Detroit Lions' Aidan Hutchinson a menace in backfield in debut

Detroit Lions’ Aidan Hutchinson a menace in backfield in debut

Two plays. 

That’s all Aidan Hutchinson needed to bring the crowd at Ford Field to its feet in his first game for the Detroit Lions.

It was second-and-2 on the first drive of Hutchinson’s professional career, when he lined up against All-Pro offensive tackle Jake Matthews. The rookie from Michigan football faked right to the outside, swim-moved back inside and blew by the nine-year veteran.

Before Qadree Ollison knew what happened, he was met in the backfield by Hutchinson and slammed to the turf for a 3-yard loss.

“It was awesome,” Hutchinson said after the 27-23 preseason loss on Friday. “I’m glad I got the opportunities, glad the plays came my way. It’s just my job to make them.” 

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As the crowd roared, Hutchinson did his best Michal Jackson celebration — an ode to his rookie dance that was showcased earlier this week on Hard Knocks — and his welcome-to-the-NFL moment was official.

“I’m just glad I remembered to do it.” Hutchinson joked. “I’m sure that song will stick with me for the rest of my life now, but I’m prepared for that.

“I can buy into it a little bit.”

One drive of a preseason game is too soon to making any sweeping statements about what Hutchinson’s future, but he passed the eye test with flying colors.

Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson on the bench during the second half of the Lions' 27-23 preseason loss to the Falcons on Friday, Aug. 12, 2022 at Ford Field.

With each passing day, as the 2021 Heisman Trophy runner-up gets more put on his plate. And he continues to show his coaches and teammates why he was the No. 2 overall draft pick.

“I’m learning a lot right now, I feel like every practice I’m taking so many strides and am feeling really good every time I touch the field,” Hutchinson said. “I feel like I’m not even close to my ceiling, I have so much more to go and I can see it every day with myself in practice, just learning so much and figuring things out as we go.”

Later on the Lions’ first defensive drive of the game, Hutchinson was at it again.

Marcus Mariota scrambled for a gain of 7 yards, but the play was called back because  of a holding penalty on Matthews that Hutchinson forced as he once again beat the offensive lineman into the backfield.

All of this was after Hutchinson chased Mariota down from behind on the game’s first play when the quarterback got outside the defense’s contain.

Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson (97) celebrates after tackling Falcons quarterback Marcus Mariota (1)  during the first half of a preseason game Aug. 12, 2022 at Ford Field.

On the whole, the defense was suspect. The starters allowed a 12-play, 82-yard touchdown drive in its only action of the day — echoing last year’s group that ranked 29th in yards allowed and 31st in points allowed.

Coach Dan Campbell said from afar, before he looks at the tape, he thought Hutchinson “did some good things.”

On Friday, the rookie showed the ability to get in the backfield, both against the pass and the run. He did so with an array of moves, not just his patented bull rush which dominated the college ranks. 

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Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson tackles Atlanta Falcons running back Qadree Ollison (30) during the first half of a preseason game Aug. 12, 2022 at Ford Field.

“I’m just playing ball, doing what I’ve always done,” Hutchinson said. “I don’t know if I proved anything to myself, obviously I’m at the next level being in the NFL now but at the end of the day it’s what I’ve been doing for a long time.

“So I’m very comfortable and very confident.”

Jeff Okudah’s up-and-down return 

While the starting defense was on the field together for just one series, a select few stayed on the field for most of the first half.

That included the 2020 No. 3 overall pick, Jeff Okudah. The former Ohio State standout played one half of football in last year’s season-opener against the San Francisco 49ers before suffering a torn Achilles, ending his season.

Lions defensive back Jeff Okudah goes through passing drills during the team's first padded practice of preseason camp Aug. 1, 2022 in Allen Park.

Friday was his first live action in 334 days and despite being listed as second-string on the depth chart, when the game began, he was on the field.

“It was surreal to be honest with you, but just a blessing to get back out there with the guys,” Okudah said. “Special moment, same field I got hurt last year and being able to play. It’s been a long journey, so to be able to take that step in the right direction is big today.”

The return was largely positive.

He made his first tackle on Mariota, who got loose for a 10-yard gain on the fifth play of the opening drive. Later, on second-and-10 in the red zone, he made a nice tackle on the edge in run support, forcing a third-and-long.

But it wasn’t without its hiccups, like when KhaDarel Hodge beat him on a “glance” route on the ensuing play, moving the sticks and setting up a first-and-goal.

“I think it was solid, all things considered it was solid,” he said. “I mean for me being a perfectionist, I hate that a receiver caught a ball on me, but it’s definitely something I can look at and build on it.”

Contact Tony Garcia at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @realtonygarcia.

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