Five Lions to watch in joint practices with Patriots

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Lions defensive backs Justin Coleman and Tracy Walker will both get a good test by going up against the Tom Brady-led Patriots offense at joint practices this week.

Allen Park — Last season, the New England Patriots brought the best out of the Lions. With the two teams set for three days of practice followed by a preseason game, the Lions are hoping to once again maximize the energy the defending Super Bowl champions bring to town during this critical period of development and roster evaluation. 

This will be the fourth consecutive year the Lions have conducted joint practices, starting with a 2016 trip to Latrobe, Pennsylvania to work with the Pittsburgh Steelers. And this will be the second straight year the team will hold two separate sets of joint practices. Next week, the Lions will travel to Houston and share the field with the Texans. 

The Patriots provide a unique opportunity, not only because of the franchise's unprecedented pedigree of success in the NFL's salary cap era, but because of Patricia's relationship with Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who the former worked for and was mentored by for 14 seasons prior to coming to Detroit.

And because Detroit's practice schedule is modeled off the one run in New England, Patricia said it will make it easier for the coaches to be on the same page regarding the format of the joint sessions. 

"It might be a phone call in the morning for 45 minutes and we’re probably pretty much on the same exact schedule," Patricia said. "We have those same breaks throughout the course of the day where I know, ‘I’m going to call you for 10 minutes here, I’m going to call you for the next day for 15 minutes here, or I’m going to send you this email.’"

For Detroit's players, who have been clashing with the same three or four guys for weeks, joint practices provide the invaluable opportunity to sharpen their skills against new, unfamiliar competition. 

"I love them," wide receiver Danny Amendola said. "They're huge. A lot of intense reps, game reps, different looks and we finally get to hit somebody else besides ourselves. I'm excited."

Amendola is one of nearly a dozen players on the Lions' roster who previously played for the Patriots. There are also several members of the coaching staff and front office who spent time with the visiting franchise. But Amendola claims that doesn't add anything extra to the week. 

"It's all work for me," Amendola said. "It's all good reps and I'm going to try to maximize my opportunities." 

While there's no question any player will benefit from these settings, it will be particularly important for the young players on the roster, whether that's rookies with clear roster paths or those trying to force their way into a job. 

The practices, which start at 9:30 a.m. Monday at the Lions' practice facility, are open to the public. Gates open at 8:30 a.m., with free shuttles from the Blue Lot at Fairlane Town Center. 

The last time the Patriots visited Detroit, Week 3 of last season, the Lions blasted the eventual champs, 26-10, in a prime-time matchup. The game marked Patricia's first win as Detroit's head coach. 

Five Lions to watch

T.J. Hockenson 

The rookie tight end has had a strong start to his first NFL training camp, particularly as a pass-catcher. He's been tough to stop in the red zone, and found ways to get open at all depths. The blocking hasn't been as consistent, but the sample size, on both fronts, is small. 

Seeing a new set of defenders will offer Hockenson an opportunity to showcase how prepared he is to contribute early as a rookie. 

Justin Coleman

One of Detroit's top free-agent targets, the projected starting nickelback has dealt with some struggles in coverage. The Patriots use their slot receivers and tight ends as well as anybody, so it will be a good test for Coleman as he looks to get back on track. 

Matthew Stafford

It's unlikely Stafford plays much, if at all, in the preseason opener, so this week will be an important one for the franchise quarterback. This hasn't been Stafford's best camp, with a number of inaccurate throws he typically makes and some continued struggles with deep ball accuracy. That's a carryover issue from a year ago.

It's a new scheme, so there's a built-in excuse of an adjustment period, but things have to tighten up for the entire offense quickly. 

Tracy Walker

The second-year safety is off and running, making a number of plays this camp, including a trio of interceptions. He's firmly taken hold of a starting opportunity and will get a chance to rubber stamp his hot start against Tom Brady and company. 

Kenny Wiggins

There's still plenty of time for the Lions to decide who will be the team's other starting guard. Wiggins has gotten the most work with the first-team offense, but Oday Aboushi and Joe Dahl remain in the thick of the competition. Wiggins could put some space between himself and the other contenders with a good week of practice.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers