Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Lions 2016 Training Camp: First Practice Observations

The Detroit Lions reported for training camp on Thursday but the first full practice session occurred today, Friday July 29. Below are my observations based on the roughly two-hour session.

The Detroit Lions officially kicked off training camp with their first practice today.  The team was in shorts and helmets for an afternoon workout that occurred at the team's indoor practice facility in Allen Park due to stormy conditions.

Here are some observations from the roughly two-hour session:

  • first and foremost, it's important to emphasize that this was not a padded practice.  For this reason, evaluation of the offensive and defensive line is nearly impossible.
  • The indoor-practice was watched by Owner Martha Ford and Team President Rod Wood from the sideline
  • One notable absentee from on-field activity was DeAndre Levy.  The linebacker, who missed all but one game last year with a hip injury, watched the practice wearing a baseball cap.  
  • Levy was placed on the Active\Non-football Injury list - along with safety Don Carey - earlier in the day.  After the practice Levy talked to reporters but was mum on all things surrounding the injury and it's clear the team intends to remain tight lipped on the topic
  • Staying on the topic of injury news, running back Ameer Abdullah did partake in the practice but did so in a red, non-contact jersey.  Abdullah underwent shoulder surgery in January.  Since the practice didn't include pads, it's difficult to see if the surgery has had any lingering affects but he did look every bit the explosive, agile and speedy back he was a year ago.
  • During one-on-one drills that pitted a pass-catcher against a defender, Abdullah looked uncoverable.  He was twice matched up against linebacker Tahir Whitehead and easily created separation, successfully securing both throws.
  • Abdullah got reps with the first and second team but seems to be on pace to be the opening day starter
  • There were no real surprises in the starting lineups.  The offensive line remained consistent from what was seen in Minicamp, featuring Taylor Decker at left tackle and Riley Reiff at right tackle.  Rafael Bush got the majority of work as the top strong safety.  Nevin Lawson took first team reps at cornerback opposite Darius Slay.  With Levy out, Jon Bostic got some work in with the top linebacker units and it's clear the team is going to give an extended look at Kyle Van Noy.
  • Slay, the recipient of a new 4-year deal, looked sharp in practice.  He had a nice pass breakup while matched up against Golden Tate, knocking the ball out of the receiver's hands, and looked comfortable in coverage.
  • Speaking of looking comfortable, Matthew Stafford looked the part while directing personnel during Skelton drills.  During team scrimmages, he was vocal at the line of scrimmage while reading the defense and commonly using hard counts to get the other side of the ball to tip their hand.
  • Although comfortable, Stafford wasn't perfect.  He did have some excellent throws but also had some misses, including over throwing an open Jeremy Kerley after the receiver had gotten open from the slot.
  • Staying on the topic of quarterbacks, it doesn't appear as if Dan Orlovsky should fear for his job.  Jake Rudock, despite a nice deep throw late in practice, looked shaky on most dropbacks.  He wasn't decisive enough with this passes and seemed uncomfortable in the pocket.  Of course, it's not unreasonable for him to have an acclimation period to the NFL but he's more likely battling himself for a roster spot than Orlovsky.
  • One player I wanted to see was Eric Ebron, since he figures to be a key cog in the offense after the retirement of Calvin Johnson.  To me, Ebron easily looked like the most gifted player on the offense today.  He was explosive, created separation easily when running his routes and seemed to be engaged in the practice due to his vocal nature at times.
  • Ebron wasn't perfect, bobbling at least one pass and dropping at least another - granted the drop was during skeleton drills and wasn't thrown by a quarterback.  On other plays, he showed his game breaking ability.  He used crisp route-running and his superior athleticism to beat Bush and haul in a pass one-on-one and bested Slay for a catch during 7on7s.
  • The addition of Anquan Boldin could create an interesting combination with Ebron as it enables the tight end to move outside a bit while creating blocking mismatches against nickel defenses. 
  • I asked Boldin about exactly that today and he said, "I hope so, I watched film on (Ebron), he's still young but he has a huge upside.  I definitely feel like we can present mismatches inside whether it's a linebacker, slot nickel or safety... hopefully we'll be able to create those mismatches." 

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