NFC North: John Owens
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions greeted us with the most physical, emotional practice we've seen this summer. (Nothing like that Club Med they're running over in Minnesota. Oh, hi Brad!) This is what the black-and-blue division is supposed to look like.
The two-hour, full-pads affair included three bruising hits from defensive players and one very angry quarterback. Yes, Jon Kitna went bonkers on first-year linebacker Buster Davis after Davis knocked tight end John Owens to the ground during a goal-line passing drill.
Even in full-pads practices, you don't usually see players getting knocked to the ground. It definitely struck Kitna the wrong way.
"Do something, Buster! Do something!" Kitna screamed, over and over, after the play. (We're guessing he meant, "Do something in this league before you start throwing players around in practice.") Getting angrier with each yell, Kitna started walking toward Davis before a few coaches got in his way. Fists never came close to flying, but rarely do you so much as see a quarterback advance in a threatening manner.
(Of course, Davis would have had no choice but to back down. He's trying to make the team as a backup linebacker. His chances would probably decrease slightly if he beat up the starting quarterback.)
Lions coach Rod Marinelli has been preaching mental discipline throughout camp. But he's also a classic tough guy and thus seemed torn over Kitna's response. Marinelli said there is "no doubt" Kitna was protecting his offensive teammates. However, Marinelli added, "I don't like the extracurricular. I don't want that. But I understand guys standing up for each other. But we'll be a good team when we don't have penalties -- when we're tough, we're physical and we don't make mistakes. That's all."
From my vantage point, it all started during an earlier drill when linebacker Ernie Sims planted receiver Mike Furrey after a catch. Safety Dwight Smith, never at a loss for words, was jawing with offensive players for much of the goal-line drill, and Davis popped tight end Dan Campbell before his hit on Owens prompted Kitna's outburst.
Kitna is well-known for his fiery personality, but at least one player seemed surprised by how far he took it Wednesday. Receiver Roy Williams, who didn't practice but was watching from the sideline, said he appreciated Kitna's intent but added: "He probably would have gotten knocked out, so I would have rathered him stay back and be the quarterback."
I was interviewing another player when Kitna spoke to reporters, but here's what he had to say, as reported by Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com:
"I'm not going to get into specifics. That's how competitors are. Today's really the last day [of training camp] and we're ready to start seeing other people on a weekly basis. You usually don't go more than seven days without a game in the preseason, and this is our seventh day -- and we've still got three more days until we play. The guys are just ready to hit somebody else."
Everyone has their own opinion on this sort of thing, but count me in the group that considers it an encouraging sign for the Lions. As an outsider dropping in to get a glimpse of a team with few national expectations, it was nice to see the Lions getting after it. The hitting was great and reflected the toughness Marinelli is trying to install into the Lions organization.
You hope that Kitna will control those emotions during a game, but I would rather see vicious hitting and a quarterback going after a linebacker on 10 out of 10 days -- especially if the alternative is watching a lifeless group slog through another dog day of camp.
We'll bring you more practice observations later today.