I made it to the afternoon practice on Friday just as the players were making it onto the field. Sat down on the bleachers and realized that both camera lifts were positioned at the far end of the practice area... as far from the public seating area as it's possible to get. Rather then fighting the crowd for the few standing only spots at the left end of the field I chose to stay put and watch what I could, at least the group work was done with the DBs right in front of me and the LBs off to the right a little bit.
Before they did that though the Lions worked on punt formation drills for a little bit. May have been their first time doing this kind of thing or perhaps they were installing some plays I'm not entirely sure. It wasn't full blown punting and returns, just drills pertaining to punting.
After the horn blew the DBs worked in front of my seating area with the LBs off to the right. Everyone else was from 80 to 120 yards away and may as well have been invisible for all the details I could see.
Can you see the others way in the back? No? Me either.
How about behind the LBs? No? Yeah, okay.
Anyway, every year I observe these training camps to try and get a feel for who might make the team and who won't. I was watching the DBs and thought that the guy wearing a Phillips jersey looked lost and confused. I had him on my notes as a guy who wouldn't make the team... then I realized he just got to camp and it's no wonder he didn't know the drills. I will have to make sure I figure out what I'm actually seeing if I want to get this anywhere close to right.
For example... Muhlback was working out with the LB group. Why? Last I knew he was a TE. Then I saw him playing center with the 3s earlier today. Well, his job is safe any way you look at it if you ask me.
Oh, by the way, if you're waiting for me to start giving play by play on the practice, that isn't going to happen. The entire team didn't do a lot of that, and when they did it was very very far away. Instead, I'm going to just explain more of what goes on at camp and perhaps some impressions that the camp this afternoon gave me.
The defensive backs did a practice whereby one would pretend to be the receiver while the other the defender... the apparent goal was to tip the ball away from the receiver while the ball was at it's highest point (but still within catching range). Picture a receiver leaving the ground to make a catch and the DB also leaping to just connect with the ball enough to knock it away.
The DBs then worked on coverage drills... keeping with the routes, etc. After that, they all worked on slapping the ball out of the QBs hands... but not using a real QB... the QB was a tackling dummy with "hands" and the ball was "held" in the one hand in a pose similar to when a ball is about to be released by a QB.
Meanwhile, the LBs were practicing using their hands to block and after that, to catch the ball (intercept) while dropping into coverages.
Jason Hanson walked by, no limp, only 3 or 4 days since surgery. He was on the field the entire practice, occasionally stretching or just helping out where he could.
After the next horn the team split up into a couple groups. Stafford was working with the WRs and DBs on the left, Stanton with the RBs and LBs on the right, both were on the 2nd field (the furtherest one from me). Staffords group was working on receiving routes and defending them. Stanton's group on throwing to running backs and fullbacks against linebacker coverage.
I saw #13 Burleson make a great catch and then have to leap the rope (going into the standing crowd) and returning to the field. #23 Houston knocked down a nice pass (he just keeps catching my eye, and so does Burleson for that matter who then made another great catch). #80 BJ also went over the rope head first making a successful catch (at least I think it was him). #18 Eric Fowler dropped a one handed try. #12 Derrick Williams was well covered and still made a great completion.
Another horn sound.
I saw #44 make another great catch then run both elusively and FAST. He makes the other guys who are very fast look not quite as fast (hard to explain that but it's true). There were completions made to #44, #28, #13, #86, #28 again, and I think Stafford was the QB for all of them. Hill comes in and also makes completions. Stafford I believe was back for another completion then a rare incomplete by sailing one over CJ's head. Stanton made 3 shorter passes but all 3 were slightly low (looked like he was throwing down a hill).
Then the horn blew.
I was thinking that #82 has a chance to make the team, then I realized #82 is Gronkowski who is a TE (not a WR) and that position is already over full. If it weren't though, he'd have had a chance I do believe.
Right about here it started to rain a little so I put the paper away and just watched for a little while. Eventually the team went to work on kick returns with the new kicker doing the kicking and everyone that is trying out for special teams took turns on either the kicking team or the receiving team drills.
What did I get out of just watching for a little while instead of furiously taking notes? Basically that to a man the entire team appears more fit then I have ever seen it (and I've been going to training camp since the first Saginaw camp when Barry Sanders still played). The entire team is fast. Much faster even then last year (and last year I thought they were fast but that was just in comparison to the year before that). The drills are more productive, they apply directly to a play or series of plays that you see every week in season (yeah, they did that last year, but not as quickly, efficiently or as productively as this year). It is basically totally different then I am used to seeing. Will that translate into anything good? I think it will bring about results, eventually. Then again, what do I have to go on but the past Lions practices.
I can hardly wait for tomorrow's open practice at Ford Field. It's a bit easier to see what's happening with only one football field in front of you, and the jumbotron running replays and so on. I may still put the pen down for a bit and just watch though... this team is actually a joy to watch.
Of course it's hard to know exactly what the team will do regardless... after all... there is no sacking or touching the QB, there is no worries by the WRs of being tackled, there is not much chance of getting slugged in the chin in the trenches, and basically the O has it easy while the D can only show it's promise.
The first preseason game will be most important for the defensive guys. It'll be the first time they can really lay into the offense and show they "get it". Some of the potential may prove to be only that, while others might yet shine. Hopefully Levy and Delmas will be ready by then as well.
I have tickets to another Tigers game tomorrow (prefer not to talk about this last one), so the blog will be late again tomorrow night.