ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- I walked onto the Detroit Lions' practice field Tuesday morning, and one of the first people I heard was Louis Delmas. The Lions' moody and oft-injured safety was decked out in full pads and chirping away in a decidedly positive way. When a drill took him out of bounds, Delmas kept running until he had his back to a fence that separates the fields from fans gathered at the Lions' Allen Park, Mich., practice facility.
Before re-joining the drill, Delmas leaned back, placed both arms on the fence and said to the crowd: "Everybody good today?"
Tuesday, at least, was a good day for Louis Delmas. He dropped out of practice before 11-on-11 work began, part of a summer-long plan to preserve the health of his left knee, but afterwards he was cheerful, optimistic about his health and pretty dang funny during a six-minute give-and-take with reporters.
Delmas joked (I think) that he has stayed in shape this summer by "dancing" and fell into a few notes of a gospel tune during one answer. Of more importance to the Lions and their fans, of course, was his assessment of the condition the team's practice plan has left him.
"This is the best I've felt in two years," he said. "I don't know how big of a compliment that it, but it's damn sure a big compliment for me."
I've had my doubts about the long-term implications of a 26-year-old player who needs a practice plan as restrictive as the one Delmas is on. Last week, in fact, he took four days of rest because of some mild swelling and soreness. And it's still not clear if the Lions will play him in the preseason. But my limited experience with him suggests the mood we saw Tuesday was a genuine reflection of how he feels.
Maybe what Delmas really needs is someone to protect him from himself. Not every player is wired to know when to work and when to rest.
When I asked him if he thought he would ever get to a normal practice schedule, Delmas said: "Of course, of course. I feel like I can do that now." But then he added: "I've just got to be smart. I felt like I could do that last year, and look what happened. This year, we've taken a different approach and just being a lot smarter. In Week 1, that's what is really important."
There is an important line to walk here, one that doesn't have a ton of precedent. Delmas might not need the mental work in a scheme that he has played in for four years, but generally speaking, practice repetitions are important from a conditioning and muscle memory standpoint. Suffice it to say, NFL teams would give all established players more time away from practice if they thought it wouldn't have a negative impact.
In the end, however, this might be the only way for the Lions to get one of their most important players on the field when it counts. Because I think we know Delmas isn't going to pace himself when he is on the field.
"You tell yourself that," he said, "But then when you get on the field and the bullets start flying, you start playing the way you know. If I can make a play and make it look good, I'm going to make it look good. If I can punish somebody, I'm going to punish somebody. That's always the way I've played the game and it's the only way I know how."
How far will that get him in 2013? We know this much: It's already gotten him further this summer than the one before. That's a start.