Mother Nature didn’t deter the “Lions Loyal” fan base as they poured into the Detroit Lions practice facility for day six of training camp in Allen Park.
The facility buzzed with energy, seats filled, and the field transformed into a spectacle with the presence of national media, including Peter King of NBC Sports, Charles Davis from the NFL Network, and Jason Garrett from NBC. A reunion of sorts, as Garrett and head coach Dan Campbell were once teammates in Dallas.
Defensive Tenacity Shines Through
If the fans anticipated a dominant defense, they left Allen Park satisfied. Under the teasingly playful skies, it was the defense’s day to shine. From the opening minutes, an electrifying energy spread across the field as the team engaged in individual and group work. However, the real magic began to unfold when the full squad assembled for the 11-on-11 drills.
Rookie DT Captivates Fans
The stage was set by rookie defensive tackle Brodric Martin right on the first play. He carved his way through the first-team offensive line and met David Montgomery just as he received the handoff. This play set the tone for the day as the defense continued to maintain their high energy throughout the practice. Martin continued to be a force, impressing with his block shedding and ability to navigate through traffic in search of the ball.
Veterans Impress with Penetration
From there, Aidan Hutchinson and Alim McNeill seemed to take a permanent residence in the backfield. Hutchinson’s early play gave fans a glimpse of his athletically-technical improvements. McNeill’s power and low drive was on display all practice. He showcased impressive strength, despite an offseason weight-loss focus. One of the telling signs, to me, was that whenever he had a chance to go head-to-head with a 2nd-team lineman, he dominated.
Coach Campbell Lauds McNeill
In a press conference before practice, Head Coach Dan Campbell was all praises for McNeill. He noted the following:
He has more twitch. You can see it. He’s getting an edge on rush and he’s just as powerful. He can anchor in there. I think for Alim it’s always going to be…don’t ever forget who you are and what it starts with, man. He has to be able to anchor in there and hit the blocks. That has to be first and foremost, but man, it’s good. It’s good.
Paschal’s Bullrush and Other Key Performers
Josh Paschal’s play stood out too. His highlight was a bulldozing rush on James Mitchell, pushing him 7-8 yards into the backfield. He also showed fans multiple sequences where he overpowered blockers with an improved bull-rush.
The linebackers and defensive backs weren’t to be outdone either. Jack Campbell, once again, was a ball hawk. His instincts were on display early, as he read a Sudfeld play-action play perfectly before the hypothetical sack of the quarterback wearing red. Derrick Barnes displayed his improved agility, slithering through the line before meeting Jahmyr Gibbs head on for what would be a tackle for loss. Malcolm “Rodrigo” Rodriguez consistently impressed, making tackles, covering receivers, and rushing the quarterback. His highlight was a bruising tackle for loss on running back Craig Reynolds.
Rookie Gilmore’s Rising Potential
Steven Gilmore, an undrafted rookie cornerback, stood out among the DBs with an interception on Nate Sudfeld and a big hit on Denzel Mims to force a fumble. Campbell addressed Gilmore’s potential in his early morning presser, saying:
Yeah, we like Gilly…he has some awareness about him, he has some instincts, he has ball skills, pretty good movement skills…He’s not a real big guy. He has to get a little bit of mass on him, get a little bit stronger…but we see growth out of him. No different than (Lions CB) Starling (Thomas V)…We see development. We’re excited about him.
Quick Hits From The Camp
- QB Jared Goff had an off-day, throwing a few wounded ducks and showing less precision compared to recent practices. Nothing to be concerned about, though, i’d expect him to come back strong on Sunday.
- Tight end Sam LaPorta showed potential, impressing with his soft hands, route-running, and fearlessness in the face of contact. He was working just as hard during special teams drills as he was when getting first team reps.
- Shane Zylstra impressed with his toughness and physicality. He even got into a pushing match with LB Anthony Pittman early in practice.
- Running backs Justin Jackson and Jermar Jefferson ran hard every time they touched the ball. Both backs play to the whistle in every drill.
- Brady Breeze, though undersized, impressed me with his coverage and aggressive playing style. He excelled in his role as safety for the second and third team defenses.
- Colby Sorsdal exhibited strong leg drive at the right guard position when faced with a shorter, powerful defender.
- Kickers Parker Romo and Riley Patterson both performed well in their field goal work in front of the fans. Patterson missed his first attempt at 33 yards, but he nailed the next four attempts ranging from 37-50 yards out. Romo connected on all five attempts. The ball really jumps off his foot.
- During drills, I couldn’t take my eyes off of Trevor Nowaske, rookie UDFA LB out of Saginaw Valley State. The uber-athletic linebacker looked great during special teams drills. His athleticism shines and he always seems to get lower than his opponent at the moment of contact. Special teams may be his only route to a roster spot come season time, so his energy and tenacity will need to continue.
Spielman, the Groundskeeper
Chris Spielman, Lions Special Assistant to the President/CEO and Chairperson, was spotted aiding the grounds crew by fixing divots in the endzone during practice. The selfless leader working on the field was a fitting sight after coach Dan Campbell’s impromptu shoutout in his press conference earlier that morning. Campbell stated right off the bat:
I don’t speak a lot about him, but Chris Spielman, man, he does a lot for us and he’s kind of a little bit unseen and not always heard on the outside, but I’ll tell you what, he’s an important confidant and I’m glad he’s here…he certainly helps keep me straight and tells me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear. So, I always appreciate that about him. I just wanted to get that off my chest.
Final Wrap Up
Day six of Detroit Lions Training Camp highlighted the defensive tenacity that is becoming a defining trait of the team. Despite individual ups and downs, collective progress shone through, promising even more excitement as training camp moves on. And, you can certainly bet that the players are excited to welcome fans back to practice on Sunday. Coach Campbell shared the following sentiment about the support of the fans at practice:
Yeah, look, I know our players really appreciate it. It gives them just a little extra motivation…and a little more energy that’s brought from the fans certainly helps. I think it’s awesome. I think that shows a lot about what our fan base is about and the fact that they have our back, and they want to see it, and they’re excited and so that makes us excited.
For more from our Detroit Lions beat writer, Matt Broder, check him out on Twitter here: @mattbro21
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Original Photo Credit: © Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK