Allen Park – Here are some notes and observations from Monday’s training camp practice.
■ There isn’t a more important competition this camp than determining who will fill in for starting left tackle Taylor Decker while he recovers from shoulder surgery. The first-team reps were manned by an unexpected name on Monday, undrafted rookie Storm Norton.
You can’t miss Norton, standing 6-foot-8 with shoulder-length blond hair. Working primarily with the second- and third-string units in the early portions of the offseason program, his performance was noticeably up and down, but he largely held his own against the first-team defense Monday, playing with sound footwork and leverage in the pad-less session.
Asked about the decision to go with Norton, coach Jim Caldwell downplayed it, but did praise the rookie’s progress. With Sunday’s choice, Cyrus Kouandjio resting as he works his way back to full strength, and the presumed front-runner for the gig, Greg Robinson, still not 100 percent, it was either going to be Norton or Cornelius Lucas.
■ Another competition that remains wide open is punt returner, where the Lions still have five different players taking reps. If Jared Abbrederis, TJ Jones, Jace Billingsley or Keshawn Martin can stand out in that role during camp and the preseason, it really bolsters their roster odds. The fifth option, rookie cornerback Jamal Agnew, is intriguing. His college highlight reel is impressive, but it’s a big jump in competition.
■ Eric Ebron remained out of the lineup after tweaking a muscle on Sunday. Also not participating were linebacker Nick Bellore and defensive lineman Bruce Gaston. He’s dealing with a death in the family, according to Caldwell.
■ Former Indiana basketball coach (and Michigan State assistant) Tom Crean was in attendance as a special guest of the team. Caldwell said Crean would also occasionally drop by Colts practice when Caldwell coached there. Crean is friends with former Colts GM Bill Polian.
■ There were two notable injuries during practice. Safety Tavon Wilson hurt his arm or shoulder when wrestling for a pass intended for tight end Darren Fells. Wilson was tended to by a trainer on the sideline and didn’t return. Additionally, defensive end Cornelius Washington’s day ended when he limped off with a leg injury.
■ Rookie tight end Michael Roberts is starting to get better separation, compared to some earlier practices this offseason. Unfortunately, ball security hasn’t been great. He dropped one pass and had a catch stripped from his hands by Wilson, who also recovered the fumble.
■ In one-on-one drills, running back Ameer Abdullah flashed the ability to make plays down the field, twice beating his defender on a wheel route for a long grab. If the team can work that route into some play calls on Sunday, it could lead to some big gains.
■ Matt Asiata also showed up some receiving skills, juking second-year linebacker Antwione Williams out of his pants, drawing an audible reaction from teammates watching the action.
■ The Lions ran all three offensive units through an end-game scenario to finish practice. Each group was given the ball at their own 35 with 50 seconds and no timeouts, needing a field goal. The first-team got the job done when Matthew Stafford connected on a deep throw down the left sideline to Golden Tate, who tapped his feet in bounds.
The second-team offense also got the job done when quarterback Jake Rudock found Roberts slicing across the middle for a big gain that set up a 43-yard attempt for Matt Prater.
The third unit, led by rookie quarterback Brad Kaaya, faltered. After two short completions, Kaaya spiked the ball on third down and missed his target wide on fourth-and-short, ending the possession.