By: Will Burchfield
It started during minicamp with Marvin Jones, who wore a tinted blue visor on his face mask to hone his ball-tracking skills.
“I like it as a challenge,” he said, “just to keep narrowing my focus.”
And it’s carried into training camp, where a number of Lions receivers are experimenting with eyewear that momentarily obstructs their vision, much like a strobe light.
It’s all in an effort to improve their focus and cut down their mistakes. The Lions dropped 28 passes last season, the third most in the NFL.
“We’re gonna make sure we don’t let some of those opportunities slip by us like we did last year,” said Jim Caldwell on Tuesday, after the Lions’ third practice of training camp.
The biggest culprits last season were Eric Ebron, who had seven drops; Jones, who had six; and Golden Tate, who had four. (The departed Anquan Boldin also had four.) To remedy this issue, Jim Caldwell said the Lions are doing “a little bit of everything.”
“We just keep going. One of the things you can’t do is just say, ‘Hey, you need to get better.’ We have to put in mechanisms and a plan to get better,” said Caldwell.
To that end, the Lions have increased the number of passes each receiver sees in practice. Meanwhile, when the receivers are playing catch amongst themselves, typically indoors, they’ve taken to wearing these special lenses.
Caldwell called them “flashing glasses.”
“They cut off your vision for a moment and then reignite where you can see. Makes you really concentrate a little harder,” said Caldwell.
For the receivers, it’s like trying to track a pass through a venetian blind that’s constantly opening and closing.
Caldwell said some of the guys have used the glasses before, but more of them are getting involved this year. They’ve yet to bring the challenge outside during practice.
As to what impact he’s seen so far, Caldwell said it’s too early to tell.
“We’ll wait and see, the proof is in the pudding. When we get to the point when we’re dropping maybe one pass every eight or nine days, then I’m gonna tell you it’s working for us,” he said.
To a degree, the Lions’ rash of drops last season was an aberration. Though Ebron has shown shaky hands in his young career, neither Jones nor Tate had dropped more than three passes in a single season prior to 2016. There is likely some positive regression in store for both of them.
But Caldwell and receivers coach Robert Prince aren’t banking solely on track records. They’re looking for every edge they can find to ensure that the Lions’ pass catchers fulfill their role in earnest in 2017.
It usually isn’t much that separates a catch from a drop. A receiver might pick up the ball a split-second too late. He might jump a split-second too soon.
Sharpening one’s sensory skills, even to the slightest degree, can make all the difference.