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Detroit Lions minicamp observations: First-team offensive line finally together

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The Detroit Lions closed out mandatory minicamp on Thursday with a practice that very much felt like the last day of camp. There were a lot of competitive drills, some trickeration, and one of the most entertaining finishes to a Lions practice I have ever personally witnessed.

We’ll get there, but first, let’s break down my overall observations from Day 3 of minicamp.

Attendance

Not in attendance:

  • DE Josh Paschal
  • DT John Penisini
  • C Ryan McCollum

McCollum was not seen out there at practice. In his place, Tommy Kraemer slid in as the third-team center. During a two-minute drill, Kraemer skidded a shotgun snap at Tim Boyle’s knees, throwing the play off, but otherwise, he was fine.

The following players were at practice but not practicing:

  • TE James Mitchell
  • TE Derrick Deese
  • WR Jameson Williams
  • WR DJ Chark
  • EDGE Romeo Okwara
  • LB Natrez Patrick
  • CB / S Ifeatu Melifonwu
  • CB Jerry Jacobs
  • With DeShon Elliott

No differences here.

Participated more:

On Wednesday, Jonah Jackson missed most of the team drills, but he returned to play for a majority of 11-on-11 plays on Thursday. In fact, with Taylor Decker taking some team reps as well on Thursday, this was the first time all offseason that we’ve seen all five starters working together during full-speed team drills.

“It’s really beneficial for us, even just to spend time together because the chemistry with the o-line is huge,” Frank Ragnow said after practice. “Even if the tempo is different, it’s just huge for us to understand how we all think and how we all flow.”

Trickeration

I can’t speak on the specifics, but the Lions spent a long period of time testing the throwing arms of the running backs, tight ends, and wide receivers. Of the group, I thought Godwin Igwebuike had some of the best throws of the group. Tom Kennedy, who had the perfect throw to Calif Raymond in last year’s season finale, also dropped a dime during the session. Raymond picked out the best throwers from his group after practice.

“So, Trinity has always, I’ve thought, had the best arm,” Raymond said. “But, you know what? I was actually gonna say Josh Reynolds, but Amon-Ra through one over there that kind of hit me out of the left field, because I didn’t know he had it like that, and then he got a little confidence with it. I’d probably say the Trinity’s the most consistent. “

More competition drills

When the teams split into positional drills, they were all doing highly-competitive one-on-one drills. I only focused on the offense. The wide receivers caught a pass, then raced around a large circle on the field, and caught a pass to end the relay. The running backs and offensive linemen competed in some sort of relay race that was hard to see from afar. Meanwhile, the quarterbacks tried to drop 30-yard passes into a tiny square in netting that looks similar to this:

Again, it was a very loose feeling to practice, but the competition drills kept the energy high.

Two-minute drill

At about midway point in practice, the Lions set up another late-game scenario — something that has been a point of emphasis during all these offseason workouts.

The scenario: Down nine points, 1:59 left, starting at their own 25-yard line.

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The first-team offense started with the best drive I’ve seen from them all offseason.

Play 1: Jared Goff hit Caliph Raymond up the seam, who had beaten AJ Parker. Now, to be fair, Tracy Walker came crashing down on the play and probably would’ve laid a big hit. Still, it counted and gained around 25-30 yards.

Play 2: Josh Reynolds got ahead of Will Harris on a post route for another 37-yard gain.

Play 3: Shane Zylstra beat Alex Anzalone on a crosser for the touchdown.

With 1:18 left, they had made it a two-point game.

Their second drive, though, was not as successful. It started with a promising back-shoulder throw to Raymond with Walker in tight coverage for 25 yards. After a spike, a 9-yard throw to St. Brown and a throwaway, Riley Patterson lined up for a 54-yard field goal and the win. He missed wide left.

David Blough was back with the second-team offense on Thursday, but couldn’t muster much of a drive in this two-minute drill. He struggled to stay ahead of the sticks, having two convert two fourth downs and burning all three timeouts in the process. They had barely crossed over the midfield when Blough tried to force a pass to Quintez Cephus that was easily picked off by Bobby Price, who was all over the route.

Tim Boyle didn’t get a crack at the drill but got some general 11-on-11 time. He, too, struggled to get the offense moving much.

Big man punt returns

To end practice — and the offseason program for most veterans — the Lions had an offense vs. defense big man punt return off. Offensive and defensive linemen were fielding points from about 30 yards away via the Jugs machine.

Up first: 290-pound rookie defensive tackle Demetrius Taylor, who made an impressive shoestring catch.

The offensive counterpart was Penei Sewell, who made a catch relatively easy and then punted the ball in celebration at least 20 yards downfield.

They decided to go to a round two, where Alim McNeill faced off against rookie guard Kevin Jarvis. McNeill made sure to put gloves on before fielding the punt, but both players, again, caught the ball with relative ease.

With no winner between the offense and defense, there needed to be a tiebreaker. That’s when the entire defense broke out into a “We want Skip” chant, referring to the 6-foot-9, 330-pound offensive lineman Dan Skipper. The coaches obliged, and Skipper stepped in. Though he initially misjudged the ball, he made the eventual catch and threatened to throw the ball at the crowd of defensive players he had just beaten. [Editor’s note: This isn’t the first time Skipper showed off his punt fielding skills. He did it at the East-West Shrine game five years ago, too.]

“Skip lives for that, so that was huge,” Ragnow said after practice.

The Lions will return to the practice field on Monday, but it will mostly be young players getting more intimate time with the coaching staff.

“Next week will be more for the young players, developmental players,” Dan Campbell said on Thursday. “This gives us a great opportunity to just get hands-on with them, a little more one on one.”

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