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TWENTYMAN: 5 takeaways from rookie minicamp

The Detroit Lions held their rookie minicamp this past weekend and it gave their draft picks, undrafted free agents and tryout players an opportunity to get their feet wet before joining the veterans for OTAs next week.

Here are five takeaways of note from rookie minicamp:

1. Arnold and Rakestraw bond

Detroit selected cornerbacks Terrion Arnold (No. 24 overall) and Ennis Rakestraw Jr. (No. 61) with their first two picks in last month's NFL Draft. The Lions believe they are the future at the position, along with Brian Branch at the nickel. How much both can contribute now in a competitive cornerback room is yet to be determined.

While Arnold and Rakestraw are no-doubt competitors for roles and playing time early on, it's easy to see the two have already formed a close bond.

"We're just going to keep getting each other better every day," Rakestraw said. "If there's something I see I'm going to tell him and if there's something he sees he's going to tell me. Whoever wins the job wins the job, but at the end of the day we're going to build a brotherhood regardless."

What a benefit for both young players they get to come into the league with someone who plays the same position that they can learn with and lean on to get them through what's usually a tough transition to the NFL for rookies.

2. Vaki special teams prowess

One player who really stood out to me in the open practice of minicamp Friday was fourth-round pick Sione Vaki. I now see why Lions GM Brad Holmes referred to him as arguably the top special teams player in the draft. He beat his blocker three plays in a row while working on the coverage unit and was the first man to the kickoff returner in all three reps.

As a pass catcher, he has really good hands for a player who played running back just as an injury fill-in at Utah. I didn't see a single ball hit the ground when thrown his way.

The best thing I can say about Vaki is he's just a football player. He's one of those players that can do pretty much anything and do it well.

He's going to make an early impact on special teams, but don't be surprised if he works himself into the mix here and there as an offensive weapon too.

3. Arnold looks the part

Watching Arnold in action, the word I wrote down in my notepad was 'smooth.' That's what I think of when I watch him. He makes things look effortless, and that's not easy for a young player at this level. Backpedal, hip turn and hands drills in individuals all looked easy for him.

Passing game coordinator and defensive backs coach Deshea Townsend is certainly going to have some technique and scheme points for Arnold to pick up, but he comes in with a really nice base from a technique standpoint.

Much like we saw with Branch early last year, Arnold has terrific instincts and hands, and both were on display in the open portion of practice. He recorded an interception in a 7-on-7 period staying in sticky coverage on a cross-field route and turning his head to make a great play when the receiver cut up field after running all the way across the field. He also earned a high-five from defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn after his sticky coverage forced a quarterback scramble on another play.

We'll see what it looks like against wide receivers Amon-Ra St. Brown and Jameson Williams next week, but first impressions kind of remind me of what I saw in Branch early last season. It didn't take long to see that Branch was going to be able to help this football team early on. I see the same in Arnold.

View photos from Day 1 of Detroit Lions rookie minicamp on Friday, May 10, 2024 in Allen Park, Mich.

4. Rookie comparison

Two players stood out to me over the weekend for being on either side of the size spectrum.

Fourth-round tackle Giovanni Manu is a massive human being. The Lions list him at 6-foot-7, 354 pounds. He's every bit of that but it's a pretty chiseled 354. He moves really well for a man that size. Coming from the University of British Columbia, it's going to take some time for him to adjust to the jump in competition and to brush up on the technique work offensive line coach Hank Fraley is going to teach him.

On the other side of the spectrum, sixth-round defensive lineman Mekhi Wingo stood out among the defensive line group for his shorter stature at only 6-foot, 291 pounds. What Wingo lacks in size, he makes up for in quickness, speed and strong hands. He didn't look out of place playing some three-technique in a team period. He has a pretty quick first step and will get better as run game coordinator and defensive line coach Terrell Williams gets to work with him more.

"I kind of fell in the draft a little bit but I fell into the perfect situation," Wingo said. "I always play with that chip on my shoulder. I'm a six-foot defensive tackle. You got to have it or it isn't going to be fun for you out there."

5. New kickoff rule

It's definitely going to take some getting used to.

The first time I saw it I have to admit it looked a little odd live. Players standing five yards apart looking like mannequins until the returner catches the ball and then it's organized chaos in a very short space.

I think teams are still kind of figuring out what it's going to look like but one quick observation from watching it live the first time is it might require a different body type and skillset than we're used to seeing on kickoff. Smaller, faster and more nimble players should have the advantage the way it's currently set up.

Being only five yards apart at the start I saw the players who had the most success on coverage have quickness and the ability to beat their would-be blocker in a short area. Quickness is key as opposed to straight-line speed.

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