From Kyle Meinke, MLive:
ALLEN PARK – Matthew Stafford was so frustrated by the interception he threw to Jahlani Tavai on Tuesday that he tracked the rookie linebacker all the way down the sideline and tried to hit him.
It was an unusual play, because Stafford is in a red jersey that signals very clearly that he is not to be touched. Yet there he was, sprinting the other way to strike a 250-pound linebacker barreling down the sideline. Stafford bounced off Tavai and caromed to the ground.
Not exactly what you want to see from your franchise quarterback, obviously, both the pick as well as the hit after it. Stafford hasn’t spoken reporters since, so it’s impossible to say definitively what he was thinking, but it just looked like the frustrations of a competitive player boiling over after an up-and-down start to camp.
And it hasn’t gotten any better.
Stafford threw another pick to safety Tracy Walker on Wednesday, then yet another to rookie cornerback Amani Oruwariye on Thursday. That’s three straight days worth of interception thrown to players who combine for exactly zero NFL starts. Two haven’t even played in a game yet. And Oruwariye was in his first day even taking reps with the first-team defense.
Now before you start sounding alarm bells, let’s underscore an important point: This is just training camp, and the second week of training camp at that. The Lions are also installing a new offense, and these are the days when they should be working out the kinks.
Think of it like a pitcher throwing 10 straight changeups in spring training. Sure, he might get shelled. But the numbers don’t matter. Getting in the work does, and being right for the season opener.
Interceptions happen this time of year. Especially when you’re installing new stuff, as the Lions are under Darrell Bevell, and when you have a bunch of new targets, as the Lions do in Danny Amendola, T.J. Hockenson and Jesse James. Even Marvin Jones, the longest-tenured pass-catcher on the team, is coming off an injury-shortened season.
Having said all that, it’s also true Stafford made three bad mistakes on those picks.
On Tuesday, he simply didn’t see Tavai lurking in the short field and threw the ball right into him. Good play by Tavai, no doubt about it, especially to control that tip enough to give himself a chance to catch it. But bad throw nevertheless.
On Wednesday, give credit to Walker for recognizing T.J. Hockenson’s route and jumping it during seven-on-sevens. But Stafford also threw behind Hockenson on the play, allowing for the pick to happen. A better ball wouldn’t have been intercepted.
On Thursday, once again, give credit to the defender for making a play. Oruwariye was in good position, and was able to yank the ball out of Kenny Golladay’s arms along the boundary of the end zone. Still, if that ball weren’t badly underthrown, Oruwariye would have had no shot at it.
What does all this mean? Very little right now, other than Matthew Stafford and the offense clearly aren’t ready for the start of the season. And with more than five weeks remaining until the opener against Arizona, that’s OK. But given this offense’s profound struggles last season, and Stafford’s inconsistencies on the deep ball especially, his progress will be closely monitored in the weeks ahead.
Here are some more observations from Day 7 of training camp:
– The Lions spent a portion of practice working on the hurry-up offense, and that didn’t go much better. There was one sequence where Stafford had Brandon Powell open on first down from the opponent’s 35-yard line, but overthrew him deep. He overthrew Jermaine Kearse badly on second down, then settled for a dump off to Zach Zenner on third down. Facing fourth down in a need-a-TD situation, he had Chris Lacy wide open – the defender even fell down – but missed him long. There were some bright moments for the offense too, like Stafford linking up with Marvin Jones for a long touchdown during 2-minute drills. But there was definitely more bad than good to take away from this practice offensively.
– Stafford wasn’t the only player making mistakes. There are NFL officials in town this week getting their work in too, and they’ve been busy throwing plenty of flags. Joe Dahl drew one for a false start, which wiped out a nice gain from Marvin Jones while Detroit was backed up against its own goal line. That’s a costly mistake in a game, and Dahl had to pay for it by running a lap around the opposing goal post.
– Let’s go back to Oruwariye for a moment. The fifth-round pick was quiet to open camp, but has come on strong in recent days. He even got a shot to rep with the first-team defense on Thursday, alternating with Teez Tabor at the spot opposite Rashaan Melvin. Oruwariye held his own, too, running stride for stride with Marvin Jones on a handful plays, including breaking up a fade into the end zone. He also picked off that ball intended for Kenny Golladay. Of course, Marvin Jones also got him with a double move later in practice.
I still think you’re not going to see Oruwariye play much defense this season, which is exactly what you want for a rookie cornerback. Darius Slay and Melvin look like the outside guys to me, with Justin Coleman on the inside and Tabor coming off the bench. But giving the kid a shot to work with the ones is a positive step in his development. I took a long look at him as he came off the field, by the way, and he stands every inch of that 6-foot-2, 205 pounds at which Detroit lists him. He cuts an imposing figure for a corner.
– When camp opened, I figured the backup receiver battle would be one of the best of camp. With Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola locked into starting jobs, you had guys like Jermaine Kearse, Travis Fulgham, Brandon Powell, Andy Jones and Chris Lacy fighting for just one or two jobs. But through the first days of camp, nobody really did much to separate himself.
Finally, someone has. Fulgham was known for his deep-play ability at Old Dominion, where he racked up 1,083 yards on just 63 catches yards last year, and he’s begun to flash that skill-set as he’s settled into camp. He just has very good body control and a knack for high-pointing the football. You can probably count on one hand the number of players in camp who have a better vertical. He beat Andre Chachere for a beautiful downfield score on Wednesday, and the only thing that stopped him from doing the same to Dee Virgin was a pass interference penalty. On Thursday, Fulgham separated nicely from Justin Coleman on a crossing route during one-on-ones. He also got behind Virgin on a route into the end zone, and nearly caught the ball despite expecting it to arrive on his right shoulder rather than his left. Who knows how the Lions decide to round out that receiver rotation, but Fulgham is certainly an intriguing developmental player to watch because of his upside as a big-play threat.
– I kind of assumed Jermaine Kearse was a shoe-in for one of the backup receiver jobs, given his experience in the league, his experience in this offense, and that $1.35 million contract Detroit gave him in the offseason. But honestly, he didn’t do too much in the first week of camp. He broke out of his slumber on Thursday in a big way, though, catching two nice balls deep down the field in the matter of a couple minutes.
– One more note on the receivers while we’re at it. There is nothing wrong with Danny Amendola’s foot speed, that’s for sure. Set to turn 34 this season, I’ve seen Amendola get behind the defense a few times this week. That includes once on Thursday where he just outran Jamal Agnew to the end zone during one-on-ones, and Jamal Agnew, by the way, is very, very fast. But the ball was overthrown (I didn’t write down who threw it, but it was probably Stafford) and fell incomplete.
– I wrote just yesterday about Agnew’s ball security issues in the return game after he put another on the ground. On Thursday, he did it again on kickoffs. There’s still a lot of juice in those legs, no doubt about it, but I have a hard time believing this staff is going to trust him back there if he can’t figure out how to catch the ball cleanly.
– Teez Tabor was coming off two really good days of practice. On Thursday, he took a step back. Jermaine Kearse beat him for a long touchdown during one-on-ones, then Kenny Golladay did the same thing. Tabor’s coverage actually wasn’t terrible on that second play, with aggressive coverage on the inside shoulder, but Stafford threw the ball to the outside and Golladay hauled it in for a touchdown.
– Kerryon Johnson has had his struggles in pass-blocking drills this week, but there sure isn’t anything wrong with his pass catching. He ran a beautiful wheel route to get behind Romeo Okwara, took a nice pass from Matthew Stafford and didn’t stop running until he was in the end zone. I still don’t know how the Lions intend to replace Theo Riddick’s production in the passing game, because you figure Johnson can’t play every single snap, but there’s no doubt he can catch the football when the Lions need him to do it.
– Your daily T.J. Hockenson update: He won all three of his one-on-one reps against defensive backs, beating Tracy Walker, Will Harris and Andrew Adams on consecutive reps to open practice. But he wasn’t the only tight end making plays. Jesse James beat outstanding coverage from Rashaan Melvin for one catch, then even better coverage from Harris for another. Harris was practically smothering him on the play and even tugging at his jersey, yet James fought him off for the catch.
– With all those injuries on the defensive line, Detroit spent much of Thursday rolling with Eric Lee, A’Shawn Robinson, John Atkins and Romeo Okwara up front. Among those still out are Snacks Harrison, Trey Flowers, Mike Daniels, Da’Shawn Hand, Austin Bryant, Darius Kilgo and Jonathan Wynn. Behind them, linebackers Devon Kennard and Christian Jones suited up but did not participate in team drills.