Detroit Lions: Stephen Tulloch

The Detroit Lions are halfway through their preseason schedule and players are starting to emerge either as surprise candidates for roster spots or surprisingly on the roster bubble.

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).

Lions Camp Report: Day 6

August, 2, 2014
Aug 2
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.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Ndamukong Suh might not be under contract with the Detroit Lions beyond this season, but coach Jim Caldwell is confident a deal will get done with the All-Pro defensive tackle.

“Absolutely,” Caldwell said Sunday. “I’m always optimistic. I think you know me by now, and I think without question they are working at it, and I think something will be done at the appropriate time.”

When the appropriate time is, however, is unknown. When the offseason began, both team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew said publicly that they wanted Suh in Detroit and that Suh wanted to stay in Detroit long term. They believed a deal would get done soon, with Mayhew saying at the NFL combine it would be done close to the start of the regular season.

March came and went, and other than a change in Suh’s agent from Relativity Sports to Jimmy Sexton and CAA, no contract was agreed to. The offseason continued to progress, and then ESPN Insider Chris Mortensen reported last week that a team source was not optimistic a deal would be done before training camp begins Monday.

While this would appear to be a distraction heading into camp, Caldwell said he has experience dealing with players entering the final year of their contract.

“I’m not worried about it in that regard because Tom and obviously Martin and ownership will get that taken care of, and I’ve been through it a few times,” Caldwell said. “I’ve been through it with Peyton [Manning], and I’ve been through it most recently with [Joe] Flacco, and so there’s a number of guys that are going through that throughout the league and our team is no different.”

Caldwell said he would not be treating Suh, the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft who has a $22.4 million cap number this season, differently than before. He was pleased, though, with how Suh showed up to camp, saying he is in the best shape he’s ever been in.

Players also insisted Suh’s contract situation would not be a distraction as camp begins, saying Suh is under contract and will be in camp. Suh told The Associated Press on Saturday that he felt his contract status would not distract him as the season approaches.

As far as selling Suh on remaining in Detroit long term, opinions differ on how to do that. Longtime center Dominic Raiola said winning this season would be a good way to sell Suh and other players on wanting to stay with the Lions.

Linebacker Stephen Tulloch said he wouldn’t have to sell staying in Detroit to Suh.

“We don’t have to say anything to Suh,” Tulloch said. “Suh’s a businessman, as we all know.”
Over the next two weeks, we’ll be previewing the Detroit Lions entering training camp, which begins at the end of July. A reminder -- unless a player is an entrenched starter, so much of what will happen over the next month or so will be entirely fluid as players attempt to make an NFL roster.

Position: Linebacker

Starter: WLB -- DeAndre Levy; MLB -- Stephen Tulloch; SLB -- Kyle Van Noy

[+] EnlargeDeAndre Levy
AP Photo/rick OsentoskiDetroit outside linebacker DeAndre Levy seems on the cusp of becoming an elite player.
Depth (in training camp): Outside -- Ashlee Palmer, Travis Lewis, Brandon Hepburn, Cory Greenwood. Inside -- Tahir Whitehead, Julian Stanford, Justin Jackson.

Likely roster spots: 5-6.

What to expect in camp: Like a lot of the other positions on the roster, much of the competition during camp will be to spell the starters and win special teams spots. DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch are entrenched as starters and won’t be losing their jobs during camp barring injury.

The one starting spot somewhat up for grabs is the Sam linebacker, where rookie Kyle Van Noy is expected to win the job but will face a tough competition from veteran Ashlee Palmer, who had the job last season. Van Noy missed part of spring workouts because of injury, so the second-round pick might be a little bit behind when training camp opens next week. But he will be given every possible chance to win the job. If he does, it will be interesting to see if Palmer hangs on to a roster spot.

Tahir Whitehead might be close to a roster lock as well because of his special teams capability. He was a four-team player last season and was named the Lions’ special teams MVP. Considering the team retained John Bonamego and Evan Rothstein as the special teams coaches, this bodes well for Whitehead’s ability to remain on the roster.

The rest of the linebackers will potentially be competing for one roster spot, so it should be a pretty intense battle throughout camp. It will be primarily a special teams slot, and multiple guys -- including Stanford and Lewis -- have extensive experience there.

What Detroit needs to see: This starts with Van Noy. Much like Eric Ebron on offense, he needs to show Detroit he is ready to be a capable starter from the beginning of the season. Though he won’t be relied on quite as much as Ebron because the Lions will play a fair amount of nickel throughout the season, he needs to show he can handle a starter’s role after the team traded up in the second round to draft him.

At some point this season, Van Noy will end up as the starter there. His pass rush and coverage capabilities are too valuable for Detroit to keep him off the field, but the quicker the Lions see he can handle it consistently and without many mistakes, the faster he will supplant Palmer at the top of the depth chart. Ideally for Detroit, it happens by the middle of training camp.

Detroit knows what it has in Levy and Tulloch, although they wouldn’t mind if Levy completes his progression into one of the game’s top linebackers.

With reserves, if Whitehead can become a viable backup, that will give the Lions some flexibility because of his special teams capabilities. Entering his third season, he has to take that step now or be cast as a special teams player throughout his career. Lewis and Stanford are in similar positions. If they show they are able to be good in situations -- much like Rocky McIntosh was in short-yardage last season -- they have a chance to stick beyond special teams.

Justin Jackson is a player to pay attention to when it comes to a potential practice squad spot because of his athleticism, but he will have a rough road to a 53-man spot.
The offseason workouts have concluded and with players and coaches about six weeks away from the start of training camp, one last rest and individualized training period will commence.

After a month of workouts, though, there have been some players who have made cases for potential roster spots in the fall and others who did not help themselves nearly as much.

Just like the start of the spring workouts, here is a look at the Detroit defensive and special teams depth chart -- along with a post-minicamp guess at the 53-man roster that could end up being the Lions' team in the fall. Remember, a lot can change between now and then.

Changes from our May defensive prediction are in parentheses. The offensive roster prediction lives here.


Starters: Ezekiel Ansah (open); Jason Jones (closed)

Backups (in projected depth-chart order for now): Devin Taylor, Darryl Tapp, Larry Webster, George Johnson, Kalonji Kashama.

Thoughts: Ansah didn’t practice this spring but he is a starter and should have a good year. Jones started to look healthier and will likely be pushed by Taylor throughout camp. Taylor may end up winning the job. Tapp is a good veteran and Webster is raw. Really raw.

Roster locks: Ansah, Jones, Taylor. (no changes)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Ansah, Jones, Taylor, Tapp, Webster. (Webster up from practice squad)


Starters: Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley.

Backups: C.J. Mosley, Caraun Reid, Andre Fluellen, Xavier Proctor, Jimmy Saddler-McQueen, Greg Hickman.

Thoughts: The Lions cut a lot of marginal veteran weight here during the spring and really somewhat set their defensive tackle depth chart. Suh and Fairley, at least in the spring, look like they could be the dominant pairing the Lions wanted the past few seasons. Both Jones and Taylor can play inside, so that gives the Lions flexibility.

Roster locks: Suh, Fairley, Mosley (no changes)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Suh, Fairley, Mosley, Reid, Proctor (practice squad) (Add Proctor to practice squad)


Starters: DeAndre Levy (weak side); Stephen Tulloch (middle); Kyle Van Noy (strong side)

Backups (in projected depth-chart order for now): Ashlee Palmer, Tahir Whitehead, Travis Lewis, Julian Stanford, Cory Greenwood, Brandon Hepburn, Justin Jackson.

Thoughts: The starters are pretty set here with the two veterans and the rookie, Van Noy. Palmer will end up playing his way onto the team, but watch for Whitehead here. He is a potential candidate to push for playing time or at least be a stable backup in the middle. The last spot here could be between Stanford and Lewis for a mainly special-teams spot. In this version, I cut both Stanford and Lewis in favor of a sixth cornerback, but could easily see that changing by the time the next roster projection is done before camp.

Roster locks: Levy, Tulloch, Van Noy (no changes)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Levy, Tulloch, Van Noy, Palmer, Whitehead, Hepburn (practice squad). (Jackson off practice squad, Palmer to the 53-man roster).


Starters: Darius Slay, Rashean Mathis (Chris Houston off team).

Backups (in projected depth-chart order for now): Bill Bentley, Cassius Vaughn, Chris Greenwood, Nevin Lawson, Jonte Green, Aaron Hester, Mohammed Seisay.

Thoughts: The release of Houston opens up this competition and a roster spot for another cornerback, potentially. Slay and Mathis are likely starters here with everyone else fighting for time and, other than Lawson, a roster spot. It’ll be one of the toughest battles of camp. This was one of the toughest cuts I had to make.

Roster locks: Slay, Mathis, Lawson. (Add Mathis, subtract Houston)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Slay, Mathis, Bentley, Vaughn, Lawson, Greenwood, Seisay (practice squad). (Houston, Green off; Seisay on practice squad).


Starters: Glover Quin, James Ihedigbo.

Backups (in projected depth-chart order for now): Don Carey, Isa Abdul-Quddus, DeJon Gomes, Jerome Couplin, Gabe Lynn.

Thoughts: The Lions are good with their top three safeties in Quin, Ihedigbo and Carey. Carey can play both nickel and corner in an emergency, which makes him imminently valuable for the Lions. Abdul-Quddus and Gomes might be competing for one roster spot and that should be an intense battle throughout camp. Between these two was the last cut I made. Initially had both making the roster until the end.

Roster locks: Quin, Ihedigbo, Carey. (no changes)

If picking the roster today, these guys would be on it: Quin, Ihedigbo, Carey, Abdul-Quddus, Couplin (practice squad)


Starter: Nate Freese

Backup: Giorgio Tavecchio

Thoughts: Still Freese's job to lose, but this might be a tougher competition than anticipated. Tavecchio has the stronger leg and if he can add consistency, he’ll win the gig. Otherwise, it’s Freese’s. Right now, it’s a toss-up.

Roster locks: None.

If picking the roster today, this guy would be on it: Freese.


Starter: Sam Martin

Backups: None.

Thoughts: None. It’s Martin.

Roster locks: Martin.

If picking the roster today, this guy would be on it: Martin.


Starter: Don Muhlbach.

Backups: Jordan Thompson.

Thoughts: None. Barring injury, Muhlbach will be the team’s long-snapper.

Roster locks: Muhlbach.

If picking the roster today, this guy would be on it: Muhlbach.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – The Detroit Lions offseason officially began around 1 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, when Jim Caldwell finished his final media obligation of the spring and the players all shuttled off to begin a six-week break.

When they reconvene, things will become much more serious at the Lions’ facility to start training camp and prepare for the 2014 season. But there were some things to learn throughout the time Detroit spent here in the spring, both from an installation perspective and from who might actually see an increased role come the fall.

Here are some thoughts on the final day of minicamp -- and of the offseason program as a whole.
  • Ross
    Jeremy Ross had the most impressive minicamp/organized team activities session of any player -- at least from what the media was able to see. He established himself as the team’s returner and spent enough time on the first team that he is going to have a role in the offense as well this fall. Yes, Golden Tate's absence had something to do with the amount of snaps Ross saw, but his speed and size make him attractive as a player who can be used in the slot and on the outside.
  • The player of the final day of minicamp might have been Joseph Fauria. The tight end caught multiple touchdown passes in team drills and used his size well in the red zone. Some of the touchdowns were over undrafted free agents, but he needed to have a good camp and he did that.
  • Conversely, Eric Ebron had what seemed to be a rough indoctrination to the NFL. He struggled with dropped passes throughout OTAs and mandatory minicamp, including two drops on the final day of practice. Drops were an issue for him at North Carolina, so to see him continue this trend during his first few weeks as a professional should be at least a little bit concerning to the Lions. That said, it is still early and he is clearly still learning everything, so it could be an issue of just overthinking on routes and not letting instincts take over. This will be a situation worth monitoring during training camp.
  • Waddle
    Right tackle is going to be a competition, and it could last all the way through the end of camp. LaAdrian Waddle and Corey Hilliard essentially split first-team snaps throughout the spring practices, and Caldwell did not give an indication one player or another was going to win the job anytime soon. Tough to see Cornelius Lucas winning the job, but the undrafted free agent could end up playing his way into the conversation at some point. His size alone makes him attractive. This will be the spot to watch on the line in camp. If Rob Sims doesn’t come into camp healthy, left guard could be a spot to pay attention to as well.
  • The defense looked a lot better than the offense Thursday -- a day after the offense looked incredibly sharp. There were not a lot of big plays on the defense, but the secondary broke up a lot of passes throughout the morning session. Seeing something like this is fine by Caldwell, because he almost expected the offense and defense to rotate having good practices. Makes it more competitive that way. The defense was particularly stout in the two-minute offense, where it held the offense to three-and-out on two straight possessions.
  • Giorgio Tavecchio rebounded from his rough Tuesday practice to make all of his kicks Thursday. Nate Freese didn’t fare as well, missing at least one field goal attempt and almost missing an extra point. Caldwell seemed fine with how both kickers have performed thus far in the spring, and it sounds like both will enter camp with a shot at the job.
  • One player who saw no action during the entire spring was James Franklin, the undrafted free agent quarterback from Missouri. He took no snaps at quarterback during team drills in any practice open to the media. Why? Just not enough reps. It will be interesting to see how he does in July and August, because it sounds like a lot of his snaps will actually come in preseason games from the way Caldwell spoke.
  • Spent some time watching Nick Fairley on Thursday since it will be the last time we see him until training camp. The weight loss really is staggering. He looks much more explosive than he was at any point last season, and he’s just moving a lot better. He is still bigger than Ndamukong Suh, but he looks like he can keep up with him more.
  • It will be interesting to see where Devin Taylor fits into the defense. He will definitely have a role, but he couldn’t compete much at the closed end position because he spent a lot of time with the first group at open end since Ezekiel Ansah did not practice. Taylor could play either spot and even some on the inside. He’s going to see more snaps in 2014 than he did in 2013 -- that’s a fairly confident prediction right now.
  • The defensive aggression will fit the secondary well. They were making plays on the ball and being smart about their reads and coverage. This is without the ability to really bump receivers at the line or press receivers at all. When they are able to do that, the Lions will likely become even more aggressive. Much different than a season ago.
  • Attendance report from practice: Not there at all: Stephen Tulloch, T.J. Jones, Chris Houston. There but not participating: Tate, Mikel Leshoure, Joique Bell, Ansah, Kevin Ogletree.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The most-watched sporting event in the most popular sport in the world begins Thursday and in the United States, there will be potentially more attention than ever paid to the World Cup in Brazil.

That includes some of the athletes in the most popular sport in the United States -- the NFL. Ndamukong Suh was one of the Nike athletes that modeled the jerseys the Americans will wear in South America throughout the competition. Last season, when the World Cup draw was announced, Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah made a not-so-bold prediction: His home country, Ghana, would beat the United States again when the teams play in their Group G opener Monday.

In the spirit of the summer and the World Cup, a bunch of Detroit Lions were willing to offer their selections for either who they felt would win the World Cup -- or at least who they wanted to win. (And for what it's worth, when I tried to talk to Ansah about the World Cup on Monday, he declined talking to the media about anything.)

Ansah gave his opinion earlier. Here are some others from the Lions -- including some South American love from Calvin Johnson. And if you missed it, Barry Sanders is in a commercial promoting the World Cup on ESPN, one of many saying I Believe We Will Win. Watch the video. It's pretty awesome.

This isn't a true in-season Question of the Week, but to view prior Questions of the Week from the 2013 season, check out this link.

WR Calvin Johnson: "Phew, that's tough. I like Argentina. I've always liked them since '06. I've been playing with them in the World Cup since '06. Other than that, always like to see the States make it."

So who wins?

CJ: "I would say Argentina."

LB Stephen Tulloch: "I want to say USA but Brazil's strong. Italy's strong. There's good competition. I like Brazil. I've always been a Brazil fan. Ronaldo back in the day. I've just always been a fan of them so I'll see what they can do."

WR Ryan Broyles: "I don't even watch it enough, but my favorite team (club) is Real Madrid. So I'd go with Spain then. They've got Barcelona. They've got Real Madrid. There are players from those teams and those are the teams I play with in FIFA so I really don't branch out outside of that. So I'm just playing favoritism. You know what I mean. Guys that I know that I play with. I would say USA, but man, it's tough for them."

WR Kris Durham: "Who do you think I think is going to win? I'm going USA. Yes. Why would I not go for them? That's the real question. You've got to go for the home country. Obviously there's some good countries around there, but I don't know enough about soccer. I just go for the home country."

P Sam Martin: "You know what I'm supposed to say. US, baby. That's all I care about. For real. I mean, obviously you've got the powerhouses, Spain, Brazil. But the US has got a good team this year. I'm a huge fan, dude. I love the World Cup. I look forward to it every time it comes around and I'm not going to miss a US game. You've got to believe. You've got to believe. Period."

K Nate Freese: "I'd like to say the US but even their head coach says [no]. I like Brazil, though. Being at home, they've got some pretty great players on the team."

K Giorgio Tavecchio: "Either Italy or the United States. That's my two countries. I can't pick one. I hope Italy and the United States make it to the final, let's put it that way."

But who do you think will win?

Tavecchio: "I don't know. There's a lot of great teams. Brazil I think is the favorite. They are at home. I've heard them defined as a mixture of steel and silk. Very talented, very physical and very fast paced. But if Italy gets past the first round, they are always dangerous. They find a way of making it happen in the important games."

OL Rodney Austin: "USA."

To win? Why?

Austin: "That's where we're from. USA all the way."

C Dominic Raiola: "USA."

QB Dan Orlovsky: "I will [watch], for sure. I don't know much about soccer. I can never against the United States, though. If that's a dumb pick, I'm OK with that. After watching 'Lone Survivor,' I can't."

TE Brandon Pettigrew: "I don't even know who is in it. Thirty-two countries, I had no idea. Hopefully the US. I really don't watch soccer. Don't really know anything about it, but I'd definitely go for the atmosphere."
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – There is now one day left.

The Detroit Lions finished up the second day of their mandatory minicamp Wednesday and it was probably the most balanced day the team has had during their sessions. After the first two weeks of open practices where the defense was dominant and the last couple of practices where the offense has been better, neither group seemed to take over the practice.

That might be a good sign for the Lions that the offense is catching up to the defense even if both sides of the ball were without key contributors. Here are some thoughts, notes and observations from the day.
  • A decent amount of players missed practice Wednesday. Wide receiver TJ Jones, cornerback Chris Houston and linebacker Stephen Tulloch were not spotted at practice. Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (shoulder), guard Rob Sims, wide receiver Golden Tate (shoulder), wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, running back Mikel Leshoure and running back Joique Bell (knee) all sat out practice. Ansah, Tate and Bell were expected. Sims has missed team drills all offseason, as had Glover Quin, who only worked in individual drills Wednesday.
  • Jason Jones appears to be slowly moving back to health. He seemed more active Wednesday than he has during past open practices, including working some with the first unit. He is still coming back from a ruptured patella tendon suffered last season, but he will be a contender for the closed defensive end spot in the fall opposite Ansah on the defensive line.
  • Player of the practice: For the second straight day, it is Calvin Johnson. Any question about Johnson’s health are now gone. He was once again the best player on the field and caught everything around him. He appears to be completely over his injuries and has his timing with Matthew Stafford down once again. He beat any cornerback the Lions lined up against him during 1-on-1 periods and on one play leapt over DeAndre Levy to catch a pass that he ended up running in for a touchdown.
  • During those 1-on-1 drills between defensive backs and receivers, the receivers clearly won the day. They had at least six completions to start the drill, including Kris Durham reaching out to make a difficult catch in front of Darius Slay. Corey Fuller also beat Aaron Hester on a post route that was pretty impressive.
  • Sequence of the day: Two impressive plays in a row. First, safety James Ihedigbo jumped a route from Stafford to Brandon Pettigrew to break up the pass. It was a great break on the ball by Ihedigbo. Stafford followed it up, though, with a perfectly threaded ball to Patrick Edwards into a small window over safety Don Carey. It was the best throw Stafford made on the day.
  • Carey is starting to really emerge as the probable third safety, although this is not unexpected. He once again filled in for Quin during team drills and has been a decent presence back there. In the secondary, Jonte Green is the one player who doesn’t seem to be getting as many reps as one might think.
  • As they did Tuesday, Rodney Austin and rookie Travis Swanson both took first-team reps at guard and center. While Austin worked some at center Tuesday, Swanson was there Wednesday. In some ways, this is a test from Jim Caldwell to see if both of them can play both guard and center, something imperative for a reserve interior lineman. With Sims out, Austin has spent the majority of spring working with the first team at left guard.
  • This is getting repetitive, but Theo Riddick continues to be impressive. He seems a little faster than last season and might have improved more than anyone else on the roster from last season. He is putting himself in position to have a real role in this offense this season after being primarily a backup in 2013.
  • Written about Eric Ebron’s drops here a bit, so worth noting when he makes the type of catch the Lions drafted him for. He extended on what looked like a poorly thrown ball to stretch in front of safety Isa Abdul-Quddus to make the grab before hitting the ground. It is one of the best catches he has made in the open practice setting this spring.
  • With Tulloch not in attendance, Tahir Whitehead took a lot of the first-team snaps at linebacker next to Levy. He was pretty active there. While he is primarily a special-teams standout – he’ll end up having a roster spot because of his special-teams play – that the Lions staff inserted him there behind Tulloch would appear to indicate he is having a pretty good spring. After practice, Caldwell cited how Whitehead controls the movement of other players in that space as one of the reasons they like him behind Tulloch.
  • Really good day for Sam Martin. The second-year punter had some help with the wind, but he crushed almost all of his punts. It is tough to see yard lines because of how the Lions’ outdoor practice fields are set up, but he said after practice one of his punts went over 80 yards and had a few go at least 70 yards. He said his shortest on the day was 63 yards. Strong day for him.
DEARBORN, Mich. -- There was a chance that Willie Young could have returned to Michigan much earlier than Saturday, that his cameo appearance at Stephen Tulloch's charity softball game would have been just another weekend.

Young spent his first four seasons in the NFL with the Detroit Lions, first as a reserve defensive end before blossoming into a starter in 2013. Then, with a chance to move on after last season, he took it, he departed for the division rival Chicago Bears during free agency.

Even if staying in Detroit was an apparent option.

“They did [show interest] but we definitely broke ways on good terms,” Young said. “I definitely enjoyed my years here, I can say that. Thankful for the opportunity I was able to create for myself here and landing me in Chicago right now.”

Thus far, his time with the Bears has been uneventful. He lives by the team’s practice facility. He said in his first month or so of living in Chicago, he has been downtown twice.

He’ll eventually get down there more often, but he said he has spent his time trying to learn his second NFL playbook with his second NFL team and to be comfortable with all of the new things he is learning. He said the Bears’ scheme, a 4-3 like what the Lions ran under Gunther Cunningham, isn’t too much different than what he played in during his time in Detroit.

But getting used to new surroundings is still a change.

One thing that won’t change for Young this season is Thanksgiving. Even though he’ll be part of the opponent, he’ll spend his fifth straight Thanksgiving playing football at Ford Field -- this time as part of the Bears.

“It’s a little bit more than another game,” Young said. “I keep saying it’s just another game, but the thing is you’re playing against guys that you practiced against for so many years.”

Young felt a bond formed there. It’s part of the reason why even though he left the Lions, he drove the four-plus hours -- including, he said, traffic and a flat tire -- to show up at Tulloch’s charity event.

He wanted to show support and visit with his former teammates, much the same as Cleveland wide receiver Nate Burleson. Burleson was released by the Lions in February but also showed up at the game to hang out with the Lions.

To both men, this showed there was something more to their time in Detroit other than football.

“It definitely means a lot. It does. It absolutely does. Just to know that guys go against each other, all day every day,” Young said. “On Sundays, it looks like we’re out to decapitate each other but at the end of the day, somewhere along the way, some people lose sight of the fact that it’s a brotherhood to me.

“I don’t know, man. I really just, you feel the brotherhood and it doesn’t change. Especially with the guys you sweat with every day, line up with every day, put your hand in the dirt with every day, fight with, all that.”

That’s why Young was welcomed back, even if he’ll be playing for a rival next season. He was once a part of them and even though his jersey may have changed -- that bond still remains.
DEARBORN, Mich. -- Walking in from the distance, slowly creeping closer to his former teammates and still friends for part of this reunion weekend, Nate Burleson looked like a giant traffic cone.

This may have been a charity softball game put on by Detroit Lions Stephen Tulloch and Dominic Raiola, but the former receiver made sure that even as he visited his old team, he wanted to make sure everyone knew where he went as well.

[+] EnlargeNate Burleson
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsFormer Lions WR Nate Burleson said he's glad to serve as a mentor to his new teammates in Cleveland.
Hence the orange shirt, orange shorts and straw hat with an orange piece of cloth on it. Make no mistake, Burleson is a Cleveland Browns wide receiver now. Detroit may feel like his second home, but his job is now a state away.

“I’m enjoying it, man. I’m having a good time,” Burleson said before the Tulloch charity softball game Saturday. “We’re a young team. We’ve got a good team. It’s good to be a part of a team that’s doing something.

“It’s similar to the situation when I came here. It wasn’t a desirable place, but Cleveland is one of those places where they deserve to have a good season.”

Much like he tried to do with the Lions the past few seasons, Burleson is aiming to be a mentor to a young team with stars like Josh Gordon and Johnny Manziel. Considering Burleson was close to retirement after being released by Detroit in February -- he said he had conversations with a television network for an analyst role this season -- he understands part of his role with the Browns is to teach the young players to become professionals.

Even as he started his time in Cleveland, he wasn’t sure how everything would go. He looked around and saw players a decade younger than him. Then he worked through one-on-one drills and everything still felt like it was working out well.

So he knew he made the right decision to return for at least one more season in the NFL. After all, television networks aren’t going anywhere even if he was on the move from the Lions.

Burleson had indicated throughout last season he wanted to finish his career in Detroit. He had made plans to do so, but understood he was an injury risk after missing almost half of the 2013 season with a broken forearm suffered in a pizza-related crash on Interstate 696 in Michigan. The season before, he broke his leg on Monday Night Football.

For a team that is focused on winning now, they couldn’t take that risk. Burleson played in 15 games the past two seasons, totaling 66 catches for 701 yards and three touchdowns.

“There’s no hard feelings, I think mostly because of the injuries,” Burleson said. “When I was on the field I was productive. I feel I was a great complement to Calvin [Johnson]. Just too many injuries and as an organization, I understand it. It would have been great to have me back for one more year but there’s such a big question mark, 'can he stay healthy?' Unfortunately, that’s part of the game and I was OK with it.”

There wasn’t anything wistful for Burleson about his return to Michigan this time. He continued to mesh with his old teammates on offense -- they were Team Raiola in the softball game -- but his next trip back might carry a bit more emotion.

The Lions and Browns play in the preseason opener, meaning the first-ever game for Manziel, the first-ever game for Jim Caldwell as the coach of the Detroit Lions and in a small sidebar, the return of Burleson to a place he outwardly seemed to love.

“Have I thought about it? Are you kidding me? Man, I’m racking my brain figuring out what celebration I’m gonna do because I’m gonna get a fine,” Burleson said. “I’m gonna get a fine. Seriously. I'm going to go to my coach and say, ‘Hey, look, I’m going to get a fine. I’m going to do something crazy.’

“It’s going to be a little bit of an appreciation celebration to the fans and the city of Detroit. It’s also going to be kind of a poke in the back saying you should of kept me because I’m still ballin'. Nah, you know me, I’m a prideful individual so I’m going to do something that’s representing Cleveland, representing Ohio, and it’s going to be fun and classy.”
The Lions, lying in wait for the new year ...

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Stephen Tulloch is adamant. This season, he is going to win the softball game he helps put together each year to raise money through his foundation.

It hasn't gone well for him in the past, as he had lost to a team captained by former Lions wide receiver Nate Burleson. With Burleson now in Cleveland, center Dominic Raiola has taken over the team opposite Tulloch. He would like to keep the Lions linebacker winless in his own game.

"I'm not losing this year, I promise you," Tulloch said. "I'm tired of losing, man."

No one really loses, though, since the game is played for charity -- raising money for the Detroit public schools through his Stephen Tulloch Foundation.

The event starts with a home run derby at 2 p.m. Saturday at Diamond 1 at Ford Woods Park in Dearborn, Michigan. Many current Detroit Lions are scheduled to participate, including Eric Ebron, Reggie Bush, Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate and James Ihedigbo.

"It's another way to bring the team together and it's for a good cause," Tulloch said. "This year, we're raising money for Detroit public schools. It's going to be a great event. A lot more participation this year amongst the team."

And now, a look at Lions news from around the Interwebs:
Like last week, a ton of great questions entering the final week of Detroit Lions OTA practices.

A reminder, to ask a question for the Mailbag, either use the hashtag #LionsMailbag on Twitter or email So let's get to it.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Joe Lombardi sees what everyone else has with the Detroit Lions. Two weeks into organized team activities (OTAs), two open practices and the team’s defense is making the offense look like it is run by a first-time offensive coordinator.

This has not deterred Lombardi, who Jim Caldwell plucked from the New Orleans’ quarterbacks room to head up his offense in his second NFL head coaching gig. Lombardi believes. He also understands the nuance that will come with his offense will likely mean it will take a little bit of time to mesh.

Even as the defense continues to make play after play.

“Always at this point you can have that appearance,” Lombardi said. "You know, the big thing to me is I don’t even necessarily concern myself as much as whether we won the play or not.

“Listen, I know these plays work. I know that the offense that we’re developing will work.”

He has this confidence because he has seen it before, albeit with a different quarterback and set of wide receivers. Lombardi believes because he knows the Saints' offense turned Drew Brees -- then a good quarterback but one ultimately dispensable by San Diego because of the presence of Philip Rivers -- into one of the NFL’s elite players.

So he thinks it’ll happen again, even if the defense is ahead right now. Even Reggie Bush, who ran this offense in New Orleans, agreed that the defense is playing better than the offense at this point.

Yet Lombardi is defending his offense already because of what the Detroit defense has been able to do -- and how they have let the offense know about it.

“Defense always chirps,” Bush said. “It’s part of what they do.”

The team’s new defensive coordinator, Teryl Austin, helps there. He is a ball of energy and the enthusiasm he displays extends down to his assistant coaches and then to the players. They love the scheme. They like the aggression. They believe in what they are doing and seeing.

Not that the offense doesn’t -- the players there have also been positive about what the Lions are doing -- but when the defense can perform more on instinct than worrying about steps two weeks into OTAs, that’s a pretty strong sign.

“I think we had a good day, man,” linebacker Stephen Tulloch said Wednesday. “Got after it, made some plays. The offense, they get paid, too, but dominated today, man.

“We were just flying around. There are so many different things in our scheme and so many looks.”

It has given Detroit some flexibility and versatility with what it plans on doing, from lining up ends inside the tackles to rush lanes for linebackers to coverages that can disguise plays to help the secondary. It is all stuff that has been done before, but for the Lions right now, it feels shiny and new.

And the Lions' defenders -- from the old ones to the new ones -- all know what the team spent on the offense both this offseason and in offseasons prior. They know the offense is supposed to be one of the best in the NFL.

So that leaves them asking -- why not us, too. If that happens, Detroit’s defense might be in better shape than anyone anticipated.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Every day, the Detroit Lions' coaches remind their players of the same thing during offseason workouts.

Watch where you’re going. Avoid collisions. Do your best not to injure one of your teammates.

Many of the Lions players are competing for job and training camp roster spots and depth chart places throughout OTAs and minicamp. They also must realize when it comes to what happens in the fall, it won’t matter at all if the players they are competing with are unable to be on the field with them.

This was hit on even more dramatically this week when Dallas lost linebacker Sean Lee for the season with an ACL injury. The injury – and injuries always happen in football – could be crippling for the Cowboys' defense and leaves them without one of their best playmakers.

“Stay off the ground,” linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. “Just run around. Stay off the ground.”

For the most part during Detroit’s open OTA practices, the Lions have managed to do this. Of course, when there have been collisions, it has involved receiver Calvin Johnson – who ran into players knocking him to the ground in both open practices.

Losing Johnson, who is healthy again after knee and finger injuries affected him last season, would be at least as damaging to Detroit as losing Lee will be to Dallas.

So protecting all players – especially the team’s stars – is something that becomes almost as paramount as implementation and actual workouts. Yes, injuries will happen, but every team in the NFL needs to make sure if they do, they don’t come on something that could be completely avoidable.

“We talked about it [Wednesday], just making sure we are doing the best that we can to take care of each other,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “It’s that time of year when guys are full of energy and trying to make plays, trying to impress coaches and do all that kind of stuff.

“You have got to make sure at the same time that we’re taking care of each other and learning as we go.”

Stafford said they are reminded about that every day.

It is a difficult barrier, though, as rookies and bottom-of-the-roster players and free agents fighting for spots have to try to make positive impressions without any negative consequences. Those players can occasionally get too excited, bounce around too much.

When it happens, it is usually wiped out quickly.

“The veterans,” center Dominic Raiola said, “take care of that.”

They are the ones who know, after all, how long a season can be and how injuries can derail the season for any team in the NFL.