Lions camp observations: Running backs hold own in pass protection

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Here are notes and observations from Detroit Lions' training camp practice on Thursday. 

■ Something interesting I've noticed over the first week of practice is many of the drills are evolving, adding layers of complexity, similar to the way a coaching staff installs a scheme. 

Lions running back LeGarrette Blount readies for a reception during Thursday's practice.

Take, for example, the run-blocking drill the Lions have been running with their tight ends going up against an edge defender. What started as a simple one-on-one battle that would take place just outside the offensive tackle's shoulder changed to incorporate the tight end motioning to his spot to Wednesday's variant, that involved a pair of tight ends working a combo block on the edge defender and one peeling off to pick up a second, blitzing defensive player. 

This is a good example for the staff's philosophy of installing foundation fundamentals and building the required skill set from there. 

More: Fullback no longer a foreign concept to Lions' versatile Nick Bellore

■ One of my favorite drills each offseason is a one-on-one pass protection drill between the linebacker and the running backs. On this day, Detroit's backfield options performed well, especially Kerryon Johnson and LeGarrette Blount. 

It's a drill you often see rookies struggle, but Johnson did a nice job stalling up the rushes of Trevor Bates and Steve Longa. Blount went head-to-head against Jarrad Davis twice and surprisingly came away the victor on both reps. Zach Zenner also won both of his reps, slowing down Jalen Reeves-Maybin on the first and shutting down Bates on a second. 

■ The defensive backs ran a simple, but incredibly smart drill where one player would simulate being a receiver and the other, running side-by-side, would try to mirror the route by focusing on their teammate's hips. 

Focusing on a player's hip offers a much clearer idea on the body's directional movement. By running through a number of routes on the tree, the defensive backs can build a base understanding of how a receiver's lower body reacts in and out of breaks. 

■ Cornerback Darius Slay has little problem reading routes. He had an exceptional practice, breaking up multiple passes. On the opposite side, Nevin Lawson also had his best practice. He didn't get his hands on many throws, but the aggressive defensive back did a nice job staying with, and frustrating his assignments into multiple incompletions. 

■ The officials were in practice for the first time and the first two flags went against cornerback Teez Tabor, who got hit with a pass interference call against Kenny Golladay and an illegal hands to the face on TJ Jones (who still managed to make an impressive grab on a back-shoulder ball). 

Lions running back Dwayne Washington readies for a reception from quarterback Matt Cassel during Thursday's practice.

■ While not typically viewed as in the mix for a role this season, the Lions took a long look at running back Dwayne Washington with the first-team offense. It was a mixed bag for Washington, who benefited at times from some sizable running lanes, but there's still a frustrating amount of backfield hesitation from the third-year back.

■ Rookie lineman Frank Ragnow had some noticeable struggles the day before, but bounced back in a big way  Wednesday. He opened up a pair of running lanes for his backs, including one where he drove his blocking assignment five yards off the ball. 

■ Linebacker Freddie Bishop continued to pop out. He came free up the middle for a would-be sack in full-team drills and also showed surprising power, using a bull rush to drive right tackle Corey Robinson back into the pocket on another snap. 

• Outside of the impressive showing in the blocking drills, Kerryon Johnson also came up with the catch of the day. Lining up wide and matched up against Reeves-Maybin, the rookie running back ran a double-move go route down the sideline and laid out to put in a Matt Cassel overthrow for a long gain.