Lions using special glasses to curb drops

Lions linebackers Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Steve Longa get ready to mix it up during the first practice in pads. AP Photo/Paul Sancya

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Some thoughts, notes and observations from the third day of Detroit Lions training camp -- the first day the team could wear full pads.

1. Lions using glasses to help catching: Drops have been an issue for the Lions for years. Some of that has to do with the velocity that Matthew Stafford throws with and the adjustment time it takes for new receivers to catch on to the speed. But some of it has to do with concentration, and to fix that, some Lions pass-catchers have begun using glasses that momentarily cut off vision before bringing it back to assist in concentration.

“Some guys have used them before,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “Using a few more this year.”

Caldwell said he’ll see if the glasses work -- it’s still too early to figure that out. He said they usually have been using them indoors when throwing the ball around, but have yet to bring them out to practice. He described them kind of like “shutters, kind of like a blinking, flashing, shuts it off.”

The Lions are trying to do anything possible to improve on a 5.7 percent drop rate from last season, tied with the Jets for the second-worst in the league.

2. Theo Riddick looks OK: Yes, he can’t get hit as he’s wearing a red no-contact jersey. And yes, it was the first day of pads, so there was a feeling-out process there. But Riddick looked sharp in his cuts in team drills Tuesday, a good sign for the Lions that their pass-catching running back is making progress in his return. Of course, it wasn’t his legs that were the issue last season but his wrists. I didn’t see him catch any passes Tuesday, but he didn’t have any thrown his way during team drills that I saw. The Lions are likely to bring Riddick along slowly, but his cutting and elusiveness appear to be intact.

3. A good start for familiar names: The Lions are hurting at defensive end. Four ends -- Ezekiel Ansah, Cornelius Washington, Armonty Bryant and Jeremiah Valoaga -- didn’t practice Tuesday. That opened up some opportunities for other players to get some reps , and two players stood out in individual work. Anthony Zettel, who is entering his second year out of Penn State, received a good amount of first-team work and also had strong reps in the one-on-one drills with the offensive line. Zettel crushed -- I mean, just blew past -- Cyrus Kouandjio during one of the reps to get to the bag. He took a bit of a wide rush lane against Greg Robinson in another rep, but ended up winning the duel. He looks faster, something he acknowledged after practice. Zettel said he lost between 4 and 5 percent of his body fat this offseason, in part because he worked out with a group of NFL players, including Steelers tight end Jesse James, in Pittsburgh this offseason.

“I just got a lot faster, more flexible,” Zettel said. “Running, my takeoff’s a lot better. I think I’m in better shape. ... In the offseason, I do a lot of reaction drills and timing, so it helps.”

Zettel wasn’t completely pleased with his work in the one-on-one drills. He felt he took too wide of a lane and that he needed to engage the offensive lineman more as he blew past him.

The other player who stood out was Brandon Copeland. The Penn product has moved between linebacker and defensive end since signing with the Lions in 2015, and he’s competing for a job at both spots. He could be in the mix at Sam linebacker, but he had two strong reps in the one-on-one drills, beating Nick Becton soundly in one rep and easily moving past tight end Michael Roberts in another.

4. A rough start for Jace Billingsley: One of the darlings of last year’s training camp, the second-year receiver from Eastern Oregon has not been sharp so far this camp. He dropped punts on back-to-back days and has not looked super sharp running routes as a receiver. Considering his making the team this season could be determined in part by whoever wins the returner job, this is not the best look -- particularly when Jared Abbrederis, Keshawn Martin and TJ Jones are back in the returner battle, too. A thing to note here, besides that it’s early in camp, is that Billingsley had a slow start last year as well. By the end of camp, he had worked his way into a practice squad spot. So there’s plenty of time for that to happen again. But it hasn’t been great for him so far.

This and that

Injuries continue to hurt the Lions. Tight end Eric Ebron, safety Tavon Wilson, defensive end Cornelius Washington and right guard T.J. Lang all sat out Tuesday along with reserves Bruce Gaston and Nick Bellore. … At left tackle, Kouandjio and Robinson shared first-team reps during team periods, with Storm Norton handling second-team duties. … Zach Zenner got the first rep during team drills with pads at running back, but neither Ameer Abdullah nor Riddick appeared to get much work in team drills until the last periods of practice. … Team owner Martha Ford was at practice for the third straight day despite the heat.