2022 Detroit Lions Rookie Minicamp Observations

The Detroit Lions’ rookie minicamp opened on Friday, but on Saturday the team gave way to the media to observe an unpadded practice session lasting approximately 90 minutes. While most training involved players working with their positional coaches, there were a few team drills that allowed for a deeper look at their game.

Here’s our breakdown of what happened in Saturday morning’s practice.

Participation

As expected, Lions first-round pick Jameson Williams and sixth-round pick James Mitchell did not participate as the pair continue to work after their respective ACL tears. Mitchell is certainly closer to returning, but could not give any indication of when he might be back on the pitch. Mitchell believes he’ll be back in time for training camp.

“As far as I know. I don’t have a direct date for you yet,” Mitchell said. “They just feel me and have a plan in place.”

While Williams wasn’t training, he was certainly a big part of the mix. He was actively cheering on his teammates, participating in the action as it unfolded, and even caught passes for a few minutes from head coach Dan Campbell. Notably, he walked around with a football in his hand the entire time and a sheet with the offense script on it while doing mental rehearsals.

Additionally, UDFA tight end Derrick Deese Jr. was also sidelined for the day. No word yet on why.

Versatility of positions

Going into minicamp, there were a few questions about where some draft rookies would play in this defensive scheme, and while we shouldn’t jump to conclusions in May, I think we may have gotten some answers.

Sixth-round pick James Houston — who played linebacker his whole life until he moved to EDGE last year at Jackson State and had one career season — is clearly seen as a linebacker, not a point defender, by the Lions at this point. Although he had a good number of reps near the line of scrimmage, he was basically off the ball all day and practiced with the linebacker group on positional drills. More on him in a moment.

Chase Lucas in the seventh round almost played exclusively as a nickel corner during practice. He had acclimated to playing indoors over his last two seasons at Arizona State, and he seems comfortable there.

“I was mostly at the slot machine (at minicamp),” Lucas said after practice. “I think (DB coach Aubrey Pleasant) and (defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn) just let me know all the positions, all the defense so I can communicate with the linebackers and the DBs and stuff. I feel like I’m in the right place, in the right defense.

Second-round pick Josh Paschal regained the upper hand, facing Aidan Hutchinson, which brings us to our first focus position…

EDGE

Hutchinson’s cornering and engine completely jump off the page. During an agility drill, Hutchinson was getting extremely low to the ground around the tackle dummies, and he showed some nice change of direction speed.

Paschal’s game is entirely different. He doesn’t have the guts to go around the edge and instead will win with his size and explosiveness on the inside. He gave a small preview of what his role will be after training.

“I think I fit that guy, big guy, big defensive end. That’s what we call it,” Paschal said. “I feel like I can play on that front, but particularly on the edge, or even if I need to kick inside for the running game.”

It’s going to be hard to see Paschal as a quick passing threat on the edge, but it’s worth noting that he and Hutchinson regularly switched sides in the early 11v11 drills.

Overall, it was a difficult unit to judge during training as they almost exclusively did individual drills.

Linebackers

I spent the majority of practice watching linebackers, both because they drilled right in front of the media and because Detroit has two draft picks in Malcolm Rodriguez and Houston.

They spent much of the first half of practice working on cover looks. Linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard would present an offensive front, and the linebackers would have to match their pre-snap roster and subsequent coverage responsibilities. Sheppard spent almost no time with Rodriguez, who seemed to answer all of her questions correctly and quickly gained Sheppard’s trust.

James Houston (59) and Malcolm Rodriguez (44) working on individual linebacker drills during the 2022 rookie minicamp.

On the other hand, Sheppard was on Houston’s ear the whole drill. Clearly, Houston has three years of experience as a linebacker from his days at the University of Florida, but it may take some time to readjust.

In fact, the coaching seemed to pay off almost immediately. They switched to seven-on-seven drills soon after, and quarterback Connor Sampson had to put away the first rep and run because the coverage was so good. The entire linebacking corps — and coaching staff — burst into cheers. Later in practice, Houston fell into coverage, slipped, but recovered in time to get into position and put both hands on the ball before the interception slipped through his hands.

“I kind of get my feet back into seven-on-seven stuff,” Houston said after practice. “I haven’t done this in probably about a year. Everything comes back quite naturally.

Stars not fished out

QB Connor Sampson

Let’s start with the one and only quarterback in the group: Connor Sampson, a Western Illinois tryout who grew up in Belleville, Michigan. Sampson showed off a very strong arm and a tight spiral during practice. Accuracy has been hit or miss, but it’s hard to blame a quarterback playing a whole new set of receivers. I had no expectations from Sampson and left intrigued.

RB Greg Bell

Curiously, the lone running back Bell appeared to be one of the Lions’ rookie free agent priority signings, as he reportedly got $100,000 guaranteed in his contract. During a special teams drill, where he and a defender basically raced against each other and Bell had to try to get past them, he absolutely stripped James Houston naked. Then, a few reps later, he did the exact same thing to Rodriguez. It’s not good news for the Lions’ rookie linebacker tandem, but certainly a head-turning moment for Bell, who has an uphill battle to make the roster in a crowded room.

WR Kalil Pimpleton

Pimpleton immediately stands out for its size or lack thereof. At just 5-foot-8 and 172 pounds, he barely looks like a football player, but when he actually moves and plays, that’s a problem. His speed was displayed, as was his ability to stop in no time at the top of his routes:

Pimpleton finished the practice with a cross road that earned him a few yards separation and a 25 yard strike from Sampson.

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