Five things to watch as Lions open against Eagles; plus prediction

Results of all the work in training camp and the offseason will come into focus for the 2022 season when the Lions open against the Philadelphia Eagles at 1 p.m. on Sunday at a sold-out Ford Field.

Coming off a 3-13-1 season, expectations are mostly high. That was fed by the Lions’ star treatment on HBO’s “Hard Knocks.” Still, coach Dan Campbell doesn’t think that adds more pressure. The team has picked up fans from around the country. The top selling Lions jerseys are Aidan Hutchinson and Malcolm Rodriguez who both turned out to be stars on the show.

“I know that it’s going to be a packed house, and I mean you couldn’t ask for anything more when you’re opening up the season. Us being at home, man, it’s the first one, and it’s going to be electric. And this is what we talked about,’’ said Campbell entering his second season. “Man, when I came in last year, that’s where we want to get it to a point to where, man the fans are excited, and they’ve got some hope, and now it’s our job to keep them in it, and keep them excited, and to know that we’re in there, and we’re in it. At the end of the game, we find a way to win. So, no, look – the ‘Hard Knocks’ deal, it doesn’t change any of our expectations in this building about who we are, where we’re at, where we need to go. That’s not for us to decide. All we’ve got to do is worry about what we worry about every day, man.’’

Campbell and his staff aren’t into predictions. No one has mentioned the ‘P’ word even if they’re thinking it. Instead it’s the old one day at a time philosophy. Campbell said he had talked with Lions principal owner Sheila Ford Hamp. 

“I said, ‘You know what, here’s where we’re at. We’re better. We’re better than we were this time last year, and that’s where it is.’ Now, what does that mean? It means we’re better than we were this time last year. I don’t know what that equates into, I just know we’re better. So, look, ‘Hard Knocks’ can make anyone look good, so I mean, that’s what TV does. They can make anything look good. They’re going to pull the best of the best, and so that’s not reality,’’ Campbell said. “Reality is what we’re getting ready to do, and what we’ve been doing every day in practice and all the reps we’ve banked, and these guys playing together, communicating, and that’s reality. That’s all we can worry about is how we see it in this building and go to work.”

Five things to watch for on Sunday:

ONE Jared Goff is a different quarterback heading into this season and he’s working under a new offensive coordinator in Ben Johnbson. Goff said the transition has been smooth and, in fact, better than he could imagine. “The trust he has in me, and the amount of questions he asks me, and vice versa, the amount of questions I can ask him. And his responsiveness, and how great he is at listening, all that stuff is so helpful for a quarterback and I don’t take it for granted,’’ Goff said. “He’s a great coach and someone I’m excited to work with.”

TWO Defensively, shutting down quarterback Jalen Hurts is key. His mobility sets him apart from many in the NFL. “Here’s the thing you have to be careful with when you’re playing a player like that. Sometimes you can overcoach a player to be so careful that you’re not getting a rush,’’ Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “Obviously rushing is important but most important I’m not going to sit back and tell Charles (Harris) and Aidan (Hutchinson) to sit back, man we’re going after this guy and we have to have other guys play off him also. Do we want to be reckless? No, we don’t want to do that. We have to be assignment sound and play hard, physical football.’’ Last season in the Eagles 44-6 win over the Lions, Hurts rushed for 71 yards on 7 carries and was 9 of 14 for 103 yards passing. 

THREE One of the Eagles’ keys on defense is cornerback Darius Slay who got his start in the NFL with the Lions. He’s 31 but still effective. “I think that when you have ability and as you continue to develop through the years you still have plenty of ability, but you just gain knowledge of the game and how you play different receivers, what you can get away with and what you can’t, that’s where you’ve seen him grow,’’ Campbell said. “That’s why he’s still playing at a high level. … He knows exactly who he is and what he’s capable of. … I know they feel good about him over there and I understand why.’’

FOUR Entering his second season, Campbell is amped up. His intensity was visibly higher this week starting with Monday’s press conference. He said it’s hard to say just one thing that makes him excited for the season to start. “ I’m just most excited now that it’s – that now we’re in the arena. There’s no more standing outside waiting for the gates to open, man. We’re going in, and so now there’s nowhere to run,’’ Campbell said. “There’s nowhere to hide. It’s just us. And the heat’s on, and if you don’t love that, you don’t belong up here. So, I’m most excited about that, and I’m most excited about just I think – I do believe we have a gritty group, and I think we’re tough, and I think we’re physical, and we’ve got to play with our hair on fire. And I think we will, so I’m excited about that.”

FIVE The Lions start the season with a banged-up offensive line. The big loss is right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai who injured his back, was placed on injured reserve and will miss at least the first four games of the season. Tommy Kraemer, who could have stepped in at right guard, is out with a back injury according to Friday’s report. He didn’t practice this week. Center Frank Ragnow (groin) is questionable to play. He had limited practice on Friday after sitting out on Thursday. Campbell and offensive line coach Hank Fraley moved the linemen around during camp so they should have multiple options. Also, defensive lineman Levi Onwuzurike (back) is out while safety Ifeatu Melifonwu (hamstring) is doubtful. Linebacker Julian Okwara (hamstring) is also questionable.

PREDICTION: Eagles 28, Lions 21. Detroit is a better team than last year but Philadelphia will just prove to be too much.

Five things to know as winless Lions face Philadelphia Eagles

Still looking for their first win, the Detroit Lions might have a fighting chance on Sunday facing the Philadelphia Eagles (2-5) who have lost five of their last six games.

A win any week would be welcome, but perhaps the timing of this one would provide an extra benefit. After Sunday’s game at Ford Field, the Lions will have their bye week.

“It would be big. It would be. Knowing that you get a win and now we’re going to be able to heal up and rest and kind of reset our clock if you will, get everything back mentally, physically, emotionally, I think it would be big,’’ coach Dan Campbell said on Friday.

This bunch — those who have remained healthy — could use a boost after a few close calls in the first seven weeks. Going into the bye week with a win is always a goal no matter the team’s record.

“I think you kind of – you’re turning over a new leaf if you will. It’s validating what you’re doing and where you’re going. So, certainly it would be big, but this isn’t some easy opponent. This is a good football team. They still have good football players over there,’’ Campbell said. “… This is not going to be easy, but to answer it, yeah, it would be huge.”

Five things to watch:

1. Darius Slay will be making his return to Detroit as the Eagles top cornerback. Now that Matt Patricia has moved on, Slay is eager to come back to the Motor City. You’ve got to imagine he’ll be extra fired up. Slay has two interceptions this season, both against the Panthers.  “He’s playing good ball, man. He’s playing at a high-level,’’ Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said. “You can see why he’s a two-time Pro Bowler and all of that. He is everything that you want in a corner.” Too bad Patricia didn’t like him. 

2. The defense can’t let quarterback Jalen Hurts out of the pocket — he’s the Eagles’ leading rusher with 361 total rushing yards. He’s also been efficient with 10 passing touchdowns against just four interceptions. “You’ve always got to make sure you’re on your toes with this player. Even if it’s a close game, he’s one of those guys that has the potential to pull it off. We have to make sure that we’re all good in that area and understand who he is and what he’s done over his career,’’ Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “The second thing is his ability to run with the ball. You just said it, he has over 350 yards rushing, so we have to be able to contain that and make sure that he doesn’t get out of the pocket.’’

3. Jared Goff has completed 66.1% of his passes but most of them are short, not many downfield. “If you’re not getting those opportunities, you have to figure out other ways to generate explosives. Up until the Cincinnati game, we were one of the top-10 teams in the League in explosive plays,’’ Lynn said. “There are other ways you can generate explosives other than throwing it down the field, but there is something that can back people up a little bit and give us a little more space underneath if we can get that done.”

4. Wide receiver Kalif Raymond has stepped up in recent games with six catches in each of the last two contests. Lynn said he didn’t know much about Raymond before he was signed. “But when we got him in training camp, he’s impressed us from the first day he got here. We were like, ‘Why are the Titans letting him out of there?’ But, he’s done nothing but just make the most out of his opportunities,’’ Lynn said. Keep an eye on him to get even more targets. “Just his route savvy and his ability to get open and he doesn’t let his size come into play at all because he separates so well,’’ Lynn said.

5. Special teams play has been solid but really stood out at the Rams with two fake punts and an onside kick. Teams coordinator Dave Fipp gets much of the credit but he tested positive for COVID-19 this week even though he is vaccinated. While unable to be with the team, Campbell said Fipp has been coaching from home with Jeff Modkins (special teams assistant) and Don Muhlbach (assistant special teams) filling in. “It’s a good core unit, and so they take it serious and they kind of regulate themselves a little bit, too. Like, you can tell there was a little bit more ownership in it like, ‘Alright, look man, Fipp’s not here. Let’s get this right.’ It’s been good. It still stinks, especially this weekend I know for Fipp. I’m sure he would want this, but yet he’s still here in spirit and he’s up there,’’Campbell said.

PREDICTION: Lions 28, Eagles 24

Detroit Lions draft CB Jeff Okudah who says his technique is his best asset

Cornerback was one-year starter at Ohio State

Jeff Okudah, the Lions first-round draft pick, says his best asset is his technique.

“I try to sharpen my sword every chance that I can I get,’’ Okudah said on a media conference call late Thursday night.

The 6-foot-1 cornerback, a one-year starter at Ohio State, was a natural fit for the Lions who had traded away Darius Slay to the Eagles.

Okudah, who is from Texas, was the third overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft on Thursday night following Joe Burrow who went to Cincinnati and Chase Young who was drafted by the Washington Redskins. 

“It was a feeling I can’t explain. All the hard work, finally I’m getting a chance to get my name called. It was really something I’m going to remember forever,’’ Okudah said.

He became the first cornerback that the Lions have drafted in the first round since 1998 when they selected Terry Fair.

“He’s very aggressive at the line of scrimmage. He’ll play with his hands. He’ll stay square. He’s patient. There’s not a lot of panic down field on some of the shots, really good in transition, has good makeup speed,” coach Matt Patricia said on a Zoom call with WJBK-Fox 2. “Just really overall, hard-working, tough kid, loves to tackle and really just loves the game. He loves to work at the game. Loves to just study every single week. He was outstanding with his recall on his opponents and things like that. Just knew that we had a kid that we thought would be a really good player for us.”

Okudah knew the Lions had interest but didn’t know for certain where he would land.

“I wasn’t really sure of anything coming into tonight because I went into the draft with an open mind, I know a lot of things happen on draft night that are out of your control,’’ Okudah said.

He thinks he can be a good fit in the Lions’ defense, which was ranked 31st in 2019, thanks to his background at Ohio State.

“At Ohio State we played a bunch of coverages. We played Cover 1, Cover 3 and some Cover 4,’’ Okudah said. “I think my background of playing a bunch of defenses. I’m pretty confident I can go in there and be able to learn the defense.’’ 

It’s going to be all different this spring with the possibility of no team workouts due to the coronavirus shutdowns. Even training camp and the season are question marks.

He wants to learn from veteran corner Desmond Trufant who was signed by Detroit as a free agent.

“I want to be around him a lot, I want to soak up everything he knows, things he wishes he could have done differently, I want to use his trial and testimonies to maybe avoid going through some of the same things,’’ Okudah said.

He was known at Ohio State as being studious and prepared. 

On SiriusXMNFL when asked if he was ready to be a lock-down corner for the Lions, Okudah said: “It’s definitely a big challenge. I’m just ready to go into that locker room, begin to earn my teammates’ respect and that’ll be the first step. We’ll go from there after that.’’

He can make an immediate impact, but the Lions will have a chance to work him in slowly since they signed Trufant.

Remember, Darius Slay only started four of the 13 games he played as a rookie. He wasn’t Big Play Slay right out of the gate. Obviously it didn’t mean the Lions had given up on him, but rather they gave him time to soak it all in. 

Cornerback is one of the toughest positions to learn in the NFL, but there’s no reason to think that Okudah is not up to the task. 

“It’s a crazy feeling being drafted that high. The Detroit Lions think a lot about me, I think it’s up to me to return that and give them all I have, go to work every single day with my teammates and be the best player I can be,’’ Okudah said.

The Lions will have three picks on Friday night in the second and third rounds — 35th overall (second), 67th overall (third) and 85th overall (from the Eagles.) Friday night’s festivities start at 7 p.m. The fourth through seventh rounds begin at noon on Saturday.