Lions camp observations: Undrafted Strong stands out; Hockenson mixes it up
Allen Park — Here are some notes and observations from Sunday's Detroit Lions training camp practice.
► Following the addition of Mike Daniels, the Lions defensive line has the makings of a dominant unit, but right now that group is hurting. Trey Flowers, Damon Harrison and Darius Kilgo remain out with injury designations, A'Shawn Robinson is still tending to a personal matter, and Devon Kennard, Romeo Okwara and Jonathan Wynn have been sidelined or limited by injuries the past couple of days.
Already shorthanded, the Lions had four other defensive lineman leave the practice field on Sunday, whether due to injury or dehydration. That group included Da'Shawn Hand, Mitchell Loewen, Austin Bryant, and John Atkins. By the end of the day, the team was down to four healthy linemen, a group consisting of three rookies and Eric Lee.
Monday is an off day and it couldn't come fast enough. But just in case, does anyone have Ricky Jean Francois' phone number?
► With so many players on the shelf, it did provide a few younger players an opportunity to shine. No one took advantage more than Kevin Strong, an undrafted defensive lineman out of UTSA, where he played a year under the tutelage of Lions defensive line coach Bo Davis.
Strong stood out in one-on-one reps against the offensive lineman, winning reps against Joe Dahl, Kenny Wiggins and on an outside rush vs. offensive tackle Ryan Pope. Strong also generated some good pressure in team drills.
Loewen was better a day earlier, playing with impressive power. He did come up with one big play before exiting Sunday, shedding his block and stuffing running back Zach Zenner in the hole during a red zone drill.
► Also from the one-on-one trench battles, the offensive line won most of the matchups against their fatigued counterparts. Linebacker Jarrad Davis popped over to get in some reps and blew by offensive tackle Andrew Donnell, impressively dipping around the outside without being touched. Davis also ran a rep inside, but was pancaked by center Luke Bowanko.
Rookie linebacker Jahlani Tavai also had an good rep, easily bending around second-year tackle Tyrell Crosby.
Finally, seventh-round pick P.J. Johnson is noticeably raw in these early practices, but he showed some eye-catching lateral quickness for a 320-pound man. There's potential there.
► Back at practice was running back Kerryon Johnson, although he was a little late coming straight from the airport. He had been excused for good reason, to attend his brother's wedding on Saturday.
There wasn't enough time away to collect rust, but if there had been any doubt, he made two sharp cuts in traffic on a scoring touchdown run during red zone work.
► Team owner Martha Firestone Ford was in attendance for the first time during this camp.
► T.J. Hockenson mixed it up a bit with some defensive players. In an early blocking drill, the rookie tight end got an ear full from Lee after the defensive end won their first two reps, but Hockenson rebounded, winning the third and final battle between the two.
On the receiving end, Hockenson showed more emotion than we're used to seeing. After making a long catch down the sideline, he signaled first down, irking veteran safety Tavon Wilson, who gave the rookie a little shove. And in red zone work, Hockenson scored yet another touchdown in the back corner of the end zone, slicing between two safeties. He briefly celebrated the scoring grab as the crowd cheered.
► Since converting to linebacker last season, Miles Killebrew has been something of a background player on the practice field, but he offered a reminder of his ability to lay a jarring hit when you enter his zone, dislodging a dump-off pass to running back Mark Thompson.
► It's easy to scoff when a player says he's in the best shape of his life, especially when they're 33 years old, but Danny Amendola has looked sharp in these early camp practices. He's had little issue getting separation when working against the defensive backs and seems to have a good rhythm going with Matthew Stafford.
► The Lions ran their safer version of the Oklahoma drill for the first time this year, where a ball carrier and defender start laying down on their backs, heads facing each other, scramble to their feet and battle in a confined space.
Davis was sharp during the drill, standing up Thompson, a 240-pound back. Jalen Reeves-Maybin was pushed around by rookie Ty Johnson on one rep, but the linebacker responded by driving veteran C.J. Anderson backward in their head-to-head matchup.