NFL Nation: Carlin Isles

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.
Carlin Isles appears to have given up his hopes of playing in the NFL -- at least for now.

The utility player, who was dubbed “the fastest man in rugby,” initially signed on with the Detroit Lions' practice squad before the final game of the regular season. Then, the team signed him to a reserves/futures deal in January.

There was even some mention of him giving up rugby to concentrate on football and trying to make the Lions, where his speed could have potentially been used as a returner.

However, the Scotsman, a newspaper in Scotland, is reporting that Isles will head to Glasgow to play the rest of the rugby season with the Glasgow Warriors. The Warriors’ season will run until at least May, which would mean Isles would miss offseason workouts with Detroit.

Considering his rawness on the NFL level – he was a Division II college player with sprinter’s speed – this would not bode well for him making the team even if he would want to return after his rugby season. Isles is also part of the United States rugby sevens national team.

His agent told the Guardian that Isles’ goal is to play in the Rugby World Cup next season. If he were to devote himself to that, it would seem unlikely an NFL appearance would beckon.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- He seemed annoyed at it for a second -- not the question exactly but the response he had to give.

[+] EnlargeCarlin Isles, Renaud Delmas
AP Photo/Kin CheungLions practice squad addition Carlin Isles has incorporated football into his rugby regimen.
Yes, Carlin Isles did run a 40-yard dash in 4.22 seconds during his tryout with the Detroit Lions earlier this week. And yes, he was disappointed he didn't run faster than that. Because he says he can, and from watching his highlight videos from his time with the United States rugby team that is completely believable.

This is why the Lions, who made noise earlier this year by bringing in Havard Rugland (aka Kickalicious) to training camp, are taking a chance by signing the receiver who can also be a returner and a cornerback to their practice squad.

At this point, with nothing left to lose in this failure of a season for the Detroit Lions from the perspective of the playoffs, why not try someone out who has a ton of uncoached talent to see what he can do?

"That's more than anything, take a look," Detroit offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. "See his background in football and how he responds to look teams and things like that. Right now is too early to say where he could go from here."

Isles is intriguing on many levels. He started playing football at age 8 and played through high school and his first two years at Division II Ashland University. Isles said he could play either returner role, wide receiver, cornerback or even running back. He played the latter two positions at Ashland.

But after football at Ashland, he shifted to track and, eventually, rugby, where he is a member of the United States national team for rugby sevens.

It was there where his YouTube highlights -- one of which has over 5 million views -- caught the attention of a lot of people and made him a bit of a sensation. And it is rugby where he also has a shot at the Olympics.

The 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janiero, where sevens rugby will be a medal sport, is one of his goals.

"2016 is a big deal for me," Isles said. "That's a goal of mine, but playing in the NFL is a blessing, too."

He said he trained for football by incorporating it into his rugby training. After this season ends Sunday, he'll go back to rugby training in advance of the fourth and fifth rounds of the HSBC Sevens World Series in Las Vegas Jan. 24-26, then Wellington, New Zealand, Feb. 7-8.

And if an NFL team wanted to sign him to a futures deal following the season? He'd discuss it with his rugby coaches. After all, growing up he used to watch Devin Hester and Calvin Johnson play.

Then on Thursday, he got to have a conversation with one of them -- Johnson -- and even had him hit him with pads during the team's practice.

"Man, being in an NFL locker room has been a true blessing for me, man," Isles said. "Watching these guys on TV and coming here and to see them in person, it's outstanding and it's a shocker for me.

"I never would have thought in my life I would be right here in the NFL. It's always like a little kid's dream coming up. To me, to make it to real and people coming up to me back home and across the state, I'm very happy."