There’s a hint of autumn in the air. The dew lies heavy on the turf that is starting to collect falling leaves from the trees surrounding the Lions practice facility.
It’s football time, baby!
I attended the Coach’s Kickoff event at Ford Field yesterday. It was a light and abbreviated practice session where the players had as much fun as the fans. Autograph hounds were satisfied with the 45-minute signing session prior to practice. Good times!
Today’s report will give you some general impressions along with some new observations that may open some eyes.
DE Cliff Avril
Avril returned Sunday after signing his franchise tender. He dressed, but was held out of drills. Today, Avril participated in warm-ups only.
Rookie Tackle Riley Reiff
At Ford Field, the Lions ran a pass rush and protect drill. This is the first such drill I’ve seen close up since the “Big Uglies” practice area in Allen Park is in the farthest, most secretive sanctum. I call it the “cursatorium” where young ears are kept at a politically correct distance.
Reiff responded very well at LT reps—especially against the outside speed rush. He did allow DE Lawrence “LoJack” Jackson to get under his pads once. Coach George Yarno took Reiff aside for some very pointed instruction.
Here’s the bad news: At RT, Reiff easily handled speed rushers to the outside. He had lots of trouble when any DE put an inside move on Reiff’s left (inside) shoulder.
This bit of bad news is very correctable and I’m certain that he’ll pick up his footwork to compensate for those left shoulder attacks.
Tackle Jason Fox
In the same pass rush drill, Fox was pure gold at LT. Fox faced off with the best that the defense threw at him and prevailed.
There was a very pleasant surprise when Fox moved over to RT; he’s much improved in his technique over his truncated 2011 preseason. Fox now looks like he can take snaps at either position at a high level of performance.
In today’s practice, Fox and Reiff shared snaps at RT. While Reiff continued to struggle, it was Fox that looked very solid in a full contact red zone segment.
The Left Tackle Shuffle
The Lions worked tackle Corey Hilliard over at LT today where he appeared to be retrogressing from his work there in 2011. Despite Hilliard’s poor showing at LT, his versatility at every other guard and tackle position will keep his roster spot safe.
On one play, DE Willie Young blew Hilliard up, jumped a screen route and returned today’s only interception for a TD. Willie did his impression of WR Nate Burleson’s impression of TE Tony Scheffler’s impression of WR Titus Young’s TD celebration. The crowd roared as Young struck his Megatron pose.
Fox and Reiff both looked like money at their LT snaps.
In the seven-on-seven drill you could see the gap in defensive depth between the first and second teams when going up against the offensive first team.
The first team consisted of LLB Justin Durant, MLB Stephen Tulloch, RLB DeAndre Levy, LCB Chris Houston (who returned to practice today), RCB Bill Bentley, FS Amari Spievey (Delmas is still sidelined) and SS Eric Coleman.
The second team was LLB Tahir Whitehead, MLB Ashlee Palmer, RLB Doug Hogue, LCB Jacob Lacey, RCB Bentley (again), FS John Wendling and SS Sean Jones.
There is a small ray of sunshine here. The talent gap is closing over last season’s group. Not by much, mind you, but it is closing in this observer’s opinion.
I wanted to focus on Kellen Moore and R.J. Archer. The Lions gave both plenty of reps today. Here’s what I observed:
Kellen Moore’s arm strength is his major issue. He’s accurate, but the ball seems to take forever to get to his intended target. It was Moore’s swing pass that went for a pick-six.
Archer has size and arm strength. Archer, however, has this Shaun Hill-like tendency to “sail” his passes. Archer looks like a project that the Lions can ill afford.
I’d keep an eye on the Bengals this preseason. That’s right, I said the Bengals. If QB Zac Robinson gets cut you can bet your rent money that Lions GM Martin Mayhew will pounce on him.
Wrap Up and Tomorrow’s Plan
The Lions have the day off tomorrow after I insisted that I needed to rest my hammies and get some therapy on my stiff hips.
OK, I lied, but the Lions do have an off-day. If time permits, I’ll put down my rather lengthy honey-do list and write an article about a looming Lions crisis.