NFL Nation: Golden Tate

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- When Golden Tate chose to sign with the Detroit Lions during free agency, part of the appeal to the wide receiver was the offense laid out to him.

After spending the first four years of his career in Seattle, where the Seahawks ran the ball just as much as they threw it -- including 155 more runs than passes during the last three seasons after the team acquired Marshawn Lynch -- he has now moved to an offense that likes to throw.

[+] EnlargeGolden Tate
Duane Burleson/AP PhotoVeteran wide receiver Golden Tate is anxious to see how his first season with the Lions will play out.
And potentially throw a lot.

This is why, when Tate says he believes he can better his 64 receptions and 898 yards from last season, it is a plausible thought even though he moved from being the No. 1 receiver in Seattle to the No. 2 receiver in Detroit.

"I think my numbers can be way better in this offense naturally how it's set up," Tate said. "I was coming from, you gotta think I was in the toughest division with the 49ers, Rams and Cardinals, defensively, with a run-heavy offense and now I'm going to a pass-happy offense where I'm on the same team as the best player in the league, one of the best players in the league who is going to draw a lot of attention, a lot of double coverage, which is going to leave me with a lot of single coverage with a lot of No. 2 and No. 3 cornerbacks.

"So mentally I think I should be able to excel and do very well here."

The player Tate is referring to is Calvin Johnson, who should still draw the majority of a defense's attention even with the additions of Tate and tight end Eric Ebron along with running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell and tight ends Joseph Fauria and Brandon Pettigrew.

Those are a lot of players for Matthew Stafford to choose between on a given play, so while Tate might not receive as many looks as he did in Seattle, he should see much more favorable coverage.

If Tate wants to eclipse those numbers, he might have to do it on fewer than the 98 targets he had last season. He did say, as many players will, he would sacrifice individual stats if Detroit can finally win.

"My goals are just to be better than I was last year," Tate said. "I think every year I just want to be better than I was last year. Just a little bit better. Coach (Jim) Caldwell does a great job of using, we just want to be six inches better, that's what I want to do. I want to help this team win.

"If my numbers aren't as great and we have 11 wins and go to the playoffs and go deep into the playoffs, I'm happy with that. I want this team to win. I think we definitely have what it takes to win and it's time to win now."

Caldwell, though, has no interest in making any predictions about statistics -- or about wins. He passed on commenting about season projections and when told of Tate's thought that he could put up bigger numbers in this offense, he downplayed that as well.

"You don't know. It could be game-to-game," Caldwell said. "You often see within schemes, in particular those, we'll run the ball as well, you'll see certain schemes and how they decide to attack you, one game one guy might catch six balls and the next game he might get two. One game a guy might get 12 and the next game he might get none.

"Just kind of depends on the situation so it would be tough for me to predict that."

One prediction will be easy enough -- Johnson will still see a lot of attention and if offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi is able to do it correctly, that should open up chances for everyone else on the offense.

W2W4: Detroit Lions

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
12:00
PM ET
The Detroit Lions (1-1) and Jacksonville Jaguars (1-1) continue their preseason on Friday night at Ford Field in Detroit.

1.How much will Calvin Johnson and Ezekiel Ansah play: The wide receiver will make his season debut against Jacksonville after coach Jim Caldwell held him out of the first two preseason games as a prudent decision to rest his star. Johnson has been itching to play and should see a decent amount of snaps Friday with the starters as he figures out his role in Joe Lombardi’s new offense. Don’t expect to see him out there as much as some other starters, though, since he already has chemistry with Matthew Stafford, and this will be to just get him moving a bit for the first time this season. Ansah’s situation is a little bit different. If he’s healthy enough to be cleared for the game, he’ll end up being used a little bit but probably won’t see a full workload as he still gets himself into shape from offseason shoulder surgery. Detroit’s goal here would be to give them enough to get a taste of action and then shelve them for the regular season.

2.Which receivers work in with the first group the most: One of the tightest competitions in camp has been at receiver, where the Lions have depth and some hard decisions to make after Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. Seeing how much Kevin Ogletree, Kris Durham, Ryan Broyles, Corey Fuller and Jeremy Ross work into the receiver rotation with Stafford could give an indication as to which receivers are in line for the other roster spots. Ross will make the team as a returner, but the other four players are probably fighting for two-to-three spots. A big game with the first unit could make a difference in a really tight battle.

3.Will the kicking battle end and what undrafted free agents show up early on special teams? Caldwell was cagey when asked when the Lions would decide on a kicker, but the team is now going to alternate Giorgio Tavecchio and Nate Freese on Friday instead of alternating them by halves. This is probably a good sign for Tavecchio, who has been the more consistent kicker during camp. If he has a good showing Friday, he may pull one of the upsets of camp and beat out a draft pick in Freese. Other than that, it will be important to watch which undrafted rookies might remain on first-team specialists units -- particularly George Winn and Jerome Couplin. If they keep showing up, they may also pull upsets for roster spots, however unlikely that may still seem.

Lions Camp Report: Day 15

August, 16, 2014
Aug 16
7:00
PM ET
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • The Lions ended their camp Saturday afternoon with a practice that lasted a little less than one hour with no pads at all and a lot of players in baseball caps catching passes -- including specialists Sam Martin and Don Muhlbach. Why would Lions coach Jim Caldwell bring the players out there less than 12 hours after they returned from a West Coast trip to Oakland?
    “The practice was kind of to break a sweat and often times guys find out they have an injury that they didn’t know about,” Caldwell said. “So we run them a little bit, loosen it up a little and go through our corrections and get them off the field to get them some rest tomorrow and get back at it at Monday.”
  • Once Monday hits, the Lions will go into their regular practice mode, which also means practices are also no longer fully open to reporters. He also did this Saturday practice to give players an idea of how days go with evaluation and film.
  • The biggest topic again was defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who seemed more jovial Saturday than he was at any point last week. That’s probably a good sign for him and Caldwell indicated he felt he had improved during Friday night’s game against Oakland.
  • Detroit did have a transaction Saturday, signing linebacker Shamari Benton out of Central Michigan and releasing linebacker Justin Jackson from Wake Forest. Benton had 111 tackles, including 10.5 tackles for loss, last season for the Chippewas. He also had four sacks and an interception. He apparently trained at a gym in suburban Detroit co-owned by Tony Scheffler and Ndamukong Suh. He was so new, the Lions didn't even have a jersey for him at practice Saturday.
  • Caldwell also appeared to be pleased with backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky, saying he “demonstrated that [Friday] night, but we still have two more games to go.” Orlovsky was markedly better than he was in the preseason opener, when he was outplayed by No. 3 quarterback Kellen Moore. He appeared to regain his hold on the backup spot with his performance Friday night. Part of the backup quarterback’s job, Caldwell said, is to be a collaborator with starting quarterback Matthew Stafford, quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi.
  • Asked three of the Lions players who attended Notre Dame (there are five in all as Alex Bullard and Joseph Fauria started at the school and transferred to Tennessee and UCLA, respectively) about the academic investigation at their alma mater. TJ Jones said he knew little about it and wanted to hear more details. Theo Riddick declined to comment, but said he would speak with Notre Dame if the school reached out. Golden Tate, who did not play under current coach Brian Kelly, declined to comment.

Lions Camp Report: Day 14

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
7:15
PM ET
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • Nick Fairley Watch – Day 3: The defensive tackle remained with the second unit throughout practice Wednesday, potentially signifying he won’t be used as a starter Friday night in Oakland. C.J. Mosley again ran with the first group and continued to play well alongside usual starter Ndamukong Suh. There were also points – much as in previous days – when Jason Jones moved from end inside to tackle with the first group. Still don’t expect things to stay this way permanently – Fairley is too talented to not be a starter at some point – but there is absolutely a message being sent here with each day Fairley doesn’t line up with the starters. He also, as he has done Monday and Tuesday, declined to talk with the media after practice to discuss the situation. Meanwhile, Mosley continues to go about his business every day during practice.
  • The other defensive lineman of note, Ezekiel Ansah, practiced again Wednesday but remains limited as he works his way into the rotation. At this point, Ansah is participating in everything other than team and heavy-contact portions of practice, but that should be expected. “His progression is going to be gradual. It’s not like you come off [the physically unable to perform list] and go right to work and get banged around in here,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “This game is a bit too strenuous for that. We’re going to bring him along and make certain he gets enough work, and as soon as doctors say he is able to go full-speed, all-out, we’re going to turn him loose.”
  • Another interesting caveat of the past two days has been at safety. James Ihedigbo and Glover Quin are running with the starters, but behind them, the pairing of Jerome Couplin and Isa Abdul-Quddus has been playing consistently with the No. 2 group, and Don Carey and DeJon Gomes have been with the No. 3 unit. More than likely, this is to give Couplin and Abdul-Quddus, both of whom were brought in during the offseason, a longer look as cut days start to loom. Abdul-Quddus played more snaps than any other defensive player Saturday night and had an interception. Couplin has been among the more impressive undrafted rookie free agents and has already gained the reputation as a player who can hit. He has rebounded well since being flattened by George Winn in practice a little under a week ago.
  • Speaking of Winn, if you’re looking for a complete surprise to make the roster, he is gaining some steam to do it. He briefly saw time as a blocker on what appeared to be the first-team kick return unit Wednesday and continues to run at a strong, hard pace. Other than his fumble against the Browns on Saturday, he has had a real strong camp and while he still has a lot of players to pass, he is at least giving himself a shot.
  • The most interesting hit of the day came during a team period, when safety James Ihedigbo stepped up on a route over the middle and broke up a pass intended for Kris Durham, timing the hit perfectly and sending Durham to the ground. Ihedigbo has been one of the harder hitters during camp and that is part of why the Lions brought him in to replace Louis Delmas in the offseason.
  • Lions vice chairman Bill Ford Jr. was at practice Wednesday. The team ownership, between Bill Ford Jr. and his mother, Martha Ford, have been at practice often during camp but have not spoken publicly with the media yet.
  • Caldwell took the ALS challenge laid down for him by Golden Tate after practice Wednesday. The video lives here.
  • The Lions are off Thursday to travel to Oakland, where they play the Raiders on Friday night. The Lions next practice Saturday in Allen Park, Michigan. It will be a closed practice.

Lions Camp Report: Day 13

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
12:10
AM ET
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp.
  • The news of the day arrived before practice, when defensive end Ezekiel Ansah was pulled off the PUP list and returned to practice on a limited basis Tuesday evening. He didn’t fully participate and was not expected to, but he looked fairly strong during individual drills, pushing the sled with some gusto. He appeared happy to be back as well, and he’ll be eased into this since the Lions have a few weeks before their first regular-season game against the New York Giants. He’ll likely get some work during a preseason game, but it won’t be Friday as he’s already been ruled out. Right guard Larry Warford, who missed practice Monday, also returned Tuesday.
  • The other major defensive line storyline revolved around defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who played with the second unit for the second consecutive practice. Ndamukong Suh and C.J. Mosley took the first-team reps at tackle throughout the practice, including during 11-on-11 periods. When Mosley wasn’t in, Jason Jones moved inside to take some reps at tackle. Fairley worked with Andre Fluellen and Jimmy Saddler-McQueen on the second unit a bunch Tuesday night and didn’t look all that impressive. In one-on-one drills with offensive linemen, he was blocked well once by Rodney Austin, but Fairley annihilated Austin the next time the two faced each other.
  • Mosley, meanwhile, looked good with the first unit. He plugged the middle of the line well and didn’t lose any rushers when they came near him. In all, the first-team defensive line had another really strong performance against the first-team offensive line. Suh continues to look like his dominant self and Devin Taylor is getting better coming off the edge. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when Ansah returns to full strength and Taylor is truly competing with Jones for the closed end starting spot.
  • Continuing with the defensive line theme here, Larry Webster had the hit of the practice, running right through Michael Williams to end the one-on-one drills. Webster said after that he just “worked one of my moves, converted speed to power.” It was enough to completely flatten Williams, who is transitioning from tight end to offensive tackle during this camp.
  • The night practice was Jim Caldwell’s idea as part of trying to prepare his players for all situations, including potential night games like the one Detroit will play Friday at Oakland. He also did it because there is always the possibility the team could end up having a flexed game at some point during the season.

    “It’s very, very important to get your team as many opportunities as you can to get ready for challenges that they may face and this is the time to do it, during training camp,” Caldwell said. “We don’t have the luxury during the regular season, we usually practice at a set time and typically not at night, so this is a time where you can adjust your schedule, move it around quite a bit. It’s not the normal routine, so it makes them adjust. I like the fact that they have to adjust.”
  • More on this Wednesday morning, but Golden Tate participated in the ALS ice bucket challenge after practice. He also said the Lions offense received Shinola watches for beating the defense in a team bowling competition Monday night, but didn’t know who footed the bill for it.
  • The Lions return to practice Wednesday at 2 p.m., the final practice open to the public this season.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- During the spring, Matthew Stafford admitted there was a lot to pick up in the new offensive system, only the second one he’s had to digest in the NFL.

Through two weeks of training camp, though, Stafford has not shown many issues. Anything positive that happens for the Detroit Lions this season will start with the improvement of Stafford, who needed to show better decision-making and efficiency in practice and in games.

So far, not bad. He has not thrown an interception during any serious team or seven-on-seven periods in the first two weeks of training camp.

“I’m being coached differently,” Stafford said. “Our drops are different. Our reads are different. Our plays are totally different. It was kind of nice to scrap everything and start from the new way they wanted me to do it.

“I tried to embrace myself in that as hard as I possibly can and it’s been fun.”

That Stafford has shown this already -- along with strong rapport with receivers Golden Tate and Kevin Ogletree to go with Calvin Johnson -- is a massive positive for the Lions as they search for offensive efficiency.

Both Stafford and his offensive coordinator, Joe Lombardi, understand that pressure is on Stafford every play in practice. So far, he’s handled it.

“That’s the quarterback position,” Lombardi said. “All of the pressure is always going to be on him [Stafford]. Like all competitive people, and he’s a highly competitive guy, they put more pressure on themselves than anyone else does.

“It’s fair.”

It also needs to continue as Stafford continues to learn the offense.

Three reasons for optimism:

  • [+] EnlargeJim Caldwell
    AP Photo/Carlos OsorioPlayers are buying into new coach Jim Caldwell's focus on efficiency.
    This team appears to truly believe in Jim Caldwell, at least for now. Yes, it is easy to speak positively of a new regime before a regular-season game has been played, but the players are buying into his focus on efficiency. From his elimination of stretching periods in practice to his promise that he’ll treat every player equally, the Lions have been appreciative of Caldwell's approach compared to the previous regime under Jim Schwartz. Accountability has been a big focus for Caldwell, and so far it has worked.
  • Megatron. It might sound simplistic, but if this team has a healthy Johnson, that is a massive reason for optimism because of what he is able to do to opposing defenses. Johnson has looked impressive through the first two weeks of camp, making jaw-dropping plays essentially every day. This is typical for Johnson, who has been doing that since his freshman year at Georgia Tech in 2004. But Johnson looks healed from his offseason knee and finger surgeries, and the Lions are being smart with his repetitions during practice. As long as Johnson is healthy, Detroit can feel good about its passing game.
  • Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley have been dominant. Both entered camp in great shape and are playing for future contracts this season. If the Lions receive first-round efforts from both Suh (expected) and Fairley (questionable) in 2014, Detroit could have the dominant defensive front it has sought since it drafted them in back-to-back first rounds.
Three reasons for pessimism:

  • If Stafford gets hurt, the Lions are in major trouble. Yes, many teams can say that about their starting quarterback, but in previous years Shaun Hill gave Detroit a level of confidence that it could remain competitive if Stafford were to go down. So far, No. 2 quarterback Dan Orlovsky has looked somewhat rough both in practice and in one preseason game. Kellen Moore showed some flashes of potential in the preseason opener, but he was mostly facing players who won’t make Cleveland’s 53-man roster. More than any other season, Stafford’s health is of supreme importance right now.
  • [+] EnlargeDetroit's Matthew Stafford
    Leon Halip/Getty ImagesA lot of the Lions' success in 2014 will depend on how well Matthew Stafford picks up the new offense and if he can stay healthy.
    The secondary is still questionable. The Lions are set with their starters here, but the depth is still up in the air at both cornerback and safety. Beyond Rashean Mathis and Darius Slay -- and even with them -- the Lions have no sure things at cornerback and in a division with Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler, that is not good for Detroit. Safety appears to be a little stronger both in starters (Glover Quin, James Ihedigbo) and also depth (Don Carey, DeJon Gomes, Isa Abdul-Quddus) but lacks a top-end playmaker.
  • The offense has still looked a little shaky. Stafford has practiced well, especially with Johnson, but the defense has looked stronger than the offense on multiple occasions. There is still a large learning curve, but considering what the Lions have put into their offense in the offseason, that might not bode well for a team trying to score points in bunches. Part of the issue might come from Detroit’s multiplicity offensively, with players lining up in different spots on almost every play. Early on the defense has looked stronger.
Observation Deck:

  • Detroit has stayed mostly healthy through the first two weeks of camp. Part of that might have to do with the way Detroit has practiced this summer -- short, efficient, smart splitting of reps and days off for veterans. So far, Caldwell has taken care of his players.
  • Eric Ebron is coming along. He had a rough first week of camp, dropping passes and looking lost at times. Since then, the first-round pick has been much better both with ball security and route running. He has probably the most challenging camp of any player on the team as he’s a rookie and lining up in four different spots within the Lions offense. He is making progress.
  • The kicking situation has the potential to be a mess and, at best, an untested situation. Neither Nate Freese nor Giorgio Tavecchio has kicked in a regular-season game. Freese is a rookie and Tavecchio has been cut the past two camps. Both have looked decent-to-good in practice thus far, but it’ll be interesting to see how much the Lions trust an inexperienced kicker the first time the game is on the line. Punter Sam Martin has been impeccable at camp, though, and looks to have improved from his strong rookie performance.

W2W4: Detroit Lions

August, 9, 2014
Aug 9
12:00
PM ET
The Detroit Lions (0-0) and Cleveland Browns (0-0) open their preseason Saturday night at Ford Field. The game is televised nationally on NFL Network.

1. Jim Caldwell’s debut: The Lions’ coach is in his second go-round as the leader of an NFL franchise and his third as a head coach of a major program (if you include his stint at Wake Forest). It’s only the preseason, but Caldwell has preached accountability, with an emphasis on efficiency and limiting mistakes, essentially from the day he was hired. This is the first opportunity to see whether that message is pushing through, or if the same issues the Lions had in the past with penalties and miscues continue. So far, everyone has said all the right things when it comes to Caldwell and his coaching staff, but this is the first time they face another team. This should give a very small window into how he coaches.

2. What will the offense look like? Secondary to the debut of Caldwell is the introduction of coordinator Joe Lombardi, who will be calling offenses in the NFL for the first time. The Lions focused on adding offensive pieces during the offseason, including Golden Tate and Eric Ebron. While it is unlikely those two will play much -- if at all, in Ebron’s case -- this will give Lions fans a chance to see what the team could look like this season. Expect a lot more personnel packages featuring two tight ends, the return of the fullback in at least part of the offense, and a combination of short passes with long shots down the field. What does Caldwell want to see out of it? “Efficiency,” he said.

3. Field goals: Yes, this is an odd thing to watch for, but the Lions need to get a grasp on who their kicker will be at some point, and this will be the first time Giorgio Tavecchio and Nate Freese will perform with the taller uprights at Ford Field. This is one of the closest competitions on the roster when it comes to a starting spot. Caldwell said earlier this week that production, results and “data” will be a big factor in determining who wins the job.
DETROIT -- Once again, the Lions have a roster spot open. The bigger question is what to do with it.

Detroit’s claiming of former first-round pick Jonathan Baldwin didn’t quite work out as the team waived the wide receiver Wednesday after he failed a physical. While the Lions didn’t rule out looking at him again once he gets healthy, it does give them some options to make an immediate move to the roster.

And Lions coach Jim Caldwell didn’t give much indication what the team plans on doing with it, only saying there are a couple of positions where the Lions need more depth.

“That’s always a big thing,” Caldwell said. “How much wear and tear a position is taking on, we have to consider those things. If it gets thin, we certainly have to bolster it to make sure we have enough guys to go in to keep us from having to maybe put a little bit more heavy lifting on one of the guys that we certainly know are going to play for us quite a bit.”

For much of the late offseason and beginning of camp, the Lions appeared focused on adding to their receiver corps, first with Reese Wiggins (now released) and then with Quintin Payton and for a day, Baldwin.

Caldwell wouldn’t say the team is still in the market for a receiver behind Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate and, theoretically, Kevin Ogletree, but the moves Detroit has made suggest that.

“We have a good nucleus of guys,” Caldwell said. “But what we do with that spot depends on our needs and we just have to make certain that we stay vigilant.”

Receiver is certainly one spot that will get a look. Among the others might be cornerback and tight end. Cornerback has been an issue when it comes to talent since the end of last season and the Lions have not made many moves there. Tight end might be the thinnest position on the roster right now, and Eric Ebron sat out Wednesday night’s practice for undisclosed reasons, leaving the team with four tight ends for at least one night.

Those might be two spots other than receiver to look at as the Lions make a decision on where they want to go to get back up to 90 players.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Though he’s never really asked for it, all Calvin Johnson has really needed is some help.

Help would take some of the intense focus of defenses off of him and potentially give him more single-coverage matchups than he has seen to date in his career. Now in his eighth season, he is hoping the Detroit Lions have managed to give him that.

[+] EnlargePatrick Peterson and Calvin Johnson
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesAn increase in offensive weapons around him might allow Calvin Johnson to see more single-coverage situations.
By signing Golden Tate in free agency and drafting Eric Ebron, there are now more things for defenses to be concerned about -- perhaps alleviating other concerns and forming an offense with Johnson as a focal point of it instead of the focal point.

“Golden is going to get a lot of one-on-one coverages, man,” Johnson said Tuesday. “All those weapons that we have, those one-on-ones, they go full-circle and I might get some more myself.”

That might be a bit of wishful thinking by Johnson, who often treats double coverages as other receivers would treat single coverage. There’s a reason he is widely considered the best receiver in the game and one of the best all-time.

Despite all the attention and coverage, Johnson has four straight 1,000-yard seasons, has caught more than 10 touchdown passes in a season four times in his career and has caught at least 67 passes in every season other than his rookie one.

Johnson has done that even when teams have focused almost all of their energy on him and even when it became obvious how lacking the Lions were offensively in 2013 without him. During the two games Johnson was out of the lineup the Lions scored less than two touchdowns in each game, both losses.

So he sees Ebron, Tate, last season’s running backs -- Joique Bell and Reggie Bush -- and sees a lot of options other than him. That should also give Johnson more flexibility as he said the coaches asked him to learn every receiving position on the field, not just the two spots on the outside.

“They are going to make a lot of plays for us this year, a lot of explosive plays for us and get the ball down the field and increase our scoring chances,” Johnson said. “So yes, I’m going to be out there and make big plays but those guys are going to help us out a ton.”

Johnson hopes that help will help him reach the one place he hasn’t been often. For all the statistics he has and for all the accolades he has received, he has been to the playoffs only once in his career and, like the rest of the Lions, has zero playoff wins.

So even if the new weapons means a decrease in individual stats, he would be OK with that.

“Shoot, we should get more wins,” Johnson said. “That’s really all that counts. If we get more wins, I’m happy either way.”

Lions Camp Report: Day 1

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
8:30
PM ET
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.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell does not know when he'll get Ezekiel Ansah on the field for the first time this fall.

He doesn't have a timetable for when he'll return, either.

Ansah
"There is none. It is whenever the Lord says that he's healthy and healed," Caldwell said Sunday. "And the medical staff will take a look at it after the Lord's decree and then we'll see what goes on after that."

Ansah, who led all rookies with eight sacks last season, did not practice during the spring as he continues to recover from shoulder surgery. He is one of three players, along with wide receivers Golden Tate and TJ Jones, to be moved to the active physically unable to perform list to start camp.

Those three players can be removed from the list and moved to the active roster at any point during camp.

Caldwell was not surprised by those three players not being ready to participate by the start of camp as all three are dealing with shoulder issues. Jones had surgery on his shoulder earlier this summer and Tate injured his shoulder during spring workouts.

Caldwell did say, though, he has been "pleased with" the healing progress of the players thus far.

The biggest concern of the three might by Ansah because Tate and Jones were at least available for portions of spring workouts. However, Caldwell isn't focused on that right now.

"One of the things I learned early on in coaching, I coach who shows up and instruct our staff to do the exact same thing. I cannot worry about how quickly the Lord allows someone to heal," Caldwell said. "I've got to do our business and at that point in time, when he gets healthy and ready to go, he'll be ready.

"Until then, whoever is out there lined up is going to get coached and coached hard and ready to play for us and win games. That's how we look at it and he's coming along and making great progress and doing everything he can to get there and I'm sure he will in a reasonable amount of time."

With Ansah out, it is likely either second-year player Devin Taylor or veteran Darryl Tapp will work with the first team when training camp officially opens Monday. Kris Durham or Kevin Ogletree will likely fill in for Tate until he returns from his shoulder injury as well.
He was the team's most high-profile free agent signing and felt after he hurt his shoulder in the spring he would be ready to go by training camp. Golden Tate, though, won't be ready to go.

Ansah
Tate
Tate
This isn't quite a cause for concern yet, as there has not been an indication the injury is serious by any stretch. Tate played in a charity softball game in June, after the injury occurred and has not given any indication it will keep him out long term.

Still, the Detroit Lions can't be happy to see their No. 2 receiver and a player they gave a five-year contract to on the shelf to start training camp, especially since he and the rest of the team are still learning a complex offense helmed by new coordinator Joe Lombardi.

Tate indicated when he injured the shoulder he had a good amount of the playbook and terminology picked up and was taking mental reps to try and replicate his physical ones. And he has the intelligence to understand the offense even quicker.

The bigger concern if he is out for any length of time during the preseason is his chemistry with quarterback Matthew Stafford. Timing and rapport takes repetitions both Tate and TJ Jones -- also on the active physically unable to perform list -- will be missing with each practice they have to sit out.

For Jones, starting camp on PUP isn't a surprise after he indicated earlier this week his shoulder still wasn't 100 percent. Of the three players on PUP to start the season, he may be the one on there the longest considering he had surgery not too long ago and will be playing catch-up from the jump with other receivers.

Then there's Ezekiel Ansah, who missed all of spring workouts. He's a player the Lions will likely be cautious with. Ansah battled injuries throughout last season and this particular shoulder ailment was something the team recognized before it drafted him.

In addition to the shoulder, Ansah had a concussion and an ankle injury during his first season. Considering the team let Willie Young go in free agency, it needed a healthy Ansah to complement the interior play of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley once the season begins.

The secondary benefit for other players is the chance to impress. The biggest beneficiaries of these players starting training camp on the PUP list will be Kris Durham, Kevin Ogletree and Jeremy Ross -- who will likely be competing for a reserve outside receiver role, although Ross can also play in the slot.

On the defensive side, rookie Larry Webster could see extended repetitions in Ansah's absence along with hybrid defensive end/linebacker Darryl Tapp and even Devin Taylor, who will be competing for a starting spot at the closed defensive end position with Jason Jones.

As long as Tate and Ansah are ready to go by the middle of camp to get the reps needed to ramp up for the start of the season, this could end up being a benefit for Detroit to give other players competing for roster spots even more of an opportunity to prove themselves.

Camp preview: Detroit Lions

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
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NFL Nation's Michael Rothstein examines the three biggest issues facing the Detroit Lions heading into training camp:

Offensive knowledge: The Lions looked better over the final two weeks of spring workouts than they did during the first few weeks, when the offense and quarterback Matthew Stafford looked completely out of rhythm. However, there is still a lot of learning and adjusting to go, including the re-entry of receiver Golden Tate and running back Joique Bell into the offense after they sat out part (Tate) or all (Bell) of the spring with injury. By the time training camp begins, the terminology for the new Detroit offense should be down. It'll be the implementation and the repetition of it that likely will still need some work, this time against a defense that eventually will be allowed to bump, press and blitz. The key here, as it always is lately when it comes to Detroit, will be Stafford and his comfort level with the new offense. Most of the players remain the same for him -- but making sure the routes and terminology are correct is going to be one of the most important things for the Lions as they prepare for the season.

What's up at corner: Chris Houston is gone. Darius Slay, barring injury, will almost certainly be a starter in his second year with the Lions. So, too, will Rashean Mathis, who spent almost all of the spring as the cornerback opposite Slay. The question is who ends up behind them. While looking at backups might seem an odd issue for camp, the Lions have been struggling at corner for years now, and having depth there is going to be a key. Bill Bentley will likely end up in the slot -- although expect him to be pushed at least a little by safety Don Carey and rookie Nevin Lawson. The outside cornerback roles, though, will be interesting to see. Cassius Vaughn had a good spring, and the veteran could end up earning a roster spot with a strong summer. Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood both enter their third seasons with the club and could be fighting for one roster spot between the two of them, especially if the Lions choose to keep Vaughn. This is also an area for which Detroit could end up trying to find a veteran upgrade through the free-agent wire, much like the team did with Mathis a season ago. A signing during camp, he turned into the leader of the Lions' cornerbacks and the team's top performer at the position by midseason.

The kicker: For almost two decades, this was not a problem position for the Lions. Jason Hanson showed up to camp. Jason Hanson kicked the ball. Jason Hanson won the job. Simple. Done. Last season, the Lions went with veteran David Akers, a situation that didn't work out. Now, the Lions are hunting for a player they hope will have the same consistency and longevity of Hanson, who retired after the 2012 season. Nate Freese, on whom the team spent a seventh-round pick, and Giorgio Tavecchio, a former Cal kicker who has bounced around training camps the past two years, are the candidates. Tavecchio has the stronger leg. Freese is likely the more accurate kicker and, due to having a draft pick invested, would appear to be the favorite. However, Detroit understands the importance of having a strong kicker. Justin Tucker made six field goals against the Lions last season to help crush their playoff hopes. That was just the latest example of a strong kicker hurting the Lions. So figuring out which player gives the team the best shot will be an underrated -- but vital -- portion of camp.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – There is now one day left.

The Detroit Lions finished up the second day of their mandatory minicamp Wednesday and it was probably the most balanced day the team has had during their sessions. After the first two weeks of open practices where the defense was dominant and the last couple of practices where the offense has been better, neither group seemed to take over the practice.

Johnson
That might be a good sign for the Lions that the offense is catching up to the defense even if both sides of the ball were without key contributors. Here are some thoughts, notes and observations from the day.
  • A decent amount of players missed practice Wednesday. Wide receiver TJ Jones, cornerback Chris Houston and linebacker Stephen Tulloch were not spotted at practice. Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah (shoulder), guard Rob Sims, wide receiver Golden Tate (shoulder), wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, running back Mikel Leshoure and running back Joique Bell (knee) all sat out practice. Ansah, Tate and Bell were expected. Sims has missed team drills all offseason, as had Glover Quin, who only worked in individual drills Wednesday.
  • Jason Jones appears to be slowly moving back to health. He seemed more active Wednesday than he has during past open practices, including working some with the first unit. He is still coming back from a ruptured patella tendon suffered last season, but he will be a contender for the closed defensive end spot in the fall opposite Ansah on the defensive line.
  • Player of the practice: For the second straight day, it is Calvin Johnson. Any question about Johnson’s health are now gone. He was once again the best player on the field and caught everything around him. He appears to be completely over his injuries and has his timing with Matthew Stafford down once again. He beat any cornerback the Lions lined up against him during 1-on-1 periods and on one play leapt over DeAndre Levy to catch a pass that he ended up running in for a touchdown.
  • During those 1-on-1 drills between defensive backs and receivers, the receivers clearly won the day. They had at least six completions to start the drill, including Kris Durham reaching out to make a difficult catch in front of Darius Slay. Corey Fuller also beat Aaron Hester on a post route that was pretty impressive.
  • Sequence of the day: Two impressive plays in a row. First, safety James Ihedigbo jumped a route from Stafford to Brandon Pettigrew to break up the pass. It was a great break on the ball by Ihedigbo. Stafford followed it up, though, with a perfectly threaded ball to Patrick Edwards into a small window over safety Don Carey. It was the best throw Stafford made on the day.
  • Carey is starting to really emerge as the probable third safety, although this is not unexpected. He once again filled in for Quin during team drills and has been a decent presence back there. In the secondary, Jonte Green is the one player who doesn’t seem to be getting as many reps as one might think.
  • As they did Tuesday, Rodney Austin and rookie Travis Swanson both took first-team reps at guard and center. While Austin worked some at center Tuesday, Swanson was there Wednesday. In some ways, this is a test from Jim Caldwell to see if both of them can play both guard and center, something imperative for a reserve interior lineman. With Sims out, Austin has spent the majority of spring working with the first team at left guard.
  • This is getting repetitive, but Theo Riddick continues to be impressive. He seems a little faster than last season and might have improved more than anyone else on the roster from last season. He is putting himself in position to have a real role in this offense this season after being primarily a backup in 2013.
  • Written about Eric Ebron’s drops here a bit, so worth noting when he makes the type of catch the Lions drafted him for. He extended on what looked like a poorly thrown ball to stretch in front of safety Isa Abdul-Quddus to make the grab before hitting the ground. It is one of the best catches he has made in the open practice setting this spring.
  • With Tulloch not in attendance, Tahir Whitehead took a lot of the first-team snaps at linebacker next to Levy. He was pretty active there. While he is primarily a special-teams standout – he’ll end up having a roster spot because of his special-teams play – that the Lions staff inserted him there behind Tulloch would appear to indicate he is having a pretty good spring. After practice, Caldwell cited how Whitehead controls the movement of other players in that space as one of the reasons they like him behind Tulloch.
  • Really good day for Sam Martin. The second-year punter had some help with the wind, but he crushed almost all of his punts. It is tough to see yard lines because of how the Lions’ outdoor practice fields are set up, but he said after practice one of his punts went over 80 yards and had a few go at least 70 yards. He said his shortest on the day was 63 yards. Strong day for him.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Everything is still a bit of learning for Golden Tate. He’s in a new city with a new coaching staff and a new offense.

He’s missed time to go to the White House to be honored with his former Seattle teammates and also at least part of the past week of Detroit Lions practice due to a sore shoulder. So the wide receiver, the team’s biggest free-agent acquisition this offseason, is still in the process of picking everything up as he adjusts to his new life.

[+] EnlargeMatthew Stafford
AP Photo/Paul SancyaMatthew Stafford hasn't been the only player to have questions in the Lions' new offense.
And considering his time away to meet President Barack Obama and the injury, he’s doing pretty well with it.

“I think I understand the majority of the material. I think I understand the concepts. I’d say around 70, 80 percent,” Tate said. “The last 30 will really be understanding how to run their routes and how it’s supposed to be executed.”

Tate has spent practices where he's run routes without wearing a helmet and bothering the coaches after plays to help explain things to him so he can learn even while he’s on the sidelines. This isn’t uncommon, but it's part of him pushing forward from his current 70-80 percent understanding rate.

When that comes is unknown, although it’ll almost definitely be before the end of the first week of training camp when the Lions reconvene this summer to actually prepare for the season. This has been the commonplace answer when it comes to Detroit’s new offense and somewhat commonplace among the team’s skill position players.

There’s a lot there to learn, from positioning to phrasing. The combination of having to forget what they once knew by rote will take time, especially when it is being replaced by similar things with different names.

It’s something the Lions' quarterback, Matthew Stafford, had issues with early during the offseason workouts. Even offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi admitted to sometimes forgetting exactly what he was calling because he was so ingrained in what New Orleans, his former team, used to call everything.

And the Lions, even though they are using a lot of the things the Saints have done, will absolutely use different terms.

“You know, there’s a time where I’m calling a play and I’m like, ‘Dang it, that’s not what we call it anymore,’" Lombardi said. “We’re all dealing with that a little bit, but that just comes with reps and time.

“By the time we hit August it’s going to be second-nature to everybody. It’s a bigger issue in May than it’s going to be in July, August and certainly September.”

Even though it is taking time to learn and even though Tate hasn’t been out there, what he has seen thus far has been on the same level as what he expected when he signed his contract in March. He likes the pacing. He likes the personnel.

It’s just getting everything down.

“This is a very, very fast-paced offense. I’m having fun,” Tate said. “I’m still trying to learn the plays to running those routes where Coach Lombardi wants them. It’s another challenge and I think I respond well to challenges.

“I’m just trying to get as good as I can in this offense so once late July comes, early August, it’s not really that learning process.”

He and the rest of the offense are all doing that together.

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