The Detroit Lions are five practices into their organized team activities, with two of those being in front of the media. We only have a small taste of what this 2022 Lions team may be, but with two data points, we can deduce which players are headed in the right direction, and which are trending downwards.
This early in the process, though, it’s mostly positive. Players improve as they get their sea legs back and grow more comfortable with their teammates and the scheme.
Today, I’d like to highlight 10 of the most notable performances from Thursday’s practice—often compared to last week’s OTA session—to see who is progressing and who is not. So here are seven players who are trending in the right direction and three who are struggling.
Thursday was one of the most confident sessions I’ve seen from Goff on the practice field. During individual drills, he was throwing 40-yard bombs with perfect spirals and hitting each receiver in stride as the crowd of season ticket holders ooh’d and ahh’d. In full 11-on-11s, Goff had the confidence to laser a few passes into tight windows.
There were a couple of occasions of him holding onto the ball too long, but far fewer than we’ve been accustomed to seeing. He’s so much farther along than he was at this point last year.
In defense of his trade for Trinity Benson, Lions general manager Brad Holmes said he believed Benson was more of a developmental move that could pay off down the line.
“Knowing that he was young, the intent on Trinity was not 2021,” Holmes said. “It was like, ‘If he could contribute, great. If he needs a little more time to learn a new system kinda coming in late, then that’s what he’ll do.’”
Benson had an impressive Thursday, displaying some of the short-area quickness that we expected to see early on—and some solid hands, to boot. He also got some looks on special teams. The highlight of his day, however, was a diving grab on an out-route that would’ve picked up 20-25 yards.
There’s no clear path to the 53-man for Benson, but if he can continue this upward trajectory, he could land him on the practice squad and give him an opportunity to play should the injury bug hit the team.
Last week, it was clear Goff was developing some serious chemistry with DJ Chark. This week, his long-standing chemistry with Reynolds was on full display. During team drills, Reynolds had at least three catches, two of which were tight-window receptions of at least 20 yards.
The Lions may have to rely on Reynolds early in the season if Jameson Williams isn’t fully recovered from his ACL tear. But with the way Reynolds played with Goff last year and the way he has started offseason workouts, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Last week, Cornell got some time with the first-team defense because Michael Brockers was out, and he made a couple of nice plays, including a batted down pass or two. This week, Brockers returned, and Cornell still saw some looks with the first team. Again, he managed to make an impression—this time notching a drive-ending sack against Jonah Jackson during a one-minute drill.
Cornell has a realistic shot at making the roster, too. The Lions don’t have a ton of depth at defensive tackle beyond Brockers, Alim McNeill, and Levi Onwuzurike, and Cornell’s sneaky-explosive, short-area speed could actually be a pretty decent fit in this scheme.
With Ifatu Melifonwu out with a leg injury, Joseph got some playing time with the second-team defense and immediately made the most of the opportunity. His football instincts were on display when he jumped in front of a Tim Boyle pass, and he nearly picked up another later in practice when a pass bounced off of Shane Zylstra’s hands.
Board gets a stock up merely by repping significant time with the first-team defense, mostly alongside Alex Anzalone. Maybe the Lions plan on giving those opportunities to several different players—as part of the red-hot competition in that room—but the fact that Board was first in line behind Derrick Barnes feels significant.
His performance was up and down on the field. On one play, he perfectly timed a blitz up the A-gap and was untouched on his way to forcing an incompletion. In coverage, though, he struggled as Zylstra beat him cleanly on a seam route for a big gain.
Harris continues to rep as a first-team cornerback while Jeff Okudah sits out team drills, and, more than ever, he looked like he belonged on Thursday. His best rep was against Amon-Ra St. Brown, where he basically ran the entire route for St. Brown and was in perfect position to make the interception. Had it not been for a good “defensive” play by St. Brown, he would’ve had it. Even the completions he gave up on Thursday mostly had to be perfect passes and tricky catches.
It’s starting to look like Harris may find a spot on this roster in the cornerback room. Although, the competition will certainly ramp up with Okudah and Jerry Jacobs making their respective ways back to the field.
We have seen Boyle run two one-minute drills. His stats in both combined: 1-for-3 for 10 yards, 1 interception, and two sacks. His accuracy is way off both in the team and individual drills. He’s holding onto the ball too long. Simply put, he doesn’t appear to be progressing in the way you’d like for a player who is still relatively young and is coming off his first true NFL experience. To be fair, he’s dealing with some new receivers and tight ends, but he’s still not as far along as you’d like him to be.
Bryant already has a very tough journey to the 53-man roster after Detroit has added several edge defenders this offseason. On Thursday, he sat out of most drills with an injury. Bryant simply can’t afford to miss time right now, as it’s integral he makes the most out of every moment he steps into the lineup.
Lions tight ends
While Zylstra caught one nice seam route, Detroit’s tight end room has not garnered a lot of optimism thus far. With TJ Hockenson and rookie James Mitchell out, it’s a golden opportunity for someone to step up and make an early run at the No. 2 job. Garrett Griffin and Derrick Deese missed Thursday’s practice, Zylstra had a bad drop, and I didn’t see Brock Wright make a single catch during all of practice.
Maybe Detroit’s tight end room will be fine once Mitchell and Griffin are back, but for now, it’s looking like the Lions need some reinforcements.