From Kyle Meinke, MLive:
ALLEN PARK – The more time goes by, the more I realize just how bad things were during Matt Patricia’s first training camp in Detroit.
Yes, practices were more grueling. I still remember watching joint practices end with the Raiders and Giants, and while opposing players were streaming for the locker rooms and taking pictures with friends and family and whatnot, Detroit was still running wind sprints.
But it was more than that. It was all the new rules. It was the last-second schedule changes. It was Patricia’s chronic lateness. It was calling out of players for things like social media posts. Players were annoyed, and there’s no doubt there was a whole lot of bad chemistry heading into the season. I’ve heard multiple players say they knew they might be in trouble.
People in this building are convinced that bad juju played a role in Detroit’s sluggish start to the season, including the 31-point embarrassment on opening night. And that set the tone for a long season in which Patricia struggled to win over the locker room.
With that said, I’ve long believed the biggest key to this season is Patricia’s ability to learn from his own mistakes and bring this team together.
So far, so good.
Players I’ve talked to in recent weeks say they’ve seen a different Patricia in Year 2. He’s still hard-charging, of course, and that will never change. He’s going to run a tough program, because that’s how he believes tough teams are made. Fair enough. It’s worked in New England, after all, and whatever these players have done in Detroit has not.
But it’s all the other stuff too. The administrative stuff. The schedules. Patricia’s temperament in meetings and with players. By all accounts, he seems to have learned from some of his rookie mistakes and made adjustments. It’s still super early, so we’ll see what happens once the grind sets in, but right now things are running far more smoothly.
“We did extensive evaluations on all aspects of (what we did last year),” Patricia said before Day 1 of practice. "Training camp was definitely one of those. I don’t know if there will be anything major from a standpoint that you’ll notice. A lot of little things – maybe order of meetings, a different change in some of the daily routine. As far as the on-field stuff, and the structure, nothing really major for us from that end of it.
"You’d like to do something twice before you start to change to see if you can improve it first. We’ll always identify and evaluate, and the good thing about it is the breaks we have in between – the player days off – if we want to switch and go in different directions, it’s easy to plan and change at that point.”
On how he expects players to respond mentally and physically to the second year of training camp: “It’s part of the philosophy, I might have mentioned this last year or not and it’s probably the same from everybody, you take training camp and you back everything up into the spring now and we tried to do that last year. I think going through it once they see how it fits together from the spring to training camp, from the mental part of it and how it relates and how it transfers over from the things that we did in the schedule we had during the spring. From that end of it to, I think it’s good for them because now they have more familiarity with the mental part of what is going to be expected and to be learned in the amount of time and the progression of how and why we put it together that way. I think they have a better snapshot of that, players and coaches in general.”
The biggest change so far in camp is the hill that has been built on the north side of the practice fields. There is a sign that says it’s not ready for use and players did not touch it Thursday, but you have to figure there is a wind sprint or two in the cards for players. Which, again, fits into Patricia’s belief that tough days in July and August help make tough teams and prevent injury.
And if you’re wondering where Patricia might have gotten this idea, well, yes, New England built a similar hill at its training facility in recent years.
“It could (help with) anything from rehabilitation issues, conditioning, improving lower-body strength, lengthening run strides, protecting different muscle groups, and we use it in different capacities," Patricia said. “Depending on the day, it might be used in different facets. It’s just another piece of equipment for us to go out there and improve from a physical standpoint.”
Here are some more observations from Day 1:
– Listen, tight end is tough on rookies. It might be the toughest position to learn other than quarterback. You have to learn to be a receiver on some downs, and an offensive lineman on others. You have to learn how to line up in line, and split out, and in the backfield. And that’s why you so rarely see tight ends break out in Year 1. But T.J. Hockenson is no ordinary tight end either. He’s considered one of the best and most-polished prospects at the position in years, and after taking him eight overall – higher than anyone’s taken a tight end since 2006 – you can bet the Lions are counting on him to contribute immediately.
The good news is, he looks like a guy capable of it. We haven’t seen what he can do in the blocking game because practices are still no-contact, but Hockenson moves so well in the passing game. He looks like he knows how to find the soft spot in a defense. And most impressively to me, he really knows how to extend for the catch away from his body. There was one play Thursday where he split a double team and high-pointed the football for a touchdown along the sideline. That’s a tough play, and he kind of make it look easy. He made another impressive play later in practice when he spun through the air to catch a back-shoulder pass over rookie safety Will Harris, then hung onto the ball as he crashed to the ground. Again, don’t put the guy in the Hall of Fame just yet. But so far, so good with one of the most important players in camp.
– There weren’t a whole lot of flashy plays, to be honest with you, as Detroit eased out of the six-week break. But safety Andrew Adams did pick off an errant Tom Savage pass, at least the second time he’s done that this offseason. His signing didn’t draw much fanfare in Detroit, but he did pick off four passes in Tampa last season. That was just three off Detroit’s entire team total.
– Darius Slay and Snacks Harrison did not practice after being placed on the non-football injury list shortly before the workout, along with Darius Kilgo. Don’t expect the absences to last for long, though. I suspect this is just a conditioning thing, making sure those defensive stars are ready to go after spending the entire offseason away from the team. Slay and Harrison are total pros, and I don’t expect either to be out of shape. They should be back in a couple days or so.
– Among players on the active roster, only defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson and linebacker Malik Carney did not practice.
– Teez Tabor came up with yet another nice play in what has been a resurgent offseason for the third-year cornerback, leaping to break up a pass intended for Kenny Golladay. Golladay had a nice practice too, including snagging a beautiful touchdown catch to the back shoulder. But on this play, Tabor did a nice job sticking in zone coverage and then broke quickly on the ball.
– Your starting offensive line was as expected: Taylor Decker, Kenny Wiggins, Frank Ragnow, Graham Glasgow and Rick Wagner. Wiggins has to be considered the favorite for that final starting spot right now, although that’s far from settled. Joe Dahl could get a look too, now that he’s beefed up. Oday Aboushi is also in the running.
– Your punt returner candidates, based on the guys shagging balls on Thursday: Jamal Agnew, Quandre Diggs, Brandon Powell, Danny Amendola and Tom Kennedy. (Amendola did put one ball on the ground.)
– Kennedy, a former pro lacrosse player, is kind of a fun story. He’s fast as hell too. But I just continue to question whether he’s good enough to have any shot whatsoever of making this team. He’s put a lot of balls on the ground this offseason, and did it twice more on Tuesday.
– Amendola is now No. 80 in your program, by the way. He wore that number in previous stints with Miami and New England, but switched to No. 12 when he arrived in Detroit because 80 was already occupied by Michael Roberts. Now with Roberts out, Amendola has it back.