I had gone to an NFL training camp one time in my life before. Way back, when I was about eight years old and on vacation in Colorado, I got to see Broncos training camp. I was too young to know anything about what was going on at the time, but I do remember John Elway was there, and that my mom got her picture taken with Steve Atwater. Being older, and a much wiser NFL fan, I was trying to take in the experience of being at training camp, along with trying to make observations about the team and players who stood out.
The first thing that jumped out to me upon arriving at the Lions’ Allen Park facility is that it was absolute first class. A brand new state of the art facility, plenty of free parking for the fans. Towering over everything was their indoor facility, and behind that was two full practice fields where the days practices were going to be. With a facility as nice as they had, it makes you wonder how the Lions have been so awful since its opening in 2002.
Next to the practice fields were different sections of bleachers, a concession stand (a pop was only $2 thank God), and a souvenir stand. I was able to score myself a brand new hat, so I was thrilled.
Fans were out early, and before we could even get in there was a line of about 300 people waiting. The Lions only let about 700 people in to each practice session, and people were there early at each session to make sure they got a spot. For as bad as this team has been recently, they have tremendous fan support. There were over 17,000 at Ford Field on Saturday for open practice, and fans everywhere at Sunday’s practice decked out in Suh, Stafford, and Johnson jerseys.
The first thing you notice being that close to the field is how massive these players really are. You see them on TV, or in the stadium, and hear the announcers talk about the size they possess, but until you are 10 feet away from someone like Calvin Johnson, you really have no idea of how big they are up close.
For both practices the players were in shorts and helmets, no contact, so it was tough to gauge how the running backs were performing outside of catching the ball. But it was a good chance to see WRs and DBs go against each other.
In the morning practice, the Lions DB group looked like it had a nice session, breaking up a lot of passes, or sticking tight in coverage. Undrafted rookie safety Randy Phillips stood out in my mind, making a couple nice pass breakups, including a diving one over the middle. On the offensive side of the ball, RB Aaron Brown showed good ball catching ability, and why he is one of the fastest players on the Lions roster, simply running past defenders on multiple occasions.
The afternoon practice was more of the same drills, but the offensive weapons the Lions have were on display. Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson hooked up for three long pass plays. Two deep balls were Stafford threw it as far as he could and Johnson was able to run underneath it, and another over the middle on a slant where Calvin simply outran everyone. If those two can make a solid connection this season, both could be in line for big numbers, and big plays. Randy Phillips was again able to make a couple plays, and could be in line to make the roster despite being undrafted.
Where Stafford really stood out to me was in the third down drills. He was able to quickly get rid of the ball, and to the receivers with great velocity. Very impressive arm strength that should help them in those situations as well as the redzone.
Meanwhile, #2 overall pick Ndamukong Suh was impressive in both practice sessions. Frequently he was the first man in the backfield, and was even faced with some double teams to try and slow him down. He looks like he’s in shoulder pads when he’s just in a jersey; his upper body is that big. Even though it was only a practice, he appears to be everything advertised.
Jahvid Best also looked like a very dangerous player, breaking a couple of long runs on some screen plays designed for him.
Oh and there was a scrap! CB Dre Bly and WR Eric Fowler got into a grabbing, pushing, and a couple punches match. The two went at it for about 10 seconds before three guys from each side of the ball came over and broke the two apart.
All in all, it was a fun experience, a good chance to see NFL players up close and personal. Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson were everything you hear about and more. Suh looks like he is going to be a disruptive force for a while. The Lions have a passionate fan base, and are desperately hoping for a winner. The pieces are starting to come together, with the d-line looking impressive, and all the weapons on offense. Based on what I saw, I would expect the Lions to be able to score plenty of points this season, but if they are to have any real success in the standings, it will rest on the shoulders of Suh, and the other Detroit defenders.