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Lions training camp observations: The first fight of camp; Jared Goff stays hot

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — If you had Austin Bryant vs. Dan Skipper as the first fight of Lions training camp, please step forward and collect your winnings.

That was the headliner of Thursday’s Lions’ practice, and for good reason. During early 11-on-11 work, there was a dust-up between Bryant, a 6-foot-5 defensive lineman, and Skipper, an offensive tackle and — pretty easily the tallest presence on this team — at 6-9, 330 pounds. A heavyweight fight in every sense of the word.

It was hard to see exactly what went down, but it looked like Bryant got a punch in, after going at it with Skipper. The aftermath was clear as day. There was some pushing and shoving. Some jersey tugging. Plenty of chirping. You had players who weren’t even involved in the play running into the middle of the scrum to get a better look. You even had Logan Stenberg come in at the tail end, throwing his helmet like a bowling ball. Then, a few plays later, wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown and cornerback Amani Oruwariye got into a bit. It was an interesting scene to watch unfold.

And yet, based on how the team regrouped afterward, you wouldn’t really have known how tense things got.

Before we get to that, though, let’s talk about why this was interesting. Prior to Thursday’s skirmish, this Lions camp been … relatively calm. Perhaps too calm. Not that the energy hasn’t been there — you can see how involved the coaching staff is each and every day. But we have heard Campbell mention that he wanted to see more from his players.

Wednesday was a lighter day, with the Lions wrapping up by 9:45 a.m. after a lot of walkthrough stuff, so everyone was sort of waiting to see how guys would react to a more aggressive schedule Thursday. Didn’t take long for that to be answered.

These camp altercations almost serve as a temperature check, of sorts. It’s usually a matter of when — not if — they take place. On Day 2, St. Brown said he anticipated at least two camp fights. They usually indicate things are starting to ramp up, as the preseason and regular season draw nearer. You finally felt it this morning, and the players seemed to like it.

“It was really good,” guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai said. “It just means that we’re in the heart of the camp, second week — I don’t even know what day it is. But yeah, it’s just a bunch of frustration with each other and (we) just let it all out, man. We’re a bunch of grown men. We know how to handle it, so it’s good. It’s good to see them do that.”

That was pretty much the vibe on the field. Immediately after the interaction, everyone involved was right back at it. No one was sent to the sidelines to cool down; no laps run or anything like that. It was essentially hashed out and came to an end then and there, according to Bryant — one of the players directly involved.

The general reaction: families fight sometimes.

Bryant did take some time to speak with reporters after practice. Of course, he was asked about the fight. He played it off, as most players do. But he also took time to point out that one reason practice didn’t skip a beat is because this staff — many on it with NFL experience — knows these things happen.

“I think it’s just the combination of, you know, pretty much all of our coaches have sat in our seats, man,” Bryant said. “They’ve all played in this league, and they know what it’s about and they know what training camp is — however many guys competing for 53 spots. So they understand how the competition level’s gonna be.

“They let us redline it, but then they also know that we know how to bring it back down, because we’re professionals. We get paid a lot of money to do this. We understand what’s most important, and that’s everybody being healthy and playing ball. Great competition.”

As long as that’s understood — and it certainly seems like it is — there’s nothing else to see here. The competition has been strong.


After struggling throughout camp last summer, Jared Goff has excelled so far this year. (Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)

Another sharp day for Jared Goff

Perhaps stranger than the fight was seeing quarterback Jared Goff dunk a football through the uprights. But it was that kind of day for him.

Goff had some standout plays Thursday. I spent some time watching the one-on-one battles between the receivers and defensive backs, and Goff was pretty consistent. It should be noted that this drill is often set up for receivers to win (open field, lack of a pass rush, etc.).

Even so, at least every deep ball feels like a fair fight — and that’s where Goff impressed me the most. He lofted a beautiful ball to Kalif Raymond (who had a pretty impressive day himself) down the left sideline, beating Mike Hughes. That one stood out, for sure. Near the end of practice, during 11-on-11 work, Goff showed more of the same.

Campbell has made situational work a point of emphasis in training camp — the coaches want to put pressure on guys to perform, so they know who can rise to the occasion, before the season begins. Goff stepped up to the challenge Thursday. One example: On a ball that traveled about 40 yards downfield, Goff found DJ Chark, who laid out for the catch despite having his jersey tugged by DeShon Elliott. Chark emerged off the ground, threw the ball into the bleachers and was mobbed by his teammates. A worthy celebration.

On another play, the Lions split T.J. Hockenson out wide, against Oruwariye. Goff took the snap, felt some pressure, left the pocket to buy some time and found Hockenson in the back of the end zone. Hockenson came down with the TD, while Oruwariye blanketed him.

Another highlight came in the red zone. A read option fooled the defense, allowing Goff to keep it and essentially walk in for an easy touchdown from about 10 yards out. That’s the one that resulted in the dunk.

I might’ve underestimated his hops a bit. He got up there.

It was really strong day for Goff overall. He looks comfortable right now. If he keeps stringing days like this together, the Lions will be better for it.

Defensive changes helping Derrick Barnes’ game

The Lions would love nothing more than to see Derrick Barnes take a leap in his second season. His rookie year was, at best, inconsistent. He was slowed by an injury early and never quite looked settled.

But it’s a new year, and Detroit still has high expectations for its 23-year-old linebacker. Campbell said Barnes and RB Jermar Jefferson — another player who struggled to find his footing as a rookie — have made the most progress at this point in camp. That’s noteworthy.

“Both of those guys, just attitude-wise and their demeanor, just all the little stuff,” Campbell said Wednesday. “It never had anything to do with the way they worked. I mean, they just didn’t know what they didn’t know, and they were young, and (were) a little bit of deer in the headlights. And this year, both of those guys have really come out with different attitude, or different demeanor, more confidence, and it’s good to see.”

That’s high praise from Campbell regarding Barnes, who looks to be in great shape. Barnes usually has been next to Alex Anzalone at linebacker, whenever the first-team defense takes the field — perhaps a sign of where he stands right now. He’s had moments in which he’s looked good, and others where you’re left wanting more. But the important thing to note is that the reps are there.

The hope that the Lions’ defensive tweaks will help the game slow down for him, too.

“I would say being able to play more downhill, to not have to worry about too much,” said Barnes, when asked how this defense benefits him. “AG (defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn) is making the defense a lot easier for the linebackers, and that’s what I like: being able to play downhill, dropping into coverage.”

The Lions’ linebacker picture is very much unsettled. Anzalone is on a one-year deal and needs to be better than he was in 2021. Chris Board was brought in as a free agent to push those around him. Rookie Malcolm Rodriguez continues to flash in practice. Things are competitive, so Barnes has to bring his A-game each and every day. Campbell likes what he’s seen so far.

“Barnes, I love where Barnes is at because I can feel Barnes on special teams right now, and I see his growth as a linebacker,” he said. “He’s very much in play in there. He’s right where he needs to be. He’s growing.”

A longer look at 

Campbell didn’t speak to the media Thursday morning, but he did assure us that practice would resemble more of a full day’s work than the lighter session we saw Wednesday.

He was right.

This was, by far, the longest practice the Lions have had so far in training camp. They were right up against the allotted two and a half hours of work. Clearly, Campbell and company wanted more time to see their guys in action. It gave the media more time to see things, too.

This was an important day of work for rookie tight end James Mitchell. He’s been practicing with the team since camp began, but he has been somewhat limited on the field. It’s been about 11 months since he tore ACL, so that’s to be expected. Campbell did say he expected to get Mitchell more involved moving forward, and Thursday felt like a big step in that direction.

Mitchell was involved in scrimmage work, which was good to see. There were two plays in particular that stood out to me, when watching him. On one, he neutralized LB Jarrad Davis in pass protection, which gave Tim Boyle time to find Maurice Alexander for a score. On the very next snap, Mitchell — back in there for another rep — slipped out unnoticed for a touchdown of his own. The Virginia Tech product is still playing catch-up, but I’d expect the staff to continue giving him looks now that he’s ramping up a bit more.


Kerby Joseph is pushing for time in the Lions’ safety rotation. (Paul Sancya / Associated Press)

Rookie safety Kerby Joseph made an impressive stop in the tackling drill Thursday morning. That earned him some daps from teammates and DB coach Aubrey Pleasant. Coaches also seemed to like Joseph’s form tackling in individual DB work, particularly how he was driving through contact.

However, Joseph also had some tough reps in the one-on-ones with the receivers. He gave up a catch to Josh Johnson, coming up empty on a diving attempt to swat the pass (although, it was good coverage, to be honest). He also got burned down the left sideline on a deep ball. His coaches seem to like Joseph’s progress, though. He’s been more involved with the second-team defense. We’ll keep an eye on him.

It seemed like Ifeatu Melifonwu had a good day, including an interception of David Blough in the red zone. Playing free safety, Melifonwu said his responsibility for that snap was to help on anything — especially when nothing came his way immediately. That allowed him to read Blough and secure the interception.

After practice, Melifonwu discussed some of the differences between corner and safety — the coaches moved him from the former spot to the latter this year. He talked about the added responsibilities of his new position, and mentioned how the coaches believe his size and athleticism could play up at safety as opposed to corner. It’s been a process, but one he’s learning to navigate.

“I feel like the biggest challenge has been, I’ll say, mentally,” Melifonwu said. “At corner, you’re only seeing half the field and you’re kind of waiting on a safety to make the call to you. But at safety, you see the full field and you gotta make the call. You gotta know when to come down. You gotta know when you’re back. I feel like sometimes, when you’re middle of the field, you don’t have an exact assignment. But at corner, you’re always covering the guy in front of you. You’ve gotta be disciplined with your eyes and stay in your pedal, so it’s just a little different.”

Luckily, this is the perfect time to work through it all.

(Top photo: Paul Sancya / Associated Press)

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