Detroit Lions training camp notes: 5 risers, 2 fallers after first 2 practices

Detroit Lions training camp notes: 5 risers, 2 fallers after first 2 practices

It’s still ridiculously early to declare position battles won or lost in Detroit Lions camp. Not only haven’t the pads come on yet, but with practices still barely over 90 minutes — and most of that time spent on walkthroughs or special teams — any kind of sweeping conclusion about the 2022 Detroit Lions would be extremely premature.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t draw some early observations from which players seem to be on an upward trend and which players have their work cut out for them after two modest practices.

So let’s check in with a few players who have made an impact — in both directions — after the team’s first two sessions in Allen Park.

On the rise: Aidan Hutchinson

In the spring, Hutchinson worked mostly with the second and third teams, but the Lions aren’t messing around now that training camp has begun. On Wednesday, he basically shared the interval with Julian Okwara on the wing, and on Thursday it was almost exclusively Hutchinson with the first team.

And he looked the part. During Wednesday’s practice, he had at least two planned sacks, and on another rep, he had the entire defensive roster call for a tackle on Taylor Decker after a clean snap.

Trending down: Julian Okwara

It was only a matter of time before Hutchinson passed him on the depth chart, and his placement here isn’t meant to suggest that his spot on the roster might be in jeopardy. He is still a unique piece who can both rush the passer and drop well in coverage. But when head coach Dan Campbell had the opportunity to praise Okwara before Thursday’s practice, it sounded more like a public challenge.

“He’s a good athlete, but that’s where we really feel it starts for him. That’s where he’s got to really excel and in the meantime we’re in the base, he’s got to be able to get better at Sam linebacker, take on blocks, attack on the perimeter, absolutely rush from when we ask him to go .”

Later added:

“Look, he made strides last year. He stepped up and he has to do it again this year. He knows that, and if he can take another step, another step like he did last year, then we’re going to be on the right track. He’s going to be on the right track and help us.”

Campbell clearly expects more from Okwara and he has a month to prove he has taken the extra step.

On the rise: Will Harris

Compare what Campbell said about Okwara with what he said about Harris.

“Because he’s big, he’s strong, he’s physical, he can run, he’s got a chance. And you ask him to go out and compete, and beat a guy and play technique, he’s pretty good. And so, we just—sometimes when you take a little bit off a guy’s plate, they can really grow. Meanwhile, now that he’s played nickel, he’s played safety, now if he can excel at corner and get better. Man, you have one versatile guy. He’s a tough guy and now he can play more spots on top of special teams when he goes in the game, that’s an advantage.”

Harris’ move to cornerback is no longer a tryout, it’s set in stone. He improved as last season went on and he looks fully the part in camp. He has been able to take and maintain the majority of first team reps from Jeff Okudah. Harris’ love of the competitive nature of the cornerback position comes through in his aggressive style of play.

“Being out there on the island, man, there’s nothing else like it,” Harris said after Thursday’s practice. “There’s nothing else like it. Just the adrenaline you get … I don’t know, I’m a competitor, man, so I get amped up being out there.”

On the rise: JuJu Hughes

While the shuffling in the secondary continues, one constant has been Hughes playing with the second-team defense. Granted, the Lions are taking it slow with the likes of Ifeatu Melifonwu and rookie Kerby Joseph, along with CJ Moore currently on the non-football injury list, but Hughes looks comfortable in his role as the primary backup to Tracy Walker.

It’s easy to forget that this isn’t just Year 3 for Hughes, but that he caught the eye of Brad Holmes in Los Angeles as an undrafted free agent when Holmes led the Rams’ scouting department.

Hughes even got some first-team reps in the spring, so this hasn’t just been a couple of days. He is someone to keep an eye on when the pads come on.

Trending down: Offensive rhythm

I know people are probably going to be put off by this, so let me explain myself.

One of the goals this offseason for the offseason was to get to the line quicker and use a lot of pre-snap movement to keep the defense on its toes. It is clearly a goal they continue to emphasize, but on Thursday they had to scale it down a bit. On at least three separate occasions after the offense had broken the huddle, offensive coordinator Ben Johnson blew the whistle before the snap to make the team scramble back on a foul.

This is not entirely out of the ordinary this early in camp for a new offense and new philosophy. But it serves as an important reminder that much of this is new. The Lions have more talent on the offensive side of the ball, but if you think they’ll come out of Week 1 looking like a well-oiled machine, it’s worth remembering that very rarely do new systems look perfect out of the box.

On the rise: Craig Reynolds

Reynolds has consistently repped as the third running back on the depth chart, and as Erik Schlitt noted in his Day 2 observations, he was also first up in the important upback role on special teams.

Given that Reynolds looked like the strongest backup running back behind D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams, this isn’t exactly a surprise. But with Godwin Igwebuike battling for the kick return job with Trinity Benson, Jermar Jefferson taking late reps, and Greg Bell suffering what appeared to be a pretty serious injury, Reynolds looks like he’s the team’s RB3.

On the rise: Austin Bryant

On our training camp preview podcast, I noted that Austin Bryant needs a quick start in camp. With Romeo Okwara, Josh Paschal and Natrez Patrick all sidelined, Bryant will get plenty of early reps with the second team, and that’s exactly what has happened so far. He has had at least one “sack” in each of the team’s first two practices and has consistently been a disruptor in the backfield.

He still has a long way to go to carve out a spot in Detroit’s suddenly crowded cornerback room, but this was as good a start as he could have hoped for.

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