Lions camp observations: Conditioning hill makes its debut
Allen Park — Here are some notes and observations from Wednesday's Detroit Lions training camp practice.
► A week after we acknowledged the installation of a conditioning hill on the peripheral of the practice field, the sod finally rooted enough to handle the workload of dozens of cleated football players racing up it.
The entire roster, outside the players sitting out with injury, ran six reps up the hill at the end of practice. Asking around about how challenging it was in the minutes after practice, several players got wide-eyed or uttered a simple exclamation, but most see the potential long-term benefit the strenuous cardio can have toward building up their endurance.
For what it's worth, rookie tight end Isaac Nauta ran a few extra rounds up the hill after practice.
► The running backs worked another round of one-on-one blitz pickups against the linebacker and safeties, and for the second day in a row, Kerryon Johnson struggled. He got overwhelmed by Jarrad Davis, blown past by Jalen Reeves-Maybin and outmuscled by Miles Killebrew. The only matchup Johnson won was his rematch with Davis.
The defense, as you might expect, dominated the drill. Reeves-Maybin was particularly sharp, getting wins against Ty Johnson and Zach Zenner in addition to the rep vs. Kerryon Johnson.
For the second day in a row, C.J. Anderson was the team's best blocking back in the drill.
► The script was flipped when the same linebackers and safeties were asked to cover the backs on routes. Johnson beat Davis on a wheel route and got by Reeves-Maybin running an angle route. The most surprising catch came with fullback Nick Bawden got a step on Jahlani Tavai on a deep post pattern and backup quarterback David Fales dropped a dime over the defender's reach for the long hookup.
Bawden had a second catch against Tavai, impressive in a different way. The linebacker knocked the fullback to the ground with a jam near the line, but Bawden was able to get back to his feet and get enough separation to catch a short pass across the middle.
► The Lions ran a handful of one-and-done, fourth-and-goal situations between practice segments. On the first, cornerback Teez Tabor blanketed Kenny Golladay across the middle and Stafford's pass was too wide for the receiver to even have a shot.
On the next, Davis broke up a throw to tight end T.J. Hockenson in the back of the end zone. The offense finally converted on its third try when Stafford rolled to his right after his initial reads weren't open and found Danny Amendola in the back of the end zone.
► I don't know who the Lions' backup long snapper would be if Don Muhlbach ever suffered an in-game injury, but it probably won't be Bawden. At least not anytime soon. Bawden was getting in some practice reps early in the day, with Muhlbach standing nearby to offer pointers.
Only a small percentage of Bawden's efforts were on target, with several bouncing to the punter. And those in the vicinity lacked the necessary zip.
The takeaway: Long snapping is way harder than it looks.
► Lions ran what some might consider a version of an Oklahoma drill today, pitting a ball carrier against a defender head-to-head at the goal line. The players started two yards apart, running in place. On the whistle, the defender was charged with keeping the ball carrier out of the end zone.
Learning how to use proper leverage to stop an opponent in their tracks to keep the ball out of the end zone is an invaluable skill for any defensive player.
► In one-on-one pass rush drills, most of the matchups went about as expected. Then there was Kevin Strong, the undrafted defensive lineman out of UTSA, who came up with a surprising win against starter Graham Glasgow, getting by the interior lineman on a late rip inside.
► The Lions worked a short segment focusing on third-and-short runs. Anderson showed nice vision on a cutback, earning a fresh set of downs, while Bawden delivered a stellar block in the lane on Tavai to spring Johnson for another conversion.
► Matt Prater's leg is doing just fine, in case you were wondering. Using a stand to simulate Sam Martin's hold, the veteran kicker drilled a 60-yard bomb through the narrow set of uprights.