OTA notes in Week 2 of the Detroit Lions: Stepping up first team attack and defense wins the day

One of the great things about OTAs is that things are constantly evolving and there is always something new to learn about. Detroit Lions. On Thursday, the Lions held their fifth training of the spring — only their second open to the media — and Jeremy Raisman and I attended, to represent Detroit’s pride.

This week, I took honors in detailing what we observed during Thursday’s training, so let’s get into it.

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Here is a list of the players who were not present:

  • TJ Hawkinson
  • T Garrett Griffin
  • LT Taylor Decker
  • Edge Romeo Okwara (Achilles)
  • Edge Josh Paschal
  • John Benicini

Okwara’s loss is not a surprise, as he is still recovering from his injury, Decker’s absence is not because he is also being treated from an injury, but the other four are absent for unknown reasons. Hockinson missed the OTA last Thursday due to illness, but was expected to return, so not being on the field was a disappointment. In the second round, Pascal was missing out, also disappointing because he was on our team. This week’s target watchlist.

It is important to remember that these practices are voluntary, but at this time, Penisini is the only player who does not have a known injury and has missed all OTAs.

These are the players who were present but did not participate:

  • WR Jameson Williams (AFC Champions League)
  • TE James Mitchell (ACL)
  • TE Derek Daisy
  • DL Eric Banks
  • CB Jerry Jacobs (ACL)
  • DB Ifeatu Melifonwu

With rookies Deese and Mitchell seated – plus Hockenson and Griffin – that makes four narrow limbs unable to train today, leaving only Shayne Zylstra, Brock Wright and Nolan given the ability to train in the position.

Melifonwu was another player on our watch list this week, so we’ll have to wait and see if he’s ready to get back on the field next week for a little camp.

The following players had little involvement and worked mainly with coaches:

  • RB Godwin Igwebuike
  • Edge Austin Bryant
  • LB Natriz Patrick

The three players were forced to watch others take actors into their positions, which can be frustrating for individuals who aren’t guaranteed a place on the roster. They will definitely want to go back there as soon as possible.

First team attack

The first team offense was as expected this practice. The starting line was the same as last week, with Benny Sewell switching to the left tackle in place of Decker and Matt Nelson jumping to the starting role on the right tackle.

Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson revealed he sat down with quarterback Jared Goff together and I worked on building an offensive plan About his best skills and early results were positive.

Goff made several tight window throws, most notably to DJ Chark and Josh Reynolds, and looked confident in all the practice—a far cry from where he was this time last year. The Lions will give Gauff every chance of success in Detroit and the early results should leave fans hopeful.

Upon reception, Chark, Reynolds and Amon-Ra St. Brown, with the external receivers protruding the most. Chark caught him a few times in the middle, including fighting through a tough catch with Tracy Walker covering him in coverage. Reynolds was consistent, snatching fast passes and talking to them about yards after the catch (YAC), a defining topic of today’s first-team attack.

When they got into a one-minute drill, Chark, Reynolds and St. Brown, but Kalif Raymond and Quintez Cephus have also been involved in the first-team work. Add to the injured rookie Williams and the top six will be hard to beat.

Second and third team offenses

While Gauff sounded solid, his primary backup Tim Boyle looked like Tim Boyle from a year ago, picking up loads of checks, taking sacks and losing his targets. He also threw an interception during 11 on 11, when the safety of rookie Kirby Joseph fell into the box, read his eyes, and jumped into the path for the pick. During the one-minute series two drills, Boyle was fired twice courtesy of Bruce Hector and Jared Davis.

While Kalil Pimpleton is a great story and is already as fast as Hiccup, it will be a solid task to bring down Kalif Raymond who had a really solid day. Raymond is equally dynamic and brings the experience and confidence of his coaching staff with him to the competition.

In addition to some pickups with the first team, Cephus saw some time outside and in the hole with the second team, although on more than one occasion he was brought down by multiple backers.

In what appears to be an observed hoax, Trinity Benson celebrated after each catch, although the dip may have been justified.

Lacking depth in Thursday’s tight finish, Wright and Zilstra split starting duties, but Zilstra was the primary benefactor of extra time, racking up several strong moments.

EDGE dash

This was the first time I’ve seen Aidan Hutchinson with live training actors and he seems to be playing a big role. His movements are easy and he underestimated the bending value, which helps him get a long time like passing. After playing with the reserve team last week, Hutchinson has been in the first team ranks this week, rotating or playing against Charles Harris, who is adjusting to the new plan very well.

In the team’s drill, Hutchinson and Harris flipped sides often, with the rookie also blasting inside in a treble technique in a one-minute drill. In this case, Hutchinson lined up alongside Jashon Cornell in a defensive tackle, with Harris and Julian Okwara flanking them on the edges.

Speaking of Julian Okwara, he was lining up across the field on Thursday, playing multiple roles in multiple lines. Okwara saw reps at the defensive end, stooped over the edge, lined up over the A-gap, outside the linebacker, and dropped into coverage. In one-on-one drills, he usually travels with edge lunge tools but isn’t limited to just this role.

It’s not entirely clear if placing the SAM linebacker/hybrid edge rusher would be a technical role in Lions’ base defense, but it certainly looks like a role Lions are planning to rely on, and Okwara is the obvious better choice for the job.

Okwara’s on-site backup support should come as no surprise: junior James Huston. He also found himself on the field in high clear pass positions in rotation, including against the second team’s attack in one-minute drills.

The new addition, John Kominsky, is as sporty as advertised, but the Lions are acclimating to him on the field slowly, so it’s hard to get a feel for him just yet.

Inner defensive line

Michael Brookers returned to the squad this week and was promptly named to the starting line-up. In the base formations, he broke through to the side of McNeill’s realm and was supported by Levi Onozuriki. Both McNeill and Onwuzurike look further than they were last season, especially McNeill whose strength and balance were shown in team and individual workouts.

Out of those three – who all seem like locks on the list – Jason Cornell is the second-best inland navigator to date by OTAs. Cornell saw the rookie reps in 11 over 11 seconds as well as in the sub-packs and produced, including scoring a series-end sack on Hollow and attacking the first team during a one-minute drill.

Since Penisini is not located in Allen Park, it has opened up other opportunities for reserves. Bruce Hector also scored a sack on Thursday and his hands looked faster than last season. While UDFA rookie Demetrius Taylor—who has fast feet but needs to marry them off with his own hands—is gearing up for nose-handling reps in place of Penisini.


Chris Board was the story of this stand-up group on Thursday, seeing a marked rise in the shots, mostly above Derek Barnes, but also in place of Alex Anzalone. These three have seen the majority of first-team shots and could start to separate themselves early on.

Most of the time, the Lions posted two midfielders, as expected, but used four in a sub-pack concept, with Houston and Jared Davis on the edge, which is where Davis scored his sack on Boyle.

Jeff Okuda

Jeff Okuda Recovering from a hock injury has been an emotional journey, but left him hungry to return to the field. After only participating in the walkthroughs during last week’s OTAs, this week he has expanded his activities to walkthroughs and one-on-one drills, just sitting outside of full team drills.

“I feel like I’m hungry as if I haven’t eaten in years,” Okuda told the following media. “I’ve had this hunger inside me since the injury. Really, even before the injury. I’ve had this feeling, man, for about two years, just this hunger. I’m ready to go out there and play my best, honestly.”

Not only does Okuda get busy while he’s on the field, but during periods of practice he’s kept away from, he has a playing card in hand and guides rookies and sophomore corners on their assignments. The Lions finished the day 7v7, and when players like Cedric Boswell, Jermaine Waller, even AJ Parker arrived at the sidelines, Okuda was waiting for them and sharing his thoughts.

We saw this drive last year with Okuda and Jerry Jacobs, and the results benefited both players: Jacobs on the field, and Okuda as he recovered.

“There were times when I felt like I was playing through Jerry, you know?” Knot said. “Jerry and I had all these conversations, and I took him under my wing during training camp. Just seeing him grow was so amazing to me because it showed me that the things we talked about can be translated into the game. It gave me so much confidence in myself that when I come back, I can do That’s because we had these conversations and talked in detail about how we’re going to attack these recipients.”

Defensive backs

When Okudah is off the bench during team practice, it’s Will Harris who keeps seeing junior reps in his residency. It seemed like Harris was really stable on the corner and was in good shape all day, including getting to break up passes when covering St Brown. The extent to which Harris has played throughout high school is a good benefit to coaches, and it will be interesting to see if another year under defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and nice DBS coach Aubrey helps boost his game.

Mike Hughes spent most of his time last week outside, but this week he got a lot of work in the slot, supporting AJ Parker. Hughes’ versatility makes it an attractive option on the list.

Rookie Chase Lucas is back on the field this week and has also seen slot time with the third team. Late in the day, he jumped on Pimpleton Road and got the ball for PBU, almost securing the interception.

Speaking of objections, after Joseph retracted the safety of the rookie to the role of robber and picked Boyle during team practice, it’s worth noting that the next play he arranged at One Elevation, illustrates his group. It’s early, and there are things to clean up, but it’s a lot like choosing a second day.

While Melifonwu wasn’t on the court to be cross-trained in safety, Saivion Smith got some looks on safety. At 6ft 1,190lbs, Smith’s own team skills kept him in Detroit, and if the former Alabama cornerback can show some positioning range, it should certainly help his chance of staying more.

Safety Brady Breeze – another powerful special team member – was also rewarded for time between higher groups. Working with the second team saw both safety points during team training.

special teams

The Lions did some kick-back practice on Thursday, which gave us a chance to see the potential range of returning prospects. Igwebuike, the returning player, did not participate and this opened the door for others to get reps.

At first it was DeAndre Swift, followed by Kalif Raymond and Trinity Benson. Later they were joined by Clayle Pembleton and Craig Reynolds. With no pads, there’s not much to confirm, but these are the names to keep in mind.