Houston -- Here are some notes and observations from Wednesday's joint practice between the Detroit Lions and Houston Texans.
► When attending practice, my focus is generally geared toward players likely to contribute during the upcoming season, but sometimes a fringe player catches my attention.
After the teams went through their stretching period and some light individual drills, one of the first shared segments I caught up close was one-on-ones between Detroit's defensive backs and Houston's receivers. As a friendly reminder, this drill heavily favors the offense, so it's no surprise Houston's receivers largely got the better of the matchups, including receptions on the first six reps.
The seventh rep belonged to newcomer Johnathan Alston, who signed with the Lions a little more than a week ago. On a deep back-shoulder ball, Alston was there, stride for stride. He did a nice job reading the receiver as he turned his head and raised his hands to make the catch, netting a pass breakup.
On Alston's next rep, against rookie receiver Tyron Johnson, the cornerback's footwork was outstanding, mirroring Johnson as he tried to come back for the ball, resulting in another knock away.
Realistically, Alston doesn't have great roster odds, but there's time to show enough to earn a practice squad job, which could lead to an opportunity down the road.
► Also in those one-on-ones, Darius Slay matched up against All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins twice. On the first, Hopkins got an easy win running a slant pattern. On the second, Slay aggressively jostled with the receiver on a deep route, resulting in the ball sailing over Hopkins' head.
In a game, there's a good chance Slay gets hit with a illegal contact or defensive holding and the fans in attendance didn't shy away from letting him know.
Other cornerbacks who had good reps included PBUs from nickelbacks Jamal Agnew and Justin Coleman and an impressive interception by Amani Oruwariye. Working against Vincent Smith, Oruwariye was able to match the receiver's path back to the quarterback, then muscle away the ball from Smith's grasp.
Oruwariye is still inconsistent with his technique, as clearly demonstrated in the preseason opener, but he's flashed a ton on the practice field, showcasing good use of his length and a nose for the ball.
► The teams ran a lot of full-team scrimmage work during a morning where the thermometer hit 90 and the humidity made it feel closer to 100 degrees.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford wasn't particularly sharp. He had his first pass batted down at the line of scrimmage and nearly had the next one picked off when cornerback Aaron Colvin jumped a route intended for Chris Lacy.
Stafford book-ended the day, getting picked off by safety Justin Reid.
► Rookie running back Ty Johnson continues to flash with his speed. Likely due to the team limiting reps overall, he got some rare work with the first-team offense and made a strong impression, bursting around the left side of the line for a big gain to start the day.
When the teams shifted to red zone work, Johnson took the first handoff and shot through the gut behind blocks from Frank Ragnow and Graham Glasgow, going nearly untouched for a 15-yard touchdown.
► Josh Johnson continued to work in the backup quarterback slot. At this rate, I would expect him to see the majority of reps in the first half of Saturday's game.
► Miles Killebrew, who was doing some individual work with the safeties early in practice, made back-to-back plays in full-team work, breaking up a pass from backup quarterback Joe Webb and stuffing a Karan Higdon run.
►Houston's offensive line, one of the team's top issues in recent years, had a rough stretch during full-team work, drawing back-to-back holding calls, followed by a false start.
On the holds, the Lions arguably would have had a pair of sacks, with Kevin Strong leading the charge, collapsing the pocket on the first, and defensive end Romeo Okwara beating his man on the second.
► The one-on-one pass rush drills, between Detroit's defensive line and Houston's offensive line were uneventful. The highly physical drill, which can sometimes lead to altercations, was quickly whistled dead any time a defender's initial move was stymied. In the handful of reps I watched, the only Lions player to earn a quick win was defensive tackle P.J. Johnson.
► Back to the red zone segment, the Texans first attempt lasted all of two plays when quarterback Deshaun Watson essentially threw a pass directly into the arms of safety Tracy Walker, who intercepted it in the end zone.
Watson rebounded with a second attempt. Facing third-and-goal from the 5-yard line, he threaded a needed around safety Quandre Diggs to Hopkins, who made the sliding grab in the back of the end zone in front of Slay.
► Stafford was better in the red zone, as well. After Ty Johnson's touchdown carry, Stafford connected with fullback Nick Bawden out of play-action from the I-formation. It's to the point where I'd be surprised if Bawden didn't catch 10-15 passes this season. He could be an underrated pass-game weapon in the red zone.
► Another thing I expect to see in the regular season is Kerryon Johnson getting open on a wheel route. It wasn't a strength a year ago, but it's something where his improvement has been noticeable. Stafford once again connected with the back for a sizable gain.
► T.J. Hockenson briefly exited action after making a contested catch in the red zone. He didn't have to go in for treatment and another reporter noted the rookie tight end was getting his eye checked after possibly getting poked.
The Lions, Patriots and Texans all have similar defensive schemes. Lions coach Matt Patricia talks about what makes each unique. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
► There were some rough moments for rookie safety Will Harris who got bullied on a block from offensive tackle Matt Kalil. Unable to avoid the block or shed the take-on, Harris got driven back 10-15 yards on a quick out to Hopkins.
Harris was also beat for a touchdown in the back corner of the end zone by Tyron Jonnson.
► Due to a number of injuries up front, defensive tackle Fred Jones continues to get reps with the first-team defense and batted down a Watson pass at the line.
► Jarrad Davis remains out of action, but was on the field stretching with his teammates early in practice. Damon Harrison was also in attendance. There was no sign of Mike Daniels, Marvin Jones, Tyrell Crosby, Teez Tabor, Da'Shawn Hand or Tom Savage. Most of that group presumably did not make the trip.
Danny Amendola, Tavon Wilson and John Atkins were largely limited to conditioning on the sidelines.