Lions notes: Playing larger role than anticipated speeds Benson's acclimation
Allen Park — The Detroit Lions had said they wanted to get newcomer Trinity Benson involved in the season opener, but no one was expecting the wide receiver to be on the field for 49 snaps.
Benson's inflated workload was the result of two things, a second-half injury to starter Tyrell Williams and the fact the team ran an unusually high 33 plays in the fourth quarter while attempting to execute a furious rally.
"Yeah, we, certainly, didn’t want him to get that type of load, but it happened with Tyrell going down and when you run that many plays, (it's) all hands are on deck," Lions coach Dan Campbell said.
Benson ended up being targeted six times in the loss, catching three of quarterback Jared Goff's throws for a modest 19 yards. Not great, but also not bad for the third-year player making his regular season debut.
The true silver lining is the outing likely accelerated Benson's acclimation into Detroit's offense ahead of Monday night's game against Green Bay Packers, where he'll once again need to play a bigger-than-expected role with Williams sidelined by a concussion.
"I think it was a learning experience for him, but it kind of got him acclimated to our offense," Campbell said. "I feel like he’s a step ahead of where he was a week ago. You can see it in practice, details, just mentally him getting these plays and the terminology. So, I feel pretty good about him going into this one.”
With Williams out, the Lions are expected to rotate through a number of different receiver options, led by rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown, Kalif Raymond, Quintez Cephus and Benson.
That corps struggled to make an impact in last week's loss until the fourth quarter, when the offense took advantage of the 49ers playing softer coverage to kill the clock up big in the fourth quarter.
The Lions added Benson to the roster days before the regular season, sending a pair of late-round draft picks to the Denver Broncos to acquire the six-foot, 180-pound preseason standout.
Knocking off the rust
Starting defensive linemen Michael Brockers and Nick Williams missed significant time in training camp with different issues. Williams was sidelined the better part of two weeks following a positive COVID diagnosis, while Brockers was working his way through a shoulder injury that's lingered into the regular season, limiting his practice participation the first two weeks of the 2021 campaign.
The Lions had entered the year with high expectations for the interior of their defensive front, led by those veterans and supplemented by rookies Alim McNeill and Levi Onwuzurike, but Brockers and Williams were clearly struggling to shake their accumulated rust against the 49ers.
Well, (the rust) needs to fall off quick," defensive line coach Todd Wash said on Saturday. "We talked about it when we came in on Monday. You could tell (Brockers) was rusty. You could tell Nick was rusty with the amount of reps he had during training camp. But we've really gave them a lot of reps this week to get them in position to play.
"They were playing a little bit high (pad level) in the game and I think both of them had a really good week," Wash said. "We obviously expect good things out of Brock. He's a very good vet. He's gotten his reps, he's knocking the rust off, so we expect him to be productive on Sunday."
Rule change helps Lions
One of the handful of positives plays that helped fuel Detroit's late-game rally last weekend was an onside kick recovery in the closing minutes.
Since the league changed kickoff rules heading into the 2018 season — namely preventing kicking team players from getting a running start — the success rate of onside kicks has dropped sharply. In 2020, only three of 71 attempts were recovered by the kicking team, the worst single-season rate in NFL history.
This year, temporary adjustments were made by the league to make the plays more competitive. Now, receiving teams are only allowed to put nine players in the area between 10-25 yards away from the kicking spot, as opposed to all 11.
Lions special teams coordinator Dave Fipp is optimistic about how the adjustment will continue to help teams that are trailing late in games.
"I would say the rule change is going to change the onside kick team, the kicking team, recover a little bit higher percentage," Fipp said. "I don't know what that is. I'm not saying it's 50%, but I think it's going to tick up there a little bit. It definitely makes it more challenging."