has said often that spring is a good time to experiment with different lineups and give players experience at different positions, and that’s all this was. The left guard spot is the only one on the offensive line that’s truly up for grabs, and it should be noted that both Glasgow and swing tackle Tyrell Crosby worked as part of the first unit (along with Aboushi and Rick Wagner, in a rotation) during the Lions’ rush period.

• I wrote about Teez Tabor in Tuesday’s observations and the good things he did at practice. Well, Wednesday wasn’t his most banner day. Chris Lacy blew past Tabor on the first play of an 11-on-11 period and would have scored a run-away touchdown if he didn’t have to wait for a pass from Matthew Stafford, and Travis Fulgham got behind Tabor in a seven-on-seven drill, though the pass was incomplete.

Tabor’s issues with the deep ball aren’t going away, and as I wrote yesterday, he’s still going to have to earn a roster spot this summer.

• Lacy, by the way, has worked with the No. 1 group of receivers all spring with Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay out. He made a nice catch Wednesday over Melvin on a beautiful pass from Stafford, but also had one drop and and another pass deflect off his hands (though I think there was a miscommunication on the second play as the pass seemed to be intended for Powell, who was in the same area). Lacy uses his big body (6 feet 3, 205 pounds) well on the field and should be in the mix for a roster spot come camp.

• This has been the case for a couple years now, but the Lions are screwed if anything happens to Stafford. It wasn’t a good day for either backup quarterback Tom Savage or Connor Cook. Savage threw a terrible interception when he rolled left in an 11-on-11 drill to buy time – he almost certainly would have been sacked in a game – and then threw a panic ball to no one in particular that basically hit safety Andrew Adams in the chest. A few plays later, Cook threw a shallow crossing route well behind intended receiver Brandon Reilly.

At some point, the Lions really do need to find a reliable backup.

• One defensive player who made my notes a time or two Wednesday: Cornerback Marcus Cooper. He saw some spot duty late last season so he’s not a complete unknown, but he made a nice play to break up a jump ball to T.J. Hockenson early in practice and played smothering coverage on Fulgham, the rookie sixth-round pick, in the same red-zone drill.

The Lions have a number of cornerbacks in front of Cooper on the depth chart, but Cooper was a Pro Bowl alternate on special teams a few years ago so remember his name for the summer.

• Kerryon Johnson is going to have a big year for the Lions. It’s tough to tell much about the running game with no pads on this time of year, but Johnson hits the hole hard every time he touches the ball. He’s going to top 1,000 yards rushing this year – easily – if he stays healthy.

• The Lions had a little fun at the end of practice Wednesday, pitting offensive and defensive players in what looked like a field-goal kicking competition. I couldn’t tell who all made all kicks as the media was sequestered far away from the field awaiting interviews, but whenever someone did they received big applause from their teammates. Jarrad Davis did make one kick, though, and the defense beat the offense, which had to do push-ups for losing.

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From Jeremy Reisman, PoD:

Offensive line shake up

The Lions changed out two players in the presumed starting offensive line on Wednesday, and they’re probably not the ones you would think.

Previously, the Lions have mostly had Kenny Wiggins at left guard and Graham Glasgow at right guard. Both of those players were relegated to the second-team offense for almost the entirety of practice. In their spots were Joe Dahl at left guard and Oday Aboushi at right guard. With the second team, Wiggins and Glasgow kept their same positions on the left and right, respectively.

At this point, it would be very surprising if either Dahl or Aboushi were to win out a starting role, but it’s interesting to see head coach Matt Patricia and company give them a shot.

Defense dominating offense

At this time of year, it’s pretty common for the defense to be ahead of the offense. That is probably especially true for a team learning a new offensive system. But on Wednesday, it was clear just how much better the defense is compared to the offense.

The offense, similar to Tuesday’s practice, seemed like they weren’t on the same page for several plays, and it was an abysmal day for the backup quarterbacks. On one play, Tom Savage panicked, scrambled from the pocket, ran back in the other direction, then threw an interception right to Andrew Adams.

Of course, the offense is also missing a few key pieces in Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay, so there’s no real reason for concern.

Arise, Chris Lacy

For a few weeks now, I have been looking to see if any of the Lions’ receiver depth would emerge with Jones and Golladay out, and finally it happened Wednesday. Lacy was a popular deep threat during Day 2 of minicamp, with Matthew Stafford connecting with Lacy on several occasions.

During one drill—where players were probably running around 70 percent speed—Lacy made an impressive leaping grab over Rashaan Melvin. Then, when the Lions went full speed 11-on-11s, Stafford hit Lacy deep over Teez Tabor, who had a pretty rough day by his own admission.

“I ain’t doing too good right now,” Tabor said after practice. “It’s a lot of things I need to work on still.”

That being said, Lacy did have one pretty bad drop on another deep ball in which he had a step or two of separation.

Tight end notes

T.J. Hockenson had an up-and-down day, as you would expect from a rookie. However, there was one series of plays that impressed me.

Working on goal-line drills, Matthew Stafford tried to hit Hockenson on a quick out. The rookie tight end made a clean move and had clear room to make the catch, but he was too slow to turn his head and didn’t have enough time to catch the ball thrown right at his hands.

However, on the very next play, Tom Savage went right back to him and Hockenson made a good touchdown catch near the back of the end zone.

Wednesday, however, was more about Jesse James, who showed he can be a down-field threat, as well. Early in practice, Stafford found James in a tight window between zone coverages. A few plays later, Stafford went deep to James over the middle of the field and after bobbling it a few times, James came down with it.

Michael Roberts had a fairly quiet day, as he struggles to create separation in coverage. However, he may have made the catch of the day. Roberts hauled in a fade pass at full extension at the corner of the end zone, pulling it down clean and coming down with it as the defender landed with him. Unfortunately, it was out of bounds according to the nearby referee.

Other notes:

I’ve been asked a few times where Mike Ford stands in the CB2 race. Well, this may be an indication. Ford saw playing time all over the field, including some safety work with the third-team defense. Ford still had plenty of time working with the cornerbacks—including during 11-on-11 drills—but this is something to keep an eye on as we near training camp.
The participation notes from Wednesday’s practice were identical to Tuesday. Also of note, Justin Coleman and A’Shawn Robinson don’t seem to be getting much playing time (if at all) during full 11-on-11s. Neither appear to be working with trainers.
Tavon Wilson made a near identical play to his interception from Tuesday… but he dropped it.
The Lions ended Wednesday’s practice with a field goal kicking contest between the offense and defense. The media was stationed at the exact opposite corner, so we couldn’t tell who exactly was kicking, but the defense won, as evidenced by the entire offensive roster doing pushups. Be on the lookout to see if the Lions post highlights of it on their website.

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From Kyle Meinke, MLive:

ALLEN PARK – The Detroit Lions decided to shake up their offensive line on the second day of minicamp.

Joe Dahl was working with the starting unit at left guard, and Oday Aboushi was at right guard. Graham Glasgow, who has worked exclusively as the first-team right guard during practices open to reporters this offseason, was at right guard on the second team.

What exactly this means is unclear because coach Matt Patricia spoke before practice. But it likely doesn’t mean much. The Lions are trying to cross-train their offensive linemen to play multiple positions to give them options in the event of injury.

“We evaluate a lot of players at a lot of different positions,” Patricia said during the first round of OTAs. " It’s just a great opportunity for us to get a look at all different sort of combinations of players that we have. Ultimately, the offensive line, I may have mentioned before—that’s the one group I would say, as a group and whole, that’s really difficult from that standpoint that you’ve got five guys that have to see the game through the same sets of eyes. So, there’s a lot of repetition, a lot of situations where you’re trying to put them in that sort of communication stressor so that they work through all of that."

Detroit seems especially interested in figuring out what exactly it has in Dahl. He was a fifth-round pick in Bob Quinn’s first draft class back in 2016, but has played sparingly over the years. He does play multiple positions, though. He was an excellent offensive tackle at Washington State, and has played mostly guard in his Lions career. On the first day of minicamp, he was the backup center. On the second day, he was in the starting lineup at right guard. And let’s not forget his moonlighting as a fullback last season. Now that’s versatility.

The second unit, from left to right, was Tyrell Crosby, Kenny Wiggins, Leo Koloamatangi, Glasgow and Andrew Donnal.

With so many pieces moving around Wednesday, it was interesting to note one guy who remained in place: Frank Ragnow. He played his rookie season exclusively at left guard, but has practiced this year exclusively as the first-team center. Patricia has tried to downplay that alignment, saying he’s just trying to cross-train the young offensive lineman. But the longer he stays in place at center, while so many others are moving around, the more clear it becomes center is his new position.

Here are a few more observations from Day 2 of minicamp:

– After spending much of Day 1 working on third downs, the Lions spent much of Day 2 working specifically on third-and-long situations. That could have something to do with installing the offensive scheme, sure, but it’s mostly about making players more aware of situational football. That has been a focus ever since Patricia took over in Detroit, but has really heightened now that he’s had a year-plus to implement the basics of his system. “The No. 1 thing we’ll try to teach as we go through the different phases of the game is awareness," Patricia said. "What are the different types of plays or areas of the field that are attacked in these situations? So generally it’s a big awareness thing. … It’s a lot of technique work that we have to get down. There’s just a difference when the timing of the play is third down, if it’s third-and-short versus third-and-longer. What’s the marriage of rush and coverage right there? How long does the play take? What’s the technique of the players that are in coverage? What’s the technique of the guys that are in the rush? The timing of the offensive play affects that. What’s the rhythm of the quarterback? What’s the rhythm of the route? What are the different plays? There will be a lot of conversation here throughout the league – popular plays in shorter down-and-distances, with third downs being a lot of picks and rubs, then you can get into some different avenues there. There’s just so much coaching that’s involved. The same is true in the longer situations. They all have little different points of emphasis that regardless of the play or the scheme, that need to be understood before you really master the situation.”

– Patricia made those comments before practice, and indeed Detroit spent much of the day working out of third-and-long sets. The No. 1 offense actually fared pretty well against the long chains, too. Receiver Chris Lacy, running with the ones because of injuries to Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones, was especially good. He caught a deep pass from Matthew Stafford over Rashaan Melvin during 7-on-7s that would have certainly scored in a live situation. Later, he beat Teez Tabor deep. And Tabor, remember, has been having a really good offseason. I can’t remember him getting beat like this by anybody else. Lacy is going to be an intriguing name to watch in that battle for a reserve job behind Golladay, Jones and Danny Amendola.

– It really wasn’t a great day for Tabor. Not only was he beat deep by Lacy, but rookie Travis Fulgham blew past him too during seven-on-sevens (although the pass fell incomplete). There’s a lot to like about Tabor’s development this offseason. He’s impressed coaches with his renewed commitment to learning the finer points of the position, and has spent his time away from the team working with the likes of Chad Ochocinco in Florida. He’s practiced well all offseason. But the speed issues aren’t going away anytime soon either, and today, it cost him.

– You know who had an impressive day for the defense? Jamal Agnew. He’s kind of the forgotten man on that side of the ball. He was an All-Pro as a rookie, of course, but that was as a punt returner. He was good enough last year to win the starting nickel job out of camp, but sustained a knee injury in Week 5 that cost him most of the rest of the season. Now the Lions have handed Justin Coleman more money than anyone pays nickel in the game, which has clouded Agnew’s future on defense. But Agnew has gotten a lot of time with the first team this offfseason while Coleman nurses an injury, and made the most of the opportunity Wednesday. His best play came right in front of the bleachers where Detroit pens in the media, as Agnew read Brandon Powell perfectly, turned his head at the right time and was able to swat away the ball.

– You know who wasn’t very good for the offense? The backup quarterbacks. Tom Savage threw an interception for the second straight day, this time throwing the ball directly to safety Andrew Adams on a rollout. And if there were a single offensive player within at least 10 yards of that pass, I didn’t see him. Ugly. He wasn’t done yet, either, later throwing the ball directly into Tavon Wilson’s chest. (Wilson dropped the ball.) Connor Cook wasn’t exactly sharp either, though, throwing behind his receivers a few times. He did feather a beauty to tight end T.J. Hockenson at one point, though.

– Jamal Agnew, Ty Johnson and Brandon Powell were the primary players dropping back at kick returner. It’s impossible to say anything about where that competition stands when there’s no hitting, although it’s worth noting Powell did put one ball on the ground. Agnew averaged 28.0 yards on his eight kickoff returns last year, which ranked 11th in the league. Johnson averaged 27.2 yards on 14 returns last year at the University of Maryland, which ranked 11th in the country. Both players have exceptional speed, and it’ll be interesting to see how that battle unfolds. Given Detroit’s depth at running back, special teams just might be Johnson’s best path to the 53-man roster.

– There were a few notable visitors at minicamp, including owner Martha Firestone Ford herself. Her daughter, Sheila Ford Hamp, and team president Rod Wood also took in practice. So did Michigan offensive line coach Ed Warriner.

– The Lions usually wrap up practice with wind sprints. On Wednesday, they decided to have some fun instead by pitting the offense against the defense in a field-goal competition. It was impossible for reporters to see much at all because of how far we were from the players, but it looked like Jarrad Davis made one kick and the offense had to do pushups for losin

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From Twentyman and O’Hara,

Fun to end practice: The end of Wednesday’s mandatory minicamp practice was short on running and long on fun. It was an offense vs. defense field goal kicking competition. The players were pretty animated throughout and the defense was the eventual winner, which meant pushups for everyone on offense – Tim Twentyman

Smart recovery: Brandon Powell fumbled the ball a yard or so deep in the end zone on a kickoff return, but he avoided compounding the error. Powell recovered the ball and downed it in the end zone rather than trying to run it out for what likely would have been a short return. Recovering in the end zone gave the offense the ball on the 25. It was a smart play on Powell’s part. – Mike O’Hara

Pretty good day: As Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr. continue to rehab injuries, it’s been an opportunity for other pass catchers to show what they can do. One of the players that took advantage of that Wednesday was second-year wide receiver Chris Lacy, who made deep receptions behind both Rashaan Melvin and Teez Tabor in 7-on-7 and team drills. It might have been a great practice for Lacy had he been able to reel in the final deep ball thrown his way in the final team period. – Tim Twentyman

Breaking good: Rookie cornerback Amani Oruwariye made a nice breakup on a deep ball meant for Jonathan Duhart down the right sideline. It was a battle of big men – 6-2 Oruwariye against 6-3 Duhart. – Mike O’Hara

Working themselves in: Head coach Matt Patricia said at the beginning of OTAs a few weeks ago the team planned to work out different combinations upfront. We saw that Wednesday, with veteran guards Oday Aboushi and Joe Dahl getting a run with the first-team offensive line most of the day. – Tim Twentyman

Paddle ball: There is an array of devices that are used in place of players in practice to simulate some situations. One of them was a pair of long-handled paddles held high in the air at the line of scrimmage by a staff assistant during a passing drill. The paddles simulated blocking the passing lane, forcing the quarterback to make an adjustment. The paddles got a Tom Savage pass in one drill. – Mike O’Hara

Big target: Tight end Jesse James is a big target at 6-foot-7 and he needed every bit of that big frame and long arms to help the first-team offense finish up a 7-on-7 drill on a positive note. James stretched for a pass high and out in front of him and was able to snatch it and bring it in. He’s probably the only pass catcher on this team that could have made the catch on that ball. – Tim Twentyman

On the move: Rookie linebacker Anthony Pittman, an undrafted rookie from Wayne State and Birmingham Groves High School, made a nice move on a delayed blitz, then hustled back to pursue the receiver after a short catch over the middle. – Mike O’Hara

Speed return: Darius Slay will tell you he’s the fastest player on the Lions roster. He might be right, too, but two players that could give him a run for his money are Jamal Agnew and Ty Johnson. Both players were back returning kickoffs for the Lions in special teams drills Wednesday. It could be fun to watch if either of those players ever gets a lane to get out in space. – Tim Twentyman

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From Chris Burke, The Athletic:

  1. Joe Dahl saw 1st-team action at left guard and Oday Aboushi the same at right guard. Dahl’s seen work at G, C and FB now. Matt Patricia always talks about how hard it is to narrow down the game-day roster, so Dahl’s versatility might be huge.

  2. @DetroitOnLion is gonna make fun of me for this one because I’ve made this dude my personal Hype Project, but Chris Lacy is a player to watch this summer. He had a couple hiccups today but also chased down a deep ball (vs. Teez Tabor) and made a great catch near the sideline.

  3. Cornerback Mike Ford put in some work as a safety with the third-team defense. Knowing how much this coaching staff values DBs who can move around, Ford showing potential as a CB/S hybrid might help him pin down a roster spot.

  4. Speaking of the DBs, I jotted down Andre Chachere’s name a couple times today. He’s been seeing some time in the slot, and he made a really nice break up during 11-on-11 drills. CB room could be crowded when Slay comes back, but there’s opportunity now.

  5. The backup QB battle won’t be decided for awhile. That said, Tom Savage’s ability to turn it loose stands out a bit. He missed a couple throws over the middle and threw an almost incomprehensible INT today, but the deep ball’s been nice.

ME: I was about ready to write Joe Dahl off, but but maybe he’s about ready to develop into a usable football player. I’m guessing he plays on ST too.

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Didn’t see this mentioned, but both Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay participated in team drills on Wednesday, after being on the sidelines for the OTAs and the 1st day of Mini-Camp. They were not full participants, but at least they were out there. With the signing of Jermaine Kearse, the WR group looks deep and hopefully strong.