Detroit Lions: Kellen Moore

INDIANAPOLIS -- While the Detroit Lions have not made many decisions on free agents, general manager Martin Mayhew said Friday morning that the team will tender restricted free agent George Johnson.

Mayhew did not say, though, what level of tender the team was planning on using on the defensive end.

Johnson signed with Detroit as a free agent during spring workouts last season and was initially a long shot to make the club. Johnson ended up making the Lions and having a career year.

Playing alongside Ndamukong Suh, Ezekiel Ansah, Jason Jones and Nick Fairley, Johnson had 26 tackles, six sacks and a fumble recovery. Undrafted out of Rutgers in 2010, Johnson had seven tackles and no sacks prior to this season.

He spent 2010, 2011 and part of 2012 with Tampa Bay before going to Minnesota for the rest of 2012 and part of the 2013 season. When the Vikings cut Johnson, he almost quit football. Had he not make the Lions in 2014, he was going to give up football because his family was hurting for money.

Instead, the 27-year-old ended up becoming a key part of Detroit’s defensive line rotation that led the NFL in run defense.

Mayhew said the team will not tender linebacker Josh Bynes and that he didn’t think the franchise would tender quarterback Kellen Moore, either. Mayhew did say he would like to have Moore back and that he has had discussions with Moore’s agent.

He also confirmed the team will bring back receiver/returner Jeremy Ross, an exclusive rights free agent.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Head coach Jim Caldwell met with the media Thursday at the NFL combine. Here’s what we learned about the Detroit Lions.

1. Caldwell’s combine role is large: This isn’t a massive surprise considering how much he likes to have control of everything within his football team, but Caldwell said he is part of every session at the combine, except when he met with the media Thursday. He will also sit in on a lot of interviews with potential prospects. What does he look for? "We have a set group of questions that we ask and how we go about conducting business and those kinds of things to see if there’s a fit. But we’re also looking for unique traits and characteristics."

[+] EnlargeJim Caldwell
AP Photo/Stephan SavoiaWhen interviewing prospects at the scouting combine, Jim Caldwell says the Lions are "looking for unique traits and characteristics."
2. Lions open to three quarterbacks: Much like he said last year when the team had three quarterbacks on the roster, Caldwell said they are going to look at everything when it comes to what they do with the backup quarterback position and a potential third quarterback. The Lions had Dan Orlovsky and Kellen Moore as the backups to Matthew Stafford last season, and Orlovsky and Moore are now free agents. Caldwell would not say whether the franchise plans on bringing back Orlovsky, Moore, both or neither.

3. Don’t expect the Lions to pass more than 2014: As part of an answer to why running back Theo Riddick didn’t have much of a role toward the end of the season, Caldwell started talking about why the franchise didn’t throw to tight ends more. He explained that targets needed to be divvied up in a certain way, and the team didn’t want to take chances away from their two biggest playmakers, Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. From the way he spoke, it sounds like things could be similar in 2015 as long as Tate and Johnson remain healthy. The Lions threw 644 passes this season between the regular season and playoffs.

4. Not bringing back Dominic Raiola was tough on Caldwell: Caldwell said the decision to not bring back the longtime center came after assessing where Raiola was and what he could potentially give to the Lions in 2015. But when it came to making that decision, Caldwell said they had to make the best decision for the franchise. "They’re not always the most comfortable," Caldwell said. "Some of them are hard. That’s a hard one because I love the guy."

5. Riddick’s role not set: In his limited playing time over the first two seasons of his career, Riddick has shown to be a good receiver out of the backfield, but was barely used as a more traditional running back. He has more receptions in his career (38 for 342 yards) than he does carries (29 for 76 yards). "It depends on what we want to do with him," Caldwell said. "But he’s capable of carrying it more than what we gave to him. But he’s also, I think you can see his numbers in terms of his out of the backfield catching the ball. They jump out at you, so he’s got a unique skill there, but he’s also a good ball carrier. So, we’ll see how that goes."
The NFL combine is this week. Free agency is a month away. The Lions could even franchise tag Ndamukong Suh if they want to this week.

So a lot of decisions are about to be finalized or will start to take shape in the next seven days. We discuss some of them in this week's Lions Mailbag. To ask a question of the Mailbag, tweet with the hashtag #LionsMailbag, email or Facebook message me here.

Now, on to your questions.

@mikerothstein: In short, no. Dorial Green-Beckham is a talented wide receiver, but I think the off-field issues he has had will hurt him in the eyes of many teams. He was never charged with any of these issues, but teams are potentially going to do more background on Green-Beckham than almost any other player at the combine. For a team to take him, they would either have to feel extremely confident those issues are behind him or a team has to have a strong enough base to lend support to Green-Beckham. As for the Lions? I think there are too many other needs for Detroit to take him at No. 23. I just don't see it. @mikerothstein: I understand the reasoning for the question -- and it is an interesting one to watch if the Lions end up tagging Suh. However, two first-round draft picks seems like a steep price for almost any player, especially in the new CBA era with slotted rookie contracts. If I'm the Lions, and I can pick up two more first-round picks, I'd be happy about that. But I just don't know if NFL teams would do that in this era. From the Lions' perspective, it would make sense to use the non-exclusive tag rights since they would still have the option to match any deal another team offers for Suh. But I still don't know if Detroit really ends up using the tag with the $26.7 million attached to it. @mikerothstein: The Lions can't negotiate with outside free agents until right before the start of the new league year on March 10. If Suh is not locked up by Detroit by then, the Lions will have to start working with some contingency plans, for sure. As far as which players that's still an unknown. We should get a better idea next week when Martin Mayhew talks at the combine. I know there has been contact with some of the agents for players going back to the end of the 2014 season. It doesn't sound like anything has been locked down yet, though. Both Matt Prater and Rashean Mathis want to return, though. @mikerothstein: Both Aaron Donald and Odell Beckham Jr. are special players and would have been bigger assets to the Lions in 2014 than Eric Ebron ended up being. Personally, I thought the Lions should have taken Donald if he were there last May and I'd say he was the bigger overall miss because of Detroit's defensive tackle situation. Had Detroit drafted Donald, the potential of losing Suh would still be big, but not be quite as massive. It also would have given the Lions great depth at the position at the time. Of course, if there was a redraft, Donald would almost definitely not be there at No. 10 anyway. Neither would Beckham. @mikerothstein: It's not probable, but it is a possibility Reiff could end up at another spot on the line in 2015. That all depends on what happens during free agency and the draft, but Reiff is the type of player who could play left or right tackle or at guard if need be. It all depends what happens in free agency and the draft. I was just mentioning it as a possibility, not a probability. @mikerothstein: Are you playing Madden again? That's the only possible place Kellen Moore would be a candidate for NFL MVP in 2015. Jacobs asks via email: Thanks for the great coverage! I know a lot depends on Suh's contract situation, but I wonder if you think the Lions will target some of the top-notch interior offensive line free agents. Denver's Orlando Franklin and Kansas City's Rodney Hudson come to mind. The situation in Denver seems particularly interesting, as they have a to try to pay Thomas & Thomas.

Rothstein: You hit it pretty much there with saying it depends on Suh's contract situation. If the Lions bring back Suh, it is tough to see them really being able to spend on any high-caliber free agents. If Suh leaves the Lions, it would not be surprising to see the franchise go hard after a top-end defensive tackle and a high-level offensive lineman as well. Who might be targeted will be clearer a week from now, but it really will all depend on the Suh situation.
Every day we’ll take a look at one of the Detroit Lions heading for free agency, what he has meant to the team before and a prognosis on whether or not he’ll be back with the club in 2015. Previous free agents profiled are here.

Free agent to be: Kellen Moore (restricted)

Position: Quarterback

Age: 25

Years in the league: 3

What he made last season: His cap number was $576,668 and his cash money was $570,000.

What he did last season: On the field, Moore did nothing. He was active for no games for the third straight season and held down the role of No. 3 quarterback. Where Moore provides value is during the week in preparation for games. He helps Matthew Stafford, Dan Orlovsky and the coaches break down games for Stafford and, like Orlovsky, is another set of eyes for Stafford on game days. His biggest value is his intelligence and how he views the game, which is like a coach.

His potential market value: Not high. He has never thrown an NFL pass and went undrafted out of Boise State. He’s shown some competence during the preseason -- particularly in 2014, when his roster spot was not assured. But no one knows what he’d be able to bring if he needed to be on the field or if he was looked at as a viable No. 2. His best chances are either coming back to Detroit or possibly landing in Dallas with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who coached him the first two seasons of Moore's career.

Will he fit the Lions: Depends. Last year, general manager Martin Mayhew said he didn’t necessarily believe Moore was ready to be a No. 2 quarterback. After another season of no playing time and being the clear No. 3 quarterback, does that change? Do the Lions believe he is worth hanging on to as a No. 3 quarterback or as the true backup to Stafford or is it time to cede his spot on the roster to a developmental project for Jim Caldwell, Joe Lombardi and Jim Bob Cooter? These are the questions Detroit needs to ask itself.

What happens: The Lions have Stafford entrenched as their starter, so it all depends on what Caldwell, Mayhew and Lombardi want to do. Since Moore is a restricted free agent, the Lions would have to decide to give him a tendered offer -- and that might just be too much money for a No. 3 quarterback who has not taken a snap. The Lions might be better off letting him go to into free agency and then signing him to a minimum deal at that point if they want to retain him. With the Lions needing money to sign other free agents, that would seem the more likely course of action.
Every day we’ll take a look at one of the Detroit Lions heading for free agency, what he has meant to the team before and a prognosis on whether or not he’ll be back with the club in 2015.

Free agent to be: Dan Orlovsky

Position: Quarterback

Age: 31

Years in the league: 10

What he made last season: $920,000 ($855,000 base with $60,000 guaranteed; $65,000 signing bonus). Cap number was $635,000.

What he did last season: Orlovsky was signed to back up starter Matthew Stafford and that’s exactly what he did. Fortunately for the Lions, Stafford did not miss a snap all season, so Orlovsky didn’t play a down in in 2014 and has not thrown a pass in a regular season game since 2012, when he was 4 of 7 for 51 yards in one game with Tampa Bay. The majority of Orlovsky’s value comes in his knowledge and preparation. He’s a very smart quarterback and was critical in helping Stafford break down situations and film throughout the week. He was also a valuable set of eyes from the sidelines on Sundays.

His potential market value: It isn’t exceedingly high, but he is a veteran quarterback with experience. At this point in his career, though, he likely isn’t suited to compete for a starter’s role but he’s a perfectly fine No. 2 quarterback. For the majority of his career, that has been his role.

Will he fit the Lions: In short, yes. The Lions are almost always going to carry an experienced option behind Stafford in case of injury and Jim Caldwell’s previous experience with an injured Peyton Manning in Indianapolis. Orlovsky was his handpicked backup last season, and he has expressed interest in returning to the Lions again in 2015. He feels comfortable in Detroit and with Stafford. If the Lions choose to groom a developmental quarterback for the future, having Orlovsky to learn from there could be a benefit as well.

What happens: The Lions are going to have to spend a good amount of money on Ndamukong Suh if the team wants to keep him, so Orlovsky becomes an attractive cheap option for an experienced backup. If Detroit wants to gamble with an inexperienced No. 2 – be it Kellen Moore or a rookie – Orlovsky probably ends up somewhere else, but that seems like an unlikely strategy for the 2015 season. For that reason, it would not be surprising at all to see Orlovsky back with the Lions in 2015.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- For as much as this offseason will be different for Kellen Moore -- he's now a father and a restricted free agent -- a lot won't change all that much for the Detroit Lions' backup quarterback.

[+] EnlargeKellen Moore
Bill Wippert/AP PhotoQB Kellen Moore said he would like to remain in Detroit, but his future is uncertain as a free agent.
While Moore has logged three seasons in the league, the former Boise State starter has played in no regular-season games. And coming where he came from the ranks of the undrafted free agent, every offseason has come with some uncertainty of where he might be the following fall.

"Really, my role, there's no real guarantees in anything," Moore said. "So every year is kind of the same cycle and for whatever restricted [free agency] provides, I would obviously love to be back and we'll see what happens."

He does admit the somewhat larger level of uncertainty is weird and he said he would call his agent and ask him what he does. More than likely, what happens will require some waiting as the Lions sort out other issues.

Moore's role with Detroit is somewhat hard to quantify. Being the clear No. 3 quarterback has never given him a shot to play, so any on-field measurement would be useless. His true role -- and his value to both the Lions and starting quarterback Matthew Stafford -- comes almost as a coach.

One of Moore's biggest jobs is to help prepare Stafford for Sundays through watching tape and trying to break down opposing defenses. Along with quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter and No. 2 quarterback Dan Orlovsky, Moore is also another set of eyes for Stafford during games in case he might miss something.

He and Orlovsky provide different vantage points and views for Stafford in both film-watching and during games. By doing this, Moore said he has learned as well and that it has helped him the past three seasons.

"Obviously you take advantage of a couple years to get better physically and then obviously the most important thing I think in the NFL is the mental aspect," Moore said. "All the little details and things that go into it. All the things that Matthew does every play, just the things that you learn and you grow from those experiences from watching Matthew do it.

"Then when you get your opportunities in preseason and practice you do it as well."

Now, the question is when and where will those opportunities come again. Moore would like it to be in Detroit and said he'd "feel good" playing somewhere if that happened. He's also aware it won't happen if he returned to Detroit, where Stafford is an entrenched starter.

Despite that, Moore made his preference clear during a short interview last week. He wants to stay in Detroit. If it doesn't happen, then, he and his agent will start looking around.
The Detroit Lions finished up one of its most successful seasons -- record-wise -- in franchise history. Now, the offseason begins with the combine, free agency and the NFL draft.

To start that process, we’ll look at each position group over the next two weeks, analyzing what worked, what didn’t, and project what could happen between now and training camp.

The series begins today with quarterbacks.

2015 Free Agents: Dan Orlovsky; Kellen Moore (restricted)

The good: Matthew Stafford didn’t get injured this season. Let’s start there, and considering the importance of the quarterback spot, that’s a big thing. Despite entering his seventh year in the league, he doesn't turn 27 until Feb. 7. Stafford was instructed to do three things this season: Get his completion percentage up. Keep his turnovers down. Win games. He did all three, completing 60.3 percent of his passes, throwing only 12 interceptions and winning 11 games. At least three of those wins -- New Orleans, Atlanta and Miami -- came from his leading the Lions on game-winning drives late. He also threw for more than 4,000 yards and 20 touchdown passes for the fourth straight season, and dealt with a constant rotation of receivers, running backs and offensive linemen fairly well. By the metrics the Lions wanted, he had a pretty good season and didn’t miss a snap despite being sacked 45 times -- almost double the sacks he endured in 2013. Oh, he also became the fastest player to 20,000 passing yards in league history.

The bad: So those completion percentage and interception numbers? Stafford’s numbers were still no better than the middle of the pack in a league dominated by passing. His QBR of 55.1 was 22nd in the league, and he held on to the ball longer this season than he did last year despite worse line play. His yards dropped for the fourth straight season, although he also had fewer attempts than he had in any full season he’s played. Stafford wasn’t particularly strong under pressure this season, with a 2.6 QBR (tied with Drew Brees for 23rd in the league) and his 37.6 completion percentage was 25th in the league (although Aaron Rodgers was 24th). His passer rating under pressure of 47.3 was 24th in the league under pressure.

The money (using 2015 cap numbers from ESPN Stats & Information): Stafford is the only quarterback the Lions have under contract, and he will have a $17,721,250 cap number in 2015. That is 25.8 percent of the offensive cap and 16.76 of the total cap. Of his $9.5 million base salary, $8 million is guaranteed for the 2015 season. Orlovsky and Moore, being free agents, could be brought back fairly cheap, and both have expressed a desire to return. If Detroit tries to make room for Ndamukong Suh, Stafford’s deal is one that could be restructured easily to free up some space. Actually, if the Lions really believe in Stafford as the quarterback of the future, his contract would make the most sense to restructure.

Potential cuts: The Lions aren’t cutting Stafford, so none. The bigger question will be what they do with Orlovsky, Moore and potential other quarterbacks in free agency or the draft.

Draft priority: Not especially high this season. However, if the Lions choose to move on from Moore or Orlovsky, there could be room to draft a quarterback late to develop. But investing anything more than a late-round pick here would mean ignoring other, more pressing, needs.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Jim Caldwell and Teryl Austin didn't get their miracle after all.

The Detroit Lions officially deemed defensive tackle Nick Fairley inactive for the ninth straight game Sunday, although this one had more hope than any other before for the Lions. Fairley returned to practice Thursday and Friday on a limited basis but did not show enough to be able to play in Detroit's first playoff game since 2011.

If the Lions were to beat Dallas, Detroit's hope is Fairley would try to return next week against the top-seeded Seahawks.

With Fairley out, the Lions will continue their usual rotation of Ndamukong Suh, C.J. Mosley, Andre Fluellen and either Jason Jones or Darryl Tapp inside at tackle.

The other Lions inactives are no surprise: DT Caraun Reid, QB Kellen Moore, CB Josh Thomas, RG Larry Warford, DE Larry Webster, WR Ryan Broyles.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Jim Caldwell believes nothing happens accidentally. It’s how the Detroit Lions coach explains many things – including a tool he used to help quarterback Matthew Stafford during their first season together.

Caldwell compiled a chart in Baltimore working with Joe Flacco, listing statistical comparisons for where Flacco needed to be. Yet Flacco never saw it. Caldwell was hired by Detroit and ended up being able to use the chart with Stafford instead in a quick meeting this spring.

“When I first came, one of the things I like to look at is areas which we need to improve upon and how it stacks up with Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, essentially,” Caldwell told last month. “And then looked at the numbers and say, ‘OK, if we want to be where we say we want to be, these are the things that we have to do.’

[+] EnlargeStafford & Caldwell
AP Photo/Rick OsentoskiThe Lions coaches have stressed the importance of making smart decisions to Matthew Stafford.
“That’s basically what we did.”

The chart helped with the message Caldwell, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter have drilled to Stafford since they were hired: Pick up his completions while dropping his interceptions.

Despite a season where Stafford’s yards (4,257) and touchdowns (22) have dropped dramatically, the areas they wanted him to improve did. His 60.3 completion percentage is the second-best of his career, even if it ranks No. 25 in the league. His 12 interceptions are the lowest of his career.

While there have been questions about Stafford’s season during the Lions’ 11-5 campaign, understanding what Stafford’s coaches drilled into him helps explain the numbers.

The Lions coaches did this by charting every interception and every pass from the start of OTAs – every ball thrown with a defender present. Interceptions were called out by Lions coaches and mentioned in team meetings. That was part of how they drilled the message to Stafford. As late as December, Stafford had to be reminded of what the goals were in light of unimpressive numbers against Minnesota, when he threw for 153 yards.

“I said, ‘Dude, you turn the ball over, we lose. That’s the truth,’ “ Lions backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky said last month. “When you hear it and you look at it, it’s like, yeah. We had two possessions in the second half, right, because the four-minute when we handed it off.

“He throws a pick on one of those possessions, we lose the ball game and we’re sitting here in a totally different conversation. It’s a big deal. It’s a hard thing to master.”

He’s tried to “master” it with the help of multiple people – even as he didn’t put the massive numbers from a few years ago under then-coordinator Scott Linehan.

A lot of what Stafford does weekly takes a collaborative effort from Cooter, Lombardi, Caldwell and backup quarterbacks Kellen Moore and Orlovsky.

Cooter assigns Moore and Orlovsky games to watch and break down on their own to help Stafford along with cutups put on an iPad. Late in each week, Cooter has Moore and Orlovsky present games they watched – looking for tendencies or oddities from older games the coaches won’t get to for an edge.

That has been a major assist as they try to get Stafford ready for Sundays. It helps him make smarter choices and avoid big mistakes. It is part of the transition Stafford is making as a quarterback under Linehan to the one he is now – even if some of the stats don’t make it seem like there is progress.

“Any time you move into a new offense there are intricacies that really make an offense great,” Stafford said. “You have to learn those through experience and with as much injury and turnover as we had this year, there were some certain times that we weren’t able to get in as good a groove as we’d like to be in.

“But , we’ve found ways to win games and played big in crunch time. That’s pretty impressive.”

It has been enough for the Lions to make the playoffs this year. This is where the chart comes in again. Now in the postseason, Stafford has the blueprint for what he’ll need for success. Caldwell showed it to him before they ever participated in a game together.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions are in the playoffs for the first time since 2011, and for quarterback Matthew Stafford, there are a lot of people watching what he's going to do.

There are the Lions fans who are hoping he leads the team to their first playoff win since 1991. There are those in his hometown of Dallas who are curious to see exactly what the former Highland Park High School star will be able to do. Then there are those in this week's Lions Mailba who have their own Stafford questions.

To ask a question, use the hashtag #LionsMailbag on Twitter, email me at or pop on over to my Facebook page here. Now, on to your questions.

@mikerothstein: Stafford has not looked sharp the past three weeks, but he's been an interesting case all season. He's done what the coaches asked him to -- higher completion percentage, lower interception totals, fewer big mistakes -- but at the cost of yards and touchdowns. Personally, I'd let Stafford loose a little bit on offense. Let him improvise a little bit more and take some more deep shots. Of course, his offensive line has to be able to give him the time to do that, but that's where I would start. Take a couple of shots to Calvin Johnson deep or run some deeper slants to Johnson or Golden Tate. That's where I would start. I'm unlike a lot of other people, though, in that I believe Stafford had a pretty good season, considering what he was asked to do.

@mikerothstein: Don't know if it makes a big difference, because Stafford is running such a different offense now. It could help in terms of watching his eyes and some of his movements and arm positionings, but otherwise I don't know how much it helps. I think it's more of an advantage for the Lions knowing Linehan's schemes and play tendencies than it is for Linehan knowing player tendencies.

@mikerothstein: The Lions couldn't do that because they used that option on linebacker Kyle Van Noy at the start of the season. Otherwise, Detroit might have considered it for Nick Fairley or Joseph Fauria earlier in the year. As for why the Lions didn't put him on injured reserve outright: Fairley is practicing this week and potentially is available in the playoffs. That's why the Lions didn't make that move then. It might pay off now.

@mikerothstein: Wrote about this during the week and my theory is this. If Jim Caldwell and the Lions were not at least considering it, Caldwell would have shut it down immediately, as he did when he was asked about Travis Swanson starting at center when Dominic Raiola came back. If the Lions are in need of a big play, it wouldn't shock me to see Tate as a returner this weekend. It also wouldn't surprise me to see Theo Riddick blocking on kick returns and some more starters on some special-teams units if necessary late.

@mikerothstein: It wouldn't surprise me to see this happen more often against Dallas. The Lions have been successful when they've gone with a faster tempo this season, and in the playoffs, it might be worth trying it early to offer a shock to the Cowboys' system. Caldwell said earlier in the week that if you're trying something new, it had better be something you've practiced, and I immediately thought of a faster game plan.

Alec from Facebook asks: Why have the Lions kept Kellen Moore on the roster? I get that so much faith (and $) has been given to Matthew Stafford, and I'm not one who's saying, 'Start Moore.' But if Caldwell is so sure Dan Orlovsky is the better (because of ?) backup, why hasn't Moore been cut or traded? With all the lesser talent starting for other teams, it's conceivable Moore would end up on a roster with better opportunities. Being the third backup making nearly half a mil holding a clipboard isn't in a bad place to be, but is Detroit worried about the possibility of facing a team in the future with Moore as QB?

Rothstein: There's a lot to unpack here, but I'll do it quickly. Moore hasn't been traded because you need trade value and a partner for that to happen. He hasn't been cut because the Lions haven't needed to do so. I don't think there is the concern of facing Moore in the future because if it happens, it does. Moore's value comes in Stafford's preparation each week. Moore is probably a future coach at some point and he thinks like one -- and has since high school. Moore and Orlovsky help with film breakdown and are often Stafford's extra eyes and ears. That's where their value comes in and part of why Moore has a roster spot.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Matthew Stafford buys his offensive line something every year and this season, he went right for their hearts == or in reality, their stomachs.

Stafford, the sixth-year Detroit Lions quarterback, purchased his offensive line and quarterbacks the “Big Green Egg” grills. He had each lineman and quarterback fill out a form and had them shipped to where ever they wanted in the country.

Left guard Rob Sims had his delivered to his Detroit-area home. Quarterback Kellen Moore had his sent back to his house in the Boise, Idaho, area.

“I usually get them something every year,” Stafford said after practice Thursday. “And just decided to go with that. Figured O-linemen like to eat so might as well get them something to help them eat.”

Stafford bought every offensive lineman – even the practice squad linemen – the grill.

The Egg comes in seven different sizes and can be used as a grill, oven or smoker. Including Detroit’s offensive linemen and quarterbacks, this means Stafford likely bought at least 12 grills for his teammates this holiday season.

“Oh yeah, I’m a big fan,” Sims said. “I’m a big fan of the Big Green Egg. I got a smaller one and I’ve been cooking my pork and my shoulders and all that stuff, but I’m about to get real creative now in a minute.”

The quarterbacks and offensive linemen also did other, smaller, gift exchanges amongst themselves – but Stafford’s Big Green Eggs were the biggest gift of all.
Before guys made the NFL and before they became consistent starters or better in college, someone found them in high school. With that in mind, we're starting a series called Recruiting Tales, where we chat with the main college recruiter of a Detroit Lions player.

Past Recruiting Tales: TE Joseph Fauria; LB Ashlee Palmer

[+] EnlargeKellen Moore
Bill Wippert/AP PhotoQB Kellen Moore, now in his third season with Detroit, was viewed as an accurate passer when he was recruited by Justin Wilcox.
Kellen Moore didn't get much interest as a high school quarterback. He was a small kid from a small town, but all Moore did in high school and college was win. He won enough to become a first-team All-American and went 50-3 at Boise State as a starting quarterback.

Justin Wilcox, now the defensive coordinator at USC, explains how he found Moore. [Edited for space and clarity].

Q: How did you find Kellen?

Justin Wilcox: I had the state of Washington. We had already had video on him and he had played in his dad's system at Prosser and played forever. He had thrown for thousands of yards. We went up in spring, stopped by the high school and was talking with the dad a lot. In the state that year, there were a couple other quarterbacks that were highly recruited and that was the time that you could go to all these 7-on-7 tournaments and combines. Kellen would go to all of those and we would see him there. I went to a couple he was at and there were a couple other quarterbacks who went to the Pac-10 at the time. Physically, they looked, 6-2, 6-3, 210 pounds, strong arms and they were in the state. I distinctly remember going to one of those kid's schools, I'm not going to name him because it doesn't help, and the coach said the best player in the state was Kellen Moore. I'm there to look at his own quarterback and he said the best player in the state is Kellen Moore. The more schools you went to, the more you heard his name.

... Then he came down to our camp and when you met him in high school, he's not the most physically imposing guy you've ever seen. He comes in with his dad, great family. His little brother (Kirby) was a receiver going into his sophomore year of high school and he's a big guy, buffed up. Coach (Chris) Petersen, you'd have to ask him, but if I remember right, coach Petersen walked up and shook Kirby's hand and said, 'Hey, Kellen, how are you doing? Nice to meet you. Thanks for coming to camp.' And we're like, 'No, no, that's his little brother. This is Kellen over here.' The guy with the mop haircut and weighing about 178, that's the guy. Then he went out to camp and completed every pass. So coach (Bryan) Harsin and coach Pete were heavily involved in the recruiting as well but you watch his video.

I don't claim to be an expert by any means at quarterback play or offense but when you watched Kellen, he completed almost every pass. So to me, my job as an area recruiter, here's a quarterback who completes every pass. I'm going to show it to the offensive coordinator. Isn't that what they were supposed to do? That's what it was. He doesn't look like Superman but when he throws the ball it's in the right spot at the right time and he scores a ton of points. So there you go.

Q: Did you feel like you were getting a steal?

Wilcox: You take the tangible things you can measure and more importantly the intangible things you can't put on paper or measure and see if that fits what your profile is and what you're looking for. He did. I don't think anybody, myself and I can't speak for coach Pete and Bryan but I don't think anybody thought he'd win the amount of games he did. So I don't think anybody thought that. You hope that's what you want to do. He still, even going back to high school, was a very cool-headed, astute, rhythmic player. Everything was in control. He was never out of control. That's what he looked like in high school. That's what he looked like in college. Not every kid can translate like that. A football junkie to the core and I would imagine he's still that way.
DETROIT -- For the first time since the end of September and beginning of October, Detroit Lions running back Reggie Bush will play in back-to-back games.

Bush is active for the Lions on Sunday against Minnesota despite being listed as questionable on the team's official injury report Friday.

He played in the first five games of this season before injuring his ankle against Buffalo. He then sat against Minnesota, played sparingly against New Orleans, sat against Atlanta, played sparingly against Miami and then sat the next three games before returning last week against Tampa Bay.

The Lions will also have linebacker Tahir Whitehead (shoulder) active as well as defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (illness). Suh was warming up Sunday with a winter hat on his head as a bug affected the Lions' team.

Lions' inactives: QB Kellen Moore, OT Garrett Reynolds, OG Rodney Austin, DE Larry Webster, WR Ryan Broyles, DT Caraun Reid, DT Nick Fairley.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Reggie Bush said Monday he felt he would return to the Detroit Lions' lineup against the New England Patriots on Sunday.

That won’t be happening.

Bush is inactive for the Lions against the Patriots, the fourth time he will have missed a game this season due to his lingering ankle injury. He had practiced Wednesday, Thursday and Friday on a limited basis.

With Bush out, expect Joique Bell and Theo Riddick to both see increased work similar to last week when Bush sat against Arizona. Bell had 85 yards rushing against the Cardinals, the most of any back for the Lions in a game this season.

Bush initially hurt the ankle in Week 5 against Buffalo and missed the next week against Minnesota. He aggravated the injury against New Orleans in Week 7 and sat out the next week against Atlanta. Then he played against Miami in Week 10 and injured it again, forcing him to sit against Arizona and now New England.

By missing his fourth game, Bush is assured of playing only 12 games this season at maximum. It will be his fewest games played since 2010, when he appeared in eight games for New Orleans. This season, Bush has 53 carries for 191 yards and one touchdown, along with 26 catches for 169 yards.

Lions inactives: RB Reggie Bush, RG Larry Warford, DT Nick Fairley, QB Kellen Moore, DE Larry Webster, WR Ryan Broyles, TE Kellen Davis.
The Detroit Lions have their second-toughest game of the season Sunday in suburban Boston against the New England Patriots. For Detroit to win, it'll take the best effort the Lions have had this season. That's how difficult it will be, especially with an offense searching for answers. What's up with the offense is part of what you are wondering about for this week's Lions Mailbag. To ask a question for the Bag, use the hashtag #LionsMailbag on Twitter, email me at or go to my Facebook page.

@mikerothstein: This is an interesting situation developing right now -- but probably one that doesn't have a resolution until the offseason or 2015 training camp. If the Lions deem T.J. Jones good enough to go and to at least contribute as much as Broyles has, then it could be the end of the second round pick's time in Detroit. He clearly doesn't have much of a role with the Lions and it would be surprising to see him around next season, whether Jones is his replacement or not. Don't know if Detroit trusts Jones enough -- or if Jones is truly healthy enough -- for that to come to pass this season.

@mikerothstein: Haven't done a ton with the draft yet, truthfully, but not sure if running back is going to be a high-enough priority for Detroit to make the move on him. The Lions have Joique Bell, Theo Riddick and potentially George Winn and Reggie Bush available to come back next season. That Duke Johnson also has good enough hands to catch balls out of the backfield consistently is another plus -- but it is way too early for Detroit to really start focusing on the draft. Plus, the Lions are likely in need of defensive tackles, offensive linemen, possibly a cornerback or two and maybe even a receiver before they look at running back. Johnson would probably be gone by then.

@mikerothstein: Probably not, barring injury. He has become a valuable special teams player and someone Detroit can use as a running back in an emergency situation, but highly doubt they go there with Joique Bell healthy. An injury to Bell would be the likeliest path to George Winn getting carries. Another possibility is the Lions going into the final week of the season with not much on the line and already in the playoffs. If they want to rest guys, then Winn could get a lot of work, but that seems unlikely right now.

@mikerothstein: No. Just no. Kellen Moore is a nice guy. He is not a better quarterback than Matthew Stafford. Sorry.

@mikerothstein: This is a complicated question because we don't know the exact plays that are being called and what the designated purpose is. Let's start with your second question, though. The Lions are averaging 37 pass attempts a game. Of those, at least half should end up going to Calvin Johnson or Golden Tate based on ability. So let's say 10 targets each there. That leaves 17 targets. Between dump downs, screens and other short passes, running backs are probably nabbing 10-to-12 of those targets between Reggie Bush, Joique Bell and Theo Riddick. That leaves between five and seven7 targets for other players like Eric Ebron, Corey Fuller, Jeremy Ross and Joseph Fauria. So I don't buy the pass catcher situation. As far as the offense in general, there's a bunch of questions right now. I'm really curious to see what happens after this weekend's simplification.

Brandon from Facebook asks: Mr Rothstein, so you have said that even if the Lions manage to unseat the Cards for the NFC lead, you still favor the Pack and New England to win in the upcoming games. I see a lot of hesitancy still with this Lions team. What will it take on the Lions part to break the spell of Rodgers and Pack infatuation?
This question was asked before the Arizona game, but I'll answer the second part of this. Right now, it'd be awful tough for Detroit to do. The Lions haven't won at Lambeau Field since before I was a teenager -- I'm 34 -- and if it comes down to Week 17 there for the divisional title, I just don't see it happening for Detroit. The Lions essentially need to win out from now until Week 17 to put themselves in position to break the hold the Packers have had on the Lions and on the NFC North.