ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions finished the first day of their mandatory minicamp on Tuesday. While the most important thing for the Lions was no new significant injuries to speak of, there were some points that stood out throughout the session.
For the first time this spring, most of them will focus positively on the offense.
This was probably the most balanced open practice Detroit has had this offseason. The offense looked the smoothest it has been during May and June, including one 11-on-11 period when Matthew Stafford completed every pass he threw. For the past few weeks, the offensive players have said it would take time for the timing of the offensive routes to show through. For the first time this spring, it did during an open practice. There were points during last week’s OTA that it looked better, but the Lions had all of their main offensive pieces except for Golden Tate and Joique Bell this practice.
The play of the day was easily something Lions fans have seen over and over again throughout the past five seasons with the Lions. Stafford threw a 50-plus yard pass to Calvin Johnson that resulted in a touchdown during 11-on-11 drills. It was the perfectly thrown ball that has happened often between the two over the years. Johnson beat two defenders -- cornerback Bill Bentley and safety Isa Abdul-Quddus -- on the play.
Play of the Day, Part II: This wasn’t quite as impressive as the all-too-typical Johnson play, but Corey Fuller made a nice sideline grab on a pass from Dan Orlovsky. He had to jump to make the play and corralled the ball while apparently getting both feet down. It was a play a pro wide receiver would make, and Fuller has been spending most of the spring trying to prove he is that.
The player of the day was Johnson. The All-Pro wide receiver looked like his normal self for the first time all spring. He caught essentially everything that was thrown to him throughout the day, ran crisp routes and crushed pretty much all of the Lions defensive backs when he was matched up with them. He was a big part of why the offense looked better than it has all spring.
Jeremy Ross is going to get some playing time at receiver this fall. Sure, Tate was not at practice, but Ross took advantage of yet another opportunity and integrated himself into the offense once again. Lions coach Jim Caldwell also seemed pleased with Ross, who spent the offseason working specifically on pelvic movement, flexibility and cutting to improve his route-running. It seems to have paid dividends thus far. Ryan Broyles got some run with the first team as well.
Following on Ross’ emergence, the same could be said for running back Theo Riddick. The second-year pro out of Notre Dame received a good chunk of first-team reps. Some of those will go to Bell when he returns for training camp, but Riddick has an easy running style and appears to be much more confident than he did last season. He was used sparingly then, but sometimes in key situations. This season, he appears set up for an expanded role if he is prepared for it.
Not surprising, but Don Carey is the leader for the third safety spot. He filled in for Glover Quin when he sat out parts of team drills and is going to end up being an all-purpose defensive back for the Lions this season. He can play either safety spot and also drop down and play nickel as well. His versatility and special teams play was part of why the Lions signed him to an extension this offseason.
I’ll have more on this later this week, but Rodney Austin has spent more time working at center. He did some work there with the first unit on Tuesday and said after practice it is an area he spent a little bit more time on this offseason. He knows being able to play guard and center effectively is a key for securing a roster spot. Also lining up with the first group at times -- at guard -- was third-round pick Travis Swanson.
A rough day for Giorgio Tavecchio in the kicking battle. He missed a couple of field goals, including shanking one after hitting his foot on the ground before he made contact with the ball. After practice, he told me his performance Tuesday was "devastating."
Lions not participating in practice: Tate, Bell (knee), defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (shoulder). Cornerback Chris Houston (toe) was not in attendance. Neither was receiver T.J. Jones (undisclosed). Both, Caldwell said, were excused absences. Houston has not been around the team all spring after having toe surgery. Rob Sims, Dominic Raiola and Quin all also sat out various portions of practice. Talking to Raiola after practice, he seemed fine. Among those returning to practice are linebacker Kyle Van Noy, receiver Kris Durham and tight end Joseph Fauria.