The second week of OTA practices are in the books, and the team now has next week’s mandatory minicamp (June 4-6) and then a final week of OTAs after to close out the offseason training program.
Here are my five takeaways from the second week of OTA practices:
1. Focused-based practice
The OTA practice schedule is very much tailored the way the Lions would run practice in a typical week during the season, just in terms of splitting the focus into segments.
During the first week of OTAs, the team focused on the red zone with a lot of individual and team periods taking place inside the 20-yard line. During a regular-season week, that’s a big emphasis on Fridays.
This week, the focus was on early downs, per head coach Matt Patricia, with a lot of work between the 20’s.
Detroit practiced outside Thursday after rain moved through the area in the morning. Like the much talked about snow practice late last season, Patricia uses those opportunities to work on ball handling, footing, and issues that can arise in wet weather, which will inevitably come up during the course of the season playing outside up to 10 times a year. Plus, practicing outside on the real grass is much better for the players' health in terms of wear and tear on the joints than practicing on the harder synthetic indoor turf.
2. Tight ends standing out
Jesse James, T.J. Hockenson and Logan Thomas are looking like a big upgrade at the position for Detroit this year, and we still haven’t seen Isaac Nauta as he rehabs from injury.
James, Hockenson and Thomas have all made plays down the field either in the seam or along the sideline.
It’s really given the Lions’ skill positions a significant upgrade overall. Kerryon Johnson, Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr., Danny Amendola, Hockenson, James and a mix of others are a nice collection of players at the skill spots.
It will be fun to watch those tight ends when the pads come on in training camp and we start to see the kind of versatility among that group.
3. Backup quarterback job
It’s early, but quarterback Tom Savage has impressed me through the first two open OTA practices. His arm strength stands out, and he’s been taking a lot of the second-team reps in practice.
Training camp and the preseason will ultimately determine who Matthew Stafford’s backup will be, but Savage’s experience and arm talent look to give him an early edge over Connor Cook.
4. Jahlani Tavai working into the mix early
Second-round draft picks typically see the field earlier rather than later, but any rookie still has to earn his playing time. Tavai’s size, coupled with his movement skills, have been a bright spot the first two open OTA practices.
He worked himself into some first-team reps in 7-on-7 drills Thursday, and works all over the defense throughout the course of practice. He was a pass rusher off the edge in a different period.
The Lions touted Tavai’s size and versatility as something that really attracted them to him in the draft. Some of that is already starting to show in OTA practices.
5. Santoso’s big leg
There might not eventually be a spot of Detroit’s roster for second-year player Ryan Santoso, but he is an impressive young kicker. Although he’s listed as a punter, the 6-foot-5, 258-pound Santoso is also a pretty good field-goal kicker. Matt Prater wasn’t at practice Thursday. Santoso did the kicking, and was very consistent kicking it through the uprights.
Warming up before hand, Santoso was easily booting 50-plus-yard field goals that would have been good from 60-plus yards.
As a punter, he can really boom the ball too. Sam Martin has been Detroit’s punter since the team drafted him in the fifth round in 2013. Martin’s been pretty good throughout his career. Just from observing the two kick in practice, Martin seems to be more consistent directional kicking and with the finesse part of that game pinning balls deep.
The raw power and versatility of Santoso is impressive, however. I wouldn’t be surprised if he eventually catches on somewhere.