NFL Nation: Kevin Ogletree

Part 2 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it, we discuss:
If you want to see Part 1 of the mailbag, click here. And this will be our last Twitter mailbag for a few weeks thanks to some vacation.

Away we go:
@toddarcher: Since Romo is such a golf guy, let's use a golf analogy: he's on the back nine. I don't know how anybody could think otherwise. He is 34. He is coming off two back surgeries. He is in his eighth year as a full-time starter. Just because he is on the back nine doesn't mean he can't play at a high level. I know the odds are stacked and thirty-something quarterbacks haven't won a lot of Super Bowls here lately, but I'd take my chances he's on Holes 12 and 13, if you will. He still has football in him, provided he can stay upright. I do think Romo is smart enough to adapt his game as he gets older. If you allow me to carry on with other sports analogies, here's another one: fastball pitchers can develop into multipitch guys over the years. Romo has done a lot on his own with some improvisation and ability to buy time. I don't think you'll see him run around as much as he did when he was younger. I think you'll see him pick and choose his spots. I believe he did some of that last year, which is one of the reasons his sack total was so high. He was willing to take the sack -- not necessarily the big hit mind you -- and move on to the next play rather than take a risk of a hit or a poor throw. @toddarcher: Conventional wisdom says DeMarco Murray because when he gets 20 carries in a game, the Cowboys win. I hate that stat. If it really means what it says it means, then Murray should get the ball on the first 20 plays of every game. We all know it doesn't work that way. But I'm also of the opinion that the running back position has been devalued. I think the Cowboys could get by without Murray. Would they be as good? No, but they would not be lost. To me, if they lost Jason Witten, then they would be in trouble. Witten has been a mainstay. He does everything. The passing game has missed receivers over the years, but Romo has been able to throw for more than 300 yards in game whether he has Kevin Ogletree, Laurent Robinson or Dwayne Harris playing big roles. Without Witten, I don't know that that would continue. And in the running game, Witten can set the edge. He's not a blow-them-up blocker, but he can displace defensive ends and linebackers to allow backs to pick holes. On defense, I really didn't have a candidate, but if I did, I'd probably go with Barry Church. I don't know what they would do at safety without him. The defense would take a different look, for sure. @toddarcher: If you're talking left defensive end, then sure. If you're looking for a pure right defensive end, then no. But he has position flexibility. He can move inside if necessary as well. The left side has to be a stronger player at the point of attack. He is that type of guy and he has some good pass rush to him, but not to the point where you can say he would be a DeMarcus Ware type. He can be a Greg Ellis type. If he does not play well, then the Cowboys' defensive line will struggle. They need him to have a good year. I think the expectations have been raised on the kid from comments by guys like Jason Hatcher and Tony Romo. People need to remember he didn't have a sack in 2012 and he missed last year. There will be some growing pains, but the potential is definitely there. @toddarcher: He has done a better job. He appears to be playing more confident. Now, does that mean he is a shutdown corner worth the No. 6 pick in the draft? I don't want to go that far from watching football in helmets and jerseys in the spring, but it sure beats the alternative. He is as healthy as he has been, which plays a part into the confidence. He's not thinking about injuries out there. His comments at the end of the minicamp were encouraging. He was going to take a few days off here and there between now and training camp but he planned on staying on the grind. That's good news. He knows how important this year is to him. The Cowboys need him as much as anybody else on defense to be successful. As I said, I like what I've seen but I still think Orlando Scandrick will be the starter Week 1 against the San Francisco 49ers. To win that job from Scandrick he will have to knock out the champ, if you know what I mean. @toddarcher: Yes, there is. If you want to take a look at the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, look at Article 4, Section 9. It's about forfeiture. If I had to bet when Kyle Orton shows up at training camp it would be either July 27 or July 28. Once he misses six practices, the Cowboys can come after the prorated amount of signing bonus in 2014. So in addition to the fines he induced in the offseason -- $69,455 for missing the minicamp, $10,930 for missing the physical -- and the $75,000 de-escalator in his contract for missing too many workouts, Orton would be fined $30,000 for missing camp. So let's say he misses a week, costing him $150,000. You're looking at about $300,000 in fines, de-escalators, which brings his base salary to just under $3 million. I think for 17 regular-season weeks and a month of preseason, Orton would be OK to make that kind of money and then walk away from the game. It will be interesting to see how this goes when the Cowboys get to camp. They have remained patient, to say the least, while Orton has been silent. 
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. – Cassius Vaughn broke on the ball, intercepted Dan Orlovsky, and the entire Detroit Lions defensive sideline went nuts – celebrating like the pick had happened in a real game and resulted in tangible points instead of what it really was, a play made against the team’s backup quarterback during a May workout.

This, though, is perhaps one of the changes for Detroit this upcoming season.

It may only be May and it is still a long way from training camp and the start of the regular season, but one of the definitive things new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has brought to the Lions is an abundance of exuberance.

[+] EnlargeWide receiver Jacoby Jones #12 of the Baltimore Ravens
Jason Miller/Getty ImagesPress coverage will likely be the norm for Detroit's cornerbacks, including Rashean Mathis, this season.
“We do like what’s going on,” cornerback Rashean Mathis said. “We do believe in the process. That makes you have a little more energy, when everybody on the team is sold out and sold into the process and buying into what coach is doing. And everybody believes in what he’s doing.”

Part of that could just be the change in coaching staff from Jim Schwartz to Jim Caldwell – of which the most defining shift would be a personality change, for better or worse. But on defense, more seems to be changing.

The Lions will almost definitely be more multiple in their looks and their packages in 2014 – the way the team drafted somewhat hinted at that, as well as Austin being straightforward about that. They will employ specific ends – an open end and a closed end – instead of being more interchangeable last season.

The open end – likely Ezekiel Ansah – will play on the side opposite of the tight end in any formation. The closed end, for now Jason Jones, is typically bigger and will be used to try and bump on the tight end side of the field in an attempt to disrupt his route.

That will happen up front.

In the back end, there will be separate free and strong safety designations – that’s been known for a while – but how they play corner also will be changing. Expect everything to be much more aggressive with the Lions’ cornerbacks.

“I feel we’ll press way more this year,” cornerback Darius Slay said. “Way, way more. Probably every play.”

There are risks and benefits to that. The benefit is if the Lions are successful there, it will push receivers off of their routes to start. That might alleviate some of the problems Detroit had reaching the quarterback last season. Too often, they were a step or two from sacking opponents.

This could give the Lions that extra half-second to force those plays. While the true implementation and success of this will not be known until September, the beginnings of it are already there.

They look faster. They look more excited. They look more like a defense focused on causing havoc and creating turnovers from the back to the front.

“Yeah, for sure,” receiver Kevin Ogletree said. “Those guys are playing like it and bringing an intensity that we need on defense.”

While a lot of that has to do with the fiery Austin and the defensive staff he retained – Jim Washburn and Kris Kocurek on the line – and hired – Bill Sheridan with linebackers and Alan Williams with defensive backs – that’s not all of it.

It isn’t necessarily the coaching or the scheme. It is how they are selling it. That type of convincing doesn’t always happen. And that begins with Caldwell.

“I’ve been a part of a new coaching staff where everything is not agreeable or coaches are not selling whatever they should sell well,” Mathis said. “But you know, you can deny a lot of things but you can’t deny honest and truth and that’s what Caldwell is.

“He’s straight and to the point. He doesn’t have to scream, doesn’t have to yell.”

He leaves that to his players when they make plays instead.
IRVING, Texas -- Part 1 of the Dallas Cowboys' Twitter mailbag is ready.

In it we discuss:
  • When Dez Bryant might sign an extension.
  • Lance Dunbar’s roster spot with the addition of Ryan Williams.
  • The team’s best free-agent pickup
  • The state of the defensive line.
  • The best of the undrafted receivers.

Look for Part 2 of the mailbag on Saturday.

Away we go:
IRVING, Texas -- Two veteran wide receivers went off the market Monday when Nate Burleson and Jason Avant signed with the Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers, respectively.

Both were linked to the Dallas Cowboys by the media (hello, that's me), but sources indicated the Cowboys had some interest in Burleson, who played for their new passing game coordinator, Scott Linehan, with the Detroit Lions. The Cowboys just were not willing to pull the trigger on a deal now, continuing their patient approach in free agency.

Could it mean the Cowboys are as content at wide receiver as owner and general manager Jerry Jones has said?

[+] EnlargeTerrance Williams
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsTerrance Williams, a 2013 pick, started as the No. 3 receiver and also showed he could handle the No. 2 role. Is Dallas hoping for a repeat in the 2014 draft?
With Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams, the Cowboys are set at the top two spots. Dwayne Harris and Cole Beasley would settle in as the No. 3 receiver, splitting the job depending on role. Harris has more big-play ability. Beasley is better in the quick-game routes.

I've long said the Cowboys do not need a true No. 3 receiver over the years because they have tight end Jason Witten, and the running backs have always figured prominently in the passing game.

The best performance by a No. 3 receiver for the Cowboys in the past five years has been Laurent Robinson, who caught 54 passes for 858 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011. But mostly the Cowboys need their third receiver to catch anywhere from 30 to 40 passes a season. Kevin Ogletree did that in 2012 with 32. Technically Roy Williams might not have been the No. 3 receiver in 2010, but he caught 37 passes. In 2009, Patrick Crayton caught 37 passes for 622 yards and 5 touchdowns.

So you’re looking for a No. 3 receiver to catch two or three passes a game when you look at the options available in how the Cowboys have constructed their offense.

But what if Bryant or Williams gets hurt? And there will be injuries. Can Harris be a No. 2 receiver and excel outside? Maybe for a few games. Beasley is just a slot receiver because of his size. That is why I thought Avant or Burleson would have been good fits. Other options remain, such as Earl Bennett and even Miles Austin, but that would be a long shot.

However, if the Cowboys were not willing to make a play for a free agent Monday, they're not going to get into the market Tuesday.

Last week, I wondered whether Gavin Escobar could be an option as the third receiver. The Cowboys like his athleticism and saw in glimpses his ability to make plays. His touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles in the season finale was an eye-opener. With the way the tight ends are used these days, Escobar has more receiver skills to him than tight end skills. He needs to get bigger and stronger to be an on-the-line tight end, but that part of his game will never be his strength. His strength will be working the seams and his ability to go get the ball.

But here is a thought: This is considered one of the deeper drafts in memory for wide receivers. Could the Cowboys be looking for their No. 3 receiver, who could be the No. 2 receiver, in the early to middle rounds of the draft?

Williams, a third-rounder last year, caught 44 passes for 736 yards and 5 touchdowns and showed he could handle the No. 2 role when Austin missed games with a hamstring injury. Williams' development played a part in the release of Austin.

If a Mike Evans fell, or if a Marqise Lee is there in the first round, could they be targets? It sure seems as if the draft is the Cowboys' preferred method to find their No. 3 receiver.

Golden Tate to visit Lions

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Though the Detroit Lions didn't make many moves in the opening flurry of free-agency festivities, they seem to be plotting to make some moves soon.

Tate
Tate
Per ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, wide receiver Golden Tate is headed to Detroit on Tuesday night for a visit and the team has expressed interest in safety Chris Clemons.

For now, these appear to be the two top-line targets for Detroit in the first days of free agency.

Tate is a versatile receiver who can play both outside and in the slot. Although he's shorter than the typical Jim Caldwell wide receiver, he has the speed, explosiveness and return skills that could make him a valuable asset to the Lions if he were to sign. Tate has improved each year in Seattle, going from 21 catches and 227 yards as a rookie to 64 catches for 898 yards and five touchdowns last season.

At 25 years old, the 5-foot-10 product of Notre Dame is hitting the prime of his career and could fill the role left by Nate Burleson both as a receiver and a voice in the locker room.

As for Clemons, he appears to be the safety the Lions are going to focus on since Jairus Byrd -- who is likely too pricey for Detroit -- is on a plane to New Orleans and T.J. Ward signed with Denver. Clemons, who went to Clemson, had 190 tackles and three interceptions over the past two years.

Clemons graded out at a plus-7.2 in pass coverage according to Pro Football Focus last season and would fit what the Lions want as far as a coverage safety to pair with Glover Quin.

The Lions did sign receiver Kevin Ogletree in the first moments of free agency and The Baltimore Sun is reporting that deal is worth $795,000, including $100,000 guaranteed and a $65,000 bonus.
The first move of the Detroit Lions' new league year is not one that could have been expected.

ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reports wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, who joined the Lions last season after being released by Tampa Bay, will return to the team on a one-year contract. The move was first reported by Pro Football Talk.

Ogletree had said at the end of the season he wanted to return to Detroit if possible, and the Lions are desperate for help at receiver.

The 26-year-old signed with Detroit midway through the 2013 season after being released by Tampa Bay after four games. He combined to have 21 receptions for 269 yards and two touchdowns between the two teams last season.

He spent the previous four seasons with Dallas after being an undrafted free agent out of Virginia. In his career, he has 78 receptions for 999 yards and six touchdowns.

This is a fairly low-risk move for Detroit. The team is bringing in a receiver it is familiar with, who can compete for a roster spot and also play special teams. When given opportunities, he was mildly productive, including five catches for 75 yards in the season finale against Minnesota on 10 targets -- the most he had in 2013.

The Lions now have these receivers under contract who played in games for them last season: Calvin Johnson, Kris Durham, Ryan Broyles, Jeremy Ross, Patrick Edwards and Ogletree.

Ogletree is the second signing for Detroit on Tuesday, joining running back Joique Bell.

Rapid Reaction: Detroit Lions

December, 29, 2013
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MINNEAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions' season-ending 14-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

What it means: The end. The end of a lot of things. The certain end of the Lions' season, a collapse from holding their own destiny in the NFC North two weeks ago to flying home for the season before New Year's.

The possible end of the Detroit coaching career of Jim Schwartz, who likely will learn whether he'll be fired or retained by Monday, the typical day of firing of coaches in the NFL. Also the possible end of some NFL careers, from kicker David Akers to the uncertain nature of the future for Rashean Mathis, Dominic Raiola and Nate Burleson.

This, of course, came in the most predictable way possible. Detroit took a lead in the fourth quarter and, as the Lions have done in the five losses before this one, watched it disappear by the time the game was over. This week it came because of a 50-yard punt return by Marcus Sherels that led to a Vikings touchdown that took a 13-10 Detroit lead and turned it into a 14-13 Minnesota lead.

Stock watch: Rising -- Kevin Ogletree. Starting in place of Calvin Johnson, the free-agent-to-be had five catches for 75 yards and was open on two other occasions. He was the only Lions receiver to show any ability to get open Sunday. Rising -- Lions' draft pick. Depending on what else happens Sunday, the Lions could end up with a top-10 pick. Falling -- Everything else. Few Lions played well Sunday, and for the most part, it was a fairly uninspired effort from a team that said it would try to stay focused throughout the week.

Bush hits 1,000: Reggie Bush needed 26 yards entering the game, and it took three-and-a-half quarters, but he finally eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the second time in his career. He did it with a 7-yard run up the middle in the fourth quarter. A couple of weeks ago, when it looked like Bush would surpass 1,000 yards then, I asked him about the benchmark number, and he said it wasn't necessarily a big deal to him. That's understandable, considering in a 16-game season, a running back needs to average only 62.5 yards a game to get there. But he is the first Lions running back since 2004 to get to 1,000 yards. Actually impressive was what Bush and Joique Bell were able to do. They became the first running back tandem in NFL history to each rush for 500 yards and have 500 yards receiving in a season. Combined, they were effective for Detroit for most of the season.

What's next: The NFL draft is a few short months away -- taking place from May 8-10 at Radio City Music Hall in New York.

Lions without Johnson, three corners

December, 29, 2013
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Detroit Lions made the correct call.

Johnson
Wide receiver Calvin Johnson is among the seven players inactive for the Lions, ending his season with 84 catches for 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns. The receptions and yards are his lowest totals since the 2010 season.

His 12 touchdowns more than doubled the five he had a season ago.

In Johnson's place, the Lions will start receiver Kevin Ogletree. Ogletree has 16 catches for 194 yards and two touchdowns this season, split between Tampa Bay and Detroit.

No Johnson is only part of Detroit's issues Sunday. Three of top five Lions cornerbacks are out as Chris Houston, Bill Bentley and Jonte Green are all inactive. Rashean Mathis and Darius Slay, who is coming off a torn meniscus, will start and Chris Greenwood, who played his first NFL game earlier this month, will be the top backup.

Also inactive for Detroit is its starting right tackle, LaAdrian Waddle, and he'll be replaced by Jason Fox. Dylan Gandy is the other inactive on the offensive line. Guard Rodney Austin will be active for the first time in his career.

And this also ends Kellen Moore's second season with the Lions -- and second season where he has yet to play in a game.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- There is no way the Detroit Lions would do this, no matter the public front it might show. There’s just no possible way the Lions would possibly risk their franchise player, Calvin Johnson, on Sunday.

Right?

Detroit coach Jim Schwartz continues to play coy about Johnson’s availability for the season finale against Minnesota, saying it will be a decision that could go until Sunday before the game. Johnson, as he usually does, declined to answer many questions about his status other than it is a two-way decision and that he’ll see how he progresses throughout the week.
That the Lions are contemplating playing Johnson this weekend makes absolutely no sense. There's nothing on the line but pride and Johnson is ailing at best and outright hurt at worst.

None at all.

Johnson won’t confirm or deny the extent of his knee injury or if he’ll have to have surgery on it after the season. He won’t even say what, exactly, is wrong with his knee. We know he has missed a ton of practice time this season, missed one game and was limited in two others.

That alone is enough to sit the best player the Lions have, the player whom your entire offense flows through. He was limited last Sunday in what was essentially an elimination game against the New York Giants, and that should tell you everything you need to know about Johnson’s health.

Or lack thereof.

Don’t push him to play. If he says he wants to play, sit him down and tell him it is in the best interest of his future and the franchise’s future that he sit out.

The first priority should be Johnson’s health and that is the first -- and most important -- reason he should sit.

One of the most obvious things about Detroit this season is its ineffectiveness without Johnson in the lineup. The Lions, whether or not Schwartz is around a week from now or a season from now, can use Sunday to figure out other wide receiver plans.

How does free agent-to-be Kevin Ogletree look with a full complement of game day snaps? Can Nate Burleson still play on the outside if need be? Could tight end Joseph Fauria line up outside? What about new-to-the-53-man-roster Matt Veldman, who will play his first NFL game Sunday? Is Jeremy Ross a potential weapon as a receiver as well as a returner?

A lot of these things can be accomplished by not playing Johnson on Sunday. If Detroit plays him, at best the Lions will get a decent, but likely limited, effort from him. At worst, he could injure himself further.

And that’s something no one around the Lions should even want to think about.
PHILADELPHIA -- In the mass of snow where players couldn’t cut and the surface was more ice rink than football field, it did not seem to matter much to Detroit Lions returner Jeremy Ross.

If anything, the slip-and-slide surface almost helped him as he had one of the best days of his career.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Ross
AP Photo/Michael PerezJeremy Ross scored and a 58-yard punt return and a 98-yard kickoff return in Detroit's loss on Sunday.
"Players start to slip just because they get too wide, cut too wide," Ross said. "I try to keep everything in tight and narrow and not overextend. Just keep my feet underneath me."

That wasn’t easy considering the playing field at Lincoln Financial Field, but Ross was able to keep his balance enough to return both a punt and a kick for touchdowns Sunday in the Lions’ 34-20 loss and in the process matched a little bit of history.

Ross became the second Detroit Lions player to return a punt and kick for touchdowns in the same game, matching Eddie Payton -- the brother of Walter Payton -- who accomplished the same feat for the Lions in 1977.

Even more impressive was Ross did it on an increasingly difficult place to run on.

"After a while the snow started hardening up," Ross said. "The snow kept clogging up at the bottom of my cleats so it felt like I had heels on at some point. It would pile up, stack real tight on the bottom of my heels so my foot would be like lifted up.

"Sometimes you have to keep patting your feet because it just packs in there and it’s hard to run, change directions, so it really gets underneath your feet."

Ross also had some help. On both returns he was assisted by some major blocking.

Wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, who like Ross was a midseason signing for the Lions after being cut by another team, blocked Brandon Boykin enough on the outside that it gave Ross the initial crease he needed.

From there, almost in slow motion, Ross weaved his way to the end zone for a 58-yard punt return touchdown, not cutting so much as just bobbing his body side-to-side as he ran.

"When you’re running, you’re real cautious of how you cut and stuff," Ross said. "You feel like you’re just trying to turn, you can’t really cut. You’re just kind of slowly working your way around."

His kick return was a little bit easier in some ways. Ross caught the ball at the 2-yard line and had almost a perfect hole form for him -- again, due to blocking. Theo Riddick was his lead blocker and sealed off a guy on the right side, as did new signee Julian Stanford. On the left side, Israel Idonije appeared to seal off his man, giving Ross the hole.

From there, all Ross needed to do was make a diving Alex Henery miss -- he did -- and keep his balance heading into the end zone.

In all, Ross had 243 return yards, more yards than the entirety of the Lions offense, and now has three touchdowns -- two on special teams and one receiving -- in the past two weeks.

"It’s definitely, it’s special," Ross said. "It’s special to do something like that."
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Practice ended Thursday, and while most of the Detroit Lions players went through a hallway to the locker room, the wide receivers assembled in the indoor practice facility.

There, receivers took turns catching passes after having what appeared to be a screen blocking their vision at first. The screen would then be pulled down by an assistant and the ball would already be on its way.

The receiver, obviously, would have to catch it. Considering some of Detroit's issues there this season, this is an important drill to be working on.

[+] EnlargeReggie Bush
AP Photo/David RichardReggie Bush is averaging nearly 10 yards per catch on his 45 receptions, but his eight dropped passes are part of an ongoing issue for the Lions.
Detroit’s drop numbers are interesting. The Lions have more drops, 37, than any other team in the league. But they also have the second-most passing attempts in the NFL, with 500.

Where it evens out -- and where Detroit’s drop struggles become more evident throughout the season -- is in drop percentage. The Lions are tied with the Rams for the league’s worst drop rate at 7.6 percent of Matthew Stafford's passes.

And it hasn’t gotten better for the Lions in the second half of the season. Detroit has 14 drops in the past four games at a drop rate of nine percent, both numbers that are worst in the NFL.

Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan explained away the drops as a function of Detroit’s passing offense.

“We throw the ball a lot, so some teams don’t throw the ball as much, so they aren’t going to have as many when it comes to the amount of throws,” Linehan said. “I think guys really worked hard at catching it. I thought the last game they caught it really well.

“Great catches that weren’t routine. I don’t think that’s necessarily indicative of us versus anybody else.”

Except Detroit was credited with four drops in that game according to ESPN Stats and Information -- one each to Kris Durham, Joique Bell, Brandon Pettigrew and Calvin Johnson.

The drops, though, haven’t been quarantined to one game or one player. Ten of the 14 Lions players who have caught passes this season have also dropped at least one pass.

The four Detroit players who haven’t been credited with a drop by ESPN Stats and Information are tight ends Joseph Fauria and Dorin Dickerson, and wide receivers Kevin Ogletree and Patrick Edwards, who is now on the practice squad.

The most guilty Lion of dropping passes? Running back Reggie Bush, who has eight drops this season and is dropping passes at a rate of 12.3 percent -- second-highest in the NFL among qualifying players behind Pittsburgh’s Le'Veon Bell (13.3 percent).

Combine Bush’s drops with his fumble issues -- he’s been big on working on ball security this week -- and bad hands would be a potential concern for the Lions’ starting running back.

Detroit coach Jim Schwartz, though, is not concerned. He noted Bush’s drops earlier in the season as a reason for his high percentage.

“That’ll get your numbers up,” Schwartz said. “He also made an over-the-shoulder catch last week, too.”

This isn’t to say Bush isn’t a talented player -- he is a gifted runner and receiver -- but he has also dropped passes on screens and in the flat that could have been large gains if he held on to the ball.

After Bush is Johnson with seven drops (5.3 percent), Durham with four (5.8 percent), Bell with four (8.9 percent) and Pettigrew with four (7.0 percent). Beyond them are players who are either no longer on the Lions, on injured reserve or have limited roles.

Tight end Tony Scheffler, who was cut in October, had three drops. Ryan Broyles, who is now on injured reserve, has two along with Nate Burleson, who missed seven games, and Jeremy Ross, who has played in six games and been targeted nine times.

Running back Theo Riddick, who plays sparingly, has one drop.

Of all the players listed, Johnson’s drops might be the most understandable. His seven drops are one off a career-worst set last season, but he has been targeted 131 times, more than any other receiver in the league.

Despite the drops from his pass-catchers, Stafford is having a good season. He has still completed 59.2 percent of his passes (296 of 500), thrown for 27 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and 3,825 yards.

But as the weather gets colder and situations become more intense for the Lions as they make a playoff push and a potential appearance in the postseason, how Detroit’s pass-catchers handle what Stafford throws at them will be paramount for any future Lions success.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Kevin Ogletree took out his phone earlier this week and dialed up his old friend in Dallas. They didn’t talk about the game, or how for the first time in their careers they were opponents instead of teammates.

Ogletree is with the Detroit Lions now, after a brief stint in Tampa Bay, and Dez Bryant, one of the top wide receivers in the game, remains with the Dallas Cowboys. But while they may not play together anymore, they are still friends.

“That was my guy,” Ogletree said. “He’s still a good friend. [Tuesday] it was nothing about the game. It was, 'what cleats are you going to wear,' 'bring me some Jordans,' 'do you remember my size' type stuff.”

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant and Kevin Ogletree
Ron T. Ennis/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty ImagesBefore he came to Detroit, Kevin Ogletree (right) learned from and became friends with Dez Bryant in Dallas. They'll be on opposing sidelines Sunday.
Ogletree was mostly kidding, although Bryant did sign a contract with Jordan Brand this year, giving him access to those cleats. Ogletree has also been in an interesting position.

Having entered the NFL in 2009, he was part of Dallas' receiving corps for the first three years of Bryant’s career, a complementary receiver to one of the emerging stars of the game at his position. Now Ogletree is learning from the single-season record holder in receiving yards, Calvin Johnson. He’s seen both up close. He understands what makes them so talented, so good, so tough to defend.

Both, Ogletree said, are bigger receivers. They make contested catches and run routes well.

“What stands out about Calvin is just how humble and modest he is, and helpful,” Ogletree said. “It’s kind of like the guys that are that good, you never know how willing they are to share some of their secrets. That being said, Calvin helps us with everything. He could be here for two hours.”

Ogletree went on to say it's the “same way with Dez, but a lot of stuff Dez does is just natural ability. He wouldn’t even be able to explain how he did it all or what happened but he’s got that type of skill. They are both great players.”

Bryant and Johnson both have otherworldly gifts as receivers. They make plays that few others in the NFL can make. Bryant, admittedly, is still maturing and learning how to improve, how to become even better than he is. Johnson, meanwhile, is at the top of his game.

There is, though, a lot to compare.

“You can definitely see some similarities,” Ogletree said. “A lot of people don’t know how strong Dez is. Dez is pretty strong. Calvin is the strongest I’ve seen to be that big and fast.

“Just a real blessing for me to be around those two types of players and to see what work goes into [and] what comes out of what happens when you put the right work in.”

While Ogletree doesn’t receive close to the attention that Johnson and Bryant command, he is finding a role in the Detroit offense.

He has been targeted seven times in his first three games with the Lions, catching five of those passes for 75 yards. Through his first three games, though, Ogletree’s snaps have varied. He saw four in his first game against Green Bay, although that wasn’t surprising considering he was signed days earlier. He had 28 against Cleveland and then 10 against Cincinnati once Johnson returned to full health.

Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said Thursday that he could see Ogletree getting more snaps in the future. Where, though, could be the question. As Kris Durham emerges as the third wide receiver alongside Johnson and either Ryan Broyles or Nate Burleson, when he returns, in the slot, it could turn into an interesting situation with Ogletree and Durham.

“His targets and catches have been very good for us,” Linehan said. “He’s a veteran, played in a system when he was in Dallas that has a little bit of carryover for him here. He’s a veteran and a guy that works really hard to be ready for anything you ask.

“[His] blood pressure doesn’t change when he goes on the field. That’s nice.”

One man isn’t surprised by this. That guy on the phone in Dallas. The one with the cleats. Even as Ogletree’s opportunities dwindled in Dallas, that guy saw it.

That guy, of course, is his buddy Bryant.

“Very quick, very explosive,” Bryant said. “Have a great set of hands and can also, as well, stretch the field. He just, whenever Kev got his opportunities, he made the most out of them.

“Kevin Ogletree, he’s a monster on the field when he gets his opportunities.”

Now it is merely a question of how much he actually gets out there.
Tony Romo and Matthew StaffordGetty ImagesBoth Dallas quarterback Tony Romo and Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford have seen needed improvements in certain aspects of their games this season.

It is a matchup between two potential playoff teams and two of the best wide receivers in the game, Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant.

But the Dallas-Detroit game on Sunday has other twists, too. For the Lions, Sunday is a chance to grab back some momentum from a strong start to the season. For the Cowboys, it could be a chance to widen their lead on their NFC East opponents.

Dallas NFL Nation reporter Todd Archer and Detroit NFL Nation reporter Michael Rothstein break down what you might see Sunday afternoon.

Rothstein: Let's start here -- last week in Detroit there was a lot of discussion of A.J. Green and Johnson as two of the best receivers in the league. Now it is Bryant and Johnson this week. What is it that Bryant does that should really concern Detroit's cornerbacks, who let Green go for 155 yards Sunday?

Archer: Bryant can go get the ball. He is virtually impossible to defend in the red zone (and sometimes he'll push off too), but cornerbacks just don't have a chance on him. He's a better route runner now than he was last year and the Cowboys are using him on more varied routes. When he came into the league he would make the spectacular play but couldn't make the boring play consistently. Now he's doing both. But his No. 1 attribute is his physical style. He will fight for the ball and fight for yardage. He's special in that regard.

The Cowboys have had Brandon Carr follow Demaryius Thomas, Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson the past three games. I'm sure they'll do the same with Calvin Johnson. When teams have matched up with Johnson like that, how has or hasn't it worked?

Rothstein: There haven't been too many teams that have single-covered Johnson -- at least not for extended periods of the game. The closest would have been against Arizona in Week 2, but the Cardinals have Patrick Peterson and Johnson had six catches for 116 yards and a touchdown against him. Really, the only thing that has slowed Johnson this season was a knee issue that kept him out of the loss to Green Bay and limited him against Cleveland a week later. Not surprisingly, Johnson still draws a ton of attention with a safety rolling to him over the top.

What that has done is opened up the offense underneath for Reggie Bush and, to an extent, Joique Bell. When both are healthy and playing well, the Lions have had a pretty strong offensive threat from deep threats to short bursts. How does Dallas plan on dealing with that, especially considering DeMarcus Ware's questionable status?

Archer: Running backs and tight ends have hurt the Cowboys in the passing game this year. The safeties have been only OK but are coming off a pretty good game at Philadelphia against LeSean McCoy, who's as shifty or more than Bush. The Cowboys had their best tackling game last season against the Eagles. Sean Lee and Bruce Carter have played better here lately and will be largely responsible for the backs, but safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox will be a presence too. Losing Ware would be a big blow to a defense that has to get pressure on Matthew Stafford. The Cowboys have been rolling in new guys pretty much every week across the defensive line, and added Marvin Austin this week to help at tackle.

Speaking about the defensive line allows me to talk about Rod Marinelli. He has been nothing but great here with those no-name guys, but what's the feeling of him up there considering that 0-16 season?

Rothstein: That was before my time -- I was still covering the Charlie Weis Notre Dame years when Marinelli was in Detroit -- but I can say I have not heard anything about that season in my short time here and most of the current team arrived in 2009 or later.

But the 0-16 season contributes to the typical angst the Lions fan base has over any success the team has -- as in waiting for the bottom to drop out. But most of this team is so new, there isn't much of that feeling. Plus, as injured receiver Nate Burleson said earlier this year, when you go to play in Detroit, you know there are going to be questions about losing streaks to be broken and demons to be exorcised.

Since we're chatting a little bit about defense, Tony Romo is being sacked on 6 percent of his attempts, so is Dallas' line doing a good job protecting him or are these more coverage sacks? What's going on with the protections?

Archer: The line has improved a lot from recent years, especially in pass protection. They revamped their interior line with Travis Frederick, their first-round pick at center, Ronald Leary at left guard and Brian Waters, who did not play last season, at right guard. Tackles Tyron Smith and Doug Free are performing better than they did a year ago. Romo has taken a number of coverage sacks this year, and he's also elusive for a guy who does not appear to be the most athletic. He has terrific vision and a quick release that can bail him out of trouble. As strange as it sounds, I think Romo also has seen the value of taking a sack and not forcing a throw.

Let's stick with the quarterback play. Stafford is a Dallas kid, so we know his background. He likes to throw it around, but like Romo, his interceptions are down. Is he just being more careful with the ball or has the attack changed a little?

Rothstein: Having Reggie Bush in the offense has allowed Stafford to throw the ball shorter more often and as an old coach I used to cover once said, "Short passes are happy passes." They are also more likely to be completed passes. Here's something to consider with Stafford as well. His numbers could be much better, but his receivers have dropped 6.9 percent of his passes. Hold on to even half those and he's completing around 65 percent of his passes this season. He also has gotten much better at throwing the ball away instead of forcing passes. That's been a big change. There is an accuracy component to it as well, but he isn't taking nearly as many downfield chances.

Speaking of semi-homecomings, you mentioned Carr earlier. Does this game mean more to him because he is coming home as he grew up and played his college ball in Michigan? And second thing on that, has Dallas changed a lot from last season or can a guy like Kevin Ogletree help this week?

Archer: I'm sure it does but Carr will attempt to downplay it. He still carries that Grand Valley State/fifth-round pick chip on his shoulder even if the Cowboys gave him a $50 million deal last year as a free agent. He has done a terrific job here the past three weeks as we talked about earlier. Jason Garrett even went out of his way to praise Carr's work on special teams, so you can see the Flint in him hasn't left. As for the Ogletree angle, he had a hard enough time with the offense that I don't think he would help with the defense. The Cowboys have a completely different scheme from Rob Ryan's 3-4 to Monte Kiffin's 4-3. Ogletree will know some personnel, but the corners are playing a little different than they did a year ago so I don't think it will matter much.

I haven't asked about the Lions defense yet. Just by looking at the numbers they seem to be pretty good situationally: third down, red zone. Is that the wrong read here?

Rothstein: The defense is kind of a little bit of everywhere. Great on third down over the first month of the season -- not as much over the past three weeks. Perhaps a corollary here is the defensive line not getting quite as much pressure on opposing quarterbacks the past three weeks as it did during the first month of the season. Red zone defense has been pretty good. Overall, it is a decent Lions defense. DeAndre Levy is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season at linebacker and the defensive line and safeties have been good. Cornerback has been a bit up-and-down, though.

My final question to you sticks with this theme. We touched on the Dallas offensive line earlier, but how do the Cowboys deal with Ndamukong Suh? He is a guy who can change games on his own.

Archer: This is part of the reason why the Cowboys wanted Frederick, Waters and Leary. They're stout players. The Cowboys have not had much power in the middle and it has hurt the running game as well as pass protection. Suh, obviously, offers a different challenge. Waters has the strength necessary but he does not move like he did a few years ago. The Cowboys will give him some help but not all the time. And I think Romo can help out the line as well by getting rid of the ball quickly. The Cowboys only take a handful of downfield shots a game, relying mostly on underneath stuff to work their way down the field.

The Lions are 4-3 like the Cowboys and this is a huge game for both when you start thinking about December and playoff chases. You touched on this earlier, but is the town ready to get behind the Lions, especially because the Tigers aren't in the World Series and it's still early in the Red Wings' season?

Rothstein: I think there is some of that, for sure, and I think there is the hope among the fan base that this year’s Lions team is for real. But as I mentioned earlier, there is going to be that sense of dread -- which is why a win for Detroit on Sunday would really go a long way to bolster that fan base confidence. And probably to maintain the confidence in the locker room as well.

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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- At least the Detroit Lions will legitimately have a week this time to prepare if Calvin Johnson is unable to play Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.

The Lions said all the right things after Sunday’s loss to Green Bay, that they had contingency plans if Johnson could not play and they practiced without him. But Johnson was close to playing and against a divisional rival, on the road, a team would hope they would have their best player.

[+] EnlargeRyan Broyles
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsRyan Broyles has been making a case for more balls to be thrown his way all season, and he might get his chance Sunday.
Especially if the player really wants to be out there, too. That was maybe the most difficult part of last Sunday for Johnson -- the watching while his team struggled without him.

“Yeah, it sucks,” Johnson said. “Especially a division opponent, up there at Green Bay, like to play there. Just because of the history behind it, it’s a great environment to play in.

“It’s tough to sit out any game, but it’s for the better.”

This week, though, Detroit seems to have a contingency plan if Johnson cannot play.

One guy is new receiver Kevin Ogletree, a player picked up last week on waivers who impressed coaches in his short, very limited appearance against the Packers on Sunday.

Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said the team gave Ogletree 10 things and that he “handled that well.”

The other potential contingency plan might also be one the Lions had all along. His name is Ryan Broyles and for the past few weeks he has wanted more snaps, more targets, basically more chances.

Yet he was on a different plan than what his coaches may have wanted for him.

“We hadn’t been planning on him playing really in the month of September,” Linehan said. “He’s done a nice job of stepping in and playing a little earlier than expected because of happened with Nate (Burleson).”

Linehan said the initial comeback plan for Broyles was similar to the one they had a season ago for him, when he didn’t see his real action until the sixth game of the season, and now the Lions are in Week 6.

In the preseason, Linehan said he saw Broyles was ready. It then became an issue of sticking with the plan or not. Yet Broyles’ snaps have fluctuated in games he has been active for this season. He played 17 snaps in his debut against Washington, 41 snaps in a win against Chicago and then just 27 snaps against Green Bay last Sunday.

For his part, Broyles said he is “100 percent to get on the field and play well,” and that he feels “capable of going out there and making plays.”

This week, whether or not Johnson plays, expect to see more of Broyles.

“I think he’s ready for a full load now,” Linehan said. “As far as just what you want to do as far as a plan for a guy, bringing a guy back from what he had to come back from a year ago.

“He’s right on track so we’re real happy he’s been able to get this time and progress. Certainly if somebody else isn’t available, his availability is going to be leaned on a little bit more.”

Even if Johnson plays, Broyles could see more action if tight end Tony Scheffler sits. Scheffler suffered his third concussion in four seasons on Sunday and has not practiced Wednesday or Thursday.

The Lions would potentially look to use more three wide receiver sets in that instance -- opening up more snaps for Broyles -- or inserting rookie tight end Joseph Fauria into Scheffler’s role.

No matter what, though, it would appear Detroit has a plan this week if Johnson can’t play. The Lions, obviously, would rather have Johnson healthy and ready.

“It certainly helps to have him out there,” Linehan said. “That’s the understatement of the day.”

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