Lions scrimmage observations: Rookie tight ends make themselves at home
Detroit — The Lions took training camp on the road, in a manner of speaking, moving Friday's practice from their training facility in Allen Park to the friendly confines of Ford Field.
Nearly 20,000 fans were in attendance for "Family Fest," with the centerpiece of the event being a full-team scrimmage. The unique scoring system pitted the offense against the defense, with the latter being able to score points via third- and fourth-down stops and turnovers.
It ended up being a tight matchup, with the short-handed defense prevailing in the end thanks to a pair of second-half interceptions. The offense wasn't without its own bright spots, including a 99-yard drive led by quarterback Matthew Stafford that was capped by a 5-yard touchdown pass to Marvin Jones, who got free between cornerback Rashaan Melvin and safety Tracy Walker.
Here are some additional observations from the night.
► The evening got underway with an uplifting moment, when 14-year-old Calder Hodge, a double amputee from Houston, donned Stafford's helmet and threw a touchdown to Jones in the corner of the end zone.
Hodge was born with a rare bone condition and his parents made the difficult decision to amputate both of his legs when he was 2 years old. He now wears blade prosthetics and plays quarterback back home. He has aspirations of becoming the NFL's first double amputee player.
"It's really one of the best parts of this job, getting inspired by kids like that," Stafford said. "Calder is a heck of a kid, with an incredible story, and great throw. Marv went up and got it for him and I was fired up."
Jones was also inspired, not just by the throw, but by Hodge's intensity.
"That's the kind of heart I want," Jones said. "He's very intense. The first thing he said to everybody was, 'I love football. This is what I do.' ... He was super intense. I was like, 'Dang, can you come with us everywhere we go?'
"To see him, with the odds stacked against him, to throw a tight spiral like that, and to persevere and push it, it's definitely a blessing for me to see something like that."
► Rookie T.J. Hockenson made a good first impression at the home stadium, both on the field and off. During the lengthy touchdown drive, he made a long catch to get the offense across midfield. After practice, the first-round pick out of Iowa took his time working his way to the locker room, signing dozens of autographs for fans along the way.
"It's important to be able to build a connection with these people," Hockenson said. "They've been coming out every single day and are passionate about the Lions, passionate about this organization. The city of Detroit has been great, being here these past few months, just being out in the community and seeing their passion for this team."
► Hockenson wasn't the only rookie tight end doing good things. Isaac Nauta, the seventh-round pick out of Georgia, hauled in the second touchdown for the offense, beating linebacker Miles Killebrew down the seam.
"Just ran a vertical route up the field, saw that it was man coverage, knew that the ball was probably coming my way with that man-to-man look," Nauta said. "Looked up, saw it out the corner of my eye and just tried to slow down, show late hands so I didn't tip off the DB that the ball was coming."
Nauta wasn't so fortunate on his second end zone target, the final play of the scrimmage. Veteran safety Quandre Diggs, sitting in a deep zone, wasn't fooled by the rookie's route and stepped in front of the pass for the game-sealing interception.
"As a football player, you work so much on trying to do things right, you often think about the things you did bad, rather than what you did good," Nauta said. "I definitely want to go in and correct the things that I didn't do well."
► Running back Kerryon Johnson didn't play much, but he still had an impact. Taking a handoff from the shadow of his own goal line, Johnson burst through a lane between the right guard and tackle for a 31-yard gain.
► Defensive lineman Mike Daniels didn't participate in the scrimmage, which sticks with the slow workload build he's had since signing last week. Among the other players sitting out, cornerback Teez Tabor was a new addition. He practiced on Thursday and it's unclear what was ailing him.
► In addition to Diggs' interception, safety Andrew Adams had the other, plucking away Tom Savage's deep throw intended for rookie Travis Fulgham. Adams showed a playmaking knack last year in Tampa Bay, coming up with four picks in limited playing time.
"My job is to kind of control anything down the middle and deep," Adams said. "I kind of knew it was going to be a play-action pass and I got a good jump on the ball. I used to play center field (in high school), so after that, it turns into tracking the ball and going to get it."
Prior to accepting a scholarship to play football at Connecticut, Adams was originally planning to play baseball at Furman.
► Jamal Agnew and Brandon Powell handled the majority of the return duties. Agnew appeared to get free on one punt, slicing through the coverage on an angle toward the right sideline, but was whistled down by an official after 15 yards.
Not happy with the call, Agnew angrily tossed the ball down.
"I was gone," Agnew said. "He said it looked like somebody touched me, but I was gone. I should have ran it all the way back anyway, but it's all good."
Agnew said no one said anything to him for his mini-tantrum, but he didn't rule out getting called out by the coaches when the team reviewed the film.
► Running back C.J. Anderson is putting some distance between himself and the competition to back up Johnson. Anderson moves well for his size and has shown excellent vision running behind his blocking. He easily converted a third-and-short by cutting sharply to a hole on the right side of the line.