From Jeremy Reisman, PoD:
The Detroit Lions and New England Patriots took the field Monday morning for their first of three joint practices. The practice ran significantly longer than other sessions this training camp, so today, our observations will try to catch as much as possible.
Instead of just general thoughts from practice, I’m going to go drill-by-drill in chronological order and pick out my observations from each session.
But, as always, let’s start with…
Jarrad Davis was the most notable absence from Monday’s practice. Davis was on the field early in street clothes, but as soon as warm ups were finished, he headed straight to the locker room. It was not clear why Davis was not practicing, and he didn’t appear to deal with any injury during Sunday’s practice.
The rest was the normal group of players on the sideline: Da’Shawn Hand, Austin Bryant, Mike Daniels, Marcus Cooper, Teez Tabor, Tommylee Lewis, Steve Longa, Trey Flowers and Damon Harrison Sr.
Darius Slay and Devon Kennard had limited snaps with the first team, while Christian Jones, Malik Carney, Jonathan Wynn and Darius Kilgo were all suited up but didn’t participate much at all. Linebacker Garret Dooley left in the middle of practice with an unclear injury.
Additionally, two players left at the very end of practice: tight end Jerome Cunningham and guard Joe Dahl. Both were walking off under their own power.
Lions goal-line offense continues to thrive
Throughout camp, the Lions red-zone offense has looked impressed—thanks, in part, to their strength at tight end.
Joint practices kicked off with a 7-on-7 passing goal-line drill, and that trend continued. The Lions offense, with Tom Savage at quarterback, scored on seven of eight reps, and the eighth play was close to scoring, too. It was mostly running backs and tight ends against linebackers and safeties, and Detroit spread the wealth. Jesse James, Austin Traylor (x2), Zach Zenner, Isaac Nauta, Jerome Cunningham and Nick Bawden (x2), all found the end zone.
On the defensive side of the ball, with Tom Brady leading the Patriots offense, New England managed to score on just five of eight reps. Tre Lamar had a nice pass breakup during that session, but Jahlani Tavai struggled in coverage.
Return of the Punt God?
Next, the teams moved to special teams, where the Lions worked on their punt coverage units. The real star here was Sam Martin, whose punts appear to have that extra hangtime again that resulted in such an impressive 2016 season. On one punt, it must have traveled at least 60 yards in the air and nearly drove the returner out of bounds at the 10-yard line.
The Lions’ gunner also got a lot of work here. Receiver Chris Lacy bowled over one of the Patriots’ best special teamers Matthew Slater. However, Andrew Adams and Brandon Powell struggled on a few reps.
Teams split 1-on-1s
The team then split into one-on-ones in four different groups: running backs and tight ends vs. linebackers and safeties; and wide receivers vs. corners (offense and defense for each team).
I mostly paid attention to the RBs/TEs vs. LBs/S drills. However, I was told the Lions first-team wide receivers were doing well, and I saw Amendola win at least one rep. That being said, at the end of the drills it was the Lions receivers doing pushups.
Back to the RB/TE vs. LB/S drills. Veteran safety Tavon Wilson stuck out positively as he kicked off the very first rep with a pass breakup, and followed it up with another good coverage rep a few plays later. Will Harris continues to struggle, and today was a down day for Jahlani Tavai, as well.
Andrew Adams makes another play in full-team drills
The Lions offense got off to a hot start during 11-on-11s, with Matthew Stafford finding a wide open Marvin Jones Jr. on a crossing route that hit for at least 40 yards. After that, the Lions offense slowed.
Defensively, the Lions struggled in defending the run… and this was a common theme all day. Granted, the Lions were missing the following starters on defense: Da’Shawn Hand, Mike Daniels, Jarrad Davis, Damon Harrison Sr., Christian Jones and Trey Flowers. Additionally, Devon Kennard, Darius Slay and A’Shawn Robinson were on a pretty limited snap count.
The defensive backs fared pretty well against the Patriots receivers early. Tavon Wilson recorded a pass breakup, Rashaan Melvin absolutely crushed a Patriots receiver as soon as he caught the ball, and Adams got yet another interception this camp after reading the play perfect in zone coverage.
Lastly, Tom Savage closed 11-on-11s with a perfect pass to Ty Johnson on a wheel route that allow the Lions’ rookie running back to utilize his best skill: speed.
Kenny Golladay with the catch of the day
Practice goes downhill… fast
The two teams then moved to 11-on-11 red-zone plays. This is where tide of practice turned heavily in favor of the Patriots.
On the Lions’ first series, they false started on back-to-back plays (Amendola, Taylor Decker). Then after earning all of that back on a defensive holding/pass interference flag, the Lions lost possession when Kerryon Johnson was driven back into Matthew Stafford, forcing a fumble.
The second team wasn’t much better. They neared the goal line after a great catch from Chris Lacy, but their drive ended with a botched shotgun snap between Luke Bowanko and Tom Savage.
Justin Coleman had a nice breakup on defense in what was a bounce back practice for him after a rough Sunday. However, Brady would end up finding James White for the score with Anthony Pittman in coverage. The play was otherwise well defended by the Lions, but with the Lions down Jarrad Davis, Christian Jones, Devon Kennard and Garret Dooley all sidelined at the linebacker level, Brady was able to find the one weak spot.
Two-minute drills result in a push
While the Lions were able to notch a “game-tying” field goal in their simulated two-minute drill, it wasn’t pretty. T.J. Hockenson came up with a big catch, but Taylor Decker was beaten badly around the edge on one play that would’ve resulted in a big hit on Stafford.
Defensively, the Patriots were able to easily drive into a goal-to-go situation, but that’s where the Lions defense stood tall. On first and second down, coverage forced Brady to throw the ball away on back-to-back plays. On third down, Jamal Agnew made a nice pass breakup to force the field goal.
It was a different story for the Lions’ second-team offense. They quickly went three and out after a holding penalty and sack given up by Tyrell Crosby. For simulation purposes, they allowed the Lions offense to continue downfield anyways, and they still couldn’t move the ball well. Eventually, they settled for a 58-yard “game-tying” field goal attempt, but Matt Prater pushed it wide.
The Patriots’ second-team offense didn’t get a crack at the drill, as time was running out. So the team moved to seven-on-sevens for the second and third teams. Watching the Lions’ third-team offense was… uninspiring to say the least. David Fales threw two interceptions, while Ty Johnson fumbled the exchange on an early handoff.
Odds and ends:
The Lions kept Kenny Wiggins and Graham Glasgow with the first-team offense.
Couple of nice reunions for players (besides the obvious Lions-Patriots connections). Kerryon Johnson hugged it out with fellow Auburn Tiger Ryan Davis, who is now a receiver for the Patriots. Perhaps most interesting was rookie tight end Isaac Nauta chatting it up with 38-year-old Ben Watson. Both tight ends played for the Georgia Bulldogs. Hopefully Watson shared some of his knowledge with the Lions’ sixth-round pick.
The Patriots were the team to utilize THE HILL at the end of practice, while the Lions simply ran sprints to finish the day.
Nice little moment after practice as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick talked to Martha Ford and her daughters for several minutes.