The Detroit Lions’ joint training sessions with the Indianapolis Colts began Wednesday afternoon in front of a packed crowd with a surprising number of Lions fans. As expected it was a high intensity exercise with a lot of crap, big clashes and emotions coming from every sideline.
The layout of the practice—one field was end-to-end with the second field—I was only able to catch sightings from one side of the ball. On Wednesday I chose to watch the Lions attack against the Colts defense. On Thursday, I’ll switch and watch the Lions’ defense against the Colts attack.
I’m changing the format a bit for these observations, just in chronological order.
The regular players stayed out for Wednesday’s training: DT Levi Onwuzurike, EDGE Julian Okwara and CB Ifetu Melifonwu.
Despite leaving practice on Monday, novice offensive guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai was a full-fledged competitor. Coach Dan Campbell said he had a spasm earlier in the week but is doing well. Cornerback Saivion Smith was also back after missing Monday’s practice.
While Quintez Cephus remains in training, he did not participate in team exercises as he continues to work his way back from a lower body injury he sustained early in camp.
Rookie guard Kevin Jarvis did not participate in practice, however. It is unclear what he is dealing with, but he did travel with the team and watched from the sidelines.
However, the big injury news of the day was that Devin Funchess suffered an upper body injury towards the end of practice. He seemed to prefer his right shoulder, but we probably won’t get an update until Thursday.
RBs vs LBs
After the teams warmed up, the first intersquad exercises were one-on-one, and that really set the tone for the whole day. Originally I was going to look at offensive line versus defensive line, but my attention was soon drawn to running backs pass which provided protection against Colt’s linebackers.
As usual with these drills, linebackers usually have a strong advantage here, and this was no exception at the start of the drill. Colt’s starting linebacker Zaire Franklin was particularly strong in this drill – and he let everyone know. Franklin and Jamaal Williams were face to face for the rest of the workout.
The Lions’ most impressive representative came from D’Andre Swift, who locked reserve linebacker Sterling Weatherford completely for a few seconds. Jamaal Williams also let everyone on that field know.
OL vs DL
Eventually my attention drifted back to the big boys, but I only caught two reps for the first team offensive line: Colt’s defensive lineman, Grover Stewart (a starter) pulled a nice swim to pass Frank Ragnow, and Penei Sewell did a good job locking up Kwity Paye.
However, it was not good for the reserves. Logan Stenberg really struggled during the one-on-one period. I had him with four decisive defeats that day, mostly from Colts backups.
If there was one Lions deep offensive lineman who stood out in a positive way, it was Tommy Kraemer, who kept Eric Johnson and Tyquan Lewis at bay, but Johnson later got him with a nasty spin move.
WR vs DBs
I haven’t seen many of these one-on-ones, but DJ Chark and Josh Reynolds both got splits on individual reruns I saw. Unfortunately, Jared Goff was not at his best during this part of the training.
The Lions’ offense really struggled to move the ball against the Colts’ defenses during these drills, with the Indianapolis linebacking corps really giving them over the middle. Franklin registered a pass breakup on Kalif Raymond and Bobby Okereke nearly knocked out Goff on a pass attempt to Raymond.
Goff and the offense had a bit more success attacking the perimeter of the defense, with a short ramp to Raymond and a 5-yard out to Amon-Ra St. Brown.
After practice, Goff admitted that it took him and the rest of the attack some time to adjust to the Colts’ other defensive scheme.
“We were settling in there early and got a little wet from what they were doing defensively, and I’m sure I was,” Goff said. “But I think everyone just needed a few plays to settle in and once we did, we felt really good and I thought we had practiced well.”
When the Lions and Colts went head to head in a full team practice, it was clear they had found a comfort level.
The Lions’ offense didn’t find much ground in their first two full-team replays against the Colts, but in the next three games they took more than 15 yards each. First, Goff found St. Brown on an inner pole about 20 yards. Then, on a best-selling play-action pass, Goff found Trinity Benson in cover for another 20 with Stephon Gilmore. That opened the run game, as D’Andre Swift found the right ending for a gain of about 15 yards. During that game, TJ Hockenson blocked the downfield, locked with Colts cornerback Kenny Moore. After the piece was well behind them, Moore threw Hockenson at a few people on the sidelines, but luckily no one was injured.
In the second set of eleven, the Lions’ offense practiced situational downs – usually third down. The first-team offense delivered another run of downs in three out of four games — with St. Brown, Reynolds and Raymond all gaining at least 10 yards on receptions. The only stop the Colts got was a run-play through the middle where Swift was stopped by Paye.
The next set of full team drills was in favor of the Colts, as I only had the Lions successful on two out of four reps. A quick run to Williams yielded about 8 yards, and Shane Zylstra just seemed to pick up a third-and-2. In the other two games, Brock Wright was knocked out by a Colts linebacker for a lackluster, and a third-and-7 draw came a few yards short.
Team exercises concluded with red zone games. St. Brown scored on an 11-yard touchdown pass with Brandon Facyson in cover – and promptly kicked the ball in celebration. Swift also found the edge again and ran in from 6 meters thanks to a Zylstra block. The Lions would have scored three touchdowns in a row, but Reynolds dropped a fairly easy touchdown pass to end the drill.
Overall, the second team’s offense struggled against the Colts. Tim Boyle was the team’s No. 2 quarterback on Wednesday and failed to score during the red zone drills, although Zylstra came pretty close in the team’s final drill. Kalif Raymond got behind the Colts secondary at least twice, but Boyle knocked him down once in 7-on-7’s and undermined him in 11-on-11’s.
The Lions were clearly looking ahead to special team drills, both in terms of point returns and point coverage. Kalif Raymond started as the return team, busting out a big win in one of the few full-team replays, while Godwin Igwebuike and Craig Reynolds completely locked up a shooter during a two-on-one drill. It was during this exercise that the only real scuffle of the day took place. I didn’t see exactly what was happening, but Saivion Smith was involved.
When things turned to cover teams, the Colts only managed to return one of three punts, one of which went over the returnee’s head and another high enough to warrant a fair catch. Again, it was Igwebbuike who stood out during target practice and beat coverage well during his rep.
Opportunities and goals
- Tough day for Craig Reynolds, who was knocked over during the pass protection drills and had a fumble.
- Without Cephus in team drills, both Benson and Tom Kennedy were sprinkled with the first team attack.
- Matt Nelson continues to struggle as the team’s primary backup swing tackle. However, the newly added Kendall Lamm continues to impress me more every day.
- Yes, this happened: