Detroit Lions: Stephen Tulloch
Now, he's done with surgery on his torn left ACL as well.
The linebacker, who was injured celebrating a sack of Aaron Rodgers against Green Bay last month, sent an Instagram message on Wednesday morning that he had surgery on the knee and deemed it successful. The injury garnered enough attention for its somewhat bizarre nature that it ended up as part of last week's Saturday Night Live Weekend Update sketch.
Tulloch had been the player manning the middle of the Detroit defense the past four seasons, where he had more than 100 tackles in each of his first three years.
But no, there is no truth to the thought that Jim Caldwell is requiring all players to travel anywhere wrapped in bubble wrap.
There are, though, a lot of questions about dancing and injuries this week in the weekly Lions Mailbag. to ask a question, email email@example.com, on Twitter with the hashtag #LionsMailbag or on Facebook at my professional page.
Now, on to your questions.
@mikerothstein: Let's go to David Bowie, who said "Let's Dance." Or the immortal Ren McCormack can just get everybody a little Footloose, perhaps kicking off those Sunday shoes. In other words, I'm all for dancing and celebrating and generally having a good ol' time. So let guys dance. Let guys celebrate and discount double check their hearts out. It's a freak thing that happened. That's all.
@mikerothstein: Sadly, I do not believe there has been any safety dancing taught this week in Allen Park, Michigan, although we are close to the Canadian border here where those Men Without Hats hail from. But it would be great if Jim Caldwell brought in an Arthur Murray instructor of the Michigan Dance Team to properly advise the Lions players. That would be an awesome story if it happened (it hasn't).
@mikerothstein: It's a huge loss because Tulloch provided talent and stability in the middle. Tahir Whitehead has the chance to be a good player and could be fine as the middle linebacker this season. But it certainly crushes the Lions' depth and could cost Detroit a game at some point. Tulloch was a great tackler and very instinctive. Plus, he fit really well in Teryl Austin's blitzing scheme.
@mikerothstein: Rashean Mathis and Darius Slay have had good seasons, but let's be real here. Mathis is not inhabiting his own island. Only Darrelle Revis can have an island. But the Lions should be very pleased with the production they have gotten from Slay and Mathis and safety Glover Quin through the first three weeks of the season. They have turned a perceived weakness into a good unit.
Amit from Facebook asks: Do you see the possibility of Lions and Cowboys talking trade for Mo Claiborne, with the help needed at CB, and Jerry openly frustrated is this a buy low opportunity? #LionsMailbag
Rothstein: I have not heard them having discussions with Dallas and I don't know if they'd go in that direction at this point. The Lions seem like they are working on making sure they have a certain type of player in their locker room and their secondary and I'm not totally sure he fits there. Also, the Lions are OK on the outside with Mathis and Slay for now. Now if there's another injury, it's possible Detroit could be desperate.
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."
When Stephen Tulloch was placed on injured reserve Monday, ending his season after getting injured while celebrating a sack of Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, one of the immediate options was to move Whitehead back from the strongside linebacker spot he won in camp to the middle linebacker slot inhabited by Tulloch.
So he moved into the lineup and out of the backup role. Now he’s sliding back into the middle.
“It puts you right in the middle of the defense,” Whitehead said. “It allows you to be able to flow sideline to sideline, as you saw with Tully over the years, make a lot of plays playing in the middle. It frees you up to do a lot.”
It also might have happened because Lions coach Jim Caldwell didn’t want to disrupt the flow of his other starting linebacker, DeAndre Levy.
Levy, the team’s weakside linebacker, is having another standout season. Levy has been so dominant, it made the coaches debate whether or not moving him out of his current spot was a smart thing. Levy has 27 tackles and an interception already this season for the NFL’s top-rated defense. Levy also likes being in a weekly routine, and there is no telling if a position switch would change that.
The coaches decided it wasn’t worth the move, so Whitehead will play the middle and Levy will stay in the same spot and continue to have to sometimes cover on the outside. That’s not an issue, as he is considered one of the top coverage linebackers in the league.
New York Jets coach Rex Ryan went a bit further, calling Levy’s coverage skills “special.”
“This is a really instinctive player and he’s a guy that, outside of the kid from Carolina (Luke Kuechly), I always say that you put him in the same rep as the kid from Carolina,” Ryan said. “… [Levy] is instinctive, he plays the run, he’s got great timing. He’s a heck of a football player when you stack him behind that defensive line of theirs.
“He’s impressive, man. Really impressive.”
Caldwell did not rule out eventually moving Levy to the middle, but it could be dictated by both the opponent and Levy’s play. If Levy continues at his current pace and Whitehead picks up Tulloch's responsibilities, he might never have to rethink that decision at all.
DT Nick Fairley: He forced a fumble last week with the same arm as his injured bicep, but the fourth-year defensive tackle has been playing extremely consistently – and consistently well – in 2014. Pro Football Focus lists him with five quarterback hurries in three games and when he plays opposite Ndamukong Suh, he is forcing teams to pay close attention to both of them. He is a big reason why the Lions have the No. 2 run defense in the NFL. Between him and Suh, it is near impossible to gain yards up the middle against Detroit.
Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin: The first-year NFL coordinator is making a name for himself rather quickly. Yes, it is only three games in but he has taken a defense filled with injuries in the secondary and turned it into the toughest defense in the league. The Lions rank in the top 10 in every major defensive statistical area except for interceptions and are allowing under 250 yards a game and just 15 points a game. The pace might not stick, but he has been extremely impressive early on.
RB Theo Riddick: The No. 3 running back for the Lions was touted heavily during the preseason as a player who could make a difference. So far, it hasn't happened as Detroit has stalled with the run and Riddick has barely seen any snaps. He still has a future as a running back but right now his contributions seem more based on special teams than the offense.
Lions' tight ends: It hasn't been a truly productive start for the position group. Brandon Pettigrew has turned into a blocking tight end both by scheme and by necessity with Detroit's issues at right tackle. Joseph Fauria has been targeted six times in three games and caught three passes for 49 yards and is splitting time with rookie Eric Ebron, who has three catches for 38 yards and a drop. All of those numbers for Ebron came against Carolina and he was targeted only once against Green Bay. This is a talented unit, but right now the production isn't there.
0 – Passes thrown to Joique Bell after he had 11 targets in Week 2.
1 – Defensive snap for Ashlee Palmer on Sunday. He was in on the Lions’ safety.
3.0 – Yards per carry for Detroit on Sunday, still lower than Jim Caldwell’s goal of 4 yards per carry.
3.03 – Yards per rush for the Lions this season, 31st in the NFL.
4.31 – Yards per play allowed by Detroit this season, best in the NFL.
6 – Lions defensive backs who have played nickel this season.
8 – Points scored by Detroit’s defense (a touchdown by Don Carey and a safety)
10 – Tackles for DeAndre Levy, who also broke up two passes.
10 – Players who played either 100 percent of the offensive or defensive snaps for Detroit on Sunday.
34:59 – Average time of possession for the Lions through the first three games, best in the NFL.
36 – Snaps for Bell on Sunday.
37 – Snaps for Reggie Bush on Sunday, the first time this year he’s had more than Bell.
52 – Yards for Corey Fuller on his first career catch.
57 – Snaps at receiver for both Golden Tate and Calvin Johnson on Sunday, representing 76 percent of offensive snaps.
61.6 – Matthew Stafford’s passer rating Sunday.
63.67 – Yards per game allowed rushing by the Lions, second in the NFL to the Jets.
120 – Yards per game the Lions are outgaining their opponents.
131 – Consecutive games Stephen Tulloch played in before his season-ending injury Sunday.
244.3 – Yards per game allowed by the Lions this season, best in the NFL.
The Lions are signing inside linebacker Josh Bynes off the Baltimore Ravens practice squad, Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun reported Monday night, adding another defensive player that both Lions head coach Jim Caldwell and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin are familiar with.
Doing this almost ensures the Lions are either going to move either DeAndre Levy or Tahir Whitehead into Tulloch's vacant middle linebacker spot and still play both of them in nickel packages. It also likely means Ashlee Palmer will take over as the starting SAM linebacker for now.
Bynes went undrafted out of Auburn and played three seasons with the Ravens, including in 15 games last season, where he made 41 tackles. At Auburn, Bynes played with future Lions first-round pick Nick Fairley.
While with the Ravens, Bynes made 72 career defensive tackles in 30 games and nine special teams stops, including one to clinch Baltimore's Super Bowl XLVII win over San Francisco. Baltimore waived Bynes on Sept. 2, only to bring him back on the team's practice squad, where he remained until signing with Detroit.
With the Lions, Bynes will likely end up in a special teams role, especially if Whitehead is given more responsibilities due to Tulloch's season-ending ACL injury.
And now, a look at Lions news from around the Interwebs:
- Inside the Lions' safety against Green Bay on Sunday.
- Stephen Tulloch's season is over due to an ACL injury. How the Lions will likely replace him. The Lions signed Alex Henery and cutNate Freese. Why the Lions had to cut Freese. Henery, meanwhile, is happy to be around. LaAdrian Waddle is planning on practicing this week. This week's Rookie Report. Injuries forcing time shares at certain positions.
- The Lions are not outlawing sack dances, writes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
- Stephen Tulloch's passion comes with a price -- his season, writes John Niyo of the Detroit News.
- The Lions succeeded in shutting down Jordy Nelson, writes Justin Rogers of MLive.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Stephen Tulloch was hopeful Sunday afternoon, even if the early evidence showed otherwise.
Tulloch injured his left knee celebrating a sack of Aaron Rodgers, a player he has faced multiple times in his career and has a tremendous amount of respect for. In doing so, he'll watch the rest of the Detroit Lions' season from the sidelines after injuring the ACL in his left knee.
It'll be the first time Tulloch will miss games in his NFL career and for him, for the Lions, the injury couldn't have come at a worse time. Detroit's defense was starting to show signs of being a really strong unit this season with Tulloch in the middle backing up the defensive line.
The way new Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was scheming, too, fit Tulloch's game so well. In three games, Tulloch already had two sacks -- inching closer to his career-high of 3.5 set last season. He was able to blitz more than he had in the past and was provided with open rush lanes because of Detroit's defensive front.
He was a major asset next to emerging star DeAndre Levy at linebacker, a consistent player who never got hurt and had five straight seasons of 110-plus tackles in the middle of the Tennessee and Detroit defenses.
Now, with one celebration, his 131-games played streak is over. His 100-plus tackles streak is over. And the Lions have a massive hole to fill in the middle of their defense, a defense that has already had to deal with season-ending injuries to two cornerbacks.
Tulloch can't even know how his body will respond to this because he hasn't been injured on the professional level before. He doesn't know what it is like to watch from the sidelines -- something he was frustrated with even after Detroit's win Sunday.
This is going to be an adjustment for him.
It'll be a shift for the Lions, too.
Detroit coach Jim Caldwell didn't indicate how the team will replace Tulloch in the middle, but the immediate option would seem to be sliding Levy over to the middle to handle setting the defense, something he did after Tulloch's injury Sunday.
Levy is exemplary in his preparation each week, so making that shift shouldn't be a huge deal for him, but it will take some getting used to. Theoretically, though, it might take some coverage responsibilities away from Levy if they made the move. That could be problematic for the Lions because Levy is one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL -- proven again Sunday when he broke up a fourth-down pass in the end zone while covering Green Bay receiver Jordy Nelson.
Another option would be Tahir Whitehead, who backed up Tulloch intermittently during the preseason and spring workouts. Moving him to the middle would allow Levy to stay where he might fit the defense the best and it still keeps the Lions' top two available linebackers on the field.
Ashlee Palmer would then likely slide into Whitehead's spot in Detroit's base 4-3 defense, at least until Kyle Van Noy returns from abdominal surgery.
The third option for the Lions is to try and sign a veteran linebacker off the street, although there aren't a ton of options available. Pat Angerer is a middle linebacker who has experience with Caldwell from their time in Indianapolis together and he was released from Atlanta during the preseason. Former Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma is also a free agent.
Detroit recently signed linebacker Jerrell Harris to its practice squad and released Brandon Hepburn, who landed on Philadelphia's practice squad.
- Linebacker Stephen Tulloch, who injured his knee in the game, had posted on Instagram earlier in the day about the death of his former teammate in Tennessee, Rob Bironas. Tulloch played with Bironas for five seasons and said the two went to country music concerts together. "It hurt me big time, man," Tulloch said of the news.
- The Lions didn’t seem to be making a big deal about beating Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the first time in his career, when he played a full game. Instead, they brushed it off as just another win early in a season. That is a mantra Jim Caldwell started in his postgame news conference when he said "I didn’t pay much attention to it."
And it may have cost the Detroit Lions middle linebacker.
Tulloch appeared to injure his knee on the celebration of his sack of Rodgers. He went to sideline after the play and trainers and doctors began looking at his legs. He came back into the game for one play, but ended up on the ground after it.
He officially was questionable to return, but was not spotted on the Lions’ sideline in the second quarter. He was replaced in the game by Tahir Whitehead.
It is a rivalry filled with dirtbags, scumbags, stomps and a winning streak going on longer than some NFL rookies have been alive. And that is just the past few decades.
Whenever the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions play each other, something ends up happening. So far, two of the major instigators of the recent vintage -- Packers lineman Josh Sitton and Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh -- have remained quiet. That doesn’t mean something won't end up happening between now and game time.
So what happens during the game? NFL Nation Lions reporter Michael Rothstein and Packers reporter Rob Demovsky break down what you might see Sunday.
Rothstein: So, Rob, the Lions are going to have their third different starting slot corner in as many weeks on Sunday. How have the Packers done in three-wide sets this season and is that an exploitable area for Aaron Rodgers?
Demovsky: The three-receiver set is essentially their base offense. They use it primarily when they go no-huddle. But it really has not mattered much what the Packers are in personnel-wise, they’ve been looking to Jordy Nelson time and again. At some point, teams are surely going to force other receivers to beat them and that’s where Randall Cobb could come in. Although he caught a pair of touchdown passes last Sunday against the Jets, he had only 39 yards receiving. Given that he’s their slot receiver, perhaps this is a matchup the Packers will look to exploit this week.
I know it’s early in the season, but Nelson is putting up Calvin Johnson-type numbers so far. In fact, Nelson and Johnson come into this game ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in receiving yards. Nelson turned 29 this offseason and doesn’t look like he’s lost a step. Johnson will turn 29 at the end of this month. Is there any reason to think he’s slowing down at all?
Rothstein: Not at all. There was perhaps some concern over that during spring workouts, but he came into training camp looking like the receiver who has dominated the NFL over the past four seasons. The Lions brought in Golden Tate and Eric Ebron to help elongate Johnson's career as much as to help Matthew Stafford from taking nasty hits. So far, it has worked. Johnson is still being targeted a ton, but Tate is tied for 25th in the league in catches and 19th in yards with 150. Not bad for a true No. 2 receiver.
As long as Johnson can avoid injuries, he should still be in his prime for another couple of seasons. He takes extremely good care of himself and the Lions are doing their best to manage him. In the preseason they barely played him. Even during regular-season games, they are doing what they can to keep him fresh. That'll be one difference for Green Bay. There will be plays he's healthy on the sideline as the team tries to keep him as healthy and fresh as possible.
While the receivers will get the attention, the last time these two teams played, Josh Sitton called Ndamukong Suh and friends "dirtbags" and the Lions defensive line responded with their best game of the season. Is there still a similar level of dislike there or has that changed with the switch in the Detroit coaching staff?
Demovsky: Certainly the change in the coaches eased some of the tension between the Packers’ players and the Lions. Let’s face it, Sitton was pretty blunt in what he said about Jim Schwartz, so some of that is now gone. And Evan Dietrich-Smith, the player Suh stomped on, is no longer with the Packers. That said, there’s always going to be an emotional charge as long as Suh is on the other side. That will never go away as long as he’s there and Sitton and T.J. Lang are here. But both of those players are experienced enough to know now that this game is bigger than the individuals. And besides, the last time the Packers were at Ford Field, they took a beating, so if anything, the Packers might go back there humbled.
How much carryover, if any, will the Lions take from that 40-10 win over the Packers last Thanksgiving given that Rodgers did not even play in the game?
Rothstein: Not much, I don't think. So much has changed since then, from Rodgers now being healthy to the Packers switching defensive fronts to the Lions changing coaching staffs and offensive and defensive philosophies. I think it helps the Lions -- and Stafford -- that he finally beat Green Bay so there's potentially an underlying confidence thing there, but not a ton to it. Detroit doesn't seem focused on last season at all. For instance, when I asked Suh about that game last year and the aforementioned dirtbags comment, he smiled and basically said that was last season and had nothing to do with this season.
One of the Detroit offensive linemen, Rob Sims, mentioned the defensive line looks a lot different this year both in size and personnel. How much has the defense really shifted and how much 3-4 might the Packers still run, if any?
Demovsky: It’s like someone took Dom Capers’ old playbook away from him given how much 4-3 he’s running. It’s the first time he has done that since he came to Green Bay in 2009. What’s more, when he’s playing a four-man line, he’s using Clay Matthews off the line of scrimmage almost like an inside linebacker. They’re also much smaller across the front without those big three defensive tackles they had last season. It’s a completely different look, and it remains to be seen whether the change has been for the good. So far, they have struggled to stop the run, allowing 176.5 yards per game, which ranks 31st in the NFL.
The Packers have not been able to run the ball at all up the middle this season, and it looks like it might not get any easier this week. Why has the Lions' run defense been so effective?
Rothstein: It starts with that familiar guy from earlier, Ndamukong Suh. While teams still like to double him as much as possible, he is so difficult to deal with when an offensive line is trying to run block. Plus, the Lions have become much more aggressive this season with sending their linebackers, so rush lanes up the middle that used to be available in the Wide 9 defensive front are no longer an option for opposing teams.
But it starts with Suh and then linebackers DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch. Those three players are going to make it difficult for any team Detroit faces to run up the middle. Here’s what you need to know there. The Giants and Panthers tried 34 rushes either up the middle or behind guards the first two weeks of the season. They’ve gotten pretty much nowhere, gaining only 69 yards. It’s a strength for Detroit, without a doubt.
"Just like I always say, I'm never too high, I'm never too low," Freese said Monday. "I go into this week as any other week. I put the game behind me, behind me, and I look forward to next week."
Freese said he opened up a little bit on his first missed 49-yard field goal as he tried to play the wind. He wanted to play it a little right. It stayed and went wide right. He said he hit the second field goal attempt well, but a wind gust caught it and he didn't account for the wind as much as he should have.
The two misses led to more questions again about Freese's status with the team and he said he wasn't concerned that the Lions might contemplate bringing in other kickers to try out this week.
He is, though, disappointed with how he has started his career.
"Yeah," Freese said. "But at the same time, it's not how you start, it's how you finish. So I got to keep moving forward and keep working hard."
Freese said he needs to work on his consistency and "get little tweaks here and there," although he did not go into specifics about what, exactly, is wrong with his game. This has been unusual for Freese, who did not miss a field goal his senior year in college.
As he works through it, at least one Lions player offered support to him as he tries to remedy his current kicking woes.
"I talked to him throughout the course of the game," linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. "I said you know what, he's going to win the game for us. Obviously, he's shaken up a little bit, missed the first kick last week, missed two this week.
"But that's not going to define him and his career. He's a rookie. He'll learn from it. He'll get better. We have a good coaching staff that will work on it with him. I'm all behind him. This locker room is behind him. We're encouraging him and we're behind him."
The Lions gained some game evidence against Cleveland and even more against Oakland last Friday as first cuts loom in less than a week.
Here are some players that stood out -- positively or negatively -- on defense against the Raiders:
Defensive end George Johnson: Really good effort. Able to sidestep linemen pretty well. A little bit slow coming off the line and doesn’t have great speed, but his size makes up for that. On his first pressure, Matt Schaub danced away from him, but fight into Stephen Tulloch. He definitely pushed the pocket when he was able to rush in passing situations. Xavier Proctor was credited with a second half sack, but it was Johnson who really made the play -- and probably should have been credited for the sack, too. On the following play, he almost had another big play but was held.
Defensive end Larry Webster: Did well coming off the edge. Didn’t always get to the quarterback, but caused pressure enough to make a difference -- including the pressure that injured Derek Carr. He was in a pretty good position over and over, although it didn’t seem like he used a variety of moves. He basically appeared to rely on his instinct and speed and win the battle.
Defensive tackle Nick Fairley: Watched him intently. Was pushed off the line really easily pretty often. Even on the Ihedigbo interception, where he was dictating his matchup with the offensive lineman, he didn’t create too much pressure and the lineman still had good position on him. Was handled by the offensive linemen in one-on-one coverage on a lot of plays, although he did draw double teams on occasion.
Linebacker Kyle Van Noy: Thought he was much more active Friday night. Was good in coverage -- handling a wide receiver -- and also took some good rush lanes against Oakland’s passers. He received a ton of snaps and is really in a split situation right now with Ashlee Palmer.
Linebacker Stephen Tulloch: Smart blitzer. Both times he was sent early, he got pressure -- once with DeAndre Levy and once with Johnson. If the Lions use him more in that role than in prior years, then he should end up having a good season. He seems to have good instincts from the second level to reach the quarterback.
Cornerback Rashean Mathis: Pretty decent night for him. Gave up some passes, but had a really strong pass breakup in the second quarter and also broke up the pass that led to a James Ihedigbo interception. He really looks like the Lions’ top cornerback right now. Mathis had a bad holding call against James Jones, though.
Cornerback Drayton Florence: Yes, he was a late signing, but the only thing of note he has done in his first week-plus with the Lions was get burned deep on a double move by Greg Little. The only reason he still has a shot here -- and it probably isn’t a big one -- is neither Chris Greenwood nor Jonte Green has established themselves either.
Cornerback Jonte Green: He was picked on mercilessly by Derek Carr and Matt McGloin. Even when he didn’t give up the reception, he was beaten on a play -- including on a deep route where Carr overthrew Greg Little. If it was a more accurate pass, Little had a touchdown. Green also picked up a defensive holding call on the final drive. On the final drive, McGloin went at Green at least five times. Green was also in the general area of McGloin’s touchdown pass (although that wasn’t his fault since it appeared to be zone coverage and there were multiple players around).
- 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.
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.”
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.