Lions LB Derrick Barnes impresses, battles for starting role; camp notes

Lions linebacker Derrick Barnes, a fourth-round pick in 2021, has noticed the game slowing down during training camp and the first two preseason games.

Barnes is looking to win a starting role. So far linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard likes what he sees.

“Derrick Barnes is coming, that’s a real thing. That player is a very explosive, very violent, very strong linebacker. For Derrick it’s always been above the neck, it’s not below the neck. He has everything you’re looking for below the neck,’’ Sheppard said.

“To play stack linebacker at a high level, it takes repetition, you can know the playbook all you want, when things are moving you got to know what you’re keying, what you’re diagnosing and in a matter of 2 or 3 seconds be able to ready and go make plays, that takes time,’’ Sheppard said. “And It’s my job as his coach to put him in as many situations as I can possibly do to prepare him for that. That player is a player that I am very pleased with.’’

Sheppard said he wasn’t telling the media anything he had not shared with his players.

As a rookie Barnes played in all 17 games with six starts last season. He finished with 67 tackles (36 solo) and two sacks.

Barnes said he came in during the spring OTAs with a focus on learning the playbook and now hopes to go out and execute. He appreciates the coaches who push him and all the guys in the linebackers room.

“Just the way he coaches, techniques for linebackers to work on, Just the mental aspect like he’s really big on that,’’ Barnes said after Thursday’s camp practice. “That’s helped me out a lot, helped me understand more about football, not only just going out and hitting somebody. Just the route concepts and what the offense is trying to do to the defense.’’

Barnes and rookie Malcolm Rodriguez are pushing each other.

“That’s what the whole room is about, competition. Malcolm is really advanced for how young he is. We learn from each other, he’s a good player and pushes me to be better, that goes around for the whole room,’’ Barnes said.

Backup QB position still open

Coach Dan Campbell wants to see either Tim Boyle or David Blough step up win the backup quarterback position. Both took reps during Thursday’s practice in preparation for Sunday’s preseason game at the Pittsburgh Steelers. 

“I think what we need, is we need somebody to really take the reins, somebody needs to step up out of the two. I thought they both progressed last week,’’ Campbell said.  “Somebody needs to step up and run this offense, play efficient, play smart, take care of the football, get us first downs and when we get to the red zone score touchdowns for us.’’

Campbell said Boyle is likely to get the start on Sunday and will play with the starters. Blough started the second preseason game, a win at the Colts.

Jared Goff started the preseason opener. He will not play on Sunday no matter how much he pleads with Campbell to get playing time. He was at camp on Thursday, but didn’t throw during the team drills.

Returners named

Kalif Raymond will be the punt returner with Godwin Igwebuike returning kicks, according to Campbell on Thursday.

“At the end of the day in the preseason what you’re looking for is guys making explosive plays,’’ special teams coach Dave Fipp said.

“The good news for us is that there are a lot of positions on this roster that are really competitive. I think kick returning stuff is definitely one of those. We’ll see what happens in the last preseason game,’’ he added.

For returners there’s no way to know how much work they might get in the preseason games. It just depends on the flow of the game.

“I would say at the end of the day you only get a handful of reps for punt return, kick return,’’ Fipp said. “You don’t know how many times they’re going to punt the ball. We’ve punted the ball three times in two games. So if you’re playing against us and their returner got three looks, who do you put in. … There’s really no right way to do it.’’

Fipp said he values tape of past regular season games to spot a returner’s strengths.

Lions players run practice without coaches; Hutchinson continues to impress

In a new training camp twist, the Lions took the field for practice on Monday afternoon without the coaches. Head coach Dan Campbell was in on the action but otherwise no coaches. It was all on the players for the short practice.

Campbell informed the players on Monday morning that they would be running practice.

“We come out here and work everyday so we know what to do. … you don’t need anybody in your ear to come out here to do your work and get better,’’ left tackle Taylor Decker said afterward.

Starting with drills, it seemed organized and took a few minutes to realize there were no coaches on the field.

“I think them doing that shows there is already an established level of trust between players and coaches and obviously players and players,’’ Decker said. “They trust us to come out here and work like professionals and not be stupid. … I’ve said it multiple times before and throughout camp there’s been a good atmosphere established for open communication and I feel that builds trust in one another.’’

On Tuesday at 6 p.m. Campbell and his staff have planned a full-padded practice as the coach describes it as Detroit against Detroit.

Hutch marches on

As training camp winds down for the Lions this week, one constant has been the play of rookie defensive end Aidan Hutchinson.

“Hutch, he’s a pro already. The way he studies and works. We had a play we ran today (in the walk-through) that he has never seen before. He goes, ‘Our offense does this.’ I said, ‘We’re not playing our damn offense. then we re-run it and he gets it right away,’’ Lions defensive line coach Todd Wash said on Monday.

“So it’s amazing how well he can pick stuff up, he does not make a mistake, not even usually the first time. It’s a credit to him, he studies, takes care of his body. And probably more important, he’s just a great human being who fits in extremely well,’’ the coach added.

When asked to get into more detail about Hutchinson, Wash couldn’t pass up an opportunity. 

“I think it’s coaching, he’s really finally bought in,’’ Wash said laughing.

 “It’s the way he studies, he’s constantly in his ipad. I can’t say enough about him. We got the right one.’’

Hutchinson, who played at Michigan, was the No. 2 overall draft pick in April and has earned praise since Day One for his work ethic and football IQ.

He was the focus of much of the opening edition of “Hard Knocks” on HBO. The third “Hard Knocks” will air at 10 p.m. on Tuesday.

Final preseason game

While Campbell said the starters will play about a half in Sunday’s third and final preseason game, quarterback Jared Goff will not play. Goff had talked his way onto the field for the preseason opener, but Campbell is staying firm on this and said he will not let Goff talk him into it.

Campbell said David Blough and Tim Boyle are “neck and neck” in the battle for the backup quarterback position.

Roster cuts upcoming

Each NFL team must cut its roster to 80 by 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 23.

The big cutdown to the 53-man roster  is due at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 30.

Jared Goff’s conviction to play and more from Lions’ 27-23 preseason loss

DETROIT — Perhaps more was learned about Jared Goff from what happened in the days prior to the game than the 10 plays he was on the field on Friday night.

Coach Dan Campbell was going to keep the quarterback out, but when Goff found out the offensive line starters were in, that is where he wanted to be.

“I didn’t want those guys out there without me,’’ Goff said following the 27-23 preseason loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

Goff and the offensive starters played the opening drive which was capped off by a 9-yard touchdown run by D’Andre Swift.

“I will say this about Goff. I was proud of him. We didn’t intend to play him. He came into my office and said, ‘I want to play.’ And I said, ‘You’re not playing.’ He said, ‘If they’re playing, I’m playing.’ So I said, ‘OK.’ I appreciate that about him,’’ Campbell said, noting that he liked Goff’s conviction.

Except for a scratchy throat, Goff was healthy. Campbell was just going to let him rest.

Starting left tackle Taylor Decker said he was fired up when he heard that Goff wanted to play. 

Goff went 3 of 4 for 47 yards on that drive.

“He went out there and ran the offense. That’s really what you’re looking for in your ‘ones’. You want to see them play fast and efficiently down the field and score a touchdown,’’ Campbell said.

The five offensive line starters never got a chance to play one game together due to injuries last season so they were happy to be out there together.

Decker said he thinks the line played with a bit of swagger. He attributed it to open communication and comfort playing with each other.

Backup quarterbacks: Tim Boyle (9 of 16, 111 yards) got off to a rocky start on his first drive but the offense scored a field goal and he passed to Devin Funchess for a touchdown during his time on the field. Early in the third quarter he threw an interception, giving Atlanta the ball on Detroit’s 15, but the Falcons had to settle for a field goal.

David Blough made his case to be the No. 2 quarterback when he came out hot – passing for 26 yards on his first throw and leading the offense down the field for a field goal late in the third quarter. He was 6 of 9 for 59 yards on that drive along with a 9-yard keeper.

More impressive were his pair of fourth down passes on a drive in the fourth quarter that ended in a field goal. A fumble and loss with two minutes left ended the game for him but overall it was a good performance. He finished 18 of 28 for 141 yards.

“I’m not displeased with those guys at all,’’ Campbell said of Blough and Boyle.

Hutchinson debuts: Of course, all eyes were on rookie defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson. The Michigan product did not disappoint. On his first two snaps he had back-to-back tackles, the second one for a 2-yard loss. 

“It was awesome. I’m glad I got the opportunities and plays came my way,’’ said Hutchinson who finished with two tackles.

“Obviously no game is perfect. I was out there for a few plays, I’ve got to clean some things up.’’

The music: “Billie Jean” was played at Ford Field late in the second quarter while Metallica’s “No Leaf Clover” was blared over the speakers to start the fourth quarter. Both songs figured prominently in the first episode of HBO’s Hard Knocks. Hutchinson was shown singing the Michael Jackson hit and Campbell quoted from “No Leaf Clover” speaking to the team.

Next up: Friday night was Lions’ only preseason home game. Next they’re on the road at Indianapolis on Aug. 20 (1 p.m.) and at Pittsburgh on Aug. 28 (4:30 p.m.) Detroit’s regular season opener is on Sept. 11 at Ford Field against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Lions were 0-3 in preseason in 2021 with two of those games at Ford Field.