NFC North: Jeremy Ross

Rapid Reaction: Detroit Lions

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions' 34-9 loss to the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

What it means: This was always going to be a struggle and perhaps the Lions' toughest game of the season. However, there should be legitimate concern with Detroit's offense right now. The Lions have gone two straight games without a touchdown and despite shrinking the play-calling sheet in order to help find offensive rhythm and consistency, the Lions gained 335 yards -- right around their 332.3 yard per game average -- but once again appeared largely inconsistent.

More on this below, but perhaps a bigger concern was the return of the drops for the Lions -- an issue in 2013 but so far not a problem this season. Detroit had at least six drops against the Patriots, including three potential touchdowns.

Defensively, the Lions weren't much better. While the Patriots abandoned the run early, Tom Brady was able to carve through Detroit's defense, completing 38 of 53 passes for 349 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He was also not sacked -- the second straight game the Lions have been unable to sack an opposing quarterback.

Stock watch: Rising – Golden Tate. He went over 1,000 yards for the season and once again had a strong game with four catches for 97 yards a week after the Lions only threw two passes to him. He also was one of the few Detroit receivers to not drop a pass -- an accomplishment on a day where the Lions dropped three potential touchdown receptions. Falling – Pass-catchers. Eric Ebron dropped Matthew Stafford's best throw of the day -- a touch pass in stride that hit Ebron in the hands before he dropped it. There were also drops in the end zone by Joseph Fauria, Corey Fuller and Jeremy Ross. Calvin Johnson had a couple of drops as well. But those three dropped touchdowns made a massive difference in the game.

Back to second: With Green Bay knocking off Minnesota, 24-21, the Lions are officially out of first place in the NFC North. The Packers are 8-3 and the Lions are 7-4. This puts Detroit in a crowded wild-card race with Philadelphia, Dallas, San Francisco and Seattle. This is realistically three teams for two spots -- one of the Eagles or Cowboys will win the NFC East -- and something that is going to be watched the rest of the season.

Game ball: Once again, Tate was one of the few bright spots on the Lions and the only one offensively for the team. He gave the Lions more than a third of their total offense Sunday -- 97 yards receiving, 13 yards rushing -- and is the only player on Detroit able to show any offensive creativity right now. He's been the only consistent thing on the Lions' inconsistent offense this season.

What's next: The Lions head home for a short week before facing division rival Chicago on Thursday in the annual Thanksgiving game.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Eric Ebron laughed for a second Sunday afternoon.

He was asked about the spot of the ball on his third-down catch with 34 seconds left in the first half against Arizona, one that appeared to reach the first-down marker at the 9-yard line but was spotted at the 10-yard line.

The replay official, because it was under two minutes left in the half, reviewed the play. The ruling was upheld.

“We at Arizona, that’s all I can say,” Ebron said after the Detroit Lions' 14-6 loss to Arizona. “Of course I thought I had it. I knew the situation. We all knew the situation. So I mean, we at Arizona, so good call on their side.”

Lions coach Jim Caldwell pushed to get the spot overturned as well to no avail with referee Jerome Boger.

“I didn’t challenge it because I thought it was short. I’m not being facetious,” Caldwell said. “Obviously, the reason why we challenged it is because we think we had a shot at it.

“That’s why we challenged it.”

Quarterback Matthew Stafford said he thought it was a play where whatever the call was on the field, it was not going to be overturned.

It was one of a few big calls by officials Sunday.

The other came in the fourth quarter, when Arizona’s Justin Bethel attempted to down a Drew Butler punt at the 1-yard line. Bethel grabbed the ball and then threw it back onto the field. Seeing that and knowing an NFL rule that says the returning team can pick up the ball and advance it if the kicking team didn’t have possession, returner Jeremy Ross grabbed the ball and ran 49 yards.

“If I was to pick it up, run with it, throw it back to one of my other guys and let him catch it and then fumble it and they recover it, we still get the ball,” Ross said. “Back where the ball was spotted.

“On one of those plays, you just got to know like, ‘Hey, if the other guy touches it, it’s all fair game, and you can’t even lose.’"

Arizona coach Bruce Arians said he knew Bethel had possession and once he realized he could challenge the play, he chose to do so. But he even said “that could’ve went either way.”

Arians challenged the play and the play was reversed when it was ruled Bethel did have possession of the ball, giving Detroit the ball at the Lions 1-yard line instead of the Arizona 46-yard line.

“We thought it was going in our favor so we were pretty excited,” Ross said. “We had good field position but once we found out the play went in their favor, it was a bummer.

“Starting at the 1, you never want to be backed up in your own territory. It wasn’t the best situation.”
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Detroit Lions' 14-6 loss Sunday to the Arizona Cardinals:
  • Calvin Johnson was the last Lions player seen leaving the locker room because he spent extensive time after the game in the training room. Although he finished with five catches for 59 yards, Johnson said he was dealing with an elbow issue. He said the elbow shouldn't be an issue in the future.

    "I was out there all day, man," Johnson said.
  • The media congregated around Jeremy Ross' locker to talk to him about his punt return that ended up not counting, after it was ruled the ball was down at the Detroit 1-yard line.

    Ross said he thought the Arizona player didn't have possession when he picked up the ball and ran with it, but as he watched the replay, he saw how the official could call what he did.

  • Lions left guard Rob Sims compared Sunday's game to a postseason atmosphere on the field.

    "This felt like the playoffs," Sims said. "Those guys are good. Those guys are going to be good down the stretch. Maybe we'll see them down the line. Who knows."
LONDON -- All across the field at halftime here, men were poking around on the field, trying to pick up and replace divots all along the Wembley Stadium pitch.

After all, the field isn’t usually prepared for multiple 300-pound plus players to be taken down on it throughout the course of a game. In what was otherwise a pretty great day for the allure of the NFL in Europe, the field left something to be desired.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Ross
Steve Flynn/USA TODAY Sports"It was chewed up a lot," Lions receiver Jeremy Ross said of the Wembley Stadium turf. "It started getting slippery out there."
“Yeah, it was chewed up a lot,” Detroit Lions receiver Jeremy Ross said. “It started getting slippery out there, especially when the grass dug up and there was just kind of mud. If you were to step right there, your foot would slip on it.”

NFL spokesman Michael Signora said after the game, however, that both the Lions and Falcons told the league the field "played well."

Ross, kicker Matt Prater and punter Sam Martin all said the grass was pretty beat up between the hashmarks on the field, mostly because that is where the offensive and defensive linemen would be banging into each other and being taken to the ground on a play-by-play basis.

“Inside the hashes was pretty chewed up late in the game,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “Everybody out there was wearing the big, seven-stud spikes, trying to get a grip. I’m not sure that field is used to having 300-pounders running around on it and the whole bunch.

“You know, soccer guys are a little bit lighter than us. But for the most part, it held up great. Just had to get used to it a little bit.”

Martin said it was hard for him to find grass to plant on and both Martin and Prater said the condition of the field and his footing was better on his game-winning 48-yard field goal than the 43-yard field goal he missed but was waived off due to a delay of game.

“The 35-yard lines, where I was kicking off from, was terrible,” Martin said. “I was having a hard time to find grass to plant on at the 35-yard-line to even kick off. In between those lines there, between the 35 and 40, it was nicer turf, for sure.”

One suggestion Ross had -- something that might come into play if the NFL does ever choose to move to London on a permanent basis -- is to find a different type of grass.

“Probably a little more firmer grass,” Ross said. “Something like that.”
LONDON -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Detroit Lions' 22-21 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
  • Ross
    Looking around Wembley Stadium on Sunday before the game, Lions wide receiver Jeremy Ross said that “it felt like the Pro Bowl because there were a lot of different jerseys out there in the stands. It was just different, constant noise.” From a quick count prior to the game, at least 20 teams were represented by jerseys on the concourse as well as jerseys from college teams Oregon and Texas Tech.
  • George Johnson was walking out of the locker room Sunday with a giant smile on his face, saying “I love our kicker, man.” He should, after Matt Prater made the game-winning field goal as time expired.
  • Lions owner Martha Ford made the trip to London to watch the team play, as she has done most weeks. Seeing her waiting with her family after the game, she seemed quite pleased with the team’s second straight come-from-behind win, smiling along the way.
  • One difference between the international and American media: At least one member of the international media was seen posing for a selfie with cornerback Cassius Vaughn, who laughed after he took it as he was walking out of the locker room toward the bus.
The Detroit Lions were down their top wide receiver, two of their top three tight ends and still had a hobbled running back in Reggie Bush.

And yet receiver Ryan Broyles still rarely stepped on the field against the New Orleans Saints.

The former second-round pick actually saw six snaps Sunday -- the most he’s had all season -- but four of those plays were runs. He was not targeted, was barely used and clearly has no role in this offense now, even with injuries all over the place to skill-position players.

Only one offensive player -- sixth lineman Travis Swanson -- played fewer offensive snaps than Broyles, and Swanson had five of them.

The Lions stuck with a three-receiver base set most of the game, too, with Golden Tate in on 63 of 70 plays, Jeremy Ross on 62 of 70 plays and Corey Fuller on 62 of 70 plays. Then came Broyles, who barely filled in.

He plays a different position, but tight end Jordan Thompson, who was called up Saturday by the Lions, had double the snaps of Broyles (12) and was even targeted once (an interception that bounced off his hands to Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro).

Considering the Lions are in a constant rotation of players and formations to try to gain an advantage on an opponent, the lack of usage for Broyles is pretty jarring.

He fought to make the team during training camp and has expressed both understanding and frustration about his usage before -- on Twitter last week and to ESPN last month.

But as the injuries to other players pile up and Broyles continues to remain on the bench, it is becoming more and more clear there just might not be much of a role for him on the Lions.

Other snap count notes for the Lions from Sunday:
  • Joique Bell saw the majority of the snaps at running back -- 52 for him and 18 for Bush. Coach Jim Caldwell said after the game it was “absolutely not” a benching when Bush sat for most of the second half and that Bush was still dealing with his ankle injury.
  • Nick Fairley played a season-high 47 snaps and had two tackles and a quarterback hit. Pro Football Focus also credited him with four hurries of Drew Brees.
  • In parsing the numbers for defensive alignments, the Lions went to their traditional nickel with Danny Gorrer on 30 of 74 plays, the base 4-3 with Ashlee Palmer on 17 snaps, the big nickel with Cassius Vaughn on 15 snaps and a third nickel package with Don Carey on 12 snaps. Isa Abdul-Quddus, who played one snap last week and was the initial big nickel back, played only special teams for 23 plays.
  • Linebacker Josh Bynes continues to get some run spelling Tahir Whitehead, as Bynes played 15 of 74 snaps but did not record a statistic. He is a core special teams player, too, so he’s carving out a role on this defense.
  • Once again, only backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky didn’t play, but these position players saw less than 10 combined snaps between offense, defense and special teams: Cornelius Lucas (four, special teams); Jerome Couplin (eight, special teams); Caraun Reid (eight, defense); and Broyles (six, offense).
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- After Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson said earlier Wednesday that he is trying to get everything right with his ankle, it was not surprising he ended up being one of a litany of players not at practice Wednesday.

Some of the players he was joined by, though, were a bit surprising.

Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (toe) did not practice. Neither did running back Theo Riddick (hamstring), tight end Joseph Fauria (ankle), linebacker Travis Lewis (quad) or receiver/returner Jeremy Ross (undisclosed). Ansah, Riddick and Ross were surprises.

In better news for Detroit, Reggie Bush returned to practice after missing Sunday's game with an ankle injury so he looks on pace to play against his former team, New Orleans.

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy also returned to practice for the first time since core muscle surgery in August. He is eligible to return to the Lions after their bye week. Receiver TJ Jones, who is on the PUP list, was not practicing Wednesday. This is the first day Jones is eligible to return from his shoulder surgery and nerve issue in his arm.

Kevin Ogletree began training camp for the Detroit Lions as one of their starting wide receivers.

Now, he’s out of a job.

Ogletree was cut by the Lions on Saturday, according to colleague Field Yates. The Queens, New York, native was inactive for the Lions’ first two games of the season, having been passed on the depth chart by Jeremy Ross and Corey Fuller.

Detroit cut Ogletree to make room for cornerback Mohammed Seisay, who is being promoted from the Lions’ practice squad after an injury to cornerback Cassius Vaughn.

This leaves the Lions with five wide receivers on the roster: Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Ross, Fuller and Ryan Broyles. In the first two games of the year, the Lions only kept four receivers active -- Johnson, Tate, Ross and Fuller -- leaving both Ogletree and Broyles inactive on game days. This made one or both expendable when injuries piled up in the secondary.

Detroit likely kept Broyles over Ogletree because he is a former second-round draft pick of the club in 2012 and he had an impressive preseason coming off an Achilles injury.

The 27-year-old Ogletree signed with the Lions last season after being released by Tampa Bay after four games. He caught 13 passes for 199 yards last year.

In 62 career regular-season games, Ogletree caught 78 passes for 999 yards and six touchdowns.

Lions Camp Report: Day 3

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
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
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. -- Mike Blasquez saw the smile and the confidence after workouts concluded. Every day, Blasquez had his core group of NFL players who were training at the University of California compete at the end of training sessions.

Sometimes it would be speed work. Other times, sit-ups or pull-ups with a chain attached. When other players in the group won, they spoke up and bragged.

When Jeremy Ross won, he didn't. He just smiled. It was all he needed to do. This was part of a grander goal, anyway.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Ross
Carlos Osorio/AP PhotoJeremy Ross, who will enter his third year in the league this season, has his sights set on being more than just a returner for the Detroit Lions.
Ross never verbalized his intentions during this offseason in Berkeley, California. He never needed to. Everything he did, everything he indirectly said, tunneled into the same vision. The same focus. Ross received his opening last season with the Detroit Lions as a kick and punt returner.

Now he wanted more.

"I don't want to just be a returner. I don't want to be that guy in the league that just knows how to return," Ross told "I want to be a dangerous wide receiver as well as a dangerous returner.

"...People do want a good returner, but I want to be more than that. I want to offer more to a team than just returns."

His emergence began in the second half of the 2013 season. Detroit pulled Ross off its practice squad after signing him following his release from Green Bay. The Lions made him their returner, replacing Micheal Spurlock. Injuries to Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles opened up infrequent opportunities at slot receiver, where he had two carries for 40 yards and five catches for 59 yards and a touchdown.

It awakened a realization he needed to diversify his game for 2014, both to secure a roster spot and prolong his career. To do that, he restructured his offseason.

He focused on three key areas: Speed and agility training with Blasquez, the director of the strength and conditioning program at his alma mater, California; a specialized nutrition program organized by Mike Hughes, who runs Baci Café in Danville, California and time at Real People Pilates taking private classes with Joseph Quinn in Berkeley.

It began with nutrition. Blasquez introduced Ross and Hughes as part of a preparation to change Ross' body composition. Two weeks before he began his five-day-a-week training program over 12 weeks with Blasquez, Ross and Hughes communicated through text and email about foods Ross preferred. Unlike other Hughes and Blasquez clients, Ross had no specifications on what he would or wouldn't eat.

With instructions from Blasquez and information from Ross, Hughes developed a specialty 2,700-calorie daily diet. Each meal -- breakfast, lunch, dinner and a morning and afternoon snack to keep energy up -- was specially prepared. On Feb. 12, his breakfast had 669 calories, a bison burger lunch had 441 calories, chicken and quinoa pasta dinner with 1,035 calories and the two snacks combined for 602 calories. Together it had a 42 percent carbohydrate, 28 percent fat and 29 percent protein breakdown in the 2,748 calories.

Each day had similar consistency. Meals were delivered directly to Ross at the Cal training facility every three days. Then Ross transported them home in an ice chest.

"We really made it easy for them," Blasquez said. "So when the best possible solution for them nutritionally is also the easiest, then things work out. That provided a great resource for him.

"As soon as we got him going in that program for a couple weeks, we really started to see his body slim down and his energy levels were great and his body composition was moving in the right direction."

This opened up even more possibilities for Ross and Blasquez. The workouts focused on pelvic and body control as much as strength and speed. Having more hip control, Ross accelerated and decelerated in-and-out of cuts and breaks quicker in returns and routes.

It led to sharper moves. This became paramount as Ross saw chances to move both inside and outside this fall at receiver, along with his returning duties. As the nutrition took hold, Blasquez and Ross progressed the training from typical offseason work to change-of-direction, footwork and speed work throughout the three months.

"We really took the time to develop his form and hit the shifts strong," Blasquez said. "We really worked on the fundamental strength and movement of the position. We really broke everything down and developed his strength there first.

"Then, as we moved to the change of direction drills, he was just so strong and his ability to aggressively decelerate and stick his foot in the ground and then accelerate with good power was pretty impressive."

The mid-morning workouts had a mirror effect during the five days.

The group had acceleration Mondays with plyometrics and lower body strengthening. Tuesdays were general agility with change of direction, conditioning and upper body work. Wednesday regenerated their bodies with pool training, foam-rolling and stretching. Thursday combined straight running and lower-body weights. Fridays targeted position-specific agility work with upper-body work to increase work capacity.

"I definitely want to better myself as a wide receiver," Ross said. "Working on specific things just to help myself be in the best shape that I can. Be as strong as I can, getting better at some of my weaknesses but really strengthening my strengths a lot as well so I can use them out here.

"I've been trying to use my strengths a lot to my advantage."

To maximize strengths, Ross added the third part of his training -- pilates. As he beat his body up with Blasquez and fed it appropriately due to Hughes, he entrusted Quinn with replenishment, flexibility and stretching.

The pilates work was less regimented than his time with Blasquez. Ross, though, wanted to learn about the healing effects of pilates and how he could use it to bolster his changing body.

The routines gave him a stronger core base. This allowed the pelvis -- where Blasquez and Ross focused part of his offseason plan -- to move freer and with more internal control. The movements allowed Ross to connect with his body's motions and signals on a deeper level.

"He was becoming aware of the finer pieces of his body that he can control more," Quinn said. "Make no qualms about it, his body is his moneymaker. That's how he's getting paid.

"So OK, that's how you're getting paid, you probably want to know as much about it as possible."

This included learning about muscles like the iliopsoas group connecting the spine, hip and femur that he didn't know existed before. By the time he finished working with Quinn, he discovered "precision" muscles, as Quinn called them, that helped strengthen his body and turned him into an even better athlete.

Ross worked on a machine shaped like an eight-foot bed with pulleys, posts and a moveable plank called the reformer. It would work that way in more ways than one. Quinn instructed the movements, usually in groups of three or five, all in an effort to increase the receiver's flexibility and muscle coordination.

"I wanted to be strong in my core," Ross said. "I wanted to be strong while flexible, being able to work on certain parts of my body, like flexibility. The pilates provides, it gives you length of being strong while being long."

Strong and long is how Ross hopes to play this fall, where everything he changed over his three months in California focused toward. Jeremy Ross is already a returner, turning into one of the better ones in the NFC.

Now he wants to be much more.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – The Detroit Lions finished up their first open practice of the organized team activities period Wednesday afternoon – and after Ndamukong Suh dropped that he controlled his own draft fate in 2010 – there are other things to get to.

Here are some observations and thoughts after watching the Lions' practice under head coach Jim Caldwell, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin for the first time.
  • The defense appears faster and certainly more excited than anything I remember from last season. They celebrated plays a lot and seemed to be a fairly cohesive unit throughout the practice. They also seemed to be playing a lot better than the offense throughout the majority of Wednesday’s practice, from individual periods to team periods.They seemed sharper, from a couple of interceptions of the first and second groups to just being more aggressive throughout the practice.
  • Of those players, cornerback Cassius Vaughn stood out heavily. He made a beautiful break on intercepting a Dan Orlovsky pass and had it been a real game, Vaughn might have scored on the play. He seemed to be aggressive and realizing there was an opportunity to be had with Chris Houston and Chris Greenwood both out of practice Wednesday.“At this point in time, he’s been here with us for a while,” Caldwell said of Vaughn. “He’s a guy that loves to play and he loves to tell you about it once in a while as he’s playing. But nevertheless, he’s a guy that’s working extremely hard trying to win a spot on this team. He does bring some energy.”It’s only one practice, but if Vaughn keeps playing as he did Wednesday, he may end up in contention for a roster spot come the fall.
  • Calvin Johnson did not look like his typically sharp self. He dropped a couple of passes and looks like he is still finding his way into playing shape. Don’t forget, he did have offseason surgery and it is May – so nothing to be concerned about yet. Also not looking particularly precise was quarterback Matthew Stafford, who was intercepted by Stephen Tulloch on one play and had a couple of other balls dropped.
  • Michael Williams is going to have to put on some weight – and he knows it. He said after practice he probably needs to add another 15 to 20 pounds – he’s put on six to seven already – and hasn’t played offensive tackle in his life. Yet playing tackle instead of tight end might end up being his best path to a roster spot in the fall and in the future, so it makes sense for him to make that switch.
  • DeAndre Levy’s beard is intense – that much was known beforehand – but he looks like he could end up building well off of last season’s breakout season. He seems pretty comfortable already and in strong shape. This is going to be important for Detroit’s defense this season.
  • Was also impressed by the size of undrafted free-agent safety Jerome Couplin. He’s listed at 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, but when I noticed him in the defensive backfield, he didn’t look like your typical safety. He’s longer, rangier and perhaps has a longer stride than most of your typical defensive backs. He almost looks more like a taller receiver than someone in the defensive backfield. He’s going to end up being a player to watch in contention for a roster spot at points during this camp.
  • Jeremy Ross also looks like he has improved from a season ago. Possibly a bit bigger – especially in his arms – and perhaps with a little bit more speed as well.
Other notes:
  • Golden Tate was not at the Lions’ open practice Wednesday. He was a bit busy with other things – like going to the White House with his old team, Seattle, to meet President Barack Obama.
  • Others not participating (in at least some extent) were running back Joique Bell, defensive end Kourtnei Brown, cornerback Chris Greenwood, defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, left guard Rob Sims, linebacker Brandon Hepburn, defensive tackle Nick Fairley and cornerback Chris Houston. Of those players, only Houston, Tate and Fairley were not spotted as at least being in attendance. Some of these players participated in walk-throughs or individual drills.
  • The Lions have one more organized team activity in this period – Thursday – before being off for the weekend.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- He was on a rival a year ago, unsure about his future in the NFL and not knowing whether he would have a job with the Green Bay Packers for much longer. Jeremy Ross made the roster then fumbled away his opportunity early in the season.

This is all known by now, part of Ross’ past. The receiver/returner in some ways had to go through all of that to find his home now, to get released from Green Bay and then land in Detroit weeks later, first on the practice squad and then as the team’s primary returner when he replaced Micheal Spurlock.

Here he is now a year later, on the first day of voluntary workouts for Detroit, and his role with the Lions appears to be somewhat set. After returning both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown last season and also being dynamic in his ability to bring back kicks and punts along with being a gunner on punt coverage, he has a place with the Lions.

So now he’s trying to expand on it and work himself into a refurbished receiver rotation behind Calvin Johnson.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Ross
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJeremy Ross wants to be more than a special-teams player for the Detroit Lions.
“I feel like I have a lot to offer,” Ross said Monday afternoon after dropping his bags in his car. “My versatility is something good. I can play slot. I can play outside. I can be in the backfield. I can do a lot of different things for the offense.”

While winning one of the receiver slots would increase his standing with Detroit and help to solidify a roster spot come fall, his primary value entering the offseason workouts will be as a returner and special-teams player.

He trained in the offseason for everything, but worked specifically on both his straight-line speed and his ability to change directions quickly. He also worked on his strength and his quickness, the former to help give him a better foundation than he had a season ago.

Last season, Ross essentially was a returner and an occasional offensive player. He played 175 offensive snaps for the Lions last season, caught five passes for 59 yards and dropped two balls. He was also targeted on only 10.2 percent of the routes he ran. He also had two rushes for 40 yards.

His role was smaller last season, though. He was playing behind Johnson, Kris Durham, Nate Burleson and, at points, Kevin Ogletree and Ryan Broyles. He had to, in some ways, wait. Now with a new coaching staff, he can try to move up on his own merit.

“It’s good. New coaching staff. Fresh start,” Ross said. “Everybody’s coming in and coming in to compete. So when they are looking and evaluating, they aren’t going off of previous years. They are seeing what’s in front of them and that’s how they are going to make their decisions.”

That includes the spot where he has worked out the best -- on returns. With the Lions signing Golden Tate in the offseason and Tate expressing a desire to keep returning punts if possible, Ross will have competition from a player the team has invested a lot of money in as both a receiver and, if possible, returner.

Will that change how Ross does things? It won’t. After all, he is in a much better place than a season ago no matter what happens.

“I go out there and I work hard. I don’t really need any external motivation,” Ross said. “I’m pretty motivated.

“So I’ll just continue to do what I do to work on technique, catch balls after practice, watch film, all the things I’ve done in the past to do well.”
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers signed one former Chicago Bears' Pro Bowl player in defensive end Julius Peppers, so why not another in return specialist Devin Hester?

The Packers have not gotten involved yet with Hester, who visited the Falcons on Tuesday, but they could if the price is right.

According to an NFL personnel evaluator whose team has discussed the possibility of going after Hester, the former Pro Bowl return specialist is currently seeking a deal in the $4-million-per-year range.

However, that may be too high for teams interested in the 31-year-old return man.

If Hester discovers the market for his services is lower, it could bring in more teams, the Packers among them, when the price drops.

The Packers want to upgrade their return game while also taking receiver Randall Cobb out of that job. Cobb, who has three career special teams touchdowns on returns, will take on an even greater role on offense this season after the departure of James Jones.

After Jeremy Ross was released and Cobb sustained a knee injury early last season, the Packers turned to rookie cornerback Micah Hyde as their primary returner. Hyde ranked fifth in the NFL last season in punt return average (12.3 yards per return) and had one touchdown. But the Packers struggled all season on kickoff returns, ranking 30th with a 20.3-yard average. Hyde is expected to have a larger role on defense this season, perhaps even moving to safety.

The Bears decided not to re-sign Hester after his contract expired following last season. He holds the NFL record for kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns with 18, one of which came last season on a punt return.

Lions bringing back Ross, Durham

February, 21, 2014
Feb 21
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Detroit Lions' receiving corps was bolstered a little bit more Friday, as general manager Martin Mayhew said the team will bring back Jeremy Ross and Kris Durham, who were exclusive rights free agents.

After an injury to Nate Burleson and overall ineffective play from Patrick Edwards, Durham was elevated to a starting wide receiver opposite Calvin Johnson for the majority of the season. Durham played in 16 games, making 38 catches for 490 yards and two touchdowns last season. He has good familiarity with quarterback Matthew Stafford from their shared time at Georgia.

Ross emerged as a return threat for Detroit after he was bumped up from the practice squad in October. He was one of Mayhew's better signings throughout the season, as he grabbed Ross off the waiver wire after he was released by Green Bay.

He turned into the team's primary kick and punt returner, returning both a punt and a kick for a touchdown against Philadelphia in Week 14.

"I think he did a good job for us last season," Mayhew said. "He didn't have quite enough returns to get into some of the categories with the leaders. I guess his stats don't really show up. If he had a handful more returns, he would be one of the top punt returners in the NFL right now.

"So he's a very talented guy. He's young. He had upside. He's still growing. We might add to that (return) group. We might add there."

Among the guys Mayhew pointed to were practice squad running back Steven Miller and utility guy Carlin Isles, who has not decided whether he will give up football for rugby. Mayhew also didn't rule out adding a player through the draft or free agency as competition for Ross.