NFC North: Corey Hilliard

The Film Don't Lie: Lions

October, 7, 2014
10/07/14
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A weekly look at what the Detroit Lions must fix:

The Lions invested a lot of money in their offense over the past three seasons, but if they can’t keep quarterback Matthew Stafford upright and not running for his life, none of that will matter. The Lions, who face Minnesota on Sunday, have to do a better job of protecting Stafford. He's been sacked 17 times in five games.

The Lions are 31st in the league in sacks per dropback at 8.3 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information, after being second in the NFL last season at 3.6 percent. While injuries to LaAdrian Waddle and Corey Hilliard appeared to be part of the issue at first, it looks like the problem is bigger than any one player. A bigger potential concern is the Lions were beaten soundly by a Bills defense that rarely blitzed, sending five or more rushers only 10.3 percent of the time.

One way the Lions can fix this is to have Stafford get rid of the ball faster. He’s holding on to the ball for 2.48 seconds before the pass, a fraction slower than last season. However, in the NFL, a fraction of a second can make all the difference.

There’s also this: In the past two weeks, Detroit has faced two of the NFL’s top pass rushes -- including that of the Jets, which is ranked No. 1 in the league. Facing a more middle-of-the-road group in Minnesota might help start building some confidence to fix what ails the Lions' line right now.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- In researching this game, there was nothing that stood out on either side that screamed extreme mismatch. Detroit's secondary is a question and even though Kelvin Benjamin looked good in his debut (six catches, 92 yards), he is still a rookie so consistency could be an issue. If Cam Newton plays, both offenses should be able to score in bunches and both defensive lines have enough star quality to put pressure on the quarterbacks. It feels like a fairly even matchup and since Newton didn't play in the opener, it is tough to even judge numbers. Provided Newton is healthy and sharp, his scrambling ability could be the small enough difference.

Another concern developing through the week has been Detroit's issue at right tackle, where Corey Hilliard is out for the season and LaAdrian Waddle is highly unlikely to play. This leaves the Lions with either rookie Cornelius Lucas or just-signed veteran Garrett Reynolds starting at right tackle potentially opposite Greg Hardy. Considering Carolina's strong front seven, this does not bode well for the Lions' run game and their chances in general.

Other than the right tackle issue, these teams feel pretty equal. When teams are equal, I usually give the edge typically goes to the home team, and that's what I'm doing here. Pick: Carolina 31, Detroit 28
DETROIT – Matthew Stafford wasn’t expecting to run.

Yet on Monday night against the New York Giants, facing a third-and-goal, Stafford looked more mobile than he ever has. The preparation for what turned into a 5-yard touchdown run for Stafford -- the longest touchdown run of his career -- began well before the season started.

[+] EnlargeMatthew Stafford
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMatthew Stafford's 5-yard touchdown run was a product of his offseason conditioning and mobility work.
“I work out with Stafford sometimes in the offseason,” receiver Calvin Johnson said. “And he’s been doing a lot of footwork drills and you see it paying off.”

It might have paid off the most on a play Stafford made in the third quarter, when his intelligence combined with an overextended pocket forced him to take off and make a play.

The Lions were lined up with Stafford in the shotgun, Joique Bell next to him and Calvin Johnson alone on the right side. On the left, the Lions had Golden Tate on the outside, Jeremy Ross in the slot and Joseph Fauria standing up as a tight end close to the line of scrimmage.

The way the play was designed, Stafford was initially supposed to throw to the left. Nothing was open. Then he looked at Johnson, who was doubled on the play. Meanwhile, Stafford’s pocket was pushed a little bit more when Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka ran past right tackle Corey Hilliard before Hilliard knocked him to the ground. This slightly shifted the pocket and gave Stafford a larger hole to run through.

As the pocket shifted, Tate was cutting across the field waving his hands slightly to try and get Stafford’s attention. Stafford, still looking somewhat upfield, appeared to commit to the run at the 10-yard line.

“They did a great job of covering us up on that,” Stafford said. “They kind of had a population issue over there to the left where we were trying to get the ball, and Calvin was doubled as well, so our offensive line again did a great job of giving me some lanes to step up.

“[I] Stepped up and decided to take off.”

This is where Stafford made the entire play. Seeing Tate covered and linebacker Jacquain Williams waiting around the goal line, Stafford gave a slight head fake like he was looking toward throwing to Tate. Williams looked to the right for a split second, appearing to throw off his timing.

It was a perfect sell by Stafford to give himself a chance to get close to the goal line. He knew it still wasn’t a guarantee he’s score, though.

“Knew I probably didn’t have the jets to get there but if I sold him enough, I could maybe cut back,” Stafford said.

He joked later the cut back is “about my only move,” but the final move resulting in the touchdown was more instinct than anything planned, no matter how much he works on his footwork.

That’s what happened when he reached the 2-yard line. Stafford, Williams, Tate and Giants safety Stevie Brown all converged just right of the hashmark. Stafford timed his cut back perfectly, knocking Williams slightly off balance for the wrap tackle while taking Brown out of the play with the move.

Stafford looked like he wanted to dive into the end zone, but Giants linebacker Jon Beason was standing just inside the goal line ready for one last shot at the play. Instead of diving, Stafford tucked the ball and almost jumped in the end zone, scoring to give the Lions a 27-7 lead after the extra point.

“He’s confident in his feet,” Johnson said. “The footwork drills that we do, he runs well. He’s running better than he has in the past. He’s going to be smart.

“He knows we need him out there so he isn’t going to do anything crazy.”
DETROIT -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Detroit Lions' 35-14 victory.
  • Prior to the game, the Lions honored their late owner, William Clay Ford Sr., with a speech from actor Jeff Daniels, a video and the signing of "Anchors Aweigh." After the game and the Lions' win, Martha Ford, the wife of the late Ford Sr., and their children all emerged with game balls given to them by coach Jim Caldwell. He said he did it to "honor Mr. Ford and his passing."
  • Hilliard
    Corey Hilliard stepped into the lineup at right tackle after the first series, when starter LaAdrian Waddle went down with a calf injury. It felt like déjà vu to Hilliard: Last season he lost a tight battle to Jason Fox at right tackle and then Fox went down in the opener, giving Hilliard a shot. "It's scary how weird that is," Hilliard said. He was also limping in the locker room after the game, but said he's "all right," and that he just twisted himself.
  • Typically after wins, the Lions have had music blaring in the locker room to celebrate. Not Monday night with Caldwell. "New day," Lions center Dominic Raiola said as to why the team didn't have the massive speakers and music going after their win over the Giants.
DETROIT -- The Detroit Lions will be without one defensive starter and a key defensive reserve Friday night against Jacksonville.

Safety James Ihedigbo and linebacker Kyle Van Noy will be sitting out against the Jaguars along with rookie wide receiver TJ Jones.

More interesting, though, might be some of the starter replacements. Isa Abdul-Quddus will start at safety in place of Ihedigbo instead of Don Carey, perhaps signifying Abdul-Quddus' move up the depth chart. Tahir Whitehead is starting at Sam linebacker in place of Ashlee Palmer in another surprising move.

Corey Hilliard will be at right tackle over LaAdrian Waddle, perhaps a sign that the vet could end up winning that job. Also, Devin Taylor will start at defensive end in place of Ezekiel Ansah. Ansah is active and is expected to play, but will likely be limited in his snaps.

Lions Camp Report: Day 6

August, 2, 2014
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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.

Lions Camp Report: Day 2

July, 29, 2014
7/29/14
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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.

Lions Camp Report: Day 1

July, 28, 2014
7/28/14
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.

Meet the free agents: OT Jason Fox

February, 18, 2014
2/18/14
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Every day we’ll take a look at one of the Detroit Lions heading for free agency, what he has meant to the team before and a prognosis on whether or not he’ll be back with the club in 2014.

To see all of the free agents profiled so far, click this link.

Free agent to be: Jason Fox

Position: Offensive tackle

Age: 25

Fox
Years in the league: 4

What he made last season: $1,323,000 (cap number and base salary)

What he did last season: Fox won the starting right tackle job out of training camp, beating out both veteran Corey Hilliard and undrafted rookie free agent LaAdrian Waddle. After injury-plagued seasons, Fox finally looked like he was turning into the player he appeared to be out of Miami (Fla.). Then injuries returned -- first his groin followed by his knee -- and by the end of the season he was firmly behind Waddle on the depth chart and possibly behind Hilliard as well. He ended up playing in eight games in 2013 and 13 in his four years with Detroit.

His potential market value: Not great. Fox has never been able to put together enough games together to show what he could be capable of when healthy, and that will be a concern to a lot of teams. He is still a young player and if healthy could be valuable -- after all, he did beat out two other players for the job on what ended up being one of the NFL’s top offensive lines -- but that would take a degree of optimism from a team.

Will he fit the Lions still: Probably not. With Waddle projecting as the right tackle of the future after being inserted into the lineup midway through the season and performing well next to rookie right guard Larry Warford, Fox wouldn’t be a starter. Hilliard is still on the roster as well, although at a $1.9 million cap number could have cause for concern about his status with the team entering the final year of his contract. Couldn’t see the team offering him much more than the veteran’s minimum, if anything at all, and he would have to be comfortable with essentially not having a chance to play barring injury.

What happens: Fox probably heads somewhere else if he can find someone to take a shot on him. He has the talent and if he does become healthy could be an asset, but that is not a risk the Lions should take as anything more than a fourth offensive tackle at this point. That Hilliard has familiarity with Jim Caldwell from the time they spent together in Indianapolis could also help the veteran stick around. General manager Martin Mayhew was high on Fox a year ago, saying he had starter-level talent, but that was before two more injuries and the signing and then emergence of Waddle.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- On a day where the Detroit Lions got at least a little bit in practice from all of its players, the biggest news of all was who practiced in full: Nate Burleson.

Burleson
Burleson
The wide receiver was not limited in practice for the first time since breaking his forearm in a September car crash, but he was part of the team drills the past two days, a good sign for his potential return.

"Things are looking up for Nate Burleson," Burleson said. "Catching some balls. Getting some high-fives. My friends are talking to me again. Finally feel like things are looking up, man.

'That pizza set me back, man."

It was a good day overall as the Lions had every player on the roster available to practice on at least a limited basis.

Besides Burleson, cornerback Bill Bentley practiced fully for the first time in a couple of weeks. Cornerback Jonte Green also returned fully after being sick Wednesday. Right tackle Corey Hilliard also practiced in full.

There were, though, many Lions limited on Thursday: defensive end Ziggy Ansah (ankle); running back Joique Bell (Achilles); safety Louis Delmas (knee); defensive tackle Andre Fluellen (thigh); defensive end Israel Idonije (knee); wide receiver Calvin Johnson (knee); tight end Brandon Pettigrew (knee) and safety Glover Quin (ankle).

Ansah, Burleson inactive for Detroit

November, 17, 2013
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PITTSBURGH -- Not much of a surprise, but defensive end Ziggy Ansah and wide receiver Nate Burleson are among the inactive players for Detroit on Sunday against the Steelers.

Ansah tested the ankle during warm-ups before the game, but had only practiced one day in the past two weeks and appeared unlikely to play from the start. Rookie Devin Taylor will make his second career start in place of Ansah.

Burleson had hinted he likely wasn't going to play this week as well, but he warmed up before the official no-go decision was made.

In bigger news for the Lions, Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley was deemed inactive. That's a big deal for Detroit, which will start rookie right tackle LaAdrian Waddle for the third straight game. Facing Woodley would have been the biggest test so far for Waddle.

Lions inactives: Burleson, Ansah; OT Corey Hilliard; OG Leroy Harris; RB Montell Owens; CB Bill Bentley; QB Kellen Moore.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- After missing two days of practice and then saying Thursday he anticipated playing Sunday against Pittsburgh, Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson is officially listed as probable on the team's injury report Friday.

Johnson
Defensive end Ziggy Ansah (ankle), who returned to practice Friday on a limited basis, is officially listed as questionable but had not practiced for almost two weeks before Friday. Also listed as questionable is right tackle Corey Hilliard (knee).

Cornerback Bill Bentley (knee), who hasn't practiced all week, is listed as doubtful along with receiver Nate Burleson (forearm), who is still recovering from his injury.

The only player ruled out for the Lions is running back Montell Owens, who hasn't practiced all week.

Interesting to note, especially since he likely would have faced rookie right tackle LaAdrian Waddle, but linebacker LaMarr Woodley (calf) is officially doubtful for Pittsburgh on Sunday. Also, defensive end Brett Keisel (foot) is questionable for the Steelers.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions signed Austen Lane earlier this week as insurance in case rookie Ziggy Ansah won't be able to play Sunday against Chicago.

From the looks of it, he might not.

Ansah missed his third straight day of practice Sunday with an ankle injury, joining right tackle Corey Hilliard (knee) and cornerback Bill Bentley (knee) as guys who have missed every practice this week.

Linebacker Travis Lewis (ankle) returned to practice, as did safety Louis Delmas (knee). Receiver Nate Burleson was out there for the third straight day catching passes.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson may have returned to practice Wednesday, but he did not participate the entire way.

Johnson
Johnson, safety Glover Quin (ankle) and receiver Nate Burleson (forearm) all were limited in practice.

After practice, Burleson would not say he was ruled out for this weekend's game against Chicago. He continues to say it'll be a decision made among himself, doctors, trainers and coaches as to whether he'll play.

Five Detroit players missed practice Wednesday: Ziggy Ansah (ankle), Travis Lewis (ankle), Bill Bentley (knee), Louis Delmas (knee) and Corey Hilliard (knee).
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Wide receiver Calvin Johnson returned to practice Wednesday for the Detroit Lions, but defensive end Ziggy Ansah missed his second straight day with an ankle injury.

Ansah was one of five Lions to miss practice, joining safety Louis Delmas (knee), tackle Corey Hilliard (knee), nickel back Bill Bentley and a new addition, linebacker Travis Lewis.

First practice/injury report of the week comes out at 4 p.m.

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