ALLEN PARK – I spent a lot of Saturday training chatting with Kevin Clark, a fan of the Orlando Magic and an excellent NFL reporter for The Ringer. Kevin asked me a great question at one point: Who are the top three players on the Detroit Lions?
TJ Hockenson and Frank Ragnow are locksmiths, and Penei Sewell is heading this way, too. I said it. As I contemplate the third option, Kevin interjects: “So no defensive players?”
No, Kevin. Not for long.
The defense appears to be in better shape today than at any other time since Matt Patricia was allowed into the building in 2018. But while men like Tracy Walker, Amani Orori and Charles Harris bring a certain air of competence, they aren’t dominant either. Certainly not like Rajno, or maybe Sewell.
But all second overall picks are expected to eventually become dominant, and while it’s too early to say exactly what the Lions are up against at Aidan Hutchinson, the initial results are still very promising.
Hutchinson opened the OTAs by dropping the Lions quarterback on consecutive shots. Of course, that came when Detroit got him into things by letting him work with the second team. Now the former Michigan star has been promoted to the first team, coming off the opposite edge of Harris — and continues to make a constant mess.
On Saturday, he did a lot of work as a right-side pass rusher, which meant he was going to take on Sewell, who was starting a left tackle because Taylor Decker was on a day off. Hutchinson topped last year’s first-round pick with a simple, elegant swimming move, coming off a stutter before crashing inside for the sack.
They weren’t even on sanitary pads yet, so temper the excitement. Then again, all you can do is win the actor in front of you, and Hutchinson continues to do so regularly, whether it’s against a backup or the eighth overall pick in last year’s draft.
“It pops,” said coach Dan Campbell. “To watch him keep working and go through it, I tell you, every day he gets a little better and that’s all you care about, is that you see a little bit of improvement every day.”
Here are some additional notes from practice:
– The Lions opened training to the public for the first time on Saturday, and the energy was unequivocally better. The atmosphere has basically been dead for the past few years, and there were days when they were lucky to attract even a few hundred fans. On Saturday, the stands were packed with about 2,500 fans, and I don’t think it was for free “Cherry Sanders” ice cream from Shake Shack either, although that certainly didn’t hurt. Free ice cream never hurts. (Just don’t tell your hips that.)
– As mentioned above, Left Intervention Taylor Decker did not train on Saturday. Dan Campbell hasn’t touched on Decker’s condition, but this looks more like a veteran’s day off than anything else. It was the fourth straight day of training, and Decker lost time in the spring with a foot injury. Here’s betting we’ll see him when they put on pads on Monday.
Another attacking player, Dan Skipper, returned to training after being activated from the list of non-football-related illnesses. Meanwhile, former Michigan star Devin Funchess missed the second day in a row with a groin problem. This injury is believed to be minor, although the lost time is a discouraging start for Funchess, who has played only one game in three years due to injuries and COVID.
– It’s been almost a calendar year since Jeff Okuda hit someone at full speed, and it shows. Okudah collided with Quintez Cephus on Saturday, causing some voices to be heard ooh from the masses. Then a few minutes later, he did it again with Tom Kennedy. Although it is not in the pads and is not supposed to be hit yet. It will be really interesting to see what the Okudah does once they pack their pads on Monday.
DJ Chark is 6ft 4 and runs like the wind. Throwing in his contract case – he signed a one-year contract to prove it in hopes of getting paid long-term in off next season – and I would really love to have WR1 on that offense. Aside from all that, there is a lot to like about his veteran wit as well. He’s constantly talking to Jameson Williams, the first-round winner, and he’s leading by example. For example, Chark saw a bad drop on Saturday. But then with just one fell swoop, he made a tight cover to make it difficult to pick up in heavy traffic. Then when he got back to the sideline, he started talking to Williams again about the sequence.
– There’s fierce competition brewing at the rear end of the receiver spin, as guys like Quintez Cephus and Trinity Benson trade tough catches back and forth. Promotion in talent in this position is unmistakable. However, Cephus and Benson blew out the tasks on Saturday, and the coaches were visibly disappointed.
– Defensive tackle Demetrius Taylor mentioned in my notes on Friday. A day later, Campbell weighed in on the 295-pound uncut starter, calling it “Sawed Off.”
“That’s what (defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn) is called,” Campbell said. “This kid, the guy, works, and he’s a mill. Man, he can run the hoop, he’s playing with the crane, he’s just one of those guys—we can sit here at the end of camp and he’s not going away, and I mean that in a cool way, man. He just isn’t going away. Because it keeps getting better and better.”
Given that Campbell just said he’s looking for more beef on the defensive front, Taylor may be headed toward the roster bubble.
– For the second day in a row, Detroit worked out with two-minute drills. For the second day in a row, the defense prevailed. Second-team units were running at the time, and Austin Bryant reached out to David Bluff for a sack, before pressing Bluough again in the next play, forcing Bluough to ditch the football. Levi Onozuriki was also under that pressure. Goalkeeper Logan Stenberg was flagged for a false start, causing a further two-minute foul that failed to collect points for the second day in a row.
After training for four days in a row, the lions will rest on Sunday before tying them to pads for the first time on Monday. At this point, we will begin to get a better sense of where this team is.