Lions camp observations: DJ Chark continues to showcase deep-ball prowess
Allen Park — Here are some notes and observations from Friday's training camp practice.
► After a sharp showing the day before, Lions quarterback Jared Goff lacked the same consistency to close out the week. He sailed a short throw to Trinity Benson early in full-team work and followed that up with a severely underthrown ball directly into the chest of linebacker Alex Anzalone, who intercepted the pass.
► Those shaky moments came after Goff opened full-team scrimmage work with a deep toss down the left sideline for DJ Chark. Despite physical downfield coverage by Amani Oruwariye (which drew flags for both holding and defensive pass interference), Chark did an impressive job tracking the ball and making a difficult over-the-shoulder grab.
Chark's speed often gets top billing when discussing his ability to make plays vertically, but his flight tracking and hands are equally important traits that go into his reliability when targeted deep. He's shown that in back-to-back practices, following the 35-yard, diving touchdown to end a two-minute drive a day earlier.
► The Lions were without running back D'Andre Swift and offensive tackle Taylor Decker, who continue to have their offseason workloads managed, as well as defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike and wide receiver Quintez Cephus, who remain sidelined with short-term injuries.
Linebacker Julian Okwara was the day's only unexpected absence. No immediate reason was provided by coach Dan Campbell.
► Benson was slow to get up after a big collision with cornerback Will Harris. Fortunately, the receiver was able to shake off the hit and finish practice.
► Linebacker Chris Board was back taking reps with the first-team defense after ceding them much of the week to Derrick Barnes. Also, as Campbell mentioned earlier in the week, rookie Malcolm Rodriguez is climbing up the depth chart and was working with the second unit alongside Barnes.
► From the looks of things the first two weeks of camp, it appears the screen pass will play a significant role in Detroit's offense. The team has incorporated plenty of traditional screens to the running back — a potentially valuable weapon with Swift — as well as bubble and tunnel screens to the outside receivers. With an emphasis on blocking throughout the receiver group, it makes sense to capitalize on their willingness and ability in that department.
► Special teams coach Dave Fipp does a great job breaking punt and kickoff workouts into smaller pieces, which allows the players to process parts of the whole before having to execute live return reps in preseason games.
On Friday, Fipp conducted a drill that simulated the moments after a punt returner fields the ball, with four players lined up 20 yards upfield from the return man. The two inside players worked as blockers and had to maintain the lane for the returner, while the outside players were tasked with getting an angle to make the stop.
As usual, the players with extensive special teams experience thrive in these drills, such as Board and Anthony Pittman, while those who don't have much special teams on the resume, like tight end Devin Funchess, look like a freshman working against seniors.
A couple players who stood out with their blocking on Friday were defensive backs Ifeatu Melifonwu and Chase Lucas. When he can maintain proper leverage, Melifonwu has the size and length that make it difficult for a would-be tackler to get around.
Speaking of Melifonwu, a day after his first interception while playing safety, he came up with a nice pass breakup, charging hard on a sit-down route and reaching over the back of receiver Maurice Alexander to dislodge the ball.
► The second-team offense and defense went head-to-head in a two-minute drill to end practice, with the offense starting at its own 27-yard line with 1:15 remaining needing a touchdown.
As they've done much of camp, the defense dominated the segment with rookie linebacker James Houston sacking Tim Boyle twice and cornerback Saivion Smith getting to the quarterback on another snap.
► Detroit Pistons forward Isaiah Stewart was in attendance for the day's session and briefly spoke to the media afterward, drawing comparisons between the two rebuilding teams.
"It’s great to support these guys and it’s also great when they support us, as well," Stewart said. "On the court, we put in work and we go hard. I know they’re up-and-coming just like we are — a young team. Just want to support them, they support us, and keep it going like that.
"They’re young, we’re young. We’re both up-and-coming at the same time. So I feel like the city got something to be excited about."
► Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, speaking to the media for the first time since the start of camp, opened his media session poking fun at Goff's goalpost dunk celebration the previous day.
"I think it’s safe to say that after yesterday, if we had a pick’em for pickup basketball, Jared’s going to be last," he said.