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NOTEBOOK: Rookies Branch & Gibbs back at practice this week

When we saw defensive back Brian Branch (ankle) and running back Jahmyr Gibbs (hamstring) running off to the side of practice last week it was a good indication they were close to returning from injuries that had kept them off the field each of the last two weeks.

Both made their return to practice for Wednesday's walkthrough and for Thursday's regular practice, and that's a good sign they're trending toward getting back in the lineup Sunday in Baltimore.

"I'll be back this week," Branch said after practice Thursday. "It just feels good getting back out there with the guys. I feel like I'm knocking the rust off a little bit. When I wasn't practicing I just felt like I was being lazy and not being able to help my team and I didn't like that."

Veteran Will Harris filled in nicely at the nickel cornerback spot for Branch, but it will be good to get the rookie back on defense against an explosive and versatile offense in Baltimore this week. Branch had 25 tackles (21 solo) through his first four games with four passes defended, three tackles for loss and an interception he returned for a touchdown.

Gibbs is one of only three rookies with at least 150 rushing yards and 70 receiving yards this season and has at least 50 scrimmage yards in the four games he's played. With David Montgomery expected to miss Sunday's game with a rib injury, the Lions could look to lean on Gibbs and Craig Reynolds in the run game. Reynolds was back at practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday's walkthrough with hamstring and toe injuries.

Branch and Gibbs have been big early contributors for the Lions as rookies and it will be big to get both of them back this week against a good Baltimore team.


Aidan Hutchinson has racked up 4.5 sacks, 24 quarterback pressures, four tackles for a loss and a really nice one-handed interception, but the second-year defensive lineman is searching for touchdown No. 1.

Hutchinson joked this week that the end zone was on his mind when he took a huge helmet to the hip on an interception return a couple weeks ago against Carolina.

"I promised myself after that Giants game (last year) that I'm going to go score a touchdown, cause the Giants game I kind of — I won't swear, but I did walk out of bounds," Hutchinson said. "So I promised myself I'm going to run in the end zone. That's the price you got to pay to try."

Hutchinson said he was so focused on trying to score on the interception return vs. the Panthers that he did not see wide receiver Jonathan Mingo until the last second coming from the right. He said it was still a little sore last week but he's good now.

"Just one of those things where my leg whips and the hip gets all jacked up," he said. "It's just a lot of pain, but that's football."

Hutchinson said he's determined to add a defensive touchdown to his resume sooner rather than later.


Baltimore will be the best defense the Lions have faced to date, and they feature one of the best linebacker duos in the league in Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen.

Smith has a team-high 63 tackles to go along with three tackles for loss, three quarterback hits and 1.5 sacks. He's one of just three NFL defenders with at least 60 tackles, three tackles for loss and three quarterback hits this season.

Queen has 53 tackles, five tackles for loss, five quarterback hits and 3.5 sacks. Smith and Queen each had 10 tackles and a sack Week 1.

"Yeah, there are different styles every week, but this particular group, they are just as physical as they are, excellent athletes that can run sideline to sideline, so normally when you have the super athletic second level defenders that run sideways, we'll go downhill on them. Well, this group compensates really well for that," Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said.

"They'll come, they'll fill gaps and pull you off your double teams quickly, so it's challenging, it's challenging. There's no doubt we'll see if we can hopefully make their eyes go different directions to slow them down, but this group's as good as we've seen all year, really the last few years."


Amon-Ra St. Brown did his Thursday media session in front of his locker in a full leprechaun outfit courtesy of teammate and Notre Dame alum Julian Okwara. St. Brown went to USC, who lost to Notre Dame this past weekend.

Okwara said he paid $25 on Amazon for the outfit and it was money well spent.

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