Detroit Lions 2022 training camp Day 4 observations: Aidan Hutchinson puts on a show for fans

The Detroit Lions held their fourth training camp practice of the 2022 season on Saturday and it was the first time fans (at least 2,500 season ticket holders, per team source) were allowed into Allen Park. Fans lined the bleachers, in one of the bigger turnouts we have seen in recent years, and the reactionary noise brought a different atmosphere to the field.

In the last practice of the week, the Lions spent the first hour running walkthroughs, stretching, and working in position groups, then the final hour and a half saw a lot of 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 work.

Sunday is a rest day for the team and they are expected to put pads on Monday, which is also the first day practices are open to the general public.

If you missed any of our camp observations so far, you can find them here:

Attendance/Injury updates

Coach Dan Campbell announced at his morning press conference that Dan Skipper has been removed from the NFI (illness) list, leaving just six players—Romeo Okwara, Jameson Williams, Josh Paschal, Jerry Jacobs, CJ Moore, and Jason Cabinda—on the injury lists. Moore continues to look good in his workouts with trainers and seems only days away from returning.

Beyond the players with designations, starting left tackle Taylor Decker sat out practice today for what looked like a maintenance day, and Devin Funchess also continues to rest and rehab his groin on the sidelines. Still no update on UDFA Greg Bell after Thursday’s back/hip injury.

Aidan Hutchinson pops early in camp

When the pads come on next Monday, the premier matchup will be the battle between the Lions’ last two top-seven draft picks: edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson (No. 2 pick in 2022) and offensive tackle Penei Sewell (No. 7 pick in 2021). We have been treated to this matchup only a few times in camp so far, but each time they line up across from one another the excitement level rises.

With Decker out and Sewell at left tackle, we didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to get the matchup. Unfortunately, offensive coordinator Ben Johnson had other plans. The play was a quick bubble to the left, with Sewell pulling order to get out in front of the play. As Hutchinson adjusted, he ran right into Amon-Ra St. Brown, who came crashing down to wall of the edge.

That wash-out was the last rep I saw from Hutchinson get moved from his spot on the day, as he not only continued his strong camp but popped on several flash plays—something he has routinely done through the first few days of camp.

“Certainly Hutch, I mean, he just, he pops,” coach Dan Campbell said at his morning press conference. “To watch him just continue to work and go through it, I’m telling you every day he just gets a little bit better and that’s all you care about is that you just see a little bit of improvement every day.”

In the second set of 11-on-11s, Hutchinson put together back-to-back-to-back plays that backed up Campbell’s praise.

In the first rep, Hutchinson lined up at left end and as the play began to unfold, he showed up in the backfield so quickly it was hard to see who he beat to get there. On the next play, Hutchinson lined up on the left side again, and this time the offense had Jonah Jackson pull from his left guard spot, but once again, Hutchinson’s first step was too much and Jackson couldn’t get to him in time.

On the third play, Hutchinson shifted to the right side and matched up with Sewell. The rookie didn’t disappoint.

Immediately at the snap, Hutchinson stab stepped outside and created the slightest opening of Sewell’s hips, then Hutchinson aggressively deployed a swim move inside that met little resistance.

To be fair to Sewell, he had been playing right tackle all camp and had less than 10 reps at left tackle on the day, so he was probably still knocking the rust off, but at the same time that shouldn’t take away from the devastating move Hutchinson deployed.

It’s still early in camp, and pads will alter these trench battles, but Hutchinson has been as advertised and is already a player the offense has to account for.

offense

Goff continues to look comfortable and miles ahead of where he was last season, but roughly one time each practice he throws a ball over the middle that puts his pass catchers in a bad spot. On Saturday, Goff appeared to miss Charles Harris dropping into coverage and threw Amon-Ra St. Brown a ball right into Harris’ direction.

It was David Blough’s turn with the second team on Saturday and while the rotation is likely a result of even play in the spring, Tim Boyle has looked to be the sharper reserve, regardless of what group he is with. Boyle had a play-action pass today that left me (and apparently the defense) staring at the running back, while he found Tom Kennedy downfield running by himself.

As a side note, JT Barrett, who the Lions hired as an offensive assistant, was throwing passes to receivers during individual drills today and was slinging 40-yard dimes with little issue. He spent most of the rest of his day attached to the hip of quarterbacks coach Mark Brunell.

Swift’s offseason goal of getting sleeker and stronger showed up again today. After taking a handoff and pressing the line of scrimmage, he kicked the play outside and simply outran every defender to the corner, turned up field, and went at least 25 yards before a secondary player found an angle on him. It will be very interesting to watch how his game progresses when pads come on.

DJ Chark showed his professionalism and leadership by example during team drills. After Goff threaded a beautiful throw to him that resulted in a drop, Chark immediately found redemption on the next play, fighting through tight coverage to outmuscle a defender for a tough ball on the sidelines.

Restrictions prevent me from divulging any of the Lions’ playbook, but let’s just say, the coaches are doing their best to get St. Brown into favorable matchups—like with linebackers and safeties—where he can exploit them with his quickness, creativity, and intelligence.

The battle for WR 5/6 spot still seems very undecided. On Friday, Quintez Cephus made some obvious mistakes, even getting pulled from a play after lining up in the wrong spot. His primary competition, Trinity Benson ran the wrong route on Saturday, drawing immediate groans from coaches. They’re still ahead of the pack, but they are also a step or two behind the top-four receivers.

With Cabinda still unavailable, Garrett Griffin has started to expand his role to H-back and dual tight end sets with the first team. He probably hasn’t passed Brock Wright just yet, but he is separating from Shane Zylstra, and we have yet to see much of anything from rookie James Mitchell as he is slowly acclimating back to football after his ACL injury last fall.

With Sewell at left tackle, the Lions elevated Matt Nelson to right tackle with the starters. On the second team, UDFA Obinna Eze maintained his role as the second team at left tackle, with Skipper getting walk-through reps at right tackle (typically players only do walk-throughs in their first practice returning from injury) and UDFA Kevin Jarvis was elevated to second-team right tackle during team drills.

My favorite offensive line play of the day: Jonah Jackson pulling on screen play throwing DeShon Elliott on his butt at least 15 yards downfield.

defence

Beyond Hutchinson, the Lions’ pass rush has shown more life than in recent years. Matt Nelson struggled with some of the first-team rushers on Saturday, most notably Charles Harris, who is showing last year’s breakout wasn’t a fluke. Harris has expanded his game to include dropping into coverage and also continues to mentor rookie James Houston after practice.

The reserve edge rushers also continue to flash. Julian Okwara has shown the ability to knife through the offensive line, while also expanding his game to set the edge (which is progressing, but still not perfect). Austin Bryant also continues to make noise against the second team. On Saturday he created multiple pressures in the backfield and has at least one tackle for loss and sack.

John Cominsky is also doing his best to replicate Hutchinson’s role, and is stacking and shedding on the edge, absorbing double teams on the interior, and also registered another would-be sack on Saturday. He is deservedly earning more playing time.

Jashon Cornell continues to see more time with the ones and was even repping ahead of Levi Onwuzurike at times, though Onwuzurike’s pass deflection at the line of scrimmage drew one of the biggest reactions from his defensive teammates.

While the top-three linebackers rotate through the two starting roles, some of the backups are flashing. Malcolm Rodriguez is still very much a work in progress but he fills with zero hesitation, which shows the mental acuity needed for the position.

The secondary got a little bit of a scare when Amani Oruwariye and Jeff Okudah collided on a crossing route, and while Oruwariye spent some time with the trainers after leaving the field, he told the media he was doing fine after leaving the practice field.

While Will Harris was the feature in our Friday observations piece, it’s worth noting that Okudah continues to stack days and make plays. On Saturday, he had back-to-back plays where he showed off his closing speed with a sure open field “tackle” and a strong pass break up.

It was Bobby Price’s turn in the CB4 spot, and while he got a pass break up early, Mark Gilbert also got his hands on a pass as a reminder that this competition is wide open.

Chase Lucas has been a darling of mine throughout camp and at his morning presser, Campbell unpromptedly brought him up when talking about rookies that have stood out in camp so far:

“I would say (Chase) Lucas—Lucas has caught my eye, and I would tell you—particularly in the special teams drills, that’s where I really see it. The compete drills and there’s an awareness about him, he’s pretty instinctive and he’s aggressive and you’ve got to have all of that to be a good special teams player.”

Lucas also received praise from defensive back coach Aubrey Pleasant when Lucas recovered a loose ball (incompletion) in team drills.

As a clear leader in the secondary, Tracy Walker hasn’t been talked about a ton in my observation articles, but he showed that his coverage chops have improved and hung with TJ Hockenson on several routes.

Special teams

Kickers were back to kicking field goals again on Saturday and both looked solid. The first group of kicks was a set of four—from 33, 38, 43, and 48 yards—then another attempt from 54 yards during team drills. The only miss came from Austin Seibert, who clanged one off the left upright from 43 yards. Riley Patterson, who missed one kick on Friday, was perfect on the day. Patterson’s make from 54 yards was one of his best kicks in camp so far—clean and right down the middle.

The rest of the special teams work was focused on return drills. The usual suspects fielded punts/kicks—Kalif Raymond, Godwin Igwebuike, Kalil Pimpleton, Josh Johnson, and Trinity Benson, with an occasional sprinkling in of St. Brown.

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