Dan Campbell’s first minicamp as the head coach of the Detroit Lions wrapped up this week. With a full roster of eager participants under the humid skies in Allen Park, Campbell led the Lions through the mandatory session with energy and purpose.
It was our first real look at several of the newcomers to the team in action, as well as the return to Detroit for Tyrell Crosby and Jamie Collins after they skipped out on the voluntary OTAs. No contact drills were permitted, and the offensive and defensive lines never squared off head-to-head.
There were a few points of interest throughout the week. Here are four takeaways I got from attending the Tuesday session and keeping up with observers the rest of the week.
The secondary could be better than expected
(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Last year the defensive backfield looked more like a minefield for the Lions. Between injuries, schematic shenanigans and just plain poor play, it was an unquestionable weak point. It’s obviously very early, but the secondary showed some real promise this week. Top CB Jeff Okudah looked spry and healthy in Tuesday session. He also looked confident in his ability, something that was noticeably absent in his rookie season in Detroit. The Lions signed a couple of free agents who figure to play a lot in cornerbacks Quinton Dunbar and Corn Elder. Both are athletic upgrades over their now-departed predecessors. Safeties Will Harris and Tracy Walker each had positive moments playing in the new split-safety scheme. Holdover Mike Ford had some great reps in the slot, while young journeyman Alex Brown showed speed and awareness outside. There is a ton of work to be done. They did not have to play run defense or tackle yet. But there is some sunshine peeking through the clouds on the dark spot that was the Lions secondary in 2020.
Worries about Jared Goff‘s arm strength are overplayed
Nobody will ever mistake Jared Goff’s arm for Matthew Stafford’s. Let’s get that out of the way right from the top. But the hyperventilating worries from some fans about Goff and his ability to throw the ball with enough velocity and tightness down the field should be blown away with his performance thus far. An example came on Tuesday when Goff lasered a ball over good coverage from LB Alex Anzalone on RB D’Andre Swift. The throw required both mustard and touch, and Goff delivered on both accounts. He sizzled a few balls in the red zone, too. As I said on the Detroit Lions Podcast recap show this week, Goff’s arm strength is every bit as good out to 30 yards as former Colts standout Andrew Luck–having seen them both in person in similar environs. There are still reasons to fret about Goff as the quarterback. Arm strength isn’t one of them.
The running backs are going to catch a lot of passes
(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Consider this a hybrid point of the receiving skills of the running backs and the relative lack of skills of the actual wide receivers. D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams both look fantastic in the passing game. Swift is smooth and polished as a route runner and has natural hands. Williams is a big target with sticky mitts and suave footwork to get open. They’re good as receivers and they know it–and Goff does too. As for the wideouts, well… Tyrell Williams had some moments. He’s got speed and the ability to extend his catch radius vertically, playing above the rim so to speak. There’s not a lot of nuance to his routes, at least not visible during practices yet, but he’s capable of making things happen down the field and in the red zone. Rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown looks comfortable in the slot and flashed some sticky hands of his own. He’s all business and shows attention to detail that the coaches love. It was also pretty apparent from the two practices I’ve caught that he’s just not a dynamic athlete and that puts a ceiling on how much he can offer. There is some clear potential in the UDFA ranks with Jonathan Adams, Sage Surratt and Javon McKinley all having some legit moments. But they’re UDFAs that have a lot to prove once the pads come on and hitting/blocking starts. Veteran journeyman Breshad Perriman did little to dispel my previous experience in covering him; he’ll make a really nice play or two but it’s interspersed with at least double that many reps where he appears ineffective or indifferent. Kalif Raymond has speed and wiggle in space out of the slot that intrigues, but at this point, it’s difficult to project him to be more than the return specialist and occasional target in the offense. It all adds up to the potential for Swift and Williams to each catch a lot of passes in Anthony Lynn’s offense. It’s premature for bold proclamations, but it wouldn’t surprise me if each caught more passes in the regular season than any wideout currently in Detroit does.
The players love the ex-players as coaches
One constant from the rookie minicamp through OTAs and again this week in minicamp was the energy and attitude of the new coaching staff. RB coach Duce Staley doesn’t just tell his charges what to do. He willingly demonstrates the proper footwork or release from coverage. The same is true with WR coach Antwan Randle El, who absolutely looks like he can still play. OL coach Hank Fraley, the most prominent holdover coach, has no problem taking reps in the rotation to show what he wants from Penei Sewell or Frank Ragnow–and the players quickly respond. It’s a different coaching approach and culture in Detroit that starts at the top with Campbell. The players, especially the ones who have been in Detroit longer than a year, seem to genuinely appreciate and enthusiastically embrace the more energetic, hands-on, “been there myself” examples from the plethora of NFL vets who are now coaching in Detroit. It’s infectious to the players and shows in their effort in reps and respect to the staff.