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Lions notes: OC Ben Johnson slowly but surely installing offense


Allen Park — Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither is an NFL offense.

Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson has been working to install his playbook throughout the offseason, and through the first week and a half of training camp, he's had to have some patience.

"I’m very pleased with Ben. I like what he’s doing," head coach Dan Campbell said Friday. "I feel like he’s got a good handle of ... the things that we thought we were going to be able to do here with (Jared) Goff and these receivers ... but also knowing that, ‘Alright man, this may be a little much at this point.’

"There’s a lot of things that we’re wanting to put in and he’s wanting to (as well), but you got to just kind of gauge it at some point. It’s like, ‘Alright, that sponge is full now.’ So, just to know, ‘Hey, let’s pull back and let’s get back to the details,' make sure these guys have a real good feel of what we’re doing in base, third-down (and) red zone."

Johnson couldn't find a way to quantify how much of the offense has been installed, but at the very least, he's happy with where the team is at.

“It’s hard to put a percentage on it," he said. "But I think we have a good foundation, which is really where we wanted to be here after — this is what, practice nine? I think we’re right on course. ... We’re kind of at a point now where we feel like let’s stay the course, maybe we’ll flip some formations, just show the defense different looks that way.

"Hopefully, we can get those (mental mistakes) to drop. Once that happens, we’ll continue to push them a little bit. I think this time of year is not only just learning our scheme and what we’re going to be really good at, but we’re also evaluating. We’re evaluating the players and what they could potentially do for us and help us out, but we’re also evaluating some of the schemes, too, and maybe what we haven’t had a ton of experience with. That’s kind of the process we’re at right now.”

Campbell wouldn't commit to naming a play-caller, but he said he plans on coming to a decision ahead of Detroit's first game of the season against Philadelphia.

Campbell's take on practice intensity

When then-rookies Amon-Ra St. Brown and Ifeatu Melifonwu got into a brief skirmish and tossed a couple punches last offseason, Campbell wasn't too upset with their behavior. He made it known that haymakers wouldn't be tolerated, but he didn't exactly denounce the behavior.

Fast forward to this offseason, and Campbell's tune has slightly changed. The Lions conducted what the second-year head coach described Thursday as their most intense and longest practice, and some tempers flared.

In the heat of the moment, offensive tackle Dan Skipper and edge rusher Austin Bryant got into it, which led to a shoving match between a few members of the team. Logan Stenberg tossed Bryant's helmet in the middle of the altercation.

"That’s kind of the line that you walk at times," Campbell said of the fight. "Now, that being said, that's not what we’re looking for. We’re not out there to fight, you don’t fight on Sundays, I know it can get fiery. But if it becomes an issue to where we’re having to spend two minutes to break up a brawl and this and that, it’s not worth it anymore.

"So, I know that tempers will get pretty hot at times, but ... if it becomes an issue I’ll handle all that. But I do like that they’re competing.”

Mitchell continues progress

Rookie tight end James Mitchell has been recovering from an ACL injury since he sustained it early in his senior season at Virginia Tech.

He didn't participate in OTAs, but with training camp in full swing, he's been able to get on the field during individual drills and has been getting slowly worked in on team drills.

"I mean, it's definitely frustrating," Mitchell said of not being able to fully participate. "But I knew what it was going to be like coming into the draft and the whole process. I knew I was going to be behind in a lot of the areas. I've just tried to keep my mental side up, learn the playbook and really just try to pick the vet's brains and pick up things from them as well."

Mitchell said he has a sense of urgency to play well early on because he hasn't been on the field as long as his counterparts. He wants to be "efficient" in the snaps he gets.

Mitchell isn't sure if he's going to play in the preseason, but he said if called upon, he's ready to go. By next week's game against Atlanta, it'll be just about 11 months since he suffered the ACL tear.

"The trainers have been great," he said. "We busted our butts over the summer trying to get it to this point. (The) knee is feeling good and getting better day by day." 

Moore back, Paschal 'doing well'

Campbell gave a pair of updates on two defensive players, first saying safety CJ Moore has been activated from the non-football injury list. Moore will begin with walkthroughs and some individual drills, but according to Campbell, "probably no team reps" until he's brought along a little bit more.

The other update was on rookie defensive lineman Josh Paschal, who's been on the physically unable to perform list due to a sports hernia.

"Where we thought he would be at this point, he’s ahead of schedule," Campbell said. "He’s doing well, he’s a grinder, man, like we’re having to pull him back."

New defensive assistant announced

Campbell officially announced Friday the addition of defensive assistant Addison Lynch to the staff. Lynch had a bit of a comedic welcome to the team a day before the hire was announced, as he had to complete 40 up-downs in front of the defense. After he did so, whatever he ate for breakfast ended up in a nearby trash can.

Lynch is a former player for Bryant University, where he started at free safety during his senior season in 2009.

After finishing his playing career, Lynch gained some coaching experience as a graduate assistant at Mississippi College in 2011. He then went to Florida State for a handful of seasons before getting into the professional coaching ranks with the Los Angeles Chargers as a quality control and assistant defensive backs coach from 2018-20.

He spent last season as an assistant defensive backs coach with the Las Vegas Raiders.

rsilva@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Rich_Silva18