NFC North: Detroit Lions

ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Calvin Johnson, like almost every other college prospect in the NFL, had no control over where he was headed in the 2007 NFL draft. He did, though, have an idea of where he thought he might end up.

And it wasn’t with the Detroit Lions, who selected him second overall in that draft.

“I thought I would either be in Tampa or Atlanta, honestly,” Johnson said. “Both of them were not too far from the top in the draft, and I figured one of them might be able to move up. I really thought I was going to go to Tampa because I liked [Jon] Gruden, had a really good workout with those guys.”

[+] EnlargeCalvin Johnson
Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsCalvin Johnson has his eyes on helping the Lions make a run in the postseason.
Johnson said Gruden brought some of his quarterbacks and receivers in for Johnson’s workout and that he felt it went well. The Buccaneers had the fourth pick in the draft and appeared enamored with Johnson -- for obvious reasons. With Atlanta, the Falcons picked eighth and Johnson is a native of suburban Atlanta.

Those seemed like solid options. Looking back now, Oakland passing on Johnson in favor of quarterback JaMarcus Russell, who is out of the NFL, seems preposterous. That is the inexact nature of the draft, though, from talent evaluation to trying to figure out where you’ll go as a prospect.

In retrospect, Johnson said “it didn’t bother me” that he wasn't taken with the first pick because the Raiders are far from Georgia and he wanted to be closer to home. Detroit then selected Johnson with the No. 2 pick, and he turned into a franchise centerpiece for the Lions.

It is a franchise, though, that has struggled to win despite having the best receiver in the game, a receiver who has three straight 1,400-yard seasons and is the most difficult offensive matchup in the NFL.

Yet Johnson’s career feels incomplete because of the lack of team success for the Lions.

“It’s been, I can’t say it’s been exactly what I wanted,” Johnson said. “When I first came into the league, my first three, four years, I had a teammate from college win a Super Bowl.”

Johnson said he doesn’t want to see the rings his former teammates have because his team, the Lions, continues to try and reach the final game of the season for the first time. While he would obviously like to reach that point, he said he can’t really be frustrated by it because there’s only so much he can do on his own.

And it’s why he looks at Detroit’s talent now and looks at his career, now entering his eighth season, and is focused even more intently on team success.

“That’s all I’m focused on,” Johnson said. “I had great stats in my career, you know, but really you want to win. You want to get to the playoffs again. That’s a great feeling when we did a couple years ago.

“We want to get that feeling back. We have a lot of guys that have been there, that have won Super Bowls and a coaching staff that has won Super Bowls and it’s great to have that experience.”

Some of those players, such as Reggie Bush and Golden Tate, along with a coaching staff that has extensive playoff and Super Bowl experience as assistants, is where Johnson takes his confidence that finally he'll be able to have some of that postseason experience as well.

Lions Camp Report: Day 3

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
10:10
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DETROIT -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • George Johnson, a defensive end who played with Tampa Bay and Minnesota before coming to the Lions, spent time with the first team for the second straight day. He has a long way to go to make the roster for multiple reasons, however. The Lions are without the likely starter at his spot, Ezekiel Ansah, as he remains on the PUP list recovering from shoulder surgery. Another potential open defensive end, Devin Taylor, is competing for the starting closed defensive end spot.
  • The Lions were in shoulder pads for the first time during camp and it led to a little more physical play. Brandon Pettigrew was actually tackled by Jason Jones in a period of 11-on-11 and Mikel Leshoure was hit by DeAndre Levy after catching a pass.
  • In the daily kicking battle, Giorgio Tavecchio made all five of his field goal attempts. Nate Freese made four of five after having his first attempt from 30 yards blocked. On Tuesday, both Freese and Tavecchio missed 49-yard field goals to end practice. On Wednesday, Tavecchio made his practice-ending kick, while Freese missed his again. After practice, Freese could not explain what happened on the block and said he is still working on timing with holder Sam Martin and long snapper Don Muhlbach, but that they are close. On his missed field goal to end practice, Freese said it was his fault he missed the kick and the operation was good.
  • Both Reggie Bush and Jeremy Ross had nice plays in various times. Ross had an impressive one-handed catch during skeleton drills that would have been a difficult touchdown. Bush, meanwhile, made a play in 11-on-11 and then made a nasty cut on linebacker Tahir Whitehead for what would have been a large gain if the team was in full pads and tackling. The play of the day might have gone to Golden Tate, who converted a 3rd-and-4 play with a well-thrown slant pass over the middle from Stafford. Then he had the defense chase him all over the field.
  • Another day, another drop for Lions rookie tight end Eric Ebron. To be fair, this play was a little bit more difficult than a garden variety play, as he had to turn around to make the catch. But the pass hit Ebron squarely in the hands on a deep route along the sideline with DeJon Gomes in coverage and it is a play Ebron would be expected to make in a game during the season. For as many good plays and highlight reel plays Ebron has the capability of making, seeing him drop routine-or-close-to-it passes should be a concern even if it is early in camp. He is still learning the offense, but at some point it should be instinct as well. Ebron did rebound later in practice with a difficult catch on a short route for a touchdown.

Lions Camp Report: Day 2

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
8:50
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • One of the players making a big early impression in a position of competition is wide receiver Kevin Ogletree. Tucked in a tight battle with Kris Durham, Ryan Broyles, Jeremy Ross and Corey Fuller for receiving spots behind Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, Ogletree has spent time with the top unit both days as the No. 3 receiver. This comes on top of offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi singling him out during the spring as someone who impressed him. Ogletree has speed as well as the ability to make catches both over the middle and the sideline. Johnson, meanwhile, called Ogletree “smooth” when discussing him Tuesday.
  • An interesting thing occurred during individual periods Tuesday. Instead of working on their own, the Lions split their tight ends up between the offensive line and with the pass-catching receivers and running backs catching passes. So Brandon Pettigrew, for instance, was working with the line blocking while Joseph Fauria and Eric Ebron were catching passes. This, Pettigrew said, was different than how the Lions operated under former coach Jim Schwartz.“We rotate and go down there during periods,” Pettigrew said. “We have five guys here, why not split it up and have some guys down there and some guys down here.” Pettigrew sees this as not only helping his blocking fundamentals, but an aid to Ebron and Fauria as well.
  • It’s early, but the kicking situation is going to be something to watch. Detroit hasn’t done many pressure field-goal situations over the first two days, but the Lions did have both Nate Freese and Giorgio Tavecchio attempt a 49-yard field goal under pressure in the final moments of practice. It did not end well and went counter to their supposed strengths. Freese had the distance but missed wide left. Tavecchio was right on line -- but about a yard or so short. It’s only one day, but this is going to be a major thing to pay attention to throughout the next few weeks.
  • It would appear the Lions are going to give both Corey Hilliard and LaAdrian Waddle an equal shot at right tackle. Hilliard worked with the first team during the first practice Monday and Waddle received the first-team snaps Tuesday. We’ll have more on the offensive line Wednesday, but this appears to be the one true spot up for grabs on what is otherwise a fairly strong front five.
  • The Lions have managed to have fairly short practices the first two days, wrapping up in well under two hours. Some of it might come from the team still practicing without pads, but Lions safety Glover Quin explained the reason for the shorter practices is kind of simple: The team has plays they want to run through and things they need to accomplish. If they limit mistakes and run through the plays at a good pace, they finish quicker. It’s a long way from the marathon practices of the past, although practices should get longer once the team goes into pads.
  • Ownership made its first public appearance at camp Tuesday as Martha Ford, the wife of the late William Clay Ford Sr., attended practice. Ford gained controlling interest in the team after her husband’s death in the offseason. Also visiting practice Tuesday were some of Michigan State’s football coaches, although head coach Mark Dantonio was not spotted, as he was in Chicago for Big Ten media days.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Though he’s never really asked for it, all Calvin Johnson has really needed is some help.

Help would take some of the intense focus of defenses off of him and potentially give him more single-coverage matchups than he has seen to date in his career. Now in his eighth season, he is hoping the Detroit Lions have managed to give him that.

[+] EnlargePatrick Peterson and Calvin Johnson
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesAn increase in offensive weapons around him might allow Calvin Johnson to see more single-coverage situations.
By signing Golden Tate in free agency and drafting Eric Ebron, there are now more things for defenses to be concerned about -- perhaps alleviating other concerns and forming an offense with Johnson as a focal point of it instead of the focal point.

“Golden is going to get a lot of one-on-one coverages, man,” Johnson said Tuesday. “All those weapons that we have, those one-on-ones, they go full-circle and I might get some more myself.”

That might be a bit of wishful thinking by Johnson, who often treats double coverages as other receivers would treat single coverage. There’s a reason he is widely considered the best receiver in the game and one of the best all-time.

Despite all the attention and coverage, Johnson has four straight 1,000-yard seasons, has caught more than 10 touchdown passes in a season four times in his career and has caught at least 67 passes in every season other than his rookie one.

Johnson has done that even when teams have focused almost all of their energy on him and even when it became obvious how lacking the Lions were offensively in 2013 without him. During the two games Johnson was out of the lineup the Lions scored less than two touchdowns in each game, both losses.

So he sees Ebron, Tate, last season’s running backs -- Joique Bell and Reggie Bush -- and sees a lot of options other than him. That should also give Johnson more flexibility as he said the coaches asked him to learn every receiving position on the field, not just the two spots on the outside.

“They are going to make a lot of plays for us this year, a lot of explosive plays for us and get the ball down the field and increase our scoring chances,” Johnson said. “So yes, I’m going to be out there and make big plays but those guys are going to help us out a ton.”

Johnson hopes that help will help him reach the one place he hasn’t been often. For all the statistics he has and for all the accolades he has received, he has been to the playoffs only once in his career and, like the rest of the Lions, has zero playoff wins.

So even if the new weapons means a decrease in individual stats, he would be OK with that.

“Shoot, we should get more wins,” Johnson said. “That’s really all that counts. If we get more wins, I’m happy either way.”
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- He has been praised by teammates all spring long and even into the first few practices of training camp as someone who could end up with a larger role on the Detroit Lions, but Theo Riddick is having none of it.

The running back, while not exactly ignoring the increased attention his game is receiving, doesn’t appear to actually be buying into it at all.

Riddick
“I haven’t really proven anything,” Riddick said. “Those are just words.”

They are, but when those words are coming from defensive players, established players on offense, and even from one of the men who will be making a decision on how much Riddick will play, there is some validity to it.

Add in what he has done on the field so far -- appearing explosive during his repetitions and trusting his first cut and going with it -- and the attention on him begins to make some sense.

As a rookie, Riddick was often anxious about what was going to happen. He was, in effect, still learning everything as he received some repetitions -- nine carries for 25 yards -- but not enough to make a real difference. Instead, he ended up as a valuable special teams contributor as both a blocker on kick returns and someone who could make plays on coverage units.

“Before coming here, there are a few guys that jump out at you on film,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “I was watching special teams and every single time on the unit he’s on, he shows up.

“He’s got intensity, he hustles, he’s got desire, toughness, all of those things, and he’s a very, very capable runner. Also, he can catch the ball out of the backfield. [Riddick is] very tough to handle in one-on-one situations, so he had a great spring and we anticipate this fall he’s going to perform equally as well, so we’re excited about that.”

That was Riddick’s goal from the outset. He wanted to be more than a special teams contributor, though, so when the new coaching staff came in there was a chance for an offensive role. New offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi likes using multiple backs out of the backfield and places an emphasis on running backs who can run precise routes and catch the ball.

In Riddick, they have someone who can slide in behind Reggie Bush to do that. Riddick won’t supplant Bush or Joique Bell in Detroit’s offensive scheme this season, but he should be able to find himself a role.

“Coming out of the backfield I’m very versatile and I think I put pressure on defenses, but at the same time I haven’t proven anything yet,” Riddick said. “I’m just excited to come out this year and hopefully play well.”

So far, he has.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- There were times last season where Mikel Leshoure knew he was not going to receive a chance. He had been banished to the bench even though his coaches said publicly there was a role for him somewhere on the Detroit Lions.

Leshoure
That role, it seemed, was an inactive one.

The Lions cratered to a 7-9 finish after starting the season strong, resulting in the firing of head coach Jim Schwartz and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. In their place, the team hired Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi.

And one of the bigger beneficiaries of the move might be Leshoure, the former second-round pick out of Illinois.

“The new coaches just coming in here and they, knowing us, they got their own background of us and they give everybody a fresh chance, a fresh start and I feel like that’s what I needed,” Leshoure said. “I feel like it’s fair game now and I can go out there and compete.”

Leshoure still has a tough road to real playing time as the Lions have a lot invested in starting running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, but Lombardi’s New Orleans Saints-based offense could provide Leshoure with at least a fraction of the chances he received in 2012, when he had 215 carries for 798 yards and 34 receptions for 214 yards.

Then last season, he had two carries all season.

“I don’t really get into what happened last year,” Leshoure said. “I felt a lot of it was out of my hands. It wasn’t anything I did as far as my part as far as discipline or anything like that.

“It’s just a coach’s decision and he’s gone, so I’ll just leave it at that.”

By leaving it there, he’s hoping he can pick up where he finished in 2012 instead of languishing where he was in 2013.

Lions Camp Report: Day 1

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
8:30
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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.”

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