The Detroit Lions are wrapping up OTAs this week. As head coach Dan Campbell stated last week during the team’s mandatory minicamp, this week’s voluntary sessions are focused on the rookies and developmental players.
Very few established players were in attendance on a gorgeous, sunny afternoon in Allen Park. Nearly all projected starters were gone, again by design. Running back D’Andre Swift, right tackle Penei Sewell, linebacker Derrick Barnes and cornerback Jeff Okudah were the only starting-caliber non-rookies who participated.
One prominent rookie who definitely projects to start is Aidan Hutchinson, and the defensive lineman did not disappoint. He attacks every drill as if he’s playing for his livelihood and his competitive attitude rubs off on the others in the drills. It’s easy to see Hutchinson’s perfectionist nature on display; he jumped back into the front of the short (only four DL in attendance) queue to immediately redo a drill where Hutchinson and DL coach Todd Wash were unhappy with the rookie’s shoulder level on a pass-rush exercise.
One of the drills was a receiving exercise for the running backs, which had the entire depth chart other than Jamaal Williams and FB Jason Cabinda in attendance. It gave a good illustration of the different footwork of the participants.
Swift really stood out here. There is very strict attention to detail in his route-running. No wasted steps or false motions at all from Swift. It’s easy to hearken back to Theo Riddick and Reggie Bush, two former Lions RBs who were exceptional receiving weapons, in watching Swift working in the passing game.
Craig Reynolds showed he’s worked on his receiving skills in the offseason. Reynolds made a couple of very nice catches away from his body and demonstrated tight route-running. The fourth-year back is in line to play more in 2022 even if Swift and Williams are healthy. As I noted last week, Reynolds is a lot closer to pushing Williams for the No. 2 spot than he is to being caught by the No. 4 back, currently Godwin Igwebuike.
–RB coach Duce Staley led the practice session with Campbell watching closely. It was akin to the Senior Bowl practices, where Staley served as the head coach of the National team with Campbell in a more advisory capacity.
The coaching development pipeline is something that is critically important to both Campbell and the Lions. Expect to see Staley landing some head coaching interviews next offseason and this is Campbell’s way of helping prepare the energetic RB coach.
–Undrafted rookie nose tackle Demetrius Taylor once again commanded attention with his play. Taylor leapt up and picked off a low David Blough throw. The Appalachian State rookie had two deflections just like it during last week’s minicamp but couldn’t secure the catch. Taylor snagged this one and the entire defensive contingency went crazy in celebration.
–Offensive line coach Hank Fraley spoke to the media before practice and talked up the need for positional versatility for the younger players to crack the roster. Fraley certainly offered the six (plus Sewell) aspirants chances to show they can play multiple spots. UDFA Zein Obeid took reps at every position but right tackle in the drills I watched, with another UDFA, Kevin Jarvis, moving around at every position but center.
–UDFA tight end Derrick Deese Jr. was in attendance but only worked with trainers. He has yet to be cleared by the training staff to be a full participant.