Sunday, August 3, 2008

Detroit Lions Training Camp

Posted by: Darrin Ackerman

My observations from attending the Detroit Lions practice on Friday:

Coach Marinelli is known for running a tough training camp so it was worth noting that this was the second practice in a row without pads. Either things are going well or Coach Rod thinks his players are getting too nicked up.

After iron man center Dominic Raiola experienced a minor injury this week and six fumbled snaps later by his probable replacements, the Lions realized they had no viable backups on the roster and quickly signed veterans Andy McCollum and Nick Jones. Both spent extensive time practicing snaps with the Lions QB’s.

The Lions have made no secret about their desire to run the football more since ‘pass-happy’ former OC Mike Martz left town. The running backs and quarterbacks spent a lot of time working on play-action. They also practiced several plays with a lead fullback, something they didn’t do very often during the Martz years.

Second-year player Ikaika Alama-Francis is clearly the most athletically-gifted defensive lineman on the team. At 6-5 and 280 pounds, Francis showed outstanding speed and explosion for his size. If he continues to improve his technique, he will be a player to watch this season. Alama-Francis was a walk-on at Hawaii and did not play football in high school.

Just because he had a meager rookie year, don’t fall asleep on Calvin Johnson - he is worthy of the hype. His quick cuts and and the ability to move in and out of his breaks with ease are especially remarkable when considering his size (6-5, 230 lbs.). If the Lions can get the running game going to open up things downfield, expect a 1300-plus yard, double-digit touchdown season from Johnson.

Third-year running back Brian Calhoun looks faster and more explosive than he ever has since being drafted in the third round out of Wisconsin in 2006. Calhoun, who has suffered knee injuries during his first two seasons, has the look of a viable third-down weapon to add to the Lions’ arsenal.

Rookie defensive end Cliff Avril continues to impress in camp. Clocked at 4.51 while at the combine, there are few questions about his speed, but he showed much better explosion off the snap than when I watched him on tape from last season.

Kevin Smith, the rookie running back out of Central Florida, practiced almost exclusively with the first team. One thing I noticed about Smith is his excellent vision – he always keeps his head up and is looking for the open hole. He also did a solid job in pass protection.

It looks as though the Lions did indeed upgrade their horrendous secondary with the acquisition of cornerback Leigh Bodden. Bodden was picked up from Cleveland in the Shaun Rogers trade and he is without a doubt the best corner on the team. His ability to break quickly on the ball allowed him to snag several interceptions in practice and his physical style is a good fit for the Tampa 2 defense.

Rookie fullback Jerome Felton out of Furman may end up being the starting fullback on opening day. Felton showed good speed and hands and is a physical blocker.

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