Lions use big blue ring to help out during linebacker individual drills

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The officials have been here for a while now and Jim Caldwell likes them here for a reason. They help get his team prepared for the season and familiar with varying rules that might change or be bugaboos this time of year.

And the past two days, the flags have flown.

Caldwell doesn’t particularly mind the penalties in practice at this time of year -- at least not publicly. The players aren’t wearing pads. Some are getting acclimated to things for the first time.

“That’s why we practice, and that’s also why we have NFL officials out here to emphasize some of the rules, and it’s not going to be perfect this time of year,” Caldwell said Wednesday. “If it’s perfect, we don’t have a whole lot of work to do, and that’s certainly not the case. Little bit better in some areas.”

Like most teams around the league, at this point the Detroit Lions have a ways to go and a lot to learn before the season starts in September. But with only one minicamp practice left Thursday morning, here’s what stood out Wednesday:

1. Punt returning will be an open competition: The Lions have focused on punt returns the first two days of minicamp, possibly because Ameer Abdullah remains out as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery. And like last season, it’s a pretty open competition. Golden Tate, TJ Jones, Jeremy Kerley and newly-acquired Andre Roberts wtook turns taking returner reps Wednesday. There’s a chance Abdullah could join them when healthy. Darius Slay jumped back there for a quick rep, but it would be very surprising if the Lions even considered placing him in the competition because his value at cornerback is so high and the Lions have other strong options.

2. Dwayne Washington's hands could be an issue: This is going to be something to watch once training camp rolls around. The rookie has fumbled twice that I’ve seen in his two weeks (and only three totally open days) of practice, even though the team isn’t wearing pads and isn’t tackling. He also dropped an easy pass Wednesday. He’s still getting back into things after missing a good chunk of offseason workouts since classes were still in session at Washington, but the seventh-round pick is in a tight competition to make the team so it’s something to keep an eye on.

3. Damian Copeland had a couple of nice grabs: The play of the day might have come from the second unit, when quarterback Dan Orlovsky hit Copeland on a deep go route along the sideline. Copeland lept up in double coverage to make the reception. On the next play, Copeland juggled and then caught a pass from Jake Rudock. He’s a long shot to make the roster, but the third-year pro from Louisville had a decent day Wednesday.

4. A new practice tool: To be fair, it might have been used before, but this is the first time I can recall seeing the giant blue ring the linebackers used during individual drills to help with tackling. Typically they use a dummy or a sled to work on tackling or shedding blockers, but on Wednesday Lions linebackers coach Bill Sheridan had his players trying to tackle the outside of a ring. Similar rings are used to practice rugby tackling. It was a different drill and something noticeable during the last days before the team checks out for a month or so.

5. Roll call: Stephen Tulloch continues to miss practice, as he’s been excused and is expected to be released at some point. Corey Fuller was not at practice, but was spotted before practice on crutches with his right foot heavily wrapped as he’s recovering from foot surgery. Also not practicing: Abdullah (shoulder), Stevan Ridley (undisclosed), Brandon Pettigrew (knee), Corey Robinson (undisclosed), Stefan Charles (undisclosed), Caraun Reid (undisclosed) and Charles Washington (undisclosed). For the second straight day, the Lions had four tryout players practice-- and the club has decided not to release their names despite two days of practice.