Inside Allen Park: Rookie Minicamp Observations

Behind the scenes of Day 1 of Lions rookie minicamp.
Detroit Lions running backs coach Scottie Montgomery talks to running back Sione Vaki
Detroit Lions running backs coach Scottie Montgomery talks to running back Sione Vaki / Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK
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The Detroit Lions took the next step in their offseason workout program Friday with the beginning of rookie minicamp.

From Friday through Sunday, the organization is conducting workouts for members of its rookie class as well as tryout players from both the undrafted and free agent ranks. Additionally, certain incumbent members of the roster who spent last year on the practice squad participated.

“Excited about these guys. I do know the undrafted guys, we’re excited about those guys also. I won’t go through all their names. But, this class we’re excited about," said assistant GM Ray Agnew. "They play football the way we want to play. They love the game and they’re passionate about the game. They’re all tough and they’re all competitive.”

It's the first opportunity for the organization to get a look at their prospects in a team setting. They will do so without the presence of their head coach, Dan Campbell, who is away from the team for personal reasons.

Here are observations from inside Allen Park on the first day of rookie minicamp.

Giovanni Manu is being cross-trained, physically stands out

Giovanni Manu stood out immediately upon taking the practice field. At 6-foot-7, Manu cuts an imposing figure. The rookie from the University of British Columbia moves well for his size and has the physical traits to compete right away.

While he may need to work on his technique, the Lions have high hopes for him in the future. Currently, the team plans to cross-train him at both the tackle and guard positions. Manu has previously said he plans to play guard, but Agnew believes he could wind up at tackle eventually.

Should he line up on the outside, he could be an eventual replacement for either Taylor Decker on the left or Penei Sewell on the right side of Detroit's offensive line.

"We cross-train a lot of guys, we'll cross train him guard and tackle," Agnew said. "That's more of a question for Dan (Campbell) and Ben (Johnson) and Hank (Fraley) than me. But we do a lot of that cross-training guard and tackle. But he can do both. He can bend well enough to play guard and he's athletic and long enough to play tackle."

In his first practice, Manu moved well, held his own and showcased his power and ability to leverage opposing defensive linemen.

Learning at this level

The first day of rookie minicamp involved the players getting down to the basics of the installations on both sides of the ball. The offense practiced getting in and out of the huddle, an unheralded aspect of their development as professionals.

During this time period, there were multiple fumbled exchanges. Rookie Sione Vaki put the football on the ground early in practice. Michael Herzog had the ball popped loose, which energized running backs coach Scottie Montgomery. Vaki rebounded and demonstrated solid ball security during individual drills.

Ball security was certainly coached up for the two running backs participating this weekend during individual drills.

“Yeah, I mean he’s a perfect coach for me," said Vaki, when asked about running backs coach Scottie Montgomery. "He’s all about the details, he’s all about executing and then being coachable. He’s someone that’s always gonna tell you the truth. So that’s something I look forward to.”

With Friday marking the first day of rookie minicamp, the sloppiness on the field can be attributed to the players' first time taking the field at the professional level.

Terrion Arnold ready for instant impact

Detroit's top draft pick looks ready to compete and earn a starting cornerback spot.

Fundamentally sound, the first impression of Arnold is that he moves gracefully without many wasted movements. His desire for competition and early bond with Ennis Rakestraw will bode well for both young cornerbacks.

“No question. Those two are gonna compete. I’m sure Rakestraw thinks he’s better, and Terrion thinks he’s better. So they’re gonna compete, which is a great thing for us," Agnew said. "We want competitive nature, we don’t want guys who bow down. We want guys who compete and think they’re gonna win a spot. I think both of those guys feel like they’ll start, but they’ve got their work cut out for them.”

Can Ennis Rakestraw play physical style of football and stay healthy?

While Rakestraw stood off to the side for a portion of his first practice, it begged the question upon first sight of him practicing is can he remain healthy for a full season playing on the outside and playing with a physical style.

Detroit's rookie expressed to reporters his usage the first day may have been limited as part of the team's early plan. He is returning to action after undergoing core muscle surgery at the conclusion of his final collegiate season.

The next opportunity to learn more about Detroit's second-year pick will be organized team activities in a couple of weeks.

7-on-7 work

Case Peterson had more success during 7-on-7 drills than Theo Day, as he successfully connected with tight end Parker Hesse twice and running back Michael Herzog during the first team portion.

Peterson is a tryout player worth keeping an eye on. The 2023 GLIAC Player of The Year has immense arm talent and also offers dual-threat capabilities. He threw for 7,231 yards and added 1,686 on the ground for the Lakers, who went 33-5 in his three seasons as a starter.

BYU tight end Isaac Rex also stood out in this portion, hauling in multiple passes and utilizing his big frame to corral contested catches.

Cornerback Kyler McMichael had a solid punch out of a pass intended for Kaden Davis.

UDFAs to watch

The Lions enticed Illinois slot wide receiver Isaiah Williams to sign with them as an undrafted free agent with a hefty amount of guaranteed money. Though they have one of the league's best slot wideouts in Amon-Ra St. Brown, Agnew hinted that they have plans for Williams.

Though he likely wouldn't usurp St. Brown should he make the final roster, the Illinois product could carve out a role on special teams in the return game. Williams served as a punt returner for the Fighting Illini each of the last two years.

"He's a playmaker," Agnew said. "With the ball in his hands, a playmaker. He was a quarterback in little league but he became a receiver. I think he'll have a great chance (to make the team), he'll compete. Obviously, slot receiver is pretty much sewed up for us, but he'll compete to get a spot. He can return, he can do a lot of things."

Tryout player J.J. Ross had an interception during the team's 7-on-7 drills. The 6-foot-3 cornerback out of Western Illinois could potentially earn one of the remaining open roster spots.

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John Maakaron


John Maakaron has covered Detroit Sports since 2013. Brings a vast array of experience covering the Detroit Tigers, Detroit Lions, Michigan Wolverines, Michigan State Spartans, Detroit Mercy Titans, and Oakland University Golden Grizzlies. John brings a wealth of sports broadcast experience. In 2013, John had the vision to establish the Detroit Sports Podcast Network. Has recorded over 3000 podcasts analyzing Detroit Sports. In 2019, Sports Illustrated Media Group, a historical sports media outlet, partnered with Detroit Sports Podcast to provide daily Lions content for their growing and expanding digital media outlet. Our Lions content can also be read in the newspaper at The Oakland  Passionate about Detroit Sports and it is reflected in his coverage of the local teams!