I made the trek to Ford Field for Wednesday’s open practice. The crowd was enthusiastic and about the same size as most Houston Astros games I’ve attended, which means the lower bowl was about 20% full.
–Dan Orlovsky had about as bad a day as a quarterback can have. He threw (picture Lebron counting here…) not one, not two, not three, but four interceptions. Only one of those was a truly nice play by the defender. His balls lack zip, and his elongated and deliberate delivery make him easy pickings.
–One of those picks came at the hands of Ashlee Palmer, who had a strong night. He took the first-team OLB reps over Kyle Van Noy and made the most of it. During blitz drills he won more than he lost, and he snuffed out an edge run by leveraging his inside shoulder and pushing away from the block to get in Joique Bell’s path. I’ve been down on his potential to make the team, but between tonight’s solid effort and his continued good work on special teams, I’m now leaning the other direction.
–Cassius Vaughn made the final pick, staying in perfect position to catch a hanging fade pattern at the front corner of the end zone. He had another good practice, continuing to build on what I saw last week. His physical style at the line is a good schematic fit. He’s clearly ahead of the pack as the third outside corner.
–Bill Bentley dropped two iNTs, one of them from Orlovsky that wound up bouncing right into Golden Tate’s hot little hands for a big gain. Bentley continues to have issues in overreacting to the receiver, but his break to the ball remains a real strength. He saw work both in the slot and outside tonight.
–One of the nice things about going to practices is watching how the players interact on the sidelines. It was great to see Rashean Mathis offering praise and tips between reps. Both Nevin Lawson and Aaron Hester got involved in extended discussions with the hirsute veteran. When Hester broke up the final pass of practice (another hanging end zone pass from Orlovsky), after a quick initial celebration he ran to Mathis and got a hearty chest bump. Leadership.
–I wanted to see more George Johnson, and he delivered once again. He got what would have been a sack in team drills. During position drills, his initial burst really stood out. He was often doing the drills in tandem with either Kris Redding (nondescript) or Devin Taylor, whose calling card is not his speed. Johnson is lightning quick off the snap, but he also showed good feet and the ability to flatten. Of course it was just dummies or fairly stationary teammates. The preseason is going to be huge for Johnson.
–Larry Webster also showed the ability to plant hard, turn the corner and accelerate to the point of attack. He didn’t make much of an impact in team drills, but it’s still encouraging to see his rather rapid development and his impressive athleticism.
–George Winn isn’t going to make the team, but he’s sure putting some positive impressions on his teammates. He ran right over Don Carey like Bo Jackson through Brian Bosworth on an early rep. Winn also showed his muscle in the pass protection drill, though he must learn to keep moving his feet. He never hesitates to attack the hole, and he can bounce off contact effectively.
–Mikel Leshoure also had some impressive reps, building on what Kent Lee Platte and I observed over the weekend. If the offense does indeed mimic New Orleans, he’s more than game for the 40-50 touches he’ll see as the fourth RB. The long speed isn’t there but he’s running with power and confidence. Leshoure is also working with the 1s in all the special teams units, something he hasn’t done in prior years.
–Corey Fuller blew past Chris Greenwood with an outside release, which highlights Fuller’s best and Greenwood’s worst attributes. Fuller’s straight-line speed is fantastic, and he can get to full speed in two steps. Greenwood isn’t stiff, but it takes him time to flip his hips and accelerate to top gear. He’s much better in trail coverage than trying to be physical, which is counter to the way Teryl Austin and his defensive coaches are preaching the game. Yet he made a fantastic play in quickly reading a red zone slant to Tate, jumping in front of him and breaking up a hard strike from Stafford. It’s the kind of play that shows his tantalizing promise. He needs more of those, quickly.
–Ziggy Ansah remains sidelined, though he was with the DL group all night and actively engaged. He put on a little show for the fans in that corner of the end zone, dribbling a football soccer-style impressively. He and Suh were playing catch for a bit, which produced two conclusions: Suh has a pretty darn good arm, and Ansah is unlikely to ever get an interception, even if Orlovsky is the opposing QB.
–Giorgio Tavecchio showed the stronger leg in the kicking battle, but he missed the same 47-yarder that Nate Freese drilled top dead center. I’m still not sold on either kicker, but I do feel better than I did a week ago after seeing them improve. The ball seemed to explode more off Tavecchio’s foot on the Ford Field turf than the Allen Park grass, moreso than the contrast for Freese.
–James Franklin got no reps. In fact, I never saw him with his helmet on. The QBs were easy to spot wearing neon green jerseys made from recycled material. All the fans got a matching towel, which was nice.
–Travis Swanson continues to struggle at center. He botched one exchange and made the QB work extra for a couple others. From my vantage point, it appears he’s not getting the ball up high enough, quick enough. He had three bad ones in Saturday’s practice too.
–Mohammed Seisay made a nice play in separating the ball from the receiver (either Payton or Edwards, I forget which and didn’t write it down) and scooping it up as he chucked him to the ground. He looked surer of himself in coverage tonight, trusting his eyes and reacting quicker. It’s important to note he was facing the 3s almost all night, to keep things in the proper context. Initially I thought it was Jerome Couplin making this play, but I transposed their numbers in my head.
–The fastest guy on the team is either Golden Tate or Steven Miller. I’d love to see them race it out over 60 yards. I’m guessing Miller makes the practice squad as the fifth RB and return man insurance.
–Tahir Whitehead got a lot of run with the 2s. He struggled to get wide enough in coverage and allowed way too much space on the sidelines. He did show good closing speed, but he needs to do that before the ball is caught.
–Jason Jones spent at least half his reps at defensive tackle, including some reps with the first team as Fairley rested. He nicely split a double team, getting up into Corey Hilliard’s inside shoulder and pushing him backwards to clear himself a crease. Jones continues to look very impressive and shows no signs of any lingering knee trouble.
–Darius Slay was wearing #23 instead of #30. I don’t know if it’s permanent.
–Animated defensive line coach Kris Kocurek spent most of practice with his ball cap off. I’ve spent time with him before and seen him several times, and this was the first time I’ve ever seen his hair.
Tags: Aaron Hester, Ashlee Palmer, Bill Bentley, Chris Greenwood, Corey Fuller, Dan Orlovsky, George Johnson, George Winn, Jason Jones, Jerome Couplin, Larry Webster, Mikel Leshoure, Mohammed Seisay, Rashean Mathis, Steven Miller, Travis Swanson