Are you jacked up for some football? I am, and I’m back at the Lions Beautiful Allen Park training facility for another season of training camp reports.
It’s sunny, hot, and humid this morning. Just the way we like it. The Lions have expanded their bleacher seating for the fans this year. Good thing they did too, as there had to be a new training camp attendance record by my reckoning.
The fans were excited, and the kids were going gaga as their favorite Lions players walked by. Most players smiled and waved. Others, like Louis Delmas and Nate Burleson, engaged the crowd.
Delmas gave high fives to all the fans in the first row, yelling as he went, “We‘re back, baby!” Big Nick Fairley had a wall-to-wall smile plastered across his face.
I felt like I was finally home.
Matt Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Aaron Berry, Willie Young and Richard Dickson looked like they put on some serious bulk in the offseason.
This was the Lions first practice in pads, the first of many to come. This made it easy to identify those who dressed, but would not practice. Notable players who were sidelined were OTs Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus, CB Alphonso Smith and WR Titus Young.
Individual Position Drills
After warm-ups, the various offensive and defensive units split up for some positional drills. The “Big Uglies” trooped off to the furthest reaches of the practice field where they pounded away at the sleds and each other.
Running backs went through agility drills. Receivers practiced getting off the line and beating the jam. DBs and LBs worked on backpedals, coverage transition and “breaking down” in run support. Jason Hanson kicked field goals while Nick Harris boomed punts. Dave Rayner will not join the team until Thursday.
Seven on Seven Drills
The offensive and defensive lines remained cloistered out of earshot of the fans. Trust me, you don’t want your kids hearing these animals as they maul each other.
The QBs, RBs, TEs and WRs went up against the defensive back seven. Contact was limited as the offense worked 1st- and 2nd-and-10 yards to go pass patterns.
Calvin Johnson looked explosive off the snap and made all the catches look like candy. Mikel Leshoure looked very comfortable coming out of the backfield. Burleson was Burleson, making those tough catches over the middle.
Zack Robinson, the third string QB, was on target and looked like a legitimate NFL passer.
I went over to the end zone to watch the defensive back seven. Erik Coleman rotated with Louis Delmas while UDFA Silva Ricardo (Hampton) rotated with Amari Spievey at the other safety position.
Silva and Spievey covered the slot receivers. Silva looks like he could catch on.
Th CBs were Nathan Vasher, Aaron Berry, UDFA Brandon Buford (Howard) and UDFA Brandon Stephens (Miami-Ohio).
My first impression of Erik Coleman was largely positive from a technique standpoint, but his zone coverage was too loose while he was diagnosing plays.
Amari Spievey looked much more comfortable at safety in this year’s camp as opposed to the 2010 failed experiment at corner. Buford looked pretty solid in tight man coverage. A player to definitely keep an eye on.
Zack Follett played SAM LB. DeAndre Levy patrolled the middle, while Isaiah Ekejiuba played WILL with the first team. UDFAs Dejuan Fulgham (TX Southern), Quinton Davie (Northwestern) and Cabrani Mixon (Kent State) rotated in. Mixon was very active and looked good in coverage.
UDFA WR Marcus Harris committed the unforgivable sin of not giving enough effort on a Shaun Hill pass that was moderately catchable. Receivers coach Shawn Jefferson called him over and made him lie on his back. The coach, standing at Harris’ feet, fired 20 balls at Harris from point blank range while issuing a drill instructor like tirade.
For the hapless Harris, the message was received, loud and clear. He’ll be icing those digits as I type with mine.
The balls were not kicked, but were fired out of the “Jugs” machine. There was quite a mix of veterans along with a slew of UDFAs in participation in this non-contact drill.
11 on 11 Full Contact (Well, Sort of) Drills
The Lions again worked on 1st- and 2nd-and-10 yards to go. This time, there was full contact, more or less, on the line of scrimmage. The position players were exempt from heavy contact.
On offense, the QBs rotated through a scripted set of plays. Jason Fox played LT along with Tony Ugoh. Johnny Culbreath handled the RG duties with Donald Thomas.
UDFA Pat Illig, the 6’5”, 316 lb guard (Woford) saw some spot action. Illig is a man mountain who looked pretty light on his feet. A dancing bear who gets my early vote for the Randy Phillips UDFA Camp Stud award.
We now take time for your Mikel LeShoure moment. LeShoure hit both corners on off-tackle running plays like a rocket! BOOM! Once past the line, he seems to find another gear.
LeShoure’s outside running plays were greeted by loud cheering by the fans.
Back to your regularly scheduled article.
Not to be outdone, Jahvid Best showed that explosiveness on a couple of inside runs that also pleased the crowd.
On defense, DT Nick Fairley rotated with Ndamukong Suh. Lawrence Jackson handled the left DE duties. On the right side, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams had their usual assignments.
Let me go on record: Anyone who thinks that Fairley will not have immediate impact is out of their skulls. Fairley is the beast that we saw at Auburn, and then some.
I will never call him Urkel again. Never.
Only one long pass was thrown. A Stafford 60-yard bomb to Megatron at the back of the end zone. TOUCHDOWN! The loudest eruption from the crowd by far.
Red-Zone Passing Offense
The offense ran scripted passing plays from the 18, 10 and three yard lines. Again, the quarterbacks rotated. Again, Zack Robinson looked like he really belongs here.
And, again, Calvin Johnson looked like a 10 foot tall, 600 pound alien phenomena who plays a game with which we are unfamiliar. Diving catches, leaping catches and all the catches in between.
Shaun Hill held onto the ball too long on one play. He got an ear full from offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who was extremely animated.
Note 1: Derrick Williams didn’t drop a ball.
Note 2: Brandon Pettigrew didn’t drop a ball.
Punt Return and Coverage
Meh. Like the kickoff drill earlier, this was pretty vanilla and I won’t bore you with details.
This training camp session suggested that the players were largely in shape, but not even close to being in football shape. Missing OTAs and mini camps during the lockout took a toll.
There was a stark contrast between the team that took the field in last year’s camp, and the team that took the field today.
The coaching staff has to bring the players along slowly, but with the first exhibition game coming up in 11 days there has to be a great sense of urgency.
This practice was very basic in structure, without blitz packages or other frills. With several prominent players not scheduled to practice until Thursday, there is only so much to be gained from the group that was on hand today. Many will not survive camp cuts.
All things considered, today’s training camp was still a blast. To be among the players and fans again was energizing, educational and entertaining.
I’ll be back tomorrow with another Lions training camp report. Keep cool!
Mike Sudds is a syndicated Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Mike is also an analyst and correspondent for DraftTek.com.