The Detroit Lions signed veteran wide receiver DJ Chark this offseason to give them a vertical threat from the "X" receiver spot with his 6-foot-4 size and sub-4.4 speed. Chark averaged better than 20 yards per catch a season ago before suffering a foot injury and missing most of the year. He was a Pro Bowler and 1,000-yard receiver in 2019.
It's still early in the installation of Ben Johnson's offense in Detroit, but Chark is already excited about the way he's being used. He's not only playing the X position, but Johnson has moved him around the formation early in camp which is something Chark said he didn't do a lot of in Jacksonville.
"I like the challenge of running different routes and being in different spots and not being stuck in one spot for too long of a period," Chark said.
Stretching the field is one of Chark's strengths, but in this offense that doesn't just mean vertically. Chark said Johnson also wants to stretch the field horizontally, and Chark thinks that can really benefit his game.
"Vertically is cool, but there's so much field to run across horizontally that he allows in this offense, which helps out a lot," Chark said. "If they are in man or match, you can stretch the field on gos and posts, but also crossing routes where the same guy has to cover you for more distance across the field."
Chark is excited about the possibilities for his production in this offense. The Lions view him as a receiver who can run the whole route tree and play multiple spots, and that looks to be the plan for him early on.
View photos from Day 1 of Detroit Lions training camp on Wednesday July 27, 2022.
HARRIS AT CORNERBACK
The Lions made fourth-year veteran Will Harris' move from safety to cornerback permanent, according to head coach Dan Campbell. Harris moved to cornerback last year when the Lions were dealing with injuries at the position. He played pretty well and the Lions want to see how he develops there.
Harris said Thursday he loves the move to cornerback and playing more on an island.
"There's something about it and there isn't anything like being out there," he said. "It's you and him and sometimes you have to put on that hat and be out there. That's where the grown men play, so I love being out there."
Harris said playing safety for two and half seasons before moving to cornerback has really given him a good perspective of where his help is and what the safeties are thinking behind him.
Harris played 317 snaps at free safety last season, 238 at slot cornerback and 227 at the wide cornerback spot. He's been alternating with Jeff Okudah with the first-team defense at outside corner the first couple days of practice.
CENTER OF ATTENTION
The Lions do a lot of cross training with their offensive linemen. Jonah Jackson usually takes some reps at center at the end of practice. Jackson said they really preach depth and versatility in the o-line room.
Jackson's first ever collegiate start at Rutgers was at center.
"I'm ready in a pinch whenever they need me," Jackson said with a smile.
The Lions are asking a lot of third-year linebacker Julian Okwara. He was a third-down rush player last season and also played some dime linebacker and did a nice job in that role, finishing the 2021 season with 27 tackles (18 solo), six tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
This year the Lions want to see him on the field more in their base defense as a hybrid SAM linebacker.
"He needs to be able to get better at the SAM linebacker, taking on blocks, attacking on the perimeter, certainly rushing from when we ask him to go," head coach Dan Campbell said. "And it's base and it's run action, the offense is giving him run action. Man, that transition from attacking run to now, 'I got to rush the quarterback.' Little things like that, something that Charles (Harris) really excelled at last year and that will be the next step for him.
Okwara took some steps forward last season, but the Lions want to see even more in year three.
"He knows that and if he can make another stride, another step like he did last year, then we're going to be on the right track," Campbell said. "He's going to be on the right track and help us."
- Campbell confirmed Thursday that second-round pick Josh Paschal had surgery earlier this summer for a sports hernia injury. Campbell offered no timetable for his return.
- Fullback Jason Cabinda was placed on the PUP list Wednesday. He's dealing with an ankle injury.