NFC North: Detroit Lions

Barry SandersBetsy Peabody Rowe/Getty Images
We have a winner. The voters picked Barry Sanders' touchdown run in the playoffs against Dallas as the Lions' most memorable play and I question their selection. Dan Orlovsky's safety in 2008 is the play I consider the most memorable.

Score: Vikings 12, Lions 10
Date: Oct. 12, 2008. Site: Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, Minneapolis

Here's why I believe Orlovsky's safety in the end zone should be the most memorable play in the team's history and it has little to do with Orlovsky, who is a better quarterback than people give him credit.

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Yet a reader may have put it best. The Orlovsky safety, an unfortunate happenstance for a quarterback making his first career start, was the roughest, most memorable play of the most memorable season in Lions history. No matter if the Lions make a Super Bowl, win a Super Bowl or end up winning multiple Super Bowls at some point, the franchise will be remembered as the first -- and for now, only -- team to go 0-16.

Considering the franchise's woebegone history, it is representative of so much of what has happened to the franchise in the Super Bowl era. One playoff win. No Super Bowl appearances. Losing season after losing season, no matter who was the coach and what players they had -- other than a brief respite with Barry Sanders.

The Orlovsky play stands out as a reminder of all that.

The embarrassing play is emblematic of the Lions, who put a good player in a tough situation. But it is, without question, a play that will be remembered and replayed over and over again for a long time. That is what the definition of a memorable play is -- and none are at the level of the Orlovsky safety with the Lions.
The main key for success for the Detroit Lions this season is remarkably simple and has been the main focus of the franchise since it fired coach Jim Schwartz following the 2013 season.

Stafford
Stafford
From hiring new head coach Jim Caldwell, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter to signing Golden Tate, re-signing Brandon Pettigrew and drafting Eric Ebron, that focus has been giving quarterback Matthew Stafford everything he could possibly need to succeed.

Stafford has to use those tools to turn into the elite quarterback the team has been hoping for since they drafted him first overall in 2009. Statistically, Stafford has been one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL, putting up massive numbers for the Lions during his first five seasons.

Yet for every fourth-quarter comeback he completed and remarkable play he made, he has also made a decision leaving those watching and wondering what he saw or thought on that play. That has been the conundrum of Stafford's career. The Lions believe any issues Stafford has are correctable and these are the guys to do it after working with Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.

If the Lions turn Stafford into the consistent quarterback that led them to the playoffs in 2011 full-time, then the entire shift in coaching staffs and upgrading the offensive roster will have been worth it. But it all falls to Stafford -- as it often does to quarterbacks around the league.

There's a reason many franchises believe they can go only as far as the quarterback plays. Thus far, Stafford has taken them from a club that didn't win a game in 2008 to one with realistic playoff expectations each season.

Detroit has set itself up for more than that now, though. The Lions have a roster with enough talent to at least make a run at the playoffs, if not succeed in the postseason. If they do, Stafford and his improvement will play a major role in making it that far.
Dan OrlovskyAP Photo/Jim Mone
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in Detroit Lions history. In the past two days, we have featured Barry Sanders' touchdown run in the Lions' playoff win over Dallas in 1992 and Calvin Johnson's touchdown catch in triple coverage against the Cowboys in 2011. Please vote for your choice as the Lions' most memorable play.

Score: Minnesota Vikings 12, Detroit Lions 10
Date: Oct. 12, 2008 Site: Herbert H. Humphrey Metrodome

Where to start?

When one thinks of the Lions, the season that immediately comes to mind has everything to do with futility. That's what happens with a franchise when winning seasons are rare, playoff appearances are sporadic and a Super Bowl appearance is yet to happen.

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Yet the Lions live with the ignominy of a team and a franchise that went without a win throughout a season. The Lions are the only team in NFL history to go 0-16 -- and it was a season with a few close games, perhaps none more winnable than in Week 5 at Minnesota.

This is where Dan Orlovsky and the play comes in. It came early in the game during Orlovsky's first NFL start, when the Lions' starting quarterback ran out of the Minnesota end zone with 18 seconds left in the first quarter to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead over the Lions.

What makes the play so memorable is that Orlovsky, being chased by Jared Allen, clearly had no idea where he was on the field. Even after he stepped out of bounds, Orlovsky kept rolling right trying to make a play. He took almost 10 steps running before he slowed up, realizing what he had done.

"When they started blowing the whistle," Orlovsky told USA Today after the game, "I was like, 'Did we false start or were they offsides or something?' Then I looked and I was like, 'You are an idiot.' "

It was, in many ways, the play that symbolized the entire Lions 2008 season, a year when legitimately nothing went right for the Lions.

It likely wouldn't be remembered nearly as much had Detroit actually won the game -- or lost by anything other than two points.

Detroit took a 10-2 lead in the game after Orlovsky threw a touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson only to lose 12-10 on a Ryan Longwell field goal with nine seconds left.

The play also overshadowed an otherwise decent first start for Orlovsky. He completed 12 of 21 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown. For the season, he completed 143 of 255 passes for 1,616 yards, eight touchdowns and eight interceptions.

The combination of all these events, plus the Lions' winless season, left Orlovsky with a play still replayed from time to time. It was also why there was trepidation from some when Orlovsky decided to return to Detroit this season as the backup to Matthew Stafford -- and to try to rectify some of the past.

“I get the fears maybe with obviously fans and whatnot,” Orlovsky said soon after signing. "But the organization knows what they're doing and I know I'm a good player and I certainly hope to be a part of changing some of that past, whether that's directly or indirectly."

Calvin Johnson, Sean Lee, Barry ChurchMatthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in Detroit Lions history. On Monday, we featured Barry Sanders' touchdown run to cap off the Lions' only Super Bowl era playoff win. On Wednesday, we'll feature Dan Orlovsky running out of the end zone for a safety in 2008. Please vote for your choice as the Lions' most memorable play.

Score: Lions 34, Cowboys 30
Date: Oct. 2, 2011 Site: Cowboys Stadium

What Barry Sanders was to running with the Detroit Lions, the team found the pass-catching equivalent less than a decade later when they drafted wide receiver Calvin Johnson with the No. 2 pick in the 2007 draft. And for that, the Lions should be forever thankful to Oakland's decision to take JaMarcus Russell with the No. 1 overall selection.

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Since then, Johnson has made eye-popping catch after eye-popping catch. If there is one defender on him, it is usually a loss for that cornerback or safety. If there are two defenders on him, often a defense has a chance -- but there are many times where Johnson will make the grab anyway.

And sometimes, every once in a while, he’ll do it when there are three defenders on him. That there were two such touchdown receptions to pick from in Johnson’s career is unbelievable enough. So one of them definitely deserved to be on this list.

The one we chose came on the road at Dallas during the team's last playoff season in 2011. Matthew Stafford waited for what seemed like an eternity, continuously patting the ball as he waited for Johnson to come free. He didn't, but it didn't matter. As has happened so often in the careers of Stafford and Johnson, the duo went for the play anyway.

Stafford threw the ball toward the end zone with Johnson surrounded by three Dallas defenders. Johnson had sprinted toward the end zone and posted up safety Barry Church, who was fighting with Johnson in the end zone. Stafford had thrown the ball during the post-up, which Johnson routinely wins.

By the time the ball reached Johnson, Church had help from cornerback Mike Jenkins and linebacker Sean Lee. It didn’t matter. Johnson had already snagged the ball out of the air and when he is able to do that, defenders typically don’t have much of a chance.

The play was one of some significance for the season, too. The touchdown began a come-from-behind win for Detroit in which the team scored 17 points in the final quarter to stun the Cowboys. This was the fourth win in a row to start the season for the Lions. The team began the year 5-0 and finished 10-6 to make the playoffs. Without Johnson's triple-coverage catch -- and the second touchdown he caught in the fourth quarter -- the team may not have reached the playoffs.

 
Barry SandersBetsy Peabody Rowe/Getty Images
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This is the first of three plays nominated as the most memorable in Detroit Lions history. In the next two days we'll feature: Calvin Johnson's catch between three defenders for a touchdown against Dallas, and Dan Orlovsky's infamous run out of the end zone during the winless 2008 season. Please vote for your choice as the Lion's most memorable play.

Score: Lions 38, Cowboys 6
Date: Jan. 5, 1992 Site: Pontiac Silverdome

Let’s face it. In the long, long legacy of the Detroit Lions, there are not many positive plays out there. This is a franchise to which the unexpected and unfathomable usually happens -- with negative connotations everywhere.

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Yet on one day in January 1992, the Detroit Lions and their fans saw what so many other franchises in the NFL experience way more often: a playoff victory. And in this particular playoff win -- the only one in the Super Bowl era for the Lions -- the best player in franchise history did something extraordinary.

Yes, the game was somewhat wrapped up already by the time Barry Sanders touched the ball in the fourth quarter in the Silverdome, but as was true every time Sanders ran the ball, something extraordinary was potentially going to happen.

This time around, Sanders took the ball on the Dallas 47-yard line and immediately went right. He blew past one defender and ran straight into two other Cowboys. This moment, right here, is why this play is on this list. Instead of falling down or even slowing down, Sanders merely bounced back off the defenders, paused, shimmied his body a couple of times to juke without moving and waited for the hole to open. When it did, he took off again, blowing past one more Dallas defender on his way to the end zone.

The little-caught part of that play is what happened after the bounce-back shimmy juke. Dallas defensive tackle Tony Casillas swiveled his head in every direction, as if he both lost sight of Sanders and also had no idea how Sanders got past the entire Dallas defense. Detroit wide receiver Aubrey Matthews had the same reaction on the play before running upfield to follow Sanders on his dash to the end zone. This was the magic and the breath-holding nature of watching Sanders run the ball during his 10-year NFL career.

It’s why he is probably the most beloved Lions player in history. To watch Sanders run the ball was to understand that almost no one else could ever duplicate what he was doing. And this run, in the playoffs, to give his team a shot at the NFC title for the first and only time in the Super Bowl era, epitomized that.

And for the record, there are about five Sanders runs that could have made this list.
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The Detroit Lions' offseason is already a week old and the team made one somewhat surprising move in releasing cornerback Chris Houston a year after signing him to a $25 million contract.

What else is there to potentially look for before training camp starts in late July? A few things pop up as possibilities between now and then.

Suh
The Suh situation: Whenever team president Tom Lewand has discussed Ndamukong Suh's contract situation, he has pointed to when the Lions signed Matthew Stafford to an extension a year ago. It took until the summer. Well, summer has begun so it would seem to fit when Detroit is hoping to extend its defensive star. If this doesn't happen over the next month or so, it is legitimately time for the Lions to wonder if an extension will happen at all.

A veteran signing: Yes, cornerback Brandon Flowers is on the market, as are a multitude of veteran wide receivers. These seem to be the two areas of need for the Lions at this point and general manager Martin Mayhew has shown in the past he is comfortable making veteran moves to improve his roster whenever necessary. Look at the Rashean Mathis signing from last year. So don't be surprised if there is a little bit of a roster shift between now and training camp. Another player to watch here could be defensive tackle Derek Landri, whom the team brought in earlier this spring.

Warford
Improvement of Larry Warford: Warford told me he is heading to work with his offensive line guru, LeCharles Bentley, for a portion of June and July. It was during this same time frame last year when Warford made the jump into being the player who started every game and played every snap for Detroit in his rookie season. In talking with Warford this spring, he's still not completely happy with his game, so he's headed to Bentley for a tune-up and some tweaks for his second season.

Accountability and the unexpected: Without fail, during every offseason around the NFL, something happens. Before the players left, new head coach Jim Caldwell preached accountability both on the field and off of it. This will be their longest time away from the team until next offseason, so whether his message stuck will be displayed here.

Cool traveling on Twitter and Instagram: This is the time of year where players often take some of their more exotic vacations. Reggie Bush -- it's for a sponsorship thing, it seems -- has been in Australia most of this week. DeAndre Levy is likely headed somewhere interesting as well and he already spent part of that offseason out of the country. Then there's Suh, who will be on television again in an episode of "American Muscle" on July 16 on the Discovery Channel. (It was already filmed with former Michigan strength coach Mike Barwis at Barwis' training facility in suburban Detroit.)
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Dan Orlovsky is still earning a paycheck in the NFL and not done playing football yet. He is cognizant of his future, though, and knows his years left in the league are winding down.

This was part of his reasoning for returning to the Detroit Lions this offseason, to come back to where it all started. It wasn't necessarily a goal to come full circle, but the belief that the Lions would be a good team -- and for once, Orlovsky wanted to be on a good team.

Now, he's also looking to his post-football future. The backup quarterback was one of 25 players selected to participate in the NFL's Broadcast Boot Camp this week at NFL Films in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey -- somewhat of a crash course on what it could take to make the move from playing football to discussing it every day on television or radio.

[+] EnlargeDan Orlovsky
AP Photo/Mel EvansDan Orlovsky worked on conducting interviews at a sporting goods store as part of the NFL's Broadcast Boot Camp this week.
Orlovsky, a University of Connecticut graduate, has always considered it as a potential second career, so he filled out the application and submitted a résumé.

"Throughout interviews and whatnot, they've said, 'Hey, you're really good at that,'" Orlovsky said. "I'm going to give it a try and see if I like it and if something can come from it and meet some people and really just challenge myself and experience it.

"Who knows what can come from it in the future? I've always enjoyed the broadcasting and that people can express football to people who may not understand it on an X's and O's level, a schematic level, a Monday-through-Saturday level. I can appreciate those people."

There are hints Orlovsky, one of the better quotes and nicer guys in the Detroit locker room, will make a smooth transition to television. He is clearly comfortable when he is speaking, be it about football, his family or anything else you might ask him about.

He has knowledge of the game as a quarterback and as someone who has been in the league for 10 seasons. Frankly, he also has the look that will translate well to TV. Then there are his hands.

Even when he was discussing the broadcast boot camp and his potential future career, his excitement was evident. His hands started moving. He felt completely at ease during the entire situation.

That's something television coaches tell you. Be comfortable. Be knowledgeable. Don't be afraid to let your hands move while you talk because you're relating to the viewer and making the viewer feel as if the conversation is more intimate -- between the analyst and an individual viewer -- instead of the reality of a broad audience.

Orlovsky has some of that down already and planned on picking up more at the broadcast boot camp this week. He is one of two players currently on a team, along with Mike Adams, to participate in the program. Former Lions players Dre' Bly and Tyoka Jackson were also on the list of selected participants.

This is Orlovsky's first shot at his future, though.

"I've always had an intriguing viewpoint on the broadcasting world and I know that I don't have 10 more years left to play, so I want to start preparing and planning for that," Orlovsky said. "I've been around football a long time and understand the game, X's and O's wise and schematically, so I feel like I can bring that to the table and express that to people that may not.

"It keeps me close to the game. I'm certainly intrigued by it and want to try it out and see if I'm any good at it."

NFL Nation: 4 Downs -- NFC North

June, 19, 2014
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The NFC North features a mix of veteran quarterbacks and a rookie in Minnesota who might be in line for significant playing time this season.

Will Teddy Bridgewater put up the most impressive numbers among rookie quarterbacks?

Will Matthew Stafford be directing the most explosive offense in the division now that the Detroit Lions have added weapons?

Will rising star Alshon Jeffery emerge as the Bears' No. 1 target, supplanting Brandon Marshall?

And could the Packers withstand another injury to Aaron Rodgers, as they did last season while winning the division?

These are the questions our NFC North reporters tackle in the latest version of 4 Downs.

First Down

Of the three QBs taken in the first round of this year's draft, Teddy Bridgewater will put up the most impressive numbers.



Michael Rothstein: Fact, although not because Bridgewater will be the best quarterback of the first-rounders. Simply, he is going to end up playing more than either Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles this season, so he will have more opportunity. Plus, Minnesota is going to be down in a lot of games this season, so the Vikings are going to have to throw more in the second halves of games. He'll end up having nice numbers, but the number that matters -- the record -- will be ugly.

Michael C. Wright: Fiction. That is only happening if the other two quarterbacks end up as backups. First off, Bridgewater doesn't have to put up big numbers because he has a beast in the backfield in Adrian Peterson. So all he needs to do is hand off to Peterson and make sure not to turn it over on passing downs; be a game-manager. Perhaps Bridgewater is more of a gamer than workout performer, which is what all the scouts I have talked to would say. But I'm just not sold on Bridgewater based on what I saw from his pro day workout. That means he will probably wind up being Rookie of the Year.

Rob Demovsky: Fiction, unless Matt Cassel goes down with an injury. There is more pressure on the Browns to play Johnny Manziel right away than there is on the Vikings to play Bridgewater. The same could be said of the Jaguars and Blake Bortles. All three of the first-round quarterbacks have journeyman veterans starting in front of them, so it all depends on which one flames out or gets hurt first. Cassel seems the least likely to do either.

Ben Goessling: I'm going to say fiction, simply because I think he'll have more work to do to get on the field than Johnny Manziel. The Vikings have Matt Cassel and have been giving him many of the first-team snaps during organized team activities and minicamp. So unless Bridgewater is so good that he takes the job away from Cassel in training camp, I think it will be a while before he is on the field in regular-season games. Now, he might be more efficient once he gets in there -- he has certainly looked sharp during the Vikings' offseason program -- but he might not put up many numbers until late in the season, if at all.


Second Down

The Lions will have the most explosive offense in the NFC North this season.



Michael Rothstein: Fact. There are a bunch of good offenses in the NFC North this season, although none improved on paper as much as the Lions. Detroit still has Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush and Joique Bell as targets for Matthew Stafford. The Lions added Golden Tate, which is an upgrade from Nate Burleson. They also held on to Joseph Fauria and re-signed Brandon Pettigrew, along with drafting Eric Ebron in the first round. While Ebron's hands are in question, his athleticism and ability to get open down the field are not. As long as Stafford and Johnson stay healthy, there is no reason Detroit should not be a top-10 offense again. They should inch ahead of Green Bay and Chicago, both of which had top-10 offenses as well in 2013.

Michael C. Wright: Fiction. It's fact if "implosive" is the word used. Just kidding. But the Lions in the past relied too much on Matthew Stafford forcing the ball to Calvin Johnson, which often led to turnovers and quick three-and-outs. And although the offense features multiple weapons, it's easy to see why the club has operated this way. Megatron is the best in the game. He is going to make plays other receivers can't make. But, to me, it's expected that a team operating a new scheme will experience its fair share of growing pains. I see that happening with the Lions in 2014. I know Stafford has put up big numbers in the past, but I see his inconsistency holding this offense back this season if he doesn't take a big step in his development.

Rob Demovsky: Fiction, unless Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler get hurt again. Do you trust Matthew Stafford more than Rodgers or Cutler for a full 16-game season? At this point, the Bears might have the most explosive offense. They have the best 1-2 receiver punch with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, and the Packers have the best quarterback. Not only do the Lions not have the most explosive offense in the division, they might not even be No. 2.

Ben Goessling: Fiction. They have the talent to have it, but how often do the Lions turn talent and potential into actual results? Give me the Bears, with Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte, or the Packers, now that Aaron Rodgers will be healthy and have a full season with running back Eddie Lacy. I like what Golden Tate gives the Lions opposite Calvin Johnson, and Eric Ebron fits nicely into their scheme, but I think they have the third-best quarterback in the division.


Third Down

Alshon Jeffery, not Brandon Marshall, will be Chicago's go-to receiver in 2014.



Michael Rothstein: Fiction. Jeffery might have had more yards last season, but opponents also are going to be more aware of the former South Carolina receiver this season from the get-go. While his numbers were gaudy a season ago, 467 of his 1,421 yards came in two games. Marshall had a little more consistency last season than Jeffery and was a more consistent target. The real reason Jeffery won't be considered Chicago's go-to receiver next season is that the Bears won't have one on a consistent basis. It will likely change based on matchups, because they are the best receiver duo in the division.

Michael C. Wright: Fiction. As long as Jay Cutler is quarterbacking the Chicago Bears, Marshall always will be the go-to receiver. And why not? Marshall is one of the league's best, even when teams focus on stopping him with double teams. Besides that, Marshall, in my opinion, is poised for a big season because he has spent this entire offseason actually training instead of rehabbing an injury. In 2013, it took Marshall, who was coming off hip surgery, about half the season to finally find his groove; yet he still finished with a team-high 100 grabs for 1,295 yards. Last season, Jeffery was probably the beneficiary of extra coverage devoted to a hobbled Marshall. Because of the damage Jeffery did last season, he will start to see more coverage, which should free up Marshall to continue to do his thing. Besides, Marshall was the fifth-most targeted receiver in the NFL last season. Marshall's 163 targets ranked even more than Calvin Johnson, who had 156 passes thrown his way.

Rob Demovsky: Fact, if we're talking about making big plays. Marshall still might end up having more receptions like he did last season; he's Cutler's security blanket. But even last season, Jeffery began to emerge as the bigger playmaker of the two. His 16.0-yard average per catch was 11th best in the league among all receivers last season. He is a freak athlete with great size, making him a matchup nightmare.

Ben Goessling: Fact. Jeffery is six years younger than Marshall and probably is a better deep threat at this point in his career. I thought he was phenomenal last season, and, to me, he might be the second-best receiver in the division right now behind Calvin Johnson. If he is not there yet, he can ascend to that spot by the end of the season. Marshall is still a great receiver, but Jeffery seems ready to become the main man in Chicago's offense.


Fourth Down

The Packers can win the division again even if Aaron Rodgers misses nearly half the season, like he did last season.



Michael Rothstein: Fiction. Not a chance. Chicago has improved defensively and should have a more potent offense in 2014, as well as a healthy Jay Cutler for the entire season. Detroit should have a more dynamic offense than in 2013, and the leadership within the Lions should keep the team from collapsing like they did in 2013. Minnesota is likely not a factor this season, but either Chicago or Detroit would take advantage of a Rodgers-less Green Bay team better than they did a year ago.

Michael C. Wright: Fiction. In the past, this would definitely be "fact" and it might still be now that the Packers have put together a nice ground game to complement their passing attack. But I just think the rest of the division is starting to catch up to the Packers in terms of overall talent. Every team in the division improved its talent. Detroit's offense should be above average at the very least, and its defense definitely will be better. The Bears will be potent on offense in Year 2 of Marc Trestman's system, and their defense should be improved, especially up front with that revamped line. Let's not forget that Rodgers' return (combined with a mental bust by Bears safety Chris Conte on the quarterback's game-winning bomb) is what won Green Bay the division title. The Packers appear to have put together a better backup plan than they had last season, but we all know how important Rodgers is to his team's success.

Rob Demovsky: Fiction. The Bears and Lions folded last season, which allowed the Packers to stay afloat until Rodgers returned for the regular-season finale in Chicago. Both teams have taken measures to ensure that won't happen again. The Bears beefed up their defense, and the Lions made a coaching change. That said, the Packers might be in better position to handle a Rodgers absence because they should have Matt Flynn as the backup from the get-go.

Ben Goessling: Fiction. The only reason the Packers won the division last season was because the other three teams were flawed enough not to take it from them. The Lions collapsed late in the season, the Bears lost four of their last six (including the season finale against Green Bay) and the Vikings blew five last-minute leads (including one against the Packers) to take themselves out of the race. Green Bay might be better prepared for a Rodgers injury now that they have gone through it with Matt Flynn and Scott Tolzien, but the Packers' offense is predicated on Rodgers making throws few others can make. You can't expect a team to survive the loss of an elite player like that again.

It likely won’t be an issue for a half-decade with the Detroit Lions, and by then much might have changed in the NFL and how tight ends and bigger wide receivers are viewed.

Ebron
But there has to be a lot of interest in what is going on down south in New Orleans right now, where the Saints are in a grievance hearing with tight end Jimmy Graham, who is trying to be labeled a wide receiver for franchise tag purposes instead of a tight end.

Up until May, this would not have been an issue in Detroit. By the time Brandon Pettigrew's next contract is up, he will be old enough that the team won’t use the franchise tag on him. Joseph Fauria has not shown enough at this point to warrant the tag.

But in May the Lions drafted Eric Ebron, a fast, rangy, tight end who made the majority of his plays in college lined up essentially as a wide receiver. And the Lions are implementing an offense similar to what New Orleans runs -- one where Graham has been utilized all over the field in varying ways -- so how the ruling comes down could be of massive interest for Detroit’s distant future.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Graham
AP Photo/Ric TapiaJimmy Graham's desire to be labeled a wide receiver could impact receiving tight ends across the NFL.
If the Saints win the grievance, the Lions will have precedent if Ebron pans out and the team needs to eventually use the franchise tag designation to keep him -- six years from now. If Graham wins, though, it would make Ebron one of the players who would almost assuredly be in the same category in the future.

While Ebron has maintained he does not want to be the next Jimmy Graham or anything like that -- he has consistently said he’s Eric Ebron, not Jimmy Graham -- his role in the Detroit offense is going to be somewhat similar to how the Saints used Graham.

Though Ebron has the tight end designation, the way he plays is almost like a tall wide receiver both in his route running and where he will line up on the field. While he will have the same positional designation as Pettigrew, they won’t be used in the same way at all.

This is part of the evolution of the tight end from a player used primarily close to the offensive line or as an in-line player to someone utilized everywhere on the field, in-line, in the slot and on the outside. This is likely part of Graham’s argument now.

And it will likely be part of the conversation if Ebron ever reaches the point of a grievance. Yes, it is a distant future where much can change between now and then since only two coaches in the Super Bowl era have lasted with Detroit to a sixth season -- Wayne Fontes and Monte Clark -- but the team is hoping Ebron’s skills transcend whatever happens with the franchise.

Of course, the team drafted him to help them win.

So decisions like this are worth paying attention to -- and even Ebron himself acknowledged Wednesday that he is watching what is happening with Graham in New Orleans.

“Really Interested To See What Happens To Jimmy Graham,” Ebron tweeted Wednesday morning.

He likely isn’t the only one within the Lions organization with a major interest in the outcome.
It was almost too symmetrical on Friday. The Detroit Lions released Chris Houston at the same time the Kansas City Chiefs cut their talented cornerback who struggled last season, Brandon Flowers.

The questions about Flowers, a Pro Bowler last season, started almost immediately. The Lions still need help in the secondary, particularly at cornerback. On the surface, it would seem like a logical thing for Detroit to do and Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun reported the Lions are one of a multitude of teams that have shown interest in Flowers.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Flowers
Kyle Rivas/Getty ImagesThe Lions have a need at cornerback but would Brandon Flowers be a good fit?
Flowers is a talent and still in his prime at age 28. The Lions, as of now, are going with a long-time veteran (Rashean Mathis) and a second-year pro with an inconsistent rookie year (Darius Slay) at cornerback. If this was the defense under the old coaching staff led by Gunther Cunningham and Jim Schwartz, going after Flowers would become an absolute priority and a no-brainer.

Here’s why it shouldn’t be now -- or at least should be carefully considered: Multiple reports explained part of the concern with Flowers was he didn’t really fit in the Kansas City scheme implemented last season. It was one heavily reliant on press coverage from the outside cornerbacks. Well, this could be a problem for the Lions with Flowers.

All indications – including from Slay himself – is that Detroit is going to be heavily aggressive this season and will likely use a lot of press coverage in man situations on the outside. This doesn’t mean Flowers wouldn’t be able to adapt to it, but signing him would be a risk in this scenario because of the money they would have to likely pay the former second-round pick.

His 2013 Pro Football Focus overall rating was minus-5.9, 87th among cornerbacks, although his plus-1.1 rush grade was sixth in the NFL last season according to PFF. Worse, his minus-9.8 grade on PFF in coverage was 96th among cornerbacks -- one slot ahead of Houston, the cornerback Detroit released and well behind Slay, Mathis, Bill Bentley and Cassius Vaughn.

So those would also be numbers for concern for Detroit.

Of course, if the Lions think they can work with Flowers and turn him into a dependable press-coverage corner on the outside, then the team should go after him. However, it would seem less than ideal for the Lions to take a chance on a player who has shown he might not fit the team's scheme.

The counterargument would be that right now, Detroit should take any talent it could get at cornerback considering the questions surrounding the the unit. And there is no doubt Flowers is talented. But when you look at his statistics, he had 68 tackles -- matching his career high -- but a career-low one interception and according to Pro-Football-Reference.com, a career-low nine passes defended. It is the first time in his career he has less than 10 passes defended in a season.

Considering Kansas City's scheme, that should be one concern in any pursuit of Flowers.

Another one, for Detroit's purposes, is his build. New defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has said multiple times he would prefer taller cornerbacks with range. So far, the Lions have not gone after that, drafting 5-foot-9 Nevin Lawson in the fourth round of May's draft. Flowers is 5-foot-9, well below the 6-foot mark it was believed Austin had.

Adding another smaller cornerback won’t fix the size problem at the position. If the team wanted to move Flowers into the slot, they already have Bill Bentley, Don Carey and Lawson there and a move to add a slot corner doesn’t make a ton of sense for the Lions right now.

So while Flowers is talented and will likely get a look from Detroit, he may not be the best fit for the club.
Part of the reason the Detroit Lions essentially ignored addressing the secondary in the 2014 draft was because of the faith general manager Martin Mayhew had in the potential of his young cornerbacks.

That trust is sure to be tested now.

The Lions have released their top cornerback, Chris Houston, after an inconsistent 2013 and offseason surgery for a toe that just wouldn't heal. Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis would now likely be the team's opening day starters at cornerback and the move increases the pressure on an untested group of players.

Houston
Houston
Bill Bentley has experience in the slot and is probably best suited there instead of on the outside. Jonte Green started games the past two seasons when players went down to injury, but has not been consistent. Chris Greenwood can't stay healthy and has minimal experience. Cassius Vaughn had a good spring, but was used to primarily used to provide depth at cornerback in Indianapolis.

The one pick the Lions did use on the secondary, corner Nevin Lawson in the fourth round, should have been more of a developmental selection.

At least one of those players will need to be counted on this fall. The early guess would be Vaughn, who has some experience and had moments where he looked extremely sharp in the spring. He likely won't be a starter, but he at least feels like part of the reason the team could have felt comfortable releasing Houston without even seeing him in training camp.

Now, unless the Lions sign a cornerback before camp, they will have to use this group to forge a cornerback corps. It is a unit with some talent, but short on experience. In a division with receivers like Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, that is not the type of situation you want to have.

Yet this is where Detroit is in the middle of June.

Something like this -- and Detroit had to have an inkling of concern here considering Houston did not play well in 2013 and had surgery -- was part of why it was so confusing how the Lions handled the secondary in the draft. Yes, Justin Gilbert was off the board when Detroit picked, but the team wasted little time before drafting tight end Eric Ebron, who the team opened up money to sign by cutting Houston.

They didn't seem to consider either selecting or trying to trade down to nab cornerbacks Kyle Fuller, Darqueze Dennard or even Jason Verrett from TCU or Bradley Roby from Ohio State. Or the team could have drafted Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama or Calvin Pryor from Louisville at safety and moved Don Carey, the team's third safety, to cornerback -- a position he previously played.

After Ebron, the team went with an interior lineman, Travis Swanson, in the third round and traded their fourth round pick to move up for Kyle Van Noy. The move possibly cost them one of the litany of defensive backs who went off the board before the team took Lawson with a supplemental pick in the fourth round.

Any of those first three picks could have been used on a secondary player that could have helped.

Of course all of this is hindsight now. Yet the Lions knew this possibility existed because of Houston's past few months. And that possibility became reality Friday -- even if it was somewhat predictable after Houston was excused from mandatory minicamp.

It leaves Detroit either hunting on the free agent wire or sticking with what they have – a group of young cornerbacks that could end up deciding Mayhew's future.

This is a sequence -- between the draft strategy, how's Houston's injury and eventual release was handled -- that should be used to judge Mayhew if Detroit struggles this season.

Mayhew put his faith with a group of young cornerbacks early. With Houston gone, Mayhew will now need them to prove he was right all along.
The Detroit Lions now have all their draft picks signed.

Tight end Eric Ebron, the team's first round pick in May's draft, officially inked his four-year rookie contract on Friday, the final draft pick to come to terms with the team.

Terms were not immediately disclosed on Ebron's deal, which will have a fifth-year option the team can choose to pick up for the 2018 season.

To sign Ebron, the Lions likely restructured the contract of at least one veteran to fit him in under the cap. Detroit had a little over $1 million in cap space before Ebron's signing and that would not have been enough to land him.

Last year's No. 10 pick, Tennessee offensive lineman Chance Warmack, had all four years of his contract guaranteed plus a $7,228,472 signing bonus, giving him $9,388,472 in guaranteed money. He also had roster bonuses attached to his deal.

Expect for Ebron to get something similar. Considering the way the Lions did second-round pick Kyle Van Noy's deal, they gave him roster and workout bonuses totaling $300,000. Ebron's bonus incentives will likely be much higher than that.

Ebron spent most of spring workouts backing up Joseph Fauria at tight end as he learns the Detroit offense. He is expected to be a starter in the fall.
David Morian saw what happened in Seattle, how a man got a tattoo on his body proclaiming the Seahawks as Super Bowl champions before it happened and then watched as his body art turned prophetic.

So, he figured, why not try it with the Detroit Lions.

Yes. The Detroit Lions. The team that has never played in a Super Bowl, has won one playoff game in the Super Bowl era and only has one winning season this century.

So Morian went into radio station WRIF in the Detroit suburb of Ferndale, Michigan, on Friday morning to get a tattoo of the Vince Lombardi trophy, the Detroit Lions logo and “2015 Champs” scrawled at the bottom of it on his left leg during the "Dave and Chuck The Freak Morning Show." This, though, was no radio stunt.

[+] EnlargeLions
Courtesy of 101 WRIF/Greater Media DetroitEvidenced by his Super Bowl trophy tattoo, Lions fan David Morian has high hopes for Detroit in 2014.
It actually happened. And it was the 23-year-old Morian’s idea.

“Every year I go into every game watching on TV thinking they are going to win this game,” Morian told ESPN.com Friday afternoon. “They have potential to do it every time. I don’t have any second-guesses or thinking this was a bad idea because of the history.

“Everyone knows the history.”

Everyone includes the radio hosts. Dave Hunter, one of the hosts, said the show initially tried to talk him out of getting the tattoo and thought he might back out of the idea. But Morian was undeterred. He heard jokes from friends and family, but he said none of them actually told him not to do it.

Not that the Grand Blanc, Michigan, native would have listened anyway. He said he thought the idea through and it actually went a couple of months between initially chatting with the station and inking his body.

“He was confident that he wanted to do it, so he decided he would get it done and we thought, well, we’ll try and maybe not make it a curse by lining it up on Friday the 13th and the night of the Super Moon,” Hunter said. “Maybe the stars align and it won’t curse the Lions in any way, shape or form.

“We figured we’d get it done today.”

Morian wasn’t surprised by the reaction -- mostly negative -- either. He figured that was going to happen, but he is also trying to reverse the Lions’ well-documented failures and bad luck throughout the franchise’s history.

And if the Lions, who have played in only one conference championship game during the Super Bowl era and have only one playoff appearance since the turn of the century, don’t win the Super Bowl? Morian has a plan for that.

He won’t eliminate the tattoo. He will just have a tattoo artist cross out the current year -- and put the next year underneath. Hunter said his show will pay for the tattoo adjustment every year they have to. Morian said he’s going to do the corrections every season, even if it has to wrap around his leg.

“Correct,” Morian said. “But they are going to win.”

The familiar mantra remains.
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Since Jim Caldwell arrived in Detroit, his message and plan has been clear. He wants to instill his own culture -- as every coach does -- within the Detroit Lions' organization. He wants to establish his values. His plan.

His ethics, on the field and off it, have been stressed to the players he is expected to lead. Now comes the biggest test of those values so far. The Lions are off until training camp commences at the end of July -- the longest stretch they have not been around their head coach since their first meeting in April.

While they are away, Caldwell is hoping they continue to stick with the messages he has tried to teach.

[+] EnlargeJim Caldwell
Carlos Osorio/AP PhotoNew coach Jim Caldwell believes the Lions have strong leadership in the locker room.
“It’s all year long for the last two months because of the fact that we wanted to make certain we got our foundation and how we believe or what we believe in terms of core values, what we anticipate,” Caldwell said. “So that’s been ongoing. There’s not anything new. They’ve been taking breaks all along on the weekends and things of that nature, so we’ve had to discuss the same things we discuss normally.

“Nothing’s really new and different in that regard. Just a little bit longer break.”

What Caldwell is banking on is the leadership the Lions had in place before he was hired in January. That leadership has already stuck out to him in his first few months on the job. It is because of that he believes there won’t be issues with his players as they go away for six or so weeks.

He has some reason for optimism. The Lions stayed largely out of trouble during their first offseason break following the end of the 2013 season.

"There’s an old adage that says, 'The mark of a true leader is a man that can lead himself,'" Caldwell said. “We have a lot of guys like that, that can lead themselves. We don’t see a whole lot of mishaps off the field.

"We’re not perfect. We have some, but for the most part these guys know how to take care of business and they stay focused. So I think that No. 1, that’s your first indication."

Most of the players are headed home tonight or tomorrow and are taking a little time off. Some, like offensive guard Larry Warford and wide receiver Ryan Broyles, will take a brief break before heading back to train some more before reporting to camp.

As for Caldwell? He doesn’t have any big plans -- other than watching his daughter, Natalie, get married in North Carolina this weekend. He and his wife had been visiting Natalie in Arizona in January when he got the call he would be moving to Detroit to become the Lions' next head coach.

Now he’ll leave the Lions after his first extended work with his players to be part of one of the biggest moments of her life.

"She’s my only daughter and my youngest,” Caldwell said. “I have some things to deal with because I gave them an unlimited budget and they went over that. I have a few issues to deal with along the way.

"But the serious part of it, I’m looking forward to (it)."
ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Ndamukong Suh started his spring workouts with the Detroit Lions without a new contract and he’ll end them the same way – in the final year of his rookie deal.

Suh
The Lions’ defensive tackle, who is making $22.4 million against the salary cap for 2014, remains unsigned past the end of this season and there has been little indication that a deal is imminent.

Both he and Detroit’s management have said over the past few months they would like to broker a deal to keep Suh with the Lions for a while, but it has yet to materialize. Suh declined to talk with reporters throughout the three-day mandatory minicamp.

When Detroit coach Jim Caldwell was asked about ending spring workouts without a new deal for Suh – or having rookie tight end Eric Ebron under contract – he didn’t seem too bothered by it.

“I think the way in which this game is, every year is going to be a little bit different,” Caldwell said. “You’re not the first guy that’s gone through a contract negotiation and it won’t be the last. I think those things, Martin [Mayhew] and Tom [Lewand] and those guys and ownership will do a tremendous job.

“What I have to do is stay focused on what’s happening out there on the field and get our guys ready to play.”

Ebron’s contract is not a huge deal right now. There have been no indications he is trying to hold out, but rather the team doesn’t have the salary-cap space available right now to get a contract worked out. In order to do so, the team will either have to ink Suh to an extension to knock down his salary-cap number or file some contract restructures on players with long-term, big-money deals like receiver Calvin Johnson.

Until that happens, Detroit can’t sign Ebron. And as for Suh, the Lions are now in a wait-and-negotiate mode until there is some movement on whether or not he ends up staying in Detroit.

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