From Kyle Meinke, MLive:
HOUSTON – Why pack up training camp and fly across the country to practice in the sauna that is Texans camp?
It took exactly one rep of one-on-ones to find the answer.
Darius Slay has dominated Lions camp, especially in recent days. But getting to see DeAndre Hopkins, one of the finest receivers in the game – perhaps the very best, if you believe Slay – is a whole other challenge. And sure enough, Hopkins got him with a quick slant over the middle to open one-on-ones on Wednesday at the Houston Methodist Training Center.
But Slay’s defense was OK on the play. These drills favor the offense anyway, and Hopkins is one of the best in the business. And on their next rep, Slay got his revenge by reading Hopkins’ route and bumping him off it with some physical coverage. DeShaun Watson’s pass sailed long and incomplete.
Slay 1, Hopkins 1.
And this is how it went much of the day, Hopkins winning a rep here, Slay getting him there. Say what you will about Kenny Golladay, and there is plenty to say, but the Lions don’t have a receiver as dominant as Hopkins. To borrow from the coachspeak playbook, iron sharpens iron, and Slay was still jacked about all the good work he got in after practice.
“It goes back and forth all day,” Slay said. “He knows it, and I know it, and I just keep looking forward to it, man, because like I said, I need the work. He’s one of the top receivers in the game. It’s all mutual respect out there. I’m out here to make him better, and he out here to make me better.
"So he teaching me something new, and I’m trying to help him see something different.”
The same could be said of Watson.
The Texans quarterback established himself as one of the best dual-threats in the game last year, when he rushed for 551 yards and five touchdowns. That trailed only Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson and Buffalo’s Josh Allen at the position.
The Lions will open the season facing another dual-threat QB in Kyler Murray, but can’t exactly replicate that skill-set with the guys they have in camp. So getting in some work against a guy like Watson was especially productive for this defense.
“He looks good right now,” Slay said. “He moves well, he’s fluid. He has trust in his guys, and I mean, I would have trust in (Hopkins) too. …That’s good for us, good for our defense, or our line, our secondary, everybody. This is a good week of work for us, man.”
Here are some more observations from practice:
– Slay wasn’t the only corner making plays. Rookie Amani Oruwariye picked off Watson during one-on-ones, which is really difficult to do. There’s no rush, there’s no scheme, no help. Just mano-a-mano. That means the drill heavily favors the offense. Pass breakups are hard, and interceptions rare. But Oruwariye bumped Vyncint Smith with a heavy press and then picked off Watson’s pass.
Listen, I know the rookie struggled in the preseason opener, but I beg you not to read anything into it. Cornerback is such a difficult position to learn at this level. Just ask Darius Slay about that. He was benched twice as a rookie, and that was as a second-round pick. So Oruwariye, a fifth-rounder, is a long way from a finished product. But he has ability too, and has used that long frame to grab a few picks in camp. Consider me intrigued, especially if he isn’t pressed into action until next season.
– One more corner who stood out: Johnthan Alston. Don’t feel too bad if you’ve never heard the name. He just seemed like a camp body when the Lions signed him about a week ago, but make back-to-back pass breakups during one-on-ones today. The first, against tight end Jordan Akins, actually broke a string of five straight completions by Watson to open the drill. Then he broke up another pass intended for receiver Tyron Johnson. Alston has no realistic shot to make the team, but tip your hat to the kid for balling out against a good quarterback. He’s on my radar for the practice squad.
– Watson provided an excellent test for what the Lions can expect to see in Arizona to open the season. But the same goes for the heat. I’m not going to break any news here, but it’s hot here in August. My phone said it was already 87 degrees by the time Matt Patricia held his pre-practice presser, and that was around 8:30 a.m. local time. Temps were in the 90s throughout practice, and the heat index cracked the 100s.
Give Patricia credit, though, because his team looked prepared for it. Some veterans skipped the workout, like Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola. But the guys who were out there actually weathered the elements quite well, and cramping wasn’t an issue.
“Making sure that we’re doing a good job with our players to hydrate and to make sure they are prepared," Patricia said. "We’ve tried to stress that through the last 48 hours or so through the travel – obviously getting on the plane, that dehydrates you too. Getting ready to go for today, we’re just going to have to do a really good job of monitoring everything. I’ve talked to coach O’Brien at length about taking his guidance and his lead as far as the heat is concerned because he is obviously in tune with it a little bit more than we are. Our sports science staff, our trainers, our doctors, they are really on top of it from that standpoint. We’ll go through practice and see how it goes and the big thing for us will be really how we recover tonight, this afternoon, and getting ready for another day of it tomorrow.”
– Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson left practice after catching a pass during red-zone drills and did not return. Trainers were testing his eyes/vision on the bench, so it’s possible he was poked in the eye. He was allowed to keep his helmet though and remained with the team through the end of practice, which suggest the injury is minor. No reason to worry unless he’s not practicing on Thursday.
– With guys like Hockenson, Amendola and Marvin Jones missing team reps, plenty of young guys got in good work with the ones. Chris Lacy got in a fourth straight day with the starters at receiver, and sure looks like a good bet to make the opening day roster. Kennedy, the former lacrosse player, got a long look in the slot against Houston. Seventh-round pick Isaac Nauta was with the top unit at tight end.
The backup who shined the most on offense, though, might have been Ty Johnson. He made two more big plays, one where he ran for a touchdown from about 15 yards out without being touched, and the other on a long wheel route. Then again, anyone paying attention the last couple of weeks shouldn’t be surprised. He was one of the stars of the opener against New England, when he ran three times for a team-high 22 yards, plus had a 13-yard pickup nullified by penalty. Yeah, this kid’s making the team.
– Mike Daniels was nowhere to be found. That doesn’t necessarily mean he wasn’t here somewhere – with three sprawling fields and no elevated place from which to watch practice, it made tracking players difficult – but I never found him. And he certainly wasn’t on the field. Which is odd, because he said just last week he’d be practicing in Houston. “I’ll be able to do some striking with the guys down there when we get to Houston,” Daniels said on NFL Network. "It’s a process. Honestly, I could play (in the preseason opener) tomorrow, but it’s just a matter of being smart. Just continuing to strengthen everything, continue to get in shape and everything. So it’s just being smart. But I’ll be out there soon.”
Daniels signed with the Lions on July 26, and was expected to need some time to be ready to go. But three weeks? And he’s still missing practice? When he said he’d be back? Expect Patricia to be asked about this on Thursday, because this is weird.
– Other players I did not see practicing included Jarrad Davis, Da’Shawn Hand, Teez Tabor, Snacks Harrison, Tyrell Crosby and John Atkins.
– While the defensive line remains short handed, I was impressed by the offensive line’s ability to handle a really talented Houston front. Rick Wagner had some trouble handling J.J. Watt, as you might expect, but the rest of those guys held their own in one-on-ones and two-on-twos. I was especially impressed with Joe Dahl, Frank Ragnow and Graham Glasgow on the interior. They weathered Houston’s stunts and games quite well.
– One offensive lineman who had some issues was backup Luke Bowanko. When he drew a flag for a false start during team drills, he was immediately sent off the field by an irritated Patricia and ran a lap around the practice fields. Patricia did more yelling practice during this practice than I can remember in most others, but then again, maybe I was just noticing it more because reporters were so much closer to the action than we are allowed to be in Allen Park.