The Detroit Lions concluded their three-day mandatory minicamp in Allen Park Thursday, and now the focus shifts to the final week of voluntary OTA practices tailored more toward the younger players on the roster next week. Then the preparation for training camp in late July begins.
It was a productive minicamp for the Lions with a number of competitive periods, while also getting a head start on the installation of some of their new schemes offensively and defensively.
The players weren't in pads this week, so it's a little hard to evaluate the run game and the play of the big guys up front, but here's a look at five players who stood out to me over the three minicamp practices:
1. WIDE RECEIVER QUINTEZ CEPHUS
The Lions receiver room is in a much better place this year vs. where they were a season ago. The additions of DJ Chark and Jameson Williams on the outside add a lot of juice to the room. The competition for roster spots and playing time will be hotly contested in camp.
One veteran hoping to be in that mix when it's all said and done is Cephus, who had a really nice minicamp. He nearly singlehandedly won a competitive period for the second-team offense on Tuesday with two big catches down the field, including a one-handed touchdown grab. He really showed up all three days.
He was off to a good start last year before a collarbone injury ended his season after just four and a half games. He's tough, agile, and a good route runner. He put himself in a good situation with the week he had heading into training camp.
An honorable mention to Trinity Benson for also having a nice week at the receiver position. That will be a really good competition between those two and others for what might be one of the last couple spots on the roster at the position.
2. RUNNING BACK D’ANDRE SWIFT
No pads and limited contact means not much going on in terms of the run game, but that allowed Swift to really showcase his receiving skills more this week. Swift looks stronger, but hasn't lost any of his shiftiness. He's so smooth as a receiver and is a matchup nightmare for the defense when he's in space in the passing game. Outside linebacker Julian Okwara found that out Wednesday when Swift beat him for a touchdown in a team period.
Swift was leading all running backs in receptions before missing five games late last season with a shoulder injury. If the Lions are as improved as they think they are on the outside at receiver, that should open things up even more for Swift and tight end T.J. Hockenson to get more favorable one-on-one matchups in the middle of the field.
Expect Swift to be a big part of the passing game again this season.
3. QUARTERBACK DAVID BLOUGH
Blough and Tim Boyle alternated reps with the second-team offense this week as the Lions foster the competition to see who will be Jared Goff's backup in 2022.
Boyle had some good moments during the week, especially in some of the competitive periods on Wednesday, but watching from afar, I thought Blough was more consistent throughout the week. He made some amazing throws to win some competitive periods on Tuesday, and he's put himself in a position to really push Boyle for the backup job with a good camp and preseason.
4. DEFENSIVE END AIDAN HUTCHINSON
Again, with no pads it's pretty tough to evaluate defensive line play, but it doesn't take long watching Hutchinson to see there's a lot of things to like about his game. In individual periods with the defensive linemen, he's relentless and often garners praise from not only defensive line coach Todd Wash, but also his fellow line mates for some of the technique work he shows off.
He was disruptive in team periods and nearly had an interception on a screen pass Wednesday. He worked himself into first-team reps pretty quickly this week, and he's expected to play a big role.
"He's been all business," Lions head coach Dan Campbell said of Hutchinson Thursday. "I told my wife this last night, what's great about him is he just is quietly getting better right in front of us. He doesn't say anything, he listens, he's like a sponge in there, he absorbs the information, he watches how things are done and the way coaches want them done.
"Then he's got a motor and he goes, he just learns and gets better every day, you just see it and so I love that about him. He's just – everyday man, there's growth right in front of us."
5. TIGHT END SHANE ZYLSTRA
Zylstra suffered a fractured kneecap Week 16 of last year, but he's taken part fully in the offseason training program and was really the go-to tight end for all three Lions quarterback this week.
He's got a nice receiving skill set and showed the ability to separate at the top of his route. The Lions were without rookie tight ends James Mitchell and Derrick Deese Jr. because of injury and they limited Hockenson's reps some, so Zylstra took advantage of the extra work.
Zylstra caught a few touchdowns in team periods and had a really nice week that should give him a lot of confidence heading into training camp.