One of the things that attracted veteran safety DeShon Elliott to sign with Detroit this offseason was getting a chance to play in Aaron Glenn's defense.
"Even before I (signed) here on my visit he (Glenn) told me how this a safety-ran defense," Elliott said Saturday after practice. "That's one of the big reasons why I wanted to come here, so I can prove a point that I can be a great safety in this league."
Elliott comes over from Baltimore where he spent his first three seasons. He became a starter for the Ravens in 2020 in his second season in the league and started all 16 games that year, finishing with 80 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and four passes defended. He played in six games with six starts last season before a torn biceps muscle ended his season prematurely.
The Lions like his versatility and think he can be a terrific complement to Tracy Walker at the safety position in Detroit. Both are physical players with range. They give the Lions two veteran savvy players in the back end of their defense.
"The defense is built for the safeties to make plays," Elliott said. "If you look at the guys (Glenn and defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant) have coached. AG's coached Marcus Williams and Malcolm Jenkins. AP's coached guys like John Johnson and guys like that. Those guys went on to be great players in this league and I feel like if they were able to be successful, so can we."
It's still early in camp, but Elliott's been making plays through this first week of camp with the Lions, including a terrific pass breakup in the back of the end zone in a red zone team period on Friday. The Lions' defense could certainly use more of that.
Elliott's excited for the chance to be that kind of player in a defense he thinks is made for the safety position to make plays.
Which rookies have caught head coach Dan Campbell's eye through the first few unpadded practices of training camp?
"Certainly Hutch (defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson), I mean – he just – he pops. To watch him just continue to work and go through it, I'm telling you every day he just gets a little bit better and that's all you care about is that you just see a little bit of improvement every day.
"I would say Lucas (cornerback Chase Lucas) – Lucas has caught my eye, and I would tell you – particularly in the special teams drills, that's where I really see it. The compete drills and there's an awareness about him, he's pretty instinctive and he's aggressive and you've got to have all of that to be a good special teams player. I would say those are probably the two that really pop to me right now."
Campbell didn't want to get into a time table for the return of rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams (ACL), but he did say the team is really impressed with the way Williams is attacking his rehab and the progress he's making.
"He's had four really good days here since we've started, early in the morning, getting up here and working with those guys," Campbell said. "Kevin Bastin and his staff, and then the strength part of it in the weight room. Those are the things that's like, 'OK, that really excites us,' because he's putting in the work and I think he kind of knows it and feels it."
Campbell said Williams has been really engaged on the football side of things as well. He's expected to play a lot from the "Z" position opposite DJ Chark on the other side at the "X" spot when healthy. Williams is always close to the action at practice and asks a lot of questions, according to Campbell. When he's physically able to return, those mental reps he's getting now should pay off.
We saw Julian Okwara really start to come on at the end of last season, and the Lions want to see him pick up where he left off. He finished 2021 with 27 tackles, six tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, one interception, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He was one of 10 players to produce at least 5.0 sacks, one interception, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery last season.
The Lions are asking a lot of Okwara to be a matchup linebacker who can rush and play in space. The next step for him is to be counted on to be an every-down player and not just a rush specialist, which means playing in space and playing the run just as well as he does getting after the passer.
Okwara said Saturday he loves the challenge of the role he's being asked to play and is up for anything the coaches throw at him. Okwara has the potential to have a big impact in his third season and to be one of the reasons this defense takes a big step forward.
Veteran tackle Dan Skipper returned from the non-football illness list and was at practice Saturday.