Detroit Lions: Dominic Raiola

BAGSHOT, England – The Detroit Lions found out about this trip around a year ago, and when they did, they began to plan. In the interim, the Lions changed coaching staffs, but most of that didn’t matter when it came to the off-field logistics.

It started with a lot of advance scouting and preparations. Lions team president Tom Lewand estimated there were three trips taken to England to scope out facilities in helping the team choose their hotel. The Falcons had the first choice and chose The Grove in Hertfordshire, England; Detroit picked the Pennyhill Park Hotel and Spa. Then it took time to understand all the potential issues they might face.

While that was happening, they were also doing research into how different teams went about this trip before them, from where they stayed to when they traveled and more.

It’s why Detroit traveled Monday night instead of making the trip later in the week, as other teams playing in London have done. Being in the same spot for so long – and in facilities they deemed top-notch – has given this week a similar feel to a training camp, yet a few thousand miles away.

Caldwell
Caldwell
Lions coach Jim Caldwell tried to think of everything. The team collected the passports of players last week and checked on passport statuses of players they brought in for tryouts, so there was no chance of a player forgetting theirs or not having one. Caldwell spoke with sleep specialists and members of the military about the best way to fight off jet lag from the five-time-zone difference the Lions faced when they arrived Tuesday. He specifically spoke with military members because they travel often with quick turnarounds.

“Everything that we talk about, it’s on [the players’] iPads, so they have the information right there readily available to them,” Caldwell said. “And then we also had a sleep specialist that came in and talked to them about what they should do, what they should do on the trip, what these first three days are like, things of that nature to try to make certain that you’re in the best possible shape you can be in, from a rest standpoint.”

Caldwell said that while he did not talk to the team about the Ebola virus because they were flying on a private charter, his medical personnel were aware of it because “obviously, it’s a national issue right now, so it’s not something that you just kind of turn your back on.”

So everything was covered.

The Lions made sure the typical conveniences of their Allen Park, Michigan, facility were also evident – including having a pingpong table and video game systems with FIFA Soccer available. These two things are staples in the team’s player’s lounge in America.

Whitehead
“A few guys brought their systems,” linebacker Tahir Whitehead said. “So even if they didn’t have that accessible to us, we were still going to play some games. But it’s really helped a lot.”

To aid this, the Lions did what many businesses do in shipping things from Europe or Asia to North America. They put some of their equipment and supplies on a ship months ago and sent it across the Atlantic Ocean.

“A lot was office equipment,” Lions team president Tom Lewand said. “We’ve got to set up an office here. Network equipment we had to send over, servers and that kind of thing. And some of the things like athletic tape, supplies.

“It was really supply-based, that we knew didn’t have expiration dates and had longtime items we could plan through. So a lot of it was both office and football equipment-based.”

That includes, somewhat surprisingly, paper. The typical 8-by-11 sheets the Lions use are not the most commonly-used size in England, according to Lewand.

Raiola
With the office set up and the Lions turning conference and banquet rooms into different meeting rooms around the Pennyhill Park complex, it in some ways feels like home, even though it clearly isn’t.

“I could stay here all week,” Lions center Dominic Raiola said. “I haven’t even been to the spa yet. It looks sweet, though.”

The spa was one of the bigger benefits to staying at their hotel, which is also the training ground for the English national rugby team. So the facility has all the benefits for elite athletes, which has helped in their preparation.

“They have hot tubs over there, cold tubs, obviously massages, saunas and steam rooms,” Lions running back Reggie Bush said. “All those different things. I try to spend quite a bit of time over there.”

Mathis
Players also marveled at the size of the rooms and cornerback Rashean Mathis said he’d consider vacationing at the hotel another time.

Often, hotel rooms in big cities such as London and New York are small. The Lions have spacious facilities -- and Ndamukong Suh and C.J. Mosley have two-floor rooms to themselves. Raiola said he has a huge tub and heated floors in his bathroom.

It feels more like an apartment than a random hotel room in the middle of a city.

But it is not actually home.

“It’s not Union Lake,” Raiola said. “But it’s all right. It’ll do.”
BAGSHOT, England -- Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola was asked about the royals on Wednesday afternoon and in the land of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles, it can be a confusing question for an American.

“I looked it up this morning, just to see who won,” Raiola said.

Wait, what? Raiola thought reporters were talking about the Kansas City Royals, the team that lost Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night. Instead, though, Raiola was being asked if he was following much of the drama around the royal family, which make headlines in Great Britain regularly.

“Hell no,” Raiola said. “I don’t know what’s going on. Our cab driver was talking about Prince Harry and how crazy, I guess the Queen was in town because the flag was out last night. [The cab driver said] like this flag is out which means the Queen is staying there.”

In England, though, following the royal family is as much of a gawking sport as celebrity-watching is in the United States and some Lions spent their first day in the country as tourists.

Some Lions traveled into central London, even if their hotel is about 75 minutes away from the city in Bagshot, England. Punter Sam Martin and tight ends Joseph Fauria and Eric Ebron all sent pictures in front of Big Ben to their Instagram followers.

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A photo posted by Eric Ebron (@ericebron) on


Running back Reggie Bush went into the city, by driver, for a late dinner with his wife, Lilit, at Nobu. Tahir Whitehead's anniversary is tomorrow, so he is planning on heading into London to have dinner with his wife then.

But for many Lions who have not been overseas before -- Bush is well-traveled, as is Ndamukong Suh, who recounted prior trips to London as among his most fun vacations -- this is a completely different experience.

“The impression from other people that I’ve been talking to who actually spent more time down there (Tuesday), they really enjoyed it, did a lot of sightseeing and did some shopping,” Bush said. “I think the big thing was taking the train down into London, a lot of guys did that yesterday.

“So they really enjoyed that part of it. I think everybody has been enjoying it so far.”
BAGSHOT, England -- It has been almost half the season already, but Reggie Bush insists the Detroit Lions are still learning.

When trying to understand why a running game featuring two backs who were considered among the best tandems in the NFL a year ago have been moving in neutral, he looked at the new scheme the Lions are putting in and the time it is taking to learn it.

Bell
Bush
Bush
The learning process and struggles with a running game that could take more of a hit if right tackle LaAdrian Waddle misses time with his concussion, is a bit of an enigma. It won’t help, either, that the Lions’ top three tight ends all didn’t practice Wednesday due to injury.

“It’s getting into a rhythm, into a flow with this new offensive system,” Bush said. “We’re still kind of learning and I’m not at all worried. I wouldn’t want to run behind any other offensive line, just going back to what we did last year, we have the guys here.

“We have what it takes to get it done and it’s just a matter of getting into a rhythm. We’ve had some injuries, too, and that’s obviously hurt us a little bit. We’re getting there. Nobody is worried, it’s not a time to panic, but it is a time for a sense of urgency.”

It may not be a worry, but it should be a viable concern.

A season ago, the Lions had a 1,000-yard rusher in Bush, had Joique Bell with over 500 yards rushing and had numbers in the middle of the pack, mostly because both Bush and Bell were used as receiving threats as well.

Both were averaging at least 3.9 yards a rush (Bush 4.5, Bell 3.9) and were talked about as one of the top tandems in the NFL.

This season, though, they have plummeted. Neither Bush (3.5) nor Bell (3.3) have come close to Jim Caldwell’s goal of four yards a carry. And as a rushing offense, they have been unable to move the ball. Detroit is ranked No. 31 in the NFL in rushing yards a game (82.43) and yards per rush (3.12).

The Lions are also tied for 28th in first downs rushing, with 31, although of the four teams they are tied or ahead of, three have winning records, including Denver.

“The scheme is good,” center Dominic Raiola said. “It’s a matter of one person breaking down here or one person breaking down here. Especially in the run game, all six have to go. We just have to be in sync. No one can go rogue. No one can go off schedule.

“We have to be on schedule all the time for it to go.”

The running issues are more than just the offensive line, though. With the new offensive scheme brought in by Joe Lombardi, some of the blocks have changed from what they were a season ago in both the run game and the screen game -- both of which involve the running backs heavily.

Raiola wouldn’t say exactly what has changed in the way they block this year, only that there are differences.

And Caldwell isn’t blaming one area of the offense when it comes to the Lions’ run struggles. He’s looking at the whole operation of it.

“We just haven’t been as consistent as we’d like,” Caldwell said. “We haven’t blocked consistently well enough. We haven’t run it consistently well enough with the ball in our hands. There’s a number of different things.

“The blocking includes not only linemen, not only tight ends, the lead back or whomever it might be, but then also on the flanks as well, the receiving corps. So all of it, we’re constantly in an evaluation mode with trying to find out what suits us best in terms of what we do best. That’s been the struggle, so we just have to stay after it.”
[+] EnlargeMatt Prater
Carlos Osorio/AP PhotoMatt Prater, the Lions' newest kicker this season, went 1-of-3 on field goals Sunday at Minnesota.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Another week, another round of questions and a vote of confidence from Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell about his kicker.

At least this time, he has years of statistical evidence to back up that confidence.

Caldwell and the Lions would rather not be answering kicking questions again after a 17-3 win against Minnesota on Sunday, but Detroit is bordering on historic failures when it comes to making field goals. Matt Prater -- the third kicker the Lions have had in six weeks -- went 1 of 3 on his field goals at gusty TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday leading to ugly stats and more issues.

"Wind like we had today had an issue," Caldwell said. "He kicked a 52-yarder, which was great, and we have all the confidence in the world in him. The guy's got a great track record and we feel good about him."

They can't, though, feel good about their kicking game. This is a unit that has missed 10 field goals this season, currently at 5 of 15 through six games. Last season, no team missed more than nine throughout 16 games.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Lions are also the first team since the Cleveland Browns in 1981 to miss 10 field goals in their first six games. Only three Lions players – center Dominic Raiola, cornerback Rashean Mathis and long snapper Don Muhlbach -- were alive when that happened.

Even more jarring: Ten Lions players were born in 1991 or later, meaning they could have been a decade away from being alive.

As for the Lions' latest kicking conundrum, Prater had not kicked since last season's Super Bowl and had spent the first five weeks of the 2014 unable to play due to suspension.

So he expected to be a little bit off -- but not as rough as he was Sunday, where he missed a 50-yarder wide left and clanged a 44-yarder off the left upright and out.

“Yeah, but not like that,” Prater said. “I didn’t hit it as well as I should have.”

The 44-yard miss dropped the Lions to 0-for-7 this season on field goals between 40 and 49 yards. Consider, entering Sunday, 20 teams were perfect this season from the same distance and every team made at least 50 percent of those kicks except Philadelphia, who had not attempted one from that yardage, and Detroit according to ESPN Stats & Information.

While it is unlikely the Lions shift away from Prater at this point -- he's too established and has too good a track record -- there is at least a little bit of reason for concern considering Detroit’s kicking history this season.

Plus, unlike some of the other misses by his predecessors Nate Freese and Alex Henery, the Lions still won Sunday.

“I’m supposed to make them, so I’m upset with my performance today,” Prater said. “But I’m glad we got the win.”
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The past two weeks, the games have been changing and for the Detroit Lions, it has caused some issues when it comes to protecting on the offensive line.

Both the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills varied the tempos of their pass rush with their fronts and in doing so, it has forced the Lions to be on different levels in the pocket. This has caused the issues blocking for Matthew Stafford.

[+] EnlargeJulius Peppers
AP Photo/Paul SancyaThe Lions have given up 17 sacks this season -- the second most by any team in the NFL.
Consider Sunday, when the Bills sacked Stafford six times, hit him four others and according to Pro Football Focus, hurried him seven times. No quarterback will be able to do much under that type of pressure, let alone someone playing without his best receiver and top two running backs.

“It was somewhat unorthodox, just the way they played it was weird,” right guard Larry Warford said. “They just got us on different levels. One lineman was playing the game really, really fast as far as penetrating and the other was slow-tempoing it down.

“It’s a great way to run it. It gets us on different levels. I can’t get back in the protection early because I’m getting held up with someone who is playing slow. That was kind of an issue, but it was nothing that is unfixable.”

It is, Warford said, the second week in a row Detroit has seen the varying tempo changes in a defensive front. It is something the Jets are known for, however, and part of their overall unpredictability. Buffalo, which plays a 4-3 instead of the 3-4 the Jets use, also mixed up the speeds and it led to the issues.

The Jets sacked Stafford four times and hit him seven.

Most defensive lines, Warford said, rush at similar tempos throughout the season.

Still, the Lions have now allowed 17 sacks through five weeks, almost as many as they allowed in all of the 2013 season, when they allowed 23. Right now, Stafford is being sacked 8.3 percent of the time he drops backto pass – second-worst in the league to Jacksonville.

The more damning statistic, though, might be with how teams are reaching Stafford. He’s only been blitzed 16.2 percent of the time in 2014 -- second-fewest in the NFL. Yet defenses have been exposing the Lions offensive line time and time again.

“Maybe they saw something in the previous games of me turning a certain way or whatever,” Sims said. “I have to look on the film and find out whatever it is. Little adjustments, it’s a totally different deal.

“We just got to go back and figure out exactly what it was because I could say there’s three times where we got hit on a game and it wasn’t quite right. You’ve got to be perfect in this league.”

Right now, the Lions offensive line is far from it. Even with Detroit playing with the same five linemen -- Riley Reiff at left tackle, Sims, Dominic Raiola at center, Warford and LaAdrian Waddle at right tackle -- were still unable to block well enough to protect Stafford.

According to Pro Football Focus, Reiff has allowed two sacks. Raiola, Sims and Warford have allowed one each. The combination of Cornelius Lucas and Garrett Reynolds, who played right tackle in place of Waddle, surrendered five.

Part of it, Warford said earlier in the week, is Detroit’s new scheme that calls for routes taking longer to develop meaning the pocket must be held for longer. But that is just part of the issue.

“It’s setting the same level as far as the offensive line goes,” Warford said. “It’s not unfixable.”

It can be fixed and the Lions have shown the potential is there. But right now, it does classify as a problem.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- He has been everywhere for the New York Jets since he was drafted in the second round in 2007.

[+] EnlargeDavid Harris and Matt Forte
AP Photo/Bill KostrounJets inside linebacker David Harris, left, has had at least 100 tackles in every season he's been in the NFL except for 2008.
Too often if the Jets needed a play, they'd look to their inside linebacker, David Harris, to be the one to make it.

Harris has had at least 100 tackles every year he has been in the league except for 2008, when he had 76 after playing just 11 games. Other than that, he's played in every game of his career and has 775 career tackles in the regular season with 25.5 sacks, six interceptions and eight forced fumbles.

It is the way New York uses him -- and the rest of the Jets front seven -- that makes him even more dangerous.

"That's one of the geniuses of what they do," Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. "It's hard to get any kind of tendency on this defense."

With no tendencies to really go on, it leaves more on the players to understand others, and that is something Harris does well. As the Lions explain below, Harris' instincts are what stand out most.

Center Dominic Raiola: "He's a complete player. In baseball, they have five-tool players. Well, he's one of those five-tool players in football. He's got everything. Smart, physical, fast, quick, instinctive. He's a guy you have got to account for."

Safety James Ihedigbo (former teammate of Harris'): "He'd led the team in tackles all eight years he's been there. He's a smart, great football player who is underrated at his position. He's a guy that makes a lot of plays and our offense is going to account for him."

Lombardi: "You can tell he's a super smart player. Everything they do defensively and the things he is able to do, it's always those smart guys that give you a lot of problems. He's just an all-around linebacker. Can rush the passer well. Plays the run well and covers well."

Left guard Rob Sims: "A professional, man. He does everything right. Very instinctive. Those guys are the guys that are hard to play. He just reads the plays. He's smart, beats you to the spot sometimes because he knows what you're doing. There's a couple guys in the league who are like that. He's one them. [Stephen] Tulloch is like that, A.J. Hawk has shown signs of that, that smart, silent, instinctive player that can make the plays."

Quarterback Matthew Stafford: "He just seems to be a very intelligent player. He obviously has all the physical tools. He's big. He's fast. He can run and hit and all that, but he seems to be very smart and instinctive. Helps everybody on that defense get lined up and seems to be in the right place at the right time."
Ten(ish) Questions With... is a weekly series where we chat with a Detroit Lions player or coach about whatever. Sometimes it’ll be football related. Sometimes it’ll be about their dogs or something completely different. Want to hear from a particular subject, send an email to Michael.rothstein@espn.com.

Previous Ten(ish) Questions With...: Nevin Lawson; Golden Tate; James Ihedigbo; Jerome Couplin; The entire series.

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Dominic Raiola continues to somewhat defy expectations of a 35-year-old, which is essentially ancient in the NFL.

Even he seems amazed at his longevity, and that is part of this week’s Ten(ish) Questions With... discussion -- along with what he fears, what his kids mean to him and how he is perceived.

Raiola
Finish this sentence, what scares me the most is...

Dominic Raiola: Nothing.

Nothing scares you? Ever?

Raiola: Nah. I don’t get scared. I’m scared of God. That’s what scares me the most. God. You can put that down. That’s just my belief, you know. That’s the most scary thing I come across.

Has that evolved over the years, either not fearing anything or fearing God?

Raiola: Yeah, there’s not many more things I can go through that can scare me. I’ve been through everything.

What’s been the best moment of your life?

Raiola: Just every day, being around your family. That’s the best.

So what’s it like when you come home every day?

Raiola: A bunch of chaos. It’s fun, though. It makes doing this rewarding. That’s my reward at the end of the day. I get to go home and see my family.

What’s the worst moment in your life?

Raiola: My life? That’s a tough one. I don’t know. Worst? That’s hard, because life is, I guess sending my kids out into this crazy world. That sucks, you know. How this world is, that’s horrible.

The first day you sent them to school, was that hard for you?

Raiola: Not really, because we trust where we send them to school so it wasn’t that hard.

When you look at your life now, where do you see yourself in 25 years?

Raiola: I see myself hopefully healthy, going to see my kids play somewhere, whether that be my daughter or my boys.

You mention your kids a lot. How much did they change you?

Raiola: Oh, all of them, my kids and my wife, they just humbled me. Just to know what they give me and what they bring me. It’s a humbling feeling to know how special they are and how much they mean and how much they mean to me.

What’s the biggest misconception about you?

Raiola: Ahhh, I don’t know. There’s probably a bunch. I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s like this anymore, but people think I don’t care. Or that I care too much. That might be it.

What do you mean by that?

Raiola: That maybe I take everything I do too seriously that it is such a big letdown.

If you could go back to your rookie year, what would you tell yourself?

Raiola: Ha. I wouldn’t think I’d still be playing. Shoot, honestly, I took it contract-by-contract, and I really mean that when I say that.

Do you ever look back sometimes and say I’m still around, I’m still here?

Raiola: I’m still playing. I guess if you told me I’d be playing for 14 years, first I’d be saying that you’re crazy. I’d say you’re crazy that I’m playing better now than I’ve done in the past.
DETROIT -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Detroit Lions' 35-14 victory.
  • Prior to the game, the Lions honored their late owner, William Clay Ford Sr., with a speech from actor Jeff Daniels, a video and the signing of "Anchors Aweigh." After the game and the Lions' win, Martha Ford, the wife of the late Ford Sr., and their children all emerged with game balls given to them by coach Jim Caldwell. He said he did it to "honor Mr. Ford and his passing."
  • Hilliard
    Corey Hilliard stepped into the lineup at right tackle after the first series, when starter LaAdrian Waddle went down with a calf injury. It felt like dj vu to Hilliard: Last season he lost a tight battle to Jason Fox at right tackle and then Fox went down in the opener, giving Hilliard a shot. "It's scary how weird that is," Hilliard said. He was also limping in the locker room after the game, but said he's "all right," and that he just twisted himself.
  • Typically after wins, the Lions have had music blaring in the locker room to celebrate. Not Monday night with Caldwell. "New day," Lions center Dominic Raiola said as to why the team didn't have the massive speakers and music going after their win over the Giants.
Question of the Week is a weekly feature here in which we take a cross-section of opinions from Detroit Lions players and coaches (and sometimes opponents) about a singular topic. Most of the time, they have nothing to do with football. Have a suggestion for a question? Email: michael.rothstein@espn.com.

Previous Questions of the Week: First football memory; Who makes players laugh; Ten years from now ...; Rookie nerves; Exciting offseason activity.

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Summer is over. Football is starting. This could also mean remembering first jobs, many of which came over summers when school was out.

(If you're curious, my early jobs included camp counselor, bus boy and Blockbuster Video employee).

What about the Lions? What did they do for their first jobs when they were younger, before they started playing in the NFL?

That was this week's Question of the Week.

Wide receiver Corey Fuller: Like real, paid job? This. I volunteered one summer when I was at Virginia Tech at the YMCA with kids as a summer camp but that was it.

Reporter: So you never had a job in high school?

Fuller: I couldn't. My parents wouldn't let me. They wanted us in sports so we could go to school and go to college, you know what I mean.




Vaughn
Cornerback Cassius Vaughn: My first ever job? I used to work at my dad's grocery store when I was 10 or 11. I made an allowance, it wasn't no real job, job, but it was a family thing, you know. Vaughn's Grocery and Deli. We closed it down and moved on to bigger and better things, man.




Center Dominic Raiola: Football. I'm serious. NFL. My job was working out. For real. I had a summer fun job, but that wasn't fun. It was, I actually got fired after one day. It was field maintenance at Nebraska so we did this field maintenance on the track field. We were edging and it was a hot day. The sprinklers came on so we started doing Slip-N-Slides on the field. They were like, 'Uh, you can't work here.' Then we did some kind of summer camp for kids, for underprivileged kids in Nebraska.




Cornerback Rashean Mathis: College. It was NYSP program, a National Youth Sports Program. It was geared toward underprivileged kids and we did it at our college (Bethune-Cookman) actually. I stayed around for the summer every year, for three years for sure, and helped out with kids. Teaching them stuff, too. It was geared around the sports program, but also respect in all types of levels. It was fun. It grew my love for kids.

Lions Camp Report: Day 10

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • With receiver Calvin Johnson and tight end Eric Ebron -- two of Detroit's biggest offensive pieces both physically and in terms of usage -- not practicing Thursday, there were more opportunities for others to try and stand out during practice. Joseph Fauria, who has been used with the first team often during the first two weeks of camp, saw a significant uptick in reps and appeared to fare fairly well. Fauria is going to make the team, but he needs to prove in this camp he has taken a step from last season, where he was primarily used in the red zone. If Ebron doesn't play Saturday, he'll have a large opportunity to do so before likely giving way to Jordan Thompson and Andrew Maxwell later in the game. Johnson, meanwhile, had an excused absence. With Johnson not at practice, Kris Durham appeared to receive more first-team reps than normal.
  • Speaking of Maxwell, the essentially unknown tight end had the play of practice in a rep with quarterback Matthew Stafford. Stafford fired the ball to Maxwell and it hit off of him. Then, it bounced off of safety Glover Quin and somehow right back into the hands of Maxwell, who made the catch and kept on running. It looked like one of those plays you'd see on an NFL Films highlight reel for years if it happened in a game instead of a preseason practice.
  • DeJon Gomes is making a strong push to win the fourth safety spot behind starters Glover Quin and James Ihedigbo and third safety/special teams leader Don Carey. Gomes has consistently backed up Ihedigbo, including when the starter briefly left practice after being kicked in the leg. Gomes has also shown up a lot on the first-team special teams units, which is critical for any depth player trying to make a roster.
  • As part of the veterans-getting-rest plan mentioned multiple times earlier in the week, rookie offensive lineman Travis Swanson has received a lot of time with the first-team offense, either at left guard spelling Rob Sims or at center, replacing Dominic Raiola. While there is no indication Sims or Raiola have anything to worry about when it comes to their jobs, this sort of experience can only provide value to Swanson both this season and down the road, when he eventually becomes a starter. Don't be surprised to see a lot of him Saturday night, perhaps in multiple positions.
  • The Ford family made another appearance at practice Thursday afternoon. While this is my first training camp covering the Lions, veteran reporter Dave Birkett noted the family has been out at camp more often than in the past few seasons. Of course, the team sort of changed ownership in the offseason after the death of William Clay Ford Sr. His wife, Martha, now is the owner of the team and she was at practice.
  • Darren Keyton missed another practice Thursday, as did Ezekiel Ansah, who continued doing side work. Also missing practice -- and not being in attendance at all -- was linebacker Cory Greenwood. Lions coach Jim Caldwell said Wednesday night that Greenwood has an excused absence. Both Ansah and receiver TJ Jones remain on the active PUP list.
  • The Lions have their final practice before the preseason opener at 8:30 a.m. Friday in Allen Park. It is not open to the public.
DETROIT -- When the Detroit Lions head into some of their team periods each day, the construction of the offensive line looks a little bit different than it will when the team kicks off the season in September.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell has been adamant about finding his veterans some rest, whether it is sitting Calvin Johnson for a practice Saturday or on a line that played together last season, giving center Dominic Raiola and left guard Rob Sims some rest.

Johnson
Sims
Raiola took a rare day off this week and Sims has consistently sat out part of practice. The veteran, who is coming off a knee injury last season and is in a contract year, said he doesn’t mind not participating in everything because he sees the long-term benefit.

"Just to keep me fresh, give me a chance to recuperate and stuff like that," Sims said. "Make sure I’m ready for the season, you know. Nothing to be alarmed about or anything like that. Just giving me some time at this point in my career."

That could include preseason games. Caldwell would not say Wednesday night how much he plans on playing veterans, including Johnson, in the preseason opener against Cleveland on Saturday night, but that he would be "prudent" in his decision-making.

Considering how he is handling veterans thus far in camp -- especially ones coming off injuries like Johnson and Sims -- it would seem likely they would not see too much action in a meaningless game.

"I plan on playing," Sims said. "I don’t know how many reps they are going to give me, but I plan on doing everything and I’m just excited to get back out there with the guys full-go."

One of the byproducts of sitting Sims has been giving the coaching staff and front office chances to evaluate younger players with the first team. Specifically at left guard, Detroit has rotated in Rodney Austin and rookies Travis Swanson and Alex Bullard with the first unit from time to time during team drills.

Swanson has also worked as center as the Lions drafted him to eventually replace Raiola. Austin is in his third season and is fighting for a job as a backup interior lineman and also trying to prove himself as a potential replacement for Sims.

Bullard is somewhat of a surprise as an undrafted rookie, but he is a player who can play all five spots on the offensive line and could be an ideal practice squad candidate because of it.

"We’ve got a good blueprint that we put in place and they did a really good job in following it," Sims said. "Rodney’s come a long way in the three years he’s been here, and it just bodes well not only for this year with the offensive line, but down the line in the future.

"I’ve always said at the end of the day, I wanted to leave something impressionable here, so I think that’s what we’re doing."

Lions Camp Report: Day 8

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
9:00
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • One of the more interesting things to come out of camp on Tuesday was watching Lions running back Reggie Bush running routes with the receivers and tight ends during part of the individual period instead of working with the running backs. This shouldn’t be too stunning, though, considering how Bush has been used in the past and how the Lions could use him this season. Bush ran 51 routes out of the slot last season and 37 routes while lined up out wide. Expect more of that this season if the Saints’ offense is any indication. Last season, Darren Sproles ran 93 routes out of the slot and 27 lined up out wide. If Bush is thrown into that role -- and it would be likely he would be -- then it would not be surprising to see him used in the slot fairly often. It also adds up because one of the things stressed by this coaching staff from running backs is running precise routes.
  • It was another good day for the Lions kickers. Giorgio Tavecchio and Nate Freese appeared to make all of their field goal attempts Tuesday, although it was somewhat difficult to tell without officials signaling in the end zone. Wednesday could be an interesting test for both of them since it will be their first time kicking inside Ford Field, where they will also be Saturday night for the preseason opener against Cleveland.
  • Ezekiel Ansah worked some more Tuesday as he continues to slowly move closer to being removed from the active PUP list and actually being able to practice with his teammates. He did individual work on the side for another practice, and Lions coach Jim Caldwell indicated “he’s progressing well.”

    “They keep ramping up his activity,” Caldwell said. ‘He hasn’t had setbacks so we feel good about where he is.”

    He is one of three players who sat out practice Tuesday along with receiver TJ Jones, who is still on the active PUP list, and offensive tackle Michael Williams, who has missed five straight practices due to injury.
  • Alex Bullard was somewhat surprising Tuesday during practice. He worked with the first team during a red zone period at left guard, spelling Rob Sims. The Lions have appeared to be careful with the reps for both Sims and center Dominic Raiola throughout the early portion of camp. Raiola did not do much work Tuesday, either, being replaced by Travis Swanson. Caldwell said he will give veterans days off from time to time to give them some rest during a long training camp to ensure health during the season. That said, Bullard looked decent during his run with the top unit. He’s still a longshot to make the roster at this point, but he offers interesting position flexibility since he worked at all five offensive line positions during his time at Notre Dame and Tennessee.
  • Cornerback Jonte Green put together another good practice, especially in one-on-one drills, registering a pass breakup. Considering the questions at the bottom of the depth chart at cornerback, Green could be putting himself in position to secure a roster spot at some point.
  • The Lions practice again Wednesday night at Ford Field at 7:30 p.m. The practice is open to the public.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Dominic Raiola has been through all of this, the constructing and deconstructing of an offensive line around him. He has seen it throughout his decade-plus with the Detroit Lions.

All around the center, the names, faces and skills have changed. Yet he remains. So when he speaks up in the room of offensive linemen and challenges his peers who watched him have one of the best seasons of his career in 2013, there is some gravitas there.

“My question to the guys was, ‘Is that really us? Who are you? Are you going to be the same group?'“ Raiola said. “Because now if we fall off any, we’re going to hear it so we have to keep our level of play up there or better.

[+] EnlargeDominic Raiola
Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsDominic Raiola is pushing his linemates to be even better in 2014.
“We don’t want to be the group that holds this team back. We want to be steady and opening holes, protecting the quarterback. We’re good with hanging in the back and nothing being said about us. We’re good with that.”

They were good with it last season, too, when the Lions allowed the second-fewest sacks in the NFL (23) and gave Detroit’s running backs enough room to average 4.03 yards a carry. While that number was below the league average last season, it did not account for the Lions’ newfound screen game with Reggie Bush, where the slightest opening by Rob Sims, Larry Warford or Raiola resulted in a large gain.

Those short passes that turned into big plays are where the running backs noticed the strength of the line -- something Bush saw during last preseason. In that game, he watched Warford crush a New England linebacker, one of the loudest hits he said he heard all of 2013.

But those plays need to be more than just in passing. They need to be as consistent as they were a season ago.

“it was a great thing he did for the O-line. You know, one of the biggest things as an offensive line coming off a big year is can you replicate it and he wants to challenge us to confirm that validity that we were a great offensive line,” Warford said. “He doesn’t want us, as far as all the praise coming from the media and the coaches, he doesn’t want that getting into our heads.

“So he’s basically, what he’s asking through that is are we getting complacent with ourselves and challenging us to perform better is very key in our development.”

That focus has been apparent throughout the early portion of camp, even if the offensive line has allowed blown-dead whistle sacks occasionally throughout the first week of practice. This is, after all, a group with just one first-round draft pick among its top eight guys -- left tackle Riley Reiff.

Raiola was a second round pick in 2001 -- and has had to fight the past few years to have the Lions continue to bring him back as he hits his mid-30s. Warford was a third round pick. Sims went in the fourth round. Corey Hilliard was a sixth-round pick. LaAdrian Waddle and Rodney Austin were undrafted. Travis Swanson is a rookie.

The Lions’ offensive line has been in a prove-it stage for the majority of their careers, so they aren’t extremely concerned about a dip in production now that there have been accolades given to them.

That was the message Raiola was sending, and the one the Lions’ offensive line is attempting to turn into their own throughout the year.

“The point is, nobody wants to be a one-hit wonder,” Hilliard said. “So we had one good year? So what? The great ones do it year after year. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Lions Camp Report: Day 6

August, 2, 2014
Aug 2
3:00
PM ET
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • The Lions had a scrimmage Saturday during their yearly family day, dividing the roster into the first-team offense and second-team defense on one side and the second-team offense and first-team defense on the other. The first-team offense and defense had all the typical players save Calvin Johnson, who did not practice Saturday. That wasn’t surprising considering the Lions’ focus on keeping their star as fresh as possible. In their daily switch, LaAdrian Waddle lined up with the first team at right tackle and Corey Hilliard with the second team, but that competition between two players who will make the roster continues. Defensively, Tahir Whitehead received a lot of time at linebacker spelling Stephen Tulloch.
  • Big day for Eric Ebron, who caught a really long pass from Matthew Stafford and appeared to be more confident on the field than he has at any point this camp. It’s still going to be a learning process for him for a bit and there will certainly be mistakes, but Saturday was encouraging. Lions coach Jim Caldwell also seemed comfortable with Ebron’s progress as he learns the multitude of spots he is expected to line up at this fall. Ebron’s play was one of the highlights for the Lions’ offense of the scrimmage considering his issues with drops.
  • The Lions had some issues snapping the ball when Dominic Raiola was not part of the scrimmage. Both Darren Keyton – playing with the first group – and Travis Swanson had bad snaps to quarterbacks, causing issues. In Swanson’s case, it led to a fumble recovery for a touchdown by rookie Larry Webster, one of the better plays the defensive end has made during camp. While Swanson is still expected to be the backup center when everything shakes out a month from now, those issues amplified the importance of Raiola and his presence again this season.
  • Detroit’s cornerback situation behind Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis could get interesting. Jonte Green had his best day of camp thus far, breaking up two passes intended for receiver Ryan Broyles, who has not run with the first team much this camp. Chris Greenwood struggled again Saturday as well as those two potentially compete for one roster spot. Slay, Mathis, Bill Bentley, Nevin Lawson and probably Cassius Vaughn appear to be ahead of both Green and Greenwood on the depth chart – although Lawson is going to mostly play nickel. Still a long way to go in this competition with not much settled in the first week.
  • Another good day for Detroit’s kickers as Nate Freese and Giorgio Tavecchio made all their field goals attempted during the scrimmage, including a 50-yarder from Tavecchio that sailed through the uprights with ease. Unlike last season, when David Akers won the kicking job fairly easily, this season it seems like this could go on for a while. A wrinkle here could be something Caldwell said Saturday – that the team would consider using punter Sam Martin on extremely long field goal attempts. He compared it to his situation in Indianapolis, where Caldwell considered using punter Pat McAfee on long field goals. McAfee never attempted a field goal in a game, though. So something to consider as this competition progresses -- especially as Martin has an extremely impressive camp punting.

The Lions will take Sunday off before practicing again Monday at 8:30 a.m.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Dominic Raiola has been through four full-time head coaches, an interim leader after one was fired and losses upon losses since being drafted by the Detroit Lions in 2001.

The most consistent thing he’s seen in his career, other than the losses, is the cycle of a new coach coming in, trying to rebuild, failing and then eventually being replaced by another coach attempting to make changes in his own vision.

The reason for the failures of those coaches are many, but now in the latter stages of his career, Raiola believes one thing has been fixed with the Lions when it comes to his sixth NFL head coach.

“The expectation is always to win, but this might be, not might -- this is the best chance for any of the head coaches that’s come in in their first year, the best chance for them to win right now,” Raiola said. “With the collection of talent in the room, the collection of coaches on the staff, the attitude of the building, the culture of the building and what it is right now, what it went through in the offseason, this is the best chance since I’ve been here.”

[+] EnlargeJim Caldwell
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioFirst-year head coach Jim Caldwell believes the Lions have the pieces in place to win consistently.
Raiola has been steadfast in his support of Jim Caldwell since his hiring in January and has consistently lauded how Caldwell has treated his players. Raiola has praised the accountability Caldwell has forced Detroit’s players to take and how he treats every player, from the top-end guys down, the same.

He’s seen the maturity from the players who were young when Jim Schwartz took over a 0-16 team with rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford in 2009. It is that leadership combined with Caldwell that gives Raiola the faith that this time it will be different.

That this staff and this collection of players will do what no Lions team other than the Barry Sanders-led group in the early 1990s has been able to do with consistency: win.

“We’re at a point now where we’re no longer a young team in the NFL,” linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. “We have players who have experience, that have been to the Super Bowl, won the Super Bowl and know what it takes to get to that next step.

“Bringing in coach Caldwell helps us achieve and see things from a different view. Players are excited about the future here and what we have in front of us. We have a lot of ability in this locker room, in this room, probably the most ability I’ve been around in my career, top to bottom.”

In past years, as Schwartz said after his dismissal, Detroit was a top-heavy franchise without much depth toward the bottom of the roster. The Lions tried to remedy that in the offseason, making some moves on offense but leaving some questions -- particularly at cornerback and receiver.

Caldwell, though, appears to believe in the talent Detroit has. When asked bluntly why he can be the coach to win in Detroit when so many others have not, he pointed to the players on the roster.

“Number one, that we have a good nucleus,” Caldwell said. “If I felt we didn’t have talent here, I’d tell you, you know what, we’re lacking a little bit. We’ve got a long way to go, et cetera. We’ve got a chance.

“... When I had a chance to coach against this particular team, I had a real good bird’s-eye view of what was here. That was one of the reasons why I was so interested in this job. It’s a great job, great situation, great ownership. We have a talented group. Now it’s our job to get those guys in position to win and win consistently, but I do think that nucleus is here to get that done.”

To focus that nucleus, Caldwell is attempting to transform a team that was careless with turnovers and penalties into a disciplined group that no longer turns the ball over with frequency or commits penalties at inopportune times.

“We’re going to field a team that has the right kind of Lions DNA, and that’s a smart, a fast and a physical team,” Caldwell said. “We expect you to see that on the field.”

With the talent on the roster and many of those top players in the best years of their careers, the Lions should be able to produce that on the field. However, the question, as is always the case with Detroit, is whether it will or not.

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