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‘Hard Knocks’ winners and losers: Lions receivers stand out, D’Andre Swift stock dips after Episode 2

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Dan Campbell’s Detroit Lions were back in the spotlight Tuesday night for the second edition of 2022 “Hard Knocks,” HBO’s annual training camp series. After a colorful debut that reiterated Campbell’s penchant for quotable pep talks, how did Episode 2 stack up? Here’s a look at the most notable winners and losers:

Winner: Lions receivers

Former Rams reserve Josh Reynolds, who emerged as a deep threat for Jared Goff late in 2021, got so much separation downfield in practice that Campbell singled him out afterward with not one but two nicknames: “Big Smooth,” and “The Serpent of F—ing Death.” Imagine if the NFL allowed that on his nameplate. On a serious note, Reynolds’ production is a good reminder that the Lions’ WR room as a whole is quite underrated. Rookie Jameson Williams could be a play-maker when healthy, but even without him, Reynolds and D.J. Chark offer a lot of speed opposite possession standout Amon-Ra St. Brown.

No one — not even third-string quarterback David Blough, who fumbled away a potential preseason win — got more flak in Episode 2 than the team’s star running back. Duce Staley, Campbell’s right-hand man, repeatedly touted Swift’s upside as the lead back: “You can be the best in this league, you really can.” But he was frustrated, if not livid, at the former second-rounder even more. First he suggested in coaches’ meetings that Swift lacks the self-confidence, conviction and “dawg mentality” to break out. Then, in their preseason opener, he angrily pulled Swift from the game after two mediocre touches. Swift ultimately rebounded with a score, but no one should be surprised if Detroit keeps leaning on veteran No. 2 Jamaal Williams moving forward.

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If you don’t know the name, you might want to. The bar to stand out in the Lions’ linebacker corps may have been low to start, but the sixth-round Oklahoma State rookie is on the fast track to opening 2022 in the starting lineup. LBs coach Kelvin Sheppard basically challenged him to steal a top job after a fast and physical practice, and then he ripped all of Rodriguez’s fellow ‘backers for failing to match his smarts on the field: “If he’s the better guy, he’s the better guy!”

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Loser: Kevin Durant

Not sure anyone anticipated the NBA superstar catching a stray during a TV show about the Lions, but John Brown, Amon-Ra’s father, cited KD when criticizing athletes who can’t stay healthy: “When’s the last time you did a calf raise?” Dang.

His family may have been a little awkward in their luxury booth during his preseason debut, reacting to his first tackles as if they’d never seen live football before. But it was clear during his limited action that Detroit has itself a man already physically and technically superior to second- and third-team NFL players. If his pass rush works when the real games begin, it’ll be huge.

Loser: David Blough

This is a tough one, considering the emotional toll a preseason fumble took on the backup QB, but you can’t drop a Shotgun snap in a two-minute drill to close a game. Blough himself told teammates in the huddle, prior to the miscue, that their finish in the preseason opener would help set the tone for the season. Fortunately, he seems to have a rock-solid support group, including an encouraging Goff and, more importantly, his beloved wife, hurdler and 2024 Olympic hopeful Melissa Gonzalez. He just might be locked into No. 3 duties behind Tim Boyle.

Winner: Amon-Ra St. Brown

He kinda fits in with the Lions receivers up top, but since St. Brown was a featured player in Episode 2, he deserves a separate nod. It’s apparent this guy, still just 22 and arguably Goff’s favorite target entering the new season, is dedicated to the craft. Not only does he have a solid memory, reciting all 16 receivers who were selected ahead of him in the 2021 draft, but he also revealed he catches 202 passes from the JUGS machine every day. It’s no wonder: his dad, two-time Mr. Universe bodybuilder John Brown, preached nothing but relentless preparation in his airtime.

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