NFC North: Detroit Lions

Lions Camp Report: Day 1

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
8:30
PM ET
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • The most important and interesting item to come out of the first day of Lions training camp had nothing to do with anything the team did on the field. Instead, it had everything to do with Detroit's decision to table contract talks with Ndamukong Suh until after the season. The Lions said they decided to do this to make sure the focus remained solely on the season ahead, but they also took attention away from the first day of training camp with an off-the-field issue. At least for Detroit, it can avoid daily questions about it from now on.
  • Rookie linebacker Kyle Van Noy had a bit of a rough day. He injured his thumb during the first half of practice, ending the second round pick's participation in the first training camp practice of his career. He didn't seem too bothered by it, though. “I should be out there (Tuesday),” Van Noy said. Lions coach Jim Caldwell seemed a bit less optimistic, saying “we'll see how he goes the rest of the week.” Caldwell said the team wouldn't be able to determine the extent of the injury until Tuesday.
  • The Lions' secondary had a pretty decent first day in 11-on-11 work. Both Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis broke up passes intended for receiver Golden Tate, and the secondary covered well enough on other plays in the full-team periods to force Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to have to throw dump-off passes to running backs Joique Bell and Reggie Bush instead. It's only one day and they are not in pads yet, but a decent sign for a Lions secondary that needs to put together a few good days early.
  • One of two Lions players who did not practice -- as expected -- was defensive end Ezekiel Ansah. Caldwell said Sunday he did not have a timetable for his return. Ansah spent most of Monday's practice off on the side chatting with folks. When asked about his return, he said he had no idea when he would come back. Another defensive end, Kalonji Kashama, was released by the team Monday.
  • In the battle for receivers not named Tate or Calvin Johnson, both Kris Durham and Kevin Ogletree had nice catches Monday. Ogletree had an impressive catch over the middle -- although he probably would have been drilled by a defensive back had it been a real game. Durham made a nice catch running an out on the sideline as well. In what is expected to be an extremely tight battle, plays like that are going to be noticed every practice.
  • This will be worth paying attention to throughout the first week: Corey Hilliard took snaps at right tackle ahead of LaAdrian Waddle during 11-on-11 periods Monday. Hilliard is more of a veteran than Waddle and Waddle is still expected to win the job, but an interesting small side note on the first day.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- C.J. Mosley was standing there late Monday afternoon, almost marveling at what his teammate, Ndamukong Suh, had accomplished during the offseason. It had nothing to do with his contract with the Detroit Lions, but the way Suh takes care of himself.

Then, a massive arm wrapped around Mosley. It was Suh, giving his fellow defensive tackle a hug, asking what he was doing and then telling him he loved him. On a day when Suh's stalled and tabled contract talks overshadowed the start of the team's training camp, Suh seemed unbothered by it.

He practiced as usual. He hugged his teammates. When a spectator asked if he could take a picture of him, Suh instead asked if he wanted to be in the picture with him. This is all part of a day for Suh, who was all business when he practiced on the field and didn't want to talk about any of his business off of it.

[+] EnlargeDetroit's Ndamukong Suh
Photo by Leon Halip/Getty ImagesNdamukong Suh went home to Oregon during the offseason, where he put his "mad scientist hat on" to make himself better physically.
What Suh didn't know, though, was Mosley was in the midst of praising his teammate for what he had managed to do in the offseason.

"The man really worked this offseason," Mosley said. "Really worked. Gained 10 pounds of muscle and body fat went down. That's something you should ask him about. The reason it was surprising to me is I've played with great D-tackles.

"Kevin Williams. Pat Williams. Shaun Rogers. I played with a lot of great D-tackles and nobody that I know has worked that hard. I don't know what he did to do that, but nobody has. He was already in great shape."

What did Suh do? He insists it is nothing more than normal. He returned to Oregon for his typical offseason workouts as he does every year and tinkered with his body. He said he found his best masseuse while he was filming the reality television show "American Muscle" with Mike Barwis, an unexpected change to his typical workout regimen.

But this is what Suh does in the offseason and how he trains so he can try to ensure he will not miss a game due to injury for the fifth straight season.

"I feel like there's always a margin for increasing and getting better," Suh said. "I am always going to strive to be the best that I can. That's what I do in the offseason.

"That's why I go home and go in there with a mad scientist hat on and figure out what I can do to better myself physically."

While he is the defensive tackle who receives the majority of the attention, he is one of multiple tackles now in a contract year, joining Nick Fairley and Mosley. Mosley said that shouldn't change anything with how they play or what they do. Suh's contract was not going to distract them anyway, and he expected Suh to be motivated no matter what was going on there.

"We're motivating each other just by playing beside each other," Fairley said. "That's how we motivate each other. I see him make a play, I want to make a play. He sees me make a play, I know he wants to make a play. So, we just feed off each other."

It is a feeding that could turn into an unintentional frenzy on the field for the Lions. While the defensive tackles shouldn't be motivated by contract years, human nature would suggest they can't help but not be. It plays out like that time and time again.

From the way Suh was acting Monday, though, it doesn't seem like he is going to be bothered by it one bit.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions were still talking a good game Monday, even as they were announcing what felt like a bad scenario for the franchise when it came to one of its cornerstone players.

The team is tabling contract talks with polarizing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh until after the season -- a sign that, at the very least, the club and the player are somewhat far from being able to reach a deal that would benefit both sides.

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Lions announced they will table any contract discussions with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh until after the 2014 season.
Considering how confident the Lions have been in the past with getting deals done and how confident they still acted Monday -- both team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew expressed optimism they would sign Suh eventually -- this is a big moment for the two of them.

The two often have said they were confident Suh wanted to be here and the team wanted him here. Mayhew went further, saying Monday that he continually felt at different points that a contract extension for Suh would happen soon. Then the combine passed. The start of the new league year passed. The draft passed.

Training camp arrived and the Lions still had no deal in place, leading them to decide to table the talks once camp began. That brings the Lions to this point, and to a risk for both sides.

For the Lions, another massive season from Suh could push his asking price beyond what he and agent Jimmy Sexton are likely asking for now, making it a very tough decision to try to re-sign him. For Suh, it’s a gamble because if he suffers a significant injury, his asking price could plummet. While there would still be suitors for his services, he would be a question mark for the first time in his career.

There is the school of thought that if Suh wanted to stay in Detroit, he would have reached a deal before the season started, as quarterback Matthew Stafford did prior to the 2013 season. But different contracts and different agents require different time frames, so this is the Lions’ hope now: that the latest snag is just a blip instead of a major sign that Suh will end up somewhere other than Detroit in 2015. He has indicated he would like to return, although often talk is just talk until pen and paper meet.

But Suh needs to do what’s best for him -- and that goes beyond a money angle, because he will be paid well no matter where he ends up. Detroit has a new coaching staff, one he is unfamiliar with. The Lions are a franchise that has never really shown the ability to win consistently -- hence the one winning season and one playoff appearance this century.

So if winning is important to Suh as he enters the prime of his career, it behooves him to see how he interacts with this coaching staff and how he will be used throughout the course of a season. It’s something that could be explained to him by coaches, but until he sees it, he won’t know for sure.

What ends up being best for Suh? The question now is whether Detroit is the answer to that question -- and it is an answer only he will know.
Matthew Stafford will make his season debut for the Detroit Lions on Monday on the field -- and he'll also have two television advertisements doing the same thing.

Stafford appears in ads for DISH Network and they are ... interesting to say the least.

His fiancee, Kelly Hall, co-stars in one ad where Stafford is a surgeon trying to operate with a chainsaw. The second ad has puppets apparently trying to keep Stafford on a mountain.

Here's the ad with Hall. Here's the ad with the puppets.

Enjoy at your leisure.
Examining the Detroit Lions' roster

QUARTERBACKS (2)
The Lions could keep three players here, but they could just as easily use a practice squad slot on undrafted rookie James Franklin to give the team more flexibility at other spots. If the team keeps Kellen Moore, then the Lions will go with three quarterbacks. Stafford is a lock to start, and it is tough to see Moore unseating Orlovsky as the No. 2.

RUNNING BACKS (6)

Bush, Bell and Riddick are likely locks. If the team believes Owens can play both spots -- he has experience at running back and fullback -- Leshoure could be in trouble. Chad Abram is an undrafted rookie who could steal a roster spot at fullback or end up on the practice squad.

WIDE RECEIVER (6)

This is one of the more interesting positions on the roster. Johnson and Tate are the starters, and Ross will be on the roster as a returner and possibly the No. 3 receiver. If he can handle both roles, that could leave an interesting question for a healthy Broyles. Durham is competing for a spot at outside receiver with Kevin Ogletree and Corey Fuller, who is practice squad eligible. Jones missed the end of spring workouts with an excused absence. Depending what that is, it could open up another spot for a receiver.

TIGHT END (3)

All three will make the roster. All three will have roles in the offense. The Lions know what Pettigrew is -- a good blocker who can make some catches. They need to focus on the development of Ebron and Fauria, two potential defense stretchers in the middle of the field.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

As of now, this is somewhat easy to project. The five starters on the offensive line return from last season. Hilliard will be the swing tackle and Lucas the fourth tackle who is a project. Austin and Swanson can play both guard and center if need be, offering some flexibility for the Lions on the interior. Don't be surprised to see Alex Bullard on the practice squad. He can play any position on the line.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

Three of the four starters are set here with Ansah, Fairley and Suh. Both Jones and Taylor offer outside-inside movement for the Lions. Mosley is the team's third tackle, and Tapp could back up Ansah at the open defensive end. Webster and Reid are mostly developmental, but Reid specifically should have a large role on punt and kick blocks.

LINEBACKER (5)

Levy, Tulloch and Van Noy are the likely starters. Palmer can back up at either outside spot, and Whitehead appears to be the backup in the middle. One of the tougher cuts to make would be a potential sixth linebacker between special-teams standouts Travis Lewis and Julian Stanford. One of these two could easily make the roster.

CORNERBACK (6)

Slay, Mathis, Bentley and Lawson are making the team. This probably means there are two other spots for corners -- perhaps even one if the team chooses to go with a sixth linebacker. I went with Vaughn and Greenwood, leaving Jonte Green out of the equation for now. This will be a fluid battle throughout camp. Mohammed Seisay is a potential practice-squad candidate.

SAFETY (4)

Yet another tough roster cut choosing between Abdul-Quddus and DeJon Gomes. As mentioned above, there is easily a scenario where both Abdul-Quddus and Gomes make the squad, especially if the new staff thinks Carey could be an emergency corner as well as the third safety. Jerome Couplin is a practice-squad candidate here with potential.

SPECIALISTS (3)

Martin and Muhlbach are roster locks barring injury. Freese, as of now, should beat out Giorgio Tavecchio, but as mentioned earlier this morning, this will be one of the more intriguing and intense battles of training camp as neither completely stood out in the spring.
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. -- Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell does not know when he'll get Ezekiel Ansah on the field for the first time this fall.

He doesn't have a timetable for when he'll return, either.

Ansah
"There is none. It is whenever the Lord says that he's healthy and healed," Caldwell said Sunday. "And the medical staff will take a look at it after the Lord's decree and then we'll see what goes on after that."

Ansah, who led all rookies with eight sacks last season, did not practice during the spring as he continues to recover from shoulder surgery. He is one of three players, along with wide receivers Golden Tate and TJ Jones, to be moved to the active physically unable to perform list to start camp.

Those three players can be removed from the list and moved to the active roster at any point during camp.

Caldwell was not surprised by those three players not being ready to participate by the start of camp as all three are dealing with shoulder issues. Jones had surgery on his shoulder earlier this summer and Tate injured his shoulder during spring workouts.

Caldwell did say, though, he has been "pleased with" the healing progress of the players thus far.

The biggest concern of the three might by Ansah because Tate and Jones were at least available for portions of spring workouts. However, Caldwell isn't focused on that right now.

"One of the things I learned early on in coaching, I coach who shows up and instruct our staff to do the exact same thing. I cannot worry about how quickly the Lord allows someone to heal," Caldwell said. "I've got to do our business and at that point in time, when he gets healthy and ready to go, he'll be ready.

"Until then, whoever is out there lined up is going to get coached and coached hard and ready to play for us and win games. That's how we look at it and he's coming along and making great progress and doing everything he can to get there and I'm sure he will in a reasonable amount of time."

With Ansah out, it is likely either second-year player Devin Taylor or veteran Darryl Tapp will work with the first team when training camp officially opens Monday. Kris Durham or Kevin Ogletree will likely fill in for Tate until he returns from his shoulder injury as well.
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.”
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- There were times in the spring where Brandon Pettigrew would be in the huddling, listening, waiting and waiting some more for the quarterback to finish calling the play.

  This year with the Detroit Lions, one of the biggest transitions for the offense has not been picking up the actual offense, but understanding all of the words associated with almost every call Matthew Stafford, Dan Orlovsky or Kellen Moore has had to make.

What might have been four or five words before has now become eight or nine in the huddles. And while every word is important, there are times it can drag on a little bit. For receivers and running backs and tight ends, it hasn’t been that much of a change. However, for the quarterbacks, it can be a bit much to understand and then spit out.

“They are the ones that actually have to say the terminology,” Pettigrew said. “Especially if it’s a long play call, they have to actually spit it out and a lot of times we’re just listening so we can hear it coming and we know what’s about to be said, they actually have to get it all the way out. They can’t just halfway say it because we know what’s coming.”

This is part of the spring and early training camp for the Lions, which begins Monday with the first practice. Short hand is not allowed. This is all necessary, though, as the Lions are trying to make sure their offense is a bit more explosive this season.

From what Pettigrew has seen in the fall and hopes for during the season, the moves Detroit made -- including re-signing the tight end -- should make for a more dynamic offense once the play calls and verbiage become instinctual instead of a learning process.

It should also shift Pettigrew’s role. Last season, he played everywhere -- from the slot to on the line -- and occasionally lined up outside depending on the formation. New offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi should at least have something similar as far as movement, if not more.

Pettigrew indicated there are a lot more plays in this offensive scheme than the one run the past five seasons by Scott Linehan, now with Dallas. A lot of it has to do with the same plays being run with either different positioning for players or differing personnel on the field.

And Pettigrew anticipates more coming once training camp really gets going -- although he isn’t sure exactly what that means for him.

“We’ve got three or four guys at tight end, got receivers,” Pettigrew said. “I’m not sure fully what the plan is but whatever it is, it’s going to be awesome regardless.”
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The nerves are gone now, disappearing when Theo Riddick showed up for offseason workouts earlier this spring. The daily anxiety he faced from not knowing what would be next no longer had a place in his football life.

It was not something that consumed Riddick last season, but everything was new to the 2013 rookie. There were new people to meet, a new coach to play for, a new system to learn and a new role to have. It all turned into a decent amount for him to handle as he established a role on special teams last season.

It lasted all year.

“It’s your first go-round. You’re going to naturally have anxiety,” Riddick said. “If you don’t, then something is definitely wrong. You’re excited, amped up, living out your dream so you’re bound to have anxiety.”

Riddick would actually talk to himself in an attempt to calm his nerves on a daily basis. It worked enough for him to become a valuable special teams performer and to earn a small role in the offense with nine carries for 25 yards and four catches for 26 yards his first season out of Notre Dame.

His first season helped to set up now, where Riddick is actually competing for a larger role when training camp begins Monday. He spent the majority of the spring impressing coaches and receiving more reps than he would have due to an injury to Joique Bell, one of Detroit’s main running backs.

Riddick took advantage of that, also knowing new coordinator Joe Lombardi’s offense uses multiple running backs and there could be more carries and catches for the taking. While his strong performances came without pads on, he now has an opportunity to show his growth can continue in more game-like situations.

“He is a lot more decisive now,” said Lions rookie receiver TJ Jones, who played with Riddick at Notre Dame. “There wasn’t as much hesitation. When he made his cut, he was going. There wasn’t any second-guessing, even if there wasn’t the wide hole that he was hitting, he was going to hit it full speed.”

This was part of Riddick’s plan during the offseason. He focused on his reads in pass protection and hitting his running lanes in the offseason along with catching the ball cleaner. Having the same running backs coach despite the turnover in head coach and offensive coordinator, Curtis Modkins, also helped Riddick become acclimated faster in his second season.

Last season, he was just trying to catch up with everything. Now, with Modkins assisting, he is actually trying to learn as he attempts to increase his role.

“Watch a little more film. Every time you’re not in, take a mental rep. I did that last year but I wasn’t as, I didn’t do it every day,” Riddick said. “Now, every second, every play I’m always by coach asking him ‘Did you see this? Did you see that?’

“Just trying to relay that everything I’m seeing is accurate and everything that he’s seeing is accurate.”

How that accuracy will pay off for Riddick will be determined over the next six weeks.
From the beginning, there always seemed like a demarcation line of concern when it came to the ongoing contract discussions with Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Even though he switched agents this offseason and there always appeared to be something keeping negotiations between Suh and the Lions from progressing, there was optimism the two sides would come to a deal by the time training camp started.

Suh
Training camp begins Monday with veterans reporting Sunday. And now colleague Chris Mortensen is saying a team source told him the team is not optimistic about reaching a deal by the start of camp.

With it, the Lions can officially become concerned about whether or not Suh will be with the team beyond this season. Suh has seemed like a player who would not want to have contract discussions during a season, especially if he is now potentially playing for a new deal either with Detroit or elsewhere.

It would behoove the Lions to say they would not negotiate during the season. Doing so gives a timeline for any real negotiations and eliminates what would otherwise be a constant distraction for a franchise needing to minimize them at every possible cost.

This leaves Detroit and the Suh’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, with two potential windows to hatch a deal -- if there is even the true desire to do so: Either between the start of training camp and the beginning of the season, or between the end of the season and the start of free agency.

If the Lions were smart, they would push to not have Suh play out the season with free agency looming. Another huge season from him and he may want to test free agency no matter what, just to see what he could command on the open market as one of the top players at his position.

Either way, the concern about Ndamukong Suh is now real and it should lead to an interesting few weeks as a sidebar to Detroit’s training camp.

This also sets up one of the worst-case scenarios for Detroit when it chose to decline the fifth-year option on fellow defensive tackle Nick Fairley. If Suh does not get a deal done, there is a real chance the team could lose their first-round picks from 2010 and 2011 after 2014.

It would decimate the interior of a defensive line the Lions built around the past few seasons.

Of course, the Lions can keep Fairley around by either tagging him or re-signing him if he has the season Detroit is hoping for.

None of this is to say Suh is wrong at all. He has every right to have his agent negotiate the best possible deal for him considering the finite nature of his profession. It is exactly what Suh is paying Sexton for.

But if Suh really wants to be in Detroit and really wants to help the Lions turn into a winning franchise, he would push his agent to finish a deal before Sept. 8, when the Lions play on "Monday Night Football" against the Giants.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- James Franklin spent the spring participating but also watching, learning but also being forced to observe at the time he would likely want to be out there the most. As the undrafted rookie quarterback the Detroit Lions picked up following May’s draft, he entered offseason workouts understanding his opportunities would be limited.

He didn’t know for sure, though, there would be none at all.

For a player trying to win a spot as the No. 3 quarterback on the 53-man roster or the practice squad, Franklin had a bit of a detriment to making the team.

[+] EnlargeRay Drew
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsLions QB James Franklin scrambled a lot at Missouri, but is working on staying in the pocket in the NFL.
“I always assumed I wouldn’t (get many reps) and I kind of prepared for that,” Franklin said. “I knew that was kind of them, based off, it was up to me how many reps I would get as far as learning the plays and getting them down better so that way they felt more comfortable putting me in.”

There was so much to pick up. There was so little time to accomplish it. This was the biggest issue for the former Missouri quarterback, who, prior to May said he had never truly taken a five-or-seven-step drop during his time with the Tigers.

Missouri played a spread system, so everything he did came off a three-step drop or a little shuffle of his feet. There wouldn’t be a pocket created for him, per se, with the Tigers. These were things he had to learn fast, so he understood that until he picked them up, he wasn’t going to move past Dan Orlovsky or Kellen Moore into receiving actual snaps while those two quarterbacks were also learning the offense.

Franklin knew this would be an issue as he entered the league, even as he jumps into a system that will likely employ a lot of shotgun and some elements of the spread offense without the quarterback running.

Even though he didn’t actually take a meaningful offseason snap -- and Lions coach Jim Caldwell said Franklin will receive the majority of snaps during preseason games -- Franklin began to understand the importance of staying in the pocket to help the offensive line protect him.

The learning, though, went beyond improving and adjusting his footwork to drop back correctly. It also hit on the plays themselves.

“I’ve definitely been going over the plays over and over, reciting the plays, because learning the plays isn’t actually that bad,” Franklin said. “It’s just the long play calls that I have to be getting used to. That’s something I think I’ve gotten a little bit better at and hopefully I won’t worry about it too much so I can just go out there and play football.”

Franklin said reciting play calls is his biggest concern entering camp, in part because like the new drops he has never done it before. His offense at Missouri was run using signals and short calls. This was his biggest immediate transition during rookie minicamp and continued to follow him throughout the spring.

The spring was for learning, though. Now, he has to win a job.

“I wish we could have done some more of (play calls) in college to kind of prepare me, but I can’t make excuses now,” Franklin said. “I just have to work with what I have.”

And hope that what he has is good enough.
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Eric Ebron understands there is a level of pressure there now, a level of expectation heaped upon him from the moment the Detroit Lions selected him with the No. 10 pick in May’s NFL draft.

He didn’t necessarily ask for it or expect it, but he appears to be embracing it at least. The extremely confident tight end has no other choice, really. He is going to be looked at differently than the rest of his class. He is going to be called on more.

And if he wants to end up being the NFL’s top rookie when this season comes to a close, he knows he has to produce on a major level -- a level befitting the pick the Lions used on him. His goals, though, go a little bit deeper.

Ebron’s goals encompass the entire state he now resides in.

[+] EnlargeCalvin Johnson and Eric Ebron
AP Photo/Paul SancyaDetroit Lions tight end Eric Ebron (right) doesn't want to let his teammates -- or the entire state of Michigan -- down in his rookie season.
“Everybody has their own individual goals, but my personal goal is really to not let Michigan down,” Ebron said Tuesday as he reported for training camp. “You know, you got picked first, you’re here, it’s about us in this facility that grinds and goes out there in this heat and work to be something great. And it’s about our fans, the people that come out and support us.

“That’s really what I don’t, that’s sort of like my goals. Don’t let Michigan down. Don’t let the team down.”

Ebron knows Detroit’s offensive success this season is going to be somewhat tied to his ability to pick up the offense, to catch passes with regularity and to develop a rapport with quarterback Matthew Stafford.

He also knows his room for making mistakes -- like he did from time to time during spring workouts -- will diminish with every practice leading up to the regular season. He needs to transition his mentality from making mistakes and learning from them to no longer making those errors at all.

He isn’t concerned about his physical condition with any of that. It is all about his mental status.

“I’ve never really worried about my body physically,” Ebron said. “Mentally, it is what it is. It’s the NFL, it’s my first year. I’m going to have migraines. I have Advil sitting in my desk in the tight end room ready to chew on. I’m ready.”

As part of getting ready, Ebron had to do one thing first -- clean out his locker. A Lions coach sent Ebron a picture of his mess of a stall asking if he could keep it neat. The reason for the mess? He was using it as storage.

A lot of storage.

“I had about, a smooth 35 pair of shoes. I had a couple systems for my house, by Sonos. They are some people I deal with, the speakers are incredible,” Ebron said. “I had some customized cleats for the season come through from Nike. The Ebrons ain’t dropped yet. Next year.

“That was it. Just shoes took up most of my locker. Now they in the back of my car.”

They were moved into the same car Ebron is leasing right now as he starts to find a way to navigate in his new world both as a Michigan resident and as an NFL first-round draft pick.
A season ago, when colleague Ron Jaworski tabbed Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford as the 13th-best quarterback in the NFL, there were some questions about why he was so low.

Stafford
Stafford
Stafford is now lower this season.

Jaworski, who ranked 32 quarterbacks, placed Stafford firmly in the middle at No. 16 -- and it has nothing to do with his talent. Jaworski lauds Stafford's arm, saying his physical skills belong in the top 10. But as many have pointed out -- including in this space -- his decisions and certain throws have always been his problem.

General manager Martin Mayhew fired Jim Schwartz and Scott Linehan in part because of this, replacing them with an offensive-minded staff focused on quarterback development. The Lions' hope is Stafford has a strong enough season where he finally climbs into the top 10 on this list, since it was based on last season's production and throws.

Jaworski also took issue with Stafford's accuracy and reading of coverages, common concerns when it comes to the franchise quarterback in Detroit.

Stafford is not the lowest-rated quarterback in the NFC North. Not even close. To find out who is -- check out his rankings at this link Insider.
Examining the Detroit Lions' roster

QUARTERBACKS (2)
The Lions could keep three players here, but they could just as easily use a practice squad slot on undrafted rookie James Franklin to give the team more flexibility at other spots. If the team keeps Kellen Moore, then the Lions will go with three quarterbacks. Stafford is a lock to start, and it is tough to see Moore unseating Orlovsky as the No. 2.

RUNNING BACKS (6)

Bush, Bell and Riddick are likely locks. If the team believes Owens can play both spots -- he has experience at running back and fullback -- Leshoure could be in trouble. Chad Abram is an undrafted rookie who could steal a roster spot at fullback or end up on the practice squad.

WIDE RECEIVER (6)

This is one of the more interesting positions on the roster. Johnson and Tate are the starters, and Ross will be on the roster as a returner and possibly the No. 3 receiver. If he can handle both roles, that could leave an interesting question for a healthy Broyles. Durham is competing for a spot at outside receiver with Kevin Ogletree and Corey Fuller, who is practice squad eligible. Jones missed the end of spring workouts with an excused absence. Depending what that is, it could open up another spot for a receiver.

TIGHT END (3)

All three will make the roster. All three will have roles in the offense. The Lions know what Pettigrew is -- a good blocker who can make some catches. They need to focus on the development of Ebron and Fauria, two potential defense stretchers in the middle of the field.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)

As of now, this is somewhat easy to project. The five starters on the offensive line return from last season. Hilliard will be the swing tackle and Lucas the fourth tackle who is a project. Austin and Swanson can play both guard and center if need be, offering some flexibility for the Lions on the interior. Don't be surprised to see Alex Bullard on the practice squad. He can play any position on the line.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

Three of the four starters are set here with Ansah, Fairley and Suh. Both Jones and Taylor offer outside-inside movement for the Lions. Mosley is the team's third tackle, and Tapp could back up Ansah at the open defensive end. Webster and Reid are mostly developmental, but Reid specifically should have a large role on punt and kick blocks.

LINEBACKER (5)

Levy, Tulloch and Van Noy are the likely starters. Palmer can back up at either outside spot, and Whitehead appears to be the backup in the middle. One of the tougher cuts to make would be a potential sixth linebacker between special-teams standouts Travis Lewis and Julian Stanford. One of these two could easily make the roster.

CORNERBACK (6)

Slay, Mathis, Bentley and Lawson are making the team. This probably means there are two other spots for corners -- perhaps even one if the team chooses to go with a sixth linebacker. I went with Vaughn and Greenwood, leaving Jonte Green out of the equation for now. This will be a fluid battle throughout camp. Mohammed Seisay is a potential practice-squad candidate.

SAFETY (4)

Yet another tough roster cut choosing between Abdul-Quddus and DeJon Gomes. As mentioned above, there is easily a scenario where both Abdul-Quddus and Gomes make the squad, especially if the new staff thinks Carey could be an emergency corner as well as the third safety. Jerome Couplin is a practice-squad candidate here with potential.

SPECIALISTS (3)

Martin and Muhlbach are roster locks barring injury. Freese, as of now, should beat out Giorgio Tavecchio, but as mentioned earlier this morning, this will be one of the more intriguing and intense battles of training camp as neither completely stood out in the spring.

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