From Kyle Meinke, MLive:
ALLEN PARK – Theo Riddick wasn’t the only running back to miss practice.
The Detroit Lions were also without top back Kerryon Johnson on Saturday, leaving the club shorthanded in the backfield for their first padded practice of the year. Riddick was cut shortly before the workout to make room for the addition of Mike Daniels.
Those guys have taken the first two reps in most running back drills this year. Without them, C.J. Anderson operated as the top back during practice. Zach Zenner, Ty Johnson, Mark Thompson and fullback Nick Bawden rounded out the rotation.
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Lions coach Matt Patricia speaks with reporters before practice, so the reason for Johnson’s absence remains unclear. But Johnson did say earlier this week he is 100 percent healthy after missing the final six games of last season with a knee injury.
“Look, I’m healthy, that’s all (Matt Patricia) needs to know,” Johnson said after practice on Friday. "He’s going to give me the ball as many times as I can take. He’s going to be smart about it. But I’m a running back. They pay me to run the ball. I love to run the ball. I play football to run the ball. So that’s what I do.”
Johnson was sensational as a rookie, averaging 5.4 yards per carry for the year – second most in the league – but still got banged up despite a modest workload of 118 carries. So while the Lions have rebuilt their offense to feature Johnson more prominently, they also don’t plan to overwork the back and risk re-injury. That’s a delicate balance the Lions are trying to walk, between giving a good back as many carries as possible, while also keeping him as healthy as possible for the stretch run.
“Kerryon is real insightful, he’s a really smart guy and truthful, so it’s a great statement by him,” Patricia said. "He took that to heart, and he went to work in the offseason and really made improvements with his body. He’s smart from that aspect of it and he trained hard. You think about it from the rookie season to your second season, it’s really the first spring he’s been able to do that. Coming out of college or doing combine work or draft trips or visits, your schedule is interrupted (by) the entire process through finally getting into an NFL team.
"For him, just to really have that stability of a normal schedule, being able to go out and work every single day to improve and get better, he did a great job of that. We will see as we transfer into football. I told the guys this morning, one of the biggest things for me, it’s great as we go through the spring and come off the summer break, but I talk about conditioning and getting into shape and how to be stronger in that avenue. It’s something when you put the pads on and you throw the helmet on, and put that shoulder pads on, the straps going to constrict how far your rib cage can expand when you’re trying to breathe, and you’ve got different weight on your legs. Football shape is an entirely different thing, and we have to do it. The only way to do it is to get the equipment on, go out there and practice with repetition to get our bodies used to that.
"There’s a portion of your body that goes through getting used to being hit. It’s no different than boxers that spar and go in the ring and a guy is throwing a medicine ball into his stomach a thousand times, he’s got to get used to getting hit. Our players go through the same process. They have to get used to getting hit, so that they know how their body is going to react when it happens in a game. You think you may have great ball-security and then you get into the game and you get popped really hard and all of a sudden you forget about the ball-security or the ball-control and now you’re not as productive as you should be because you haven’t practiced it properly. Those things are really important for us from that standpoint.”
Defensive end Romeo Okwara also was sidelined as the Lions strapped on pads for the first time this year, while defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson, cornerback Marcus Cooper, defensive end Jonathan Wynn and linebackers Devon Kennard, Christian Jones and Malik Carney all continued to miss practice. Robinson has been excused from the team for personal reasons and is due back soon. Jones left Friday’s practice with an apparent leg injury.
Cornerback Darius Slay and defensive tackles Snacks Harrison and Darius Kilgo remain on the non-football injury list, while defensive end Trey Flowers, receiver Tommylee Lewis and linebacker Steve Longa are on the physically unable to perform list. None of those players has appeared in camp.
Cornerback Marcus Cooper was back on Saturday after missing the previous day’s practice.
Here are more observations from Day 3 of practice:
– One of the treats of the pads going on is seeing some of the first meaningful one-on-one battles of camp, especially in the trenches. On Saturday, it was a one-sided affair that heavily favored the offensive line. The starters all won their reps easily, with Taylor Decker (Mitchell Loewen), Kenny Wiggins (Ray Smith), Frank Ragnow (John Atkins), Graham Glasgow (Da’Shawn Hand) and Rick Wagner (Austin Bryant) all prevailing. Glasgow was especially impressive, driving Hand into the ground. Of course, the defensive line was without big names like Trey Flowers, Snacks Harrison, Romeo Okwara and the recently acquired Mike Daniels. Hand was the only defensive regular from last season to participate in the drill, so you would expect the offensive line to take care of business. But give the unit credit for doing just that.
– The second-team offensive line was nearly as good, with left guard Joe Dahl (over Kevin Strong), center Luke Bowanko (over P.J. Johnson) and right tackle Andrew Donnal (over Bryant) all winning their reps. Left tackle Tyrell Crosby was overtaken by a Loewen bull rush, though, while Hand took out right guard Oday Aboushi.
– The third-team offensive line, for those scoring at home, from left to right: Ryan Pope, Micah St. Andrew, Leo Koloamatangi, Beau Benzschawel and Matt Nelson.
– Receivers and cornerbacks also participated in their first true one-on-ones of training camp. Marvin Jones led things off for the offense, while Teez Tabor went first for the defense. (Over Rashaan Melvin, which maybe is noteworthy? Or maybe not?) Jones got the best of Tabor, beating the cornerback on a fly route for an easy touchdown. Tabor has been so good this offseason, but he has to figure out how to overcome his foot speed downfield to have any real shot at winning a full-time job. The good news is Tabor had a much better second rep, running step-for-step with Andy Jones down the right sideline and using the boundary effectively to force an incompletion. He also had another nice rep while matched up with Kenny Golladay in team drills, forcing an incompletion on third down. This is the third straight day I’ve seen Tabor make a nice play to prevent Golladay from catching the football.
– Golladay did beat Rashaan Melvin on a timing route on his only one-on-one rep, and later Marvin Jones got Melvin again by twisting him around like a pretzel. Danny Amendola caught an easy pass on a crosser over the middle. Among the defenders, Jamal Agnew and Tavon Wilson had some of the best reps I saw, and Mike Ford had a good rep against Deontez Alexander, forcing an incompletion.
– Agnew also had an interception during team work.
– With Kerryon Johnson out and Theo Riddick gone, C.J. Anderson was the No. 1 back. But man is there still a lot to like about Zach Zenner. He said after practice he’s bigger than ever, weighing between 220 and 225 pounds, but he moves well too. That includes exciting the (modest) crowd by scooting untouched through the second level during team drills. Anderson might wind up winning the No. 2 job, but I’m not ready to give it to him either. Zenner did a lot of good work down the stretch last year, and still looks like he can be an effective runner, especially between the tackles.
– I don’t know exactly how the Lions will replace Riddick’s role in the passing game, but it was interesting to see receiver Brandon Powell touch the ball a lot more, including in the backfield, in the practice after Riddick’s exit. (Team rules prevent me from disclosing anything more specific about plays and formations.)
– After producing just 14 takeaways last year, the Lions have worked a lot on generating turnovers. On Saturday, they unveiled a new drill where players had to take a bag to the ground, then a coach would bounce a ball that had to be recovered. Almost everyone had to participate as well, offense and defense. The only players I recall not doing the drill were the quarterbacks, top three receivers and specialists.
– Matt Patricia, who is recovering from leg surgery, has ditched his golf cart for a new set of wheels at practice. He was using an ATV during Saturday’s workout, and the ride seemed to suit him a lot better (and not just because it was painted all black). The ATV is smaller and handles corners better, which is nice for navigating a football field with more than 100 people on it. It’s much smaller too. Patricia was able to drive the vehicle closer to the action, and at one point even huddled players around it for at talk during red-zone drills. He was also able to stand up a lot more, resting his left leg on the seat. In fact, Patricia – who is as intense as any coach I’ve ever seen during practice – stood up for much of the workout, especially when he was with the defense. The ATV just seemed like a much better fit that allowed Patricia to be more active during practice, and I suspect we’ll see a lot more of it going forward.