There’s a lot that looked different to the trained -- and untrained -- eyes of those who observed how practices were run in Matt Patricia’s first minicamp as head coach of the Detroit Lions.
One thing never changes, no matter who the head coach is or how long he’s been on the job.
The value of an established quarterback is an advantage for a head coach at any stage of his tenure – first meeting, first practice, first game or a decade into his career.
Matthew Stafford was a golden-armed asset for Patricia, as he was for previous head coaches Jim Schwartz and Jim Caldwell.
One thing we learned from the mandatory minicamp was that good play by the quarterback makes for good practices. Bad play makes bad ones.
Among the others: How the practice tempo was sharp and looks different under Patricia; a young player trying to win a roster spot like Teo Redding can catch a coach’s eye; how veteran Golden Tate seems forever young; and camaraderie exists among players competing at the same position, as punter Sam Martin demonstrated in a teaching moment.
Stafford’s command leads: He has such full control in his 10th pro season and third full season under offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, plus a returning stable of veteran receivers, that it seemed like the ball never hit the ground in the three days he led the offense.
That’s good for the offense – and good for the defense. In fact, when the offense runs efficiently – with a minimum of dropped passes, overthrows and fumbles – the entire practice operates more efficiently.
“The more the ball stays off the ground on the offensive side, the practice feels smoother,” Stafford said. “At least it does for the offense. Obviously, the defense is trying to get the ball out. The more efficient we are, the better.
“For sure, guys catch and run. Defensive guys get to take angles, pursuit angles, and try to strip the ball out. We’re by no means the finished product.”
Up tempo: Everyone looks for changes with a new head coach and staff, but the change in practice tempo and schedule of different drills offered us some insight into how Patricia might be physically demanding.
There was little down time during and between drills.
“The schedule is different, but that’s change, man,” Stafford said. “It’s the NFL. It happens all the time. We just get used to it and go. The flow of practice is different than it used to be. It’s different than with every coach I’ve had.
“That’s just the way it goes.”
The run game: Stafford was realistic about evaluating the running game from offseason practices without pads.
It’s a completely different game when the pads come on – in training camp, to preseason games and the regular season.
“Tackle football is what we play,” Stafford said. “It helps to see guys break tackles. The great ones do. The guys who are successful do. We can’t tackle now, so it’s difficult to see it.”
The Lions will get a look at where the running game stands with Friday’s announcement that they have scheduled combined practices with the two teams they face prior to their first two games – on the road against the Raiders in Game 1, and at home against the Giants in Game 2.
The Raiders were 12th in run defense last year, yielding 108.9 yards per game. The Giants were 27th, allowing 120.8.
The Lions ranked last in rushing, with a 78.3 average per game.
Old hands, Golden Tate: There was a noticeable uptick in the practice tempo, but that made no difference to Golden Tate. He practices the way he plays – fast.
Tate made a nice catch on a pass from Stafford down the right sideline, then cut to the middle as he continued to run at full speed.
There’s a reason players have long, productive careers. It doesn’t happen by luck.
Tate looked like he could play a full game on Sunday. Maybe a double header.
Young hands, Teo Redding: There’s always a chance for an undrafted rookie at a skill position to make an impression, and wide receiver Teo Redding did that. Redding, who grew up in Warren, caught 76 passes in his last two years at Bowling Green. He averaged more than 13 yards per catch each of the last two years and scored 11 touchdowns.
He made a couple of good catches on passes from Matt Cassel on Wednesday and had another good day on Thursday. What it does for his status remains to be seen, but he didn’t hurt himself.
“I was just hoping to make some plays,” Redding said. “I believe I made the most of my opportunities.”
Helping hand (foot, actually): Sam Martin looked like he is back to his 2016 level as one of the league’s elite punters after a down performance in 2017 caused by an offseason foot injury that made him miss the first six games.
Martin spent part of Thursday’s practice giving rookie punter Ryan Santoso of Minnesota tips on the Aussie technique. It’s an end over end punt used to drop the ball inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
On one demonstration punt, Martin got the ball to back up almost a full 10 yards from where it hit the turf.
It looked like a PGA Tour pro making the ball draw back on a wedge to the green.
One benefit for Martin: He didn’t have to fix his divot.