ALLEN PARK — Aidan Hutchinson has done many things to catch the coaching staff’s eyes through his first couple of months with the Detroit Lions. Hutchinson showed up ready for action and to learn from the veterans, then displayed that high-motor mentality on the field from the get.
And while all that is fine and dandy for this time of year. It’s been the rookie defender’s ability to recover and adapt from his whiffs and miscues that stick out to Lions head coach Dan Campbell. Hutchinson got put on his keister on the first day of padded practices by tight end T.J. Hockenson on Monday. He then got bested by prized right tackle Penei Sewell in one-on-one reps.
“Well, the first reaction is — it’s welcome to the NFL,” Campbell said of the Hockenson block. “That’s something he hadn’t seen or he’s not even thinking about that. He’s thinking about — his rear’s up in the air and he’s going to get his best rush against Sewell, and all of a sudden, it’s like, ‘Woah.’
“But that’s — he’s not the first one that’s happened to — a young guy that comes in (and gets pancaked from another direction). And so, he’ll memory bank that and I’m telling you he’ll — it may happen one more time and I bet that’s about it. Because he picks up things pretty quick, but listen, it’s good to see, it really is. He needs that.”
Hutchinson said that his quick recovery is all about carrying the mentality that you’re going to lose reps at this level and against that competition: “If you do lose a rep, you move on, and you get after it the next rep. That’s what I did today, that’s what I did yesterday, that’s what I do every day.”
Hutchinson didn’t get into the specifics of his battles with Sewell. But it’s easy to see how going against a talented player — and group — like that at practice would prepare you ahead of Year 1.
And while the hit from Hockenson and losses to Sewell are the kind of things to gain traction on social media. The rookie had some solid moments on the second day of padded practices. He and veteran Charles Harris collapsed the pocket a couple of times, with Hutchinson saying: “it was one of those unspoken things where we were both kinda playing off each other.”
And if lining up against Sewell or Taylor Decker weren’t enough to welcome him to the NFL. Hutchinson is also seeing work from the inside, with Julian Okwara and others moving to the edge on some looks. That shouldn’t surprise anyone, with defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn previously pointing to Hutchinson’s first year in Ann Arbor when hyping his versatility after the draft.
“Obviously, he can play on the edge, all right,” Glenn said in April. “He’s big enough to go inside on third down and play as a three-technique. And when we’re looking at this guy, the first thing I try to do with each player is, ‘Man, where can I play this player and how can we get this best out of this player and how can we make this player successful?’ And those are some of the things that we thought about — man. He’s a tough, aggressive, violent type of guy that we need. Obviously, we can do a lot of things with this player, so again, we’re excited to have him.”
Campbell has pointed to a potential need for more beef on the defensive line. It’ll be interesting to see how the rotation unfolds when the season rolls around, with a lack of rotational girth in the trenches. Alim McNeill is the top name in the middle, with Michel Brockers, Levi Onwuzurike and others seeing work there too.
Hutchinson’s pass-rush moves have flashed in spots from the inside. On Saturday, he pulled a nice swim move on Sewell while playing from the interior. And while that was before the pads went on, Hutchinson’s speed-power combination, not to mention willingness to take a different approach on each snap, sticks out.
“They’re putting me just about everywhere. So wherever they put me, I’m going to dominate and be the player that I am,” Hutchinson said.
“I haven’t really rushed from the inside until about like — the last time I did it was probably in 2019. It’s been a while for me. I’ve been getting used to it now. Definitely feeling a lot better with it. I would say, as of now, I obviously feel more comfortable on the edge. I’m getting used to just playing everywhere and just being a versatile player.”
Hutchinson also got attention for his rookie rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” He said he picked the song for his rookie hazing moment three days before his performance, “so thank the Lord he didn’t ask me any earlier than that.”
“I wasn’t that nervous. Obviously you’re a little nervous you’ve gotta sing in front of the boys,” he said. “It’s a little weird, but you just gotta embrace it and own it and just know everyone has got to do it. Every rookie damn near has done it.”
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