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TWENTYMAN: 10 players who stood out in camp practices

We are 10 practices into training camp after the conclusion of Thursday's padded practice in Allen Park. It's been a good start to camp for head coach Dan Campbell and the Detroit Lions, with the first batch of joint practices set to take part in Allen Park next week ahead of the team's preseason opener vs. the Giants at Ford Field Friday, Aug. 11.

Here's my list of 10 players who have stood out early in camp so far for the Lions:

1. Defensive back Brian Branch

A first-round talent who dropped to the Lions in Round 2, Branch has come to Allen Park with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. Branch is already working himself into first-team reps with his ability to play both in the box and cover equally well. If Branch continues on this trajectory it's going to be hard for defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn to take him off the field, especially on passing downs.

2. Quarterback Jared Goff

Goff has picked up right where he left off last season. He looks extremely comfortable in the second year of Ben Johnson's offense. He knows where his weapons will be and the timing of everything has been good. Goff is moving the offense, taking care of the football and distributing the ball to all his weapons. He's having a strong start to camp.

View photos from Day 10 of Detroit Lions training camp on Thursday August 3, 2023.

3. Defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson

The runner-up for Defensive Rookie of the Year has come back for his second season in the best football shape of his life. Hutchinson focused on gaining strength and polishing some movement skills this offseason, and the results have him looking like a player about to take the league by storm.

4. Offensive line

I'm not going to single out any one player because more than any other unit on the football field this group of five (and sometimes six) have to work as one to do their job consistently and effectively. They open holes in the run game and allow Goff enough time to survey the field to make the right play. Everything starts upfront with the offensive line, and they've been pretty consistent through 10 practices.

5. Defensive lineman Brodric Martin

There's no teaching 6-foot-5, 330 pounds and arms long enough it looks like Martin could tie his shoes standing up. He comes from a small school (Western Kentucky) and still has some technique stuff to sharpen, but he's already making enough of an impact to earn some first-team reps. He's long and strong, and is trending toward a nice role in the center of the Lions' defense sooner rather than later.

6. Defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson

Gardner-Johnson has been an emotional and vocal leader every time he steps on the field in Allen Park. He tied for the NFL lead with six interceptions last season and that ball production has already shown up in camp. There was an injury scare with him early on but that's in the rearview mirror. Gardner-Johnson is versatile and a team leader, and he's going to make this defense a heck of a lot better.

7. Wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown

We get so used to St. Brown making every play and being a security blanket for Goff that we may take him for granted sometimes. St. Brown has been terrific so far in camp. He completely dominated the third day of practice with six touchdowns in a 10-play stretch in 7-on-7 and team periods. The way he's looked in camp, 100-catches and 1,000 yards is about the floor for him.

8. Defensive lineman Alim McNeill

The 22 pounds and 13 percent body fat McNeill cut this offseason is noticeable. It's made him much quicker and more agile off the ball. There's been a noticeable uptick in the pressure he's caused in the pass game from the middle. I talked to center Frank Ragnow and guard Jonah Jackson about McNeill, and both said he hasn't lost any strength. He's still just as strong but way quicker. I can't wait to see him in joint practices.

9. Tight end Sam LaPorta

LaPorta has been taking first-team reps since Day 1 and doesn't look out of place at all. He's still got a lot to learn, but all indications are that he's a quick study and his receiving skills are really advanced for a young tight end. He's going to play a big role in this offense starting Week 1.

10. Cornerback Starling Thomas V

Camp hasn't been too big for the undrafted rookie out of UAB. He's consistently been taking second-team reps on the outside and has found ways to make some plays. The one thing I notice about him is his physicality and compete level. He doesn't look like an undrafted rookie out there and that's a compliment 10 practices into camp.

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