NFL Nation: Kevin Ogletree

Rodgers-Cromartie
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is active and expected to play for the New York Giants here Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. Rodgers-Cromartie was listed as questionable after missing practice Wednesday and Thursday and being only a limited participant Friday due to continuing leg and back injuries.

It remains to be seen how much Rodgers-Cromartie will be able to play. He was in and out of the Giants' Week 4 and 5 games due to leg injuries, and he left last week's game for good in the second quarter due to back spasms that the team said were related to the ongoing leg problems. Zack Bowman will fill in for Rodgers-Cromartie when he's not on the field, but if Rodgers-Cromartie can play at all, he'll have a tough time containing top Cowboys wideout Dez Bryant if he's less than 100 percent.

On the offensive side of the ball, newly signed wide receiver Kevin Ogletree is active and rookie Corey Washington, for the first time, is not. Due to last week's season-ending injury to Victor Cruz, the Giants have only four wide receivers active for the game -- Ogletree, Rueben Randle, Odell Beckham Jr. and Preston Parker -- and are likely to deploy a run-heavy game plan that leans on the tight ends as blockers and receivers.

The full list of inactives for Sunday's game here at AT&T Stadium:

GIANTS
RB Rashad Jennings
WR Corey Washington
OL Brandon Mosley
OL James Brewer
OL Adam Snyder
DE Kerry Wynn
DT Jay Bromley

COWBOYS
LB Bruce Carter
RT Doug Free
DE Jack Crawford
QB Dustin Vaughan
S Jakar Hamilton
DT Davon Coleman
OT Donald Hawkins
The Detroit Lions have had a very tight wide receiver competition -- and the one player who might have ended up cut is somewhat of a surprise.

Durham
The Detroit Free Press has reported the Lions are cutting WR Kris Durham, who started 13 games last season after an injury to Nate Burleson.

Durham had appeared to be safe initially, starting preseason games in place of Calvin Johnson, who the team was resting.

The Lions had signed Durham after Seattle waived him prior to the 2012 season. Durham told me he would spend Saturday watching college football, waiting to see if he would be playing in Detroit for another season. Durham had 49 catches for 645 yards and three touchdowns from 2011 to 2013.

"You never know what's going to happen," Durham said earlier this week. "As far as the emotions go, you're sitting there by your phone. You try to see if you get a phone call, sometimes it's a phone call that says 'Hey, congratulations.' I've been on the other side of that saying, 'Hey, bring your playbook.'

"It's one of those things where you know what you signed up for. Mentally, you kind of prepare yourself as much as possible for the worst and hope for the best."

Durham's release might mean good things for the other three players he was competing with for roster spots: Kevin Ogletree, Ryan Broyles and Corey Fuller.

Here's a list of players who have been reported as waived or released by various outlets as of 1:15 p.m. ET: RB George Winn, RB Mikel Leshoure; WR Kris Durham; OL Darren Keyton; OL Garrett Reynolds; OL Michael Williams; DE Darryl Tapp; LB Brandon Hepburn; LB Shamari Benton; CB Mohammed Seisay; S Nate Ness.

The Lions must be down to 53 players by 4 p.m. ET.

W2W4: Detroit Lions

August, 28, 2014
8/28/14
12:00
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions (2-1) and Buffalo Bills (1-3) conclude their preseason Thursday night at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York.

1. Is this it for Kellen Moore: The Lions’ No. 3 quarterback has been one of the most talked-about players during the preseason – at least from a fan perspective. After the first preseason game, he briefly looked like he might push Dan Orlovsky for the No. 2 spot, but now his place on Detroit’s roster in 2014 solely lies on whether or not Martin Mayhew and Jim Caldwell choose to keep three quarterbacks instead of two. If the Lions go with three, Moore makes the team. If the Lions go with two, he doesn’t (barring injury). Moore could end up on Detroit’s practice squad if he is released and clears waivers, but there is a chance this could be Moore’s final game for Detroit.

2. Can any receivers stand out: This would seem like one competition where all of the principles will receive ample playing time since it is unlikely Calvin Johnson or Golden Tate see more than one series, if anything. So this is a final impression for Kris Durham, Kevin Ogletree, Ryan Broyles and Corey Fuller to make their cases for a roster spot. It’s also a chance for Patrick Edwards and Andrew Peacock to put tape together or impress enough for a practice squad spot. But the main focus will be on the four receivers fighting for two or three spots since Johnson, Tate and Jeremy Ross are going to occupy three of them.

3. Hello again, Jim Schwartz: It probably won’t be as big of a deal as it will be when the former Lions coach returns to Detroit with the Bills during the regular season, but a lot of the current group of Detroit players were drafted by the Buffalo defensive coordinator. In a game where almost all of the subplots surround roster spots, potentially the starting right tackle spot and keeping players injury free, seeing a former head coach on the opposite sideline could be intriguing. More intriguing goes to the first point up top – if any coach knows Moore, it is Schwartz, who kept him on the Detroit roster the past two seasons as the team’s No. 3 quarterback behind Matthew Stafford and Shaun Hill, both NFL starters.

W2W4: Detroit Lions

August, 22, 2014
8/22/14
12:00
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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.
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.
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. – Kevin Ogletree wakes up mornings and heads to the practice facility. The Detroit Lions will be practicing later in the day, but Ogletree is in the midst of a fairly difficult competition for a spot at wide receiver on the 53-man roster.

So he knows his conditioning is critical, both in practices during training camp and late in games during the regular season. So he goes on a quick run, 10 minutes on the treadmill and trying to reach around a mile-and-a-half.

[+] EnlargeKevin Ogletree
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltThe Giants have signed former Cowboys and Lions wide receiver Kevin Ogletree to help replace Victor Cruz who was put on season-ending injured reserve.
Conditioning became his focus during the offseason. He didn’t worry about his route running or his hands – both of which have been reliable in the past – before. He wanted to get his own heart rate up to keep his chances for making the team up as well.

“You can get really far if you’re in better condition than the guy across from you on third down, you know,” Ogletree said. “Two minute drive, late in the game, if you’re feeling better, if your legs are fresher, blood vessels are opened up a little bit more, you train for that.”

The training has worked early on. Ogletree has been one of the standouts of the first few days of training camp. He has consistently been with the first group along with Golden Tate and Calvin Johnson, potentially giving him the inside track to not only a spot on the roster, but a decent role in an offense that should have a lot of passes to go around.

Ogletree caught the attention of offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi early during spring workouts, but then the St. Albans, New York, native had an impacted wisdom tooth requiring surgery. The tooth was deep enough that Ogletree had all four wisdom teeth removed, forcing him to miss a week as he was starting to make an impact

Placing himself in position for a role was part of his decision to return to Detroit in the first place. He and re-signing running back Joique Bell were the only deals the Lions made on the first day of free agency, the day before the team signed wide receiver Golden Tate.

Coming back to the Lions, which picked him up after Tampa Bay released him in the middle of last season, was a priority.

“I knew that this was a place that a receiver would beg to be at with Matthew (Stafford) and the rest of the guys we have on offense,” Ogletree said. “Just to have a role on this offense would be the best thing I could ask for.”

Lions coach Jim Caldwell, who places an emphasis on sure-handed receivers, seems impressed with him early and confident enough to move the 6-foot-1 Ogletree both inside to the slot and outside. In his career, Ogletree has a decent drop rate, dropping only 4.3 percent of his targets. That career number is the same as the NFL average in 2013.

How he runs his routes has also caught the eye of coaches and Johnson, who specifically mentioned how smooth Ogletree’s routes are.

“Really has a good understanding of the position,” Caldwell said. “Works at it. Quiet. Hardly says a word, but I really like what we’ve seen from him thus far. He’s been catching the ball consistently, so we anticipate that’s going to carry over.”

If it does carry over, that could put Ogletree in a good position in a tight position battle.

“There’s no animosity toward one another. I’m encouraging Corey (Fuller),” said Kris Durham, one of the receivers he is competing with. “I’m trying to help him get right. Same with Kevin to me and Corey to Kevin. We all want to help each other because we want to become the best player we can to help this team win.”

So how does Ogletree plan to beat the rest of the competition for a job? He won’t let on. Just watch him, he says.

“I’ll show you,” Ogletree said. “I’ll show you.”

Lions Camp Report: Day 2

July, 29, 2014
7/29/14
8:50
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • One of the players making a big early impression in a position of competition is wide receiver Kevin Ogletree. Tucked in a tight battle with Kris Durham, Ryan Broyles, Jeremy Ross and Corey Fuller for receiving spots behind Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, Ogletree has spent time with the top unit both days as the No. 3 receiver. This comes on top of offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi singling him out during the spring as someone who impressed him. Ogletree has speed as well as the ability to make catches both over the middle and the sideline. Johnson, meanwhile, called Ogletree “smooth” when discussing him Tuesday.
  • An interesting thing occurred during individual periods Tuesday. Instead of working on their own, the Lions split their tight ends up between the offensive line and with the pass-catching receivers and running backs catching passes. So Brandon Pettigrew, for instance, was working with the line blocking while Joseph Fauria and Eric Ebron were catching passes. This, Pettigrew said, was different than how the Lions operated under former coach Jim Schwartz.“We rotate and go down there during periods,” Pettigrew said. “We have five guys here, why not split it up and have some guys down there and some guys down here.” Pettigrew sees this as not only helping his blocking fundamentals, but an aid to Ebron and Fauria as well.
  • It’s early, but the kicking situation is going to be something to watch. Detroit hasn’t done many pressure field-goal situations over the first two days, but the Lions did have both Nate Freese and Giorgio Tavecchio attempt a 49-yard field goal under pressure in the final moments of practice. It did not end well and went counter to their supposed strengths. Freese had the distance but missed wide left. Tavecchio was right on line -- but about a yard or so short. It’s only one day, but this is going to be a major thing to pay attention to throughout the next few weeks.
  • It would appear the Lions are going to give both Corey Hilliard and LaAdrian Waddle an equal shot at right tackle. Hilliard worked with the first team during the first practice Monday and Waddle received the first-team snaps Tuesday. We’ll have more on the offensive line Wednesday, but this appears to be the one true spot up for grabs on what is otherwise a fairly strong front five.
  • The Lions have managed to have fairly short practices the first two days, wrapping up in well under two hours. Some of it might come from the team still practicing without pads, but Lions safety Glover Quin explained the reason for the shorter practices is kind of simple: The team has plays they want to run through and things they need to accomplish. If they limit mistakes and run through the plays at a good pace, they finish quicker. It’s a long way from the marathon practices of the past, although practices should get longer once the team goes into pads.
  • Ownership made its first public appearance at camp Tuesday as Martha Ford, the wife of the late William Clay Ford Sr., attended practice. Ford gained controlling interest in the team after her husband’s death in the offseason. Also visiting practice Tuesday were some of Michigan State’s football coaches, although head coach Mark Dantonio was not spotted, as he was in Chicago for Big Ten media days.
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.

Cowboys' Twitter mailbag, Part 1

May, 23, 2014
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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

March, 11, 2014
3/11/14
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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.

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