Blogs > Lions Lowdown

One thing you can count on with the Detroit Lions is that they are never, ever boring. Follow the latest news including injuries, roster moves and more here daily from Oakland Press beat writer Paula Pasche. Plus you'll find regular commentary about the team.

7/02/2015

Detroit Lions Charlie Sanders dies at age 68.

Charlie Sanders, the Detroit Lions’ Hall of Fame tight end, died on Thursday. He had been battling cancer for several months.

Sanders and his broad smile were a part of the Lions since he was drafted in 1968 out of Minnesota.

Sanders, 68, had knee replacement surgery in February and that’s when the cancer was discovered.

Sanders had never cut ties with the Lions — most recently working as assistant director of pro personnel — and was a fixture around the practice facility until recent months. Through the years he had worked at a variety of positions including broadcaster, wide receivers coach and the last 16 in the personnel department. He was a starting tight end for 10 seasons.

PHOTOS OF CHARLIE SANDERS THROUGH THE YEARS

The seven-time Pro Bowler  is credited with reinventing the position of tight end which he played from the Lions from 1968 to 1977.

He played at a time when the NFL was much different. In an upcoming book, “The Game of My Life: Detroit Lions” Sanders said: “You want to be this guy I’d try to knock your head off, I’d try to break your leg. We didn’t have any rules. It was a game of survival. The only rule we had, that showed lack of respect if you went at a guy’s knees. We’d say hit me in the head, don’t go after my knees. because that was our only source of survival. You don’t have knees you can’t run, you can’t run you can’t play. That was the rule of thumb you want to end a guy’s career you go after his knee.’’

He was a resident of Rochester Hills. He and his wife ex-Georgianna had nine children.
Daughter Nathalie Marile Donyale Sanders, 36, died on June 2.

Sanders' former teammate Larry Lee posted on Facebook about the death of his friend: "I have so many great memories 99% of them include laughter. My band played his Hall of Fame party in Canton and when we worked together at the Lions meetings, training camp, etc were fun. He used to bar b que at the Silverdome ...''

He was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Feb. 3, 2007 and was introduced that day by the late William Clay Ford. Sanders’ Hall o Fame speech was a classic It included this poem he wrote:
“Here today, gone tomorrow. If you don't accept it, it's a life of sorrow.
Trying to use our God given talent, being brave like a knight, bold and gallant.
Those who can make it feel lucky indeed. It's God's own way of letting you succeed.
Our efforts we extend in hopes to win. Some play their hearts, others just pretend.
So give your all and nothing less. Today we win, tomorrow we rest.
You're not just my teammate, but my very best friend.
Let's play together until the end.
Today we hang together, just you and me. For tomorrow is a day we may never see.”

Then he remembered his mother who died when he was 2 years old.

“Of all the things I've done in football, and there have been a lot, there's one thing that I really, really regretted. Many times I've seen athletes, college, professional, often look into a television and say, Hi, mom. I always thought that was special and always something I'd want to do but couldn't.

“So I take this time right here, right now in Canton, Ohio, at the Pro Football Hall of Fame to say, Hi, mom. Thank you for the ultimate sacrifice. This day belongs to you, for it was written. I want to thank you all enjoying the best day of my life and may God bless you.’’

On June 1, the Charlie Sanders golf outing went on without his presence. The annual event raises money for “Have a Heart Save a Life” healthy heart checks for teens and is part of the Charlie Sanders Foundation. (haveaheartsavealife.org). There was an abundance of love for Sanders that day.

“When I came into the league, Charlie was my (receivers) coach,’’ said former WR Herman Moore that day. “When I came in I looked at him as a father figure, even to this day still do. He’s treated me as a son, it’s been special for me to have that association with him at any level, at any capacity with his family. I’m blessed to be here and for him to always be considerate of me.’’

Because the Detroit area had been home for Sanders since he was drafted by the Lions in 1968, he had friends all around the city.

“We’ve been friends for a long time, I’m so pleased to be out here to support this effort,’’ said former Detroit Pistons Dave Bing said on June 1. “With Charlie not being here and the condition he is in, all of us supporting him, praying for him and just want him to have a speedy recovery.’’

Sanders was well liked by the current members of the team. They knew him and respected that a Hall of Famer was in their presence on a daily basis.

7/01/2015

Detroit Lions — Five reasons the offense will improve

It is probably the biggest question for the Detroit Lions: Will the offense (which was ranked 19th in the NFL last season) improve this season?

Here are five reasons why the offense will be better:

  1. You may have heard this before but this is the second season of the new offense led by offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. Golden Tate said that the offense is night and day ahead of last year at this point. He was not alone in that assessment. It’s a complicated offense. Last season they were getting the basics down while this year they can work on the all-important details.

  2. Much of the success rests on the shoulders of Matthew Stafford who looks much more comfortable at least he did in organized team activities and in minicamp. He’s working at a faster pace, thinking less and letting the play develop faster.

  3. The offensive line should be improved with the additions of veteran guard/center Manny Ramirez, first-round pick Laken Tomlinson and with Travis Swanson likely starting at center. Last year Stafford was sacked a career-high 45 times. That was not all on the line, but a majority of it was.

  4. An emphasis has been put on improving the run game by beefing up the offensive line and adding other key elements. That includes second-round pick Ameer Abdullah who looks like a good fit both running and catching the ball. They also drafted a fullback in Michael Burton who probably will be more of a blocking guy that one who carries the ball.

  5. In training camp there’s going to be a heck of a competition at wide receiver which should make everyone better. Of course, Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate are locks. I’d say Corey Fuller is a near-lock. After that Lance Moore, Ryan Broyles, Jeremy Ross, TJ Jones, Greg Salas and Andrew Peacock will fight it out for a roster spot.

(Follow @PaulaPasche on Twitter. Pre-order her new book “Game of My Life Detroit Lions” which will be be published in October on Amazon.com. Also order her book,  “100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die’’ here.)

Detroit Lions – Three who must have good training camps

Jobs are on the line at training camp this year and every year. Every roster spot must be earned no matter the player’s history.

Here are three who especially need a good training camp:

  1. Kyle Van Noy just didn’t get much of a chance to prove himself in 2014, his rookie season. The pass rusher was injured in the preseason, missed the first eight games and then saw mostly special teams action when he returned. Heck, the defense was No. 2 in the NFL so it was hard to knock anyone out of his spot at the time. Van Noy and Tahir Whitehead will battle for the outside linebacker spot opposite of DeAndre Levy. Whitehead has the edge in experience. It could be a season of mostly special teams for Van Noy, a second-round pick. Still he has to prove he is worth even that.

  2. Ryan Broyles is not coming off a major injury for the first time since he was drafted in 2012 in the second round. He’s looked fine in OTAs and minicamp, but he faces good competition among wide receivers. Last year he seemed healthy and cracked the 53-man roster but was active for just five games and had two receptions for 25 yards. He had a head-turning showing in the 2014 preseason games so it was a bit of a mystery why he didn’t get more playing time when it counted.

  3. TJ Jones sat out his whole rookie season following shoulder surgery. It’s made the wide receiver that much more hungry this offseason. He started to stand out more often in the three-day minicamp where he returned punts and kicks along with Broyles and Lance Moore. Broyles and Jones could both make the 53-man roster, but the competition is tight.

(Follow @PaulaPasche on Twitter. Pre-order her new book “Game of My Life Detroit Lions” which will be be published in October on Amazon.com. Also order her book,  “100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die’’ here.)

6/30/2015

Detroit Lions — Five low-profile players who have shot at final roster

When there are nearly 90 on the Detroit Lions roster, some guys can get a little lost.

Here are five low-profile guys who could win roster spots:

  1. Michael Williams made the move from tight end to tackle before the 2014 season. He didn’t get any game time at the position but impressed in practice. Coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator have praised him up and down. In minicamp he got some reps with the starters at right tackle with LaAdrian Waddle and Cornelius Lucas out with injuries.

  2. George Winn seems to just make plays. The running back had a solid camp a year ago. Unfortunately he lost two fumbles in preseason games so he was named to practice squad to start the season. He was elevated to the 53-man roster although mostly played on special teams. He’s a bulldog, could be good on short-yardage plays.

  3. Zach Zenner ran for more than 2,000 yards in each of his last three seasons at South Dakota State and amazingly didn’t get drafted. He’s got a motor and was noticeable throughout minicamp and OTAs. He could be in a battle for the final running back roster spot with Winn. He also could be put on the practice squad to get a little seasoning.

  4. Larry Webster seems to be a favorite of Caldwell’s and, of course, that’s a good thing. He’s really worked on adding muscle and yet has maintained his speed off the edge. The 6-foot-7 young defensive end (who is versatile to move inside in some packages) was a fourth-round pick in 2014 out of Bloomsburg. His dad, Larry Webster Jr., was an NFL defensive tackle. While Ziggy Ansah and Jason Jones will likely start on the outside, he should be in the rotation on Sundays.

  5. Josh Wilson, a veteran cornerback, was quietly signed as a free agent. He is in the mix to start in the slot on the nickel package along with rookie Quandre Diggs. He has eight years of NFL experience and played in all 16 games for the Atlanta Falcons in 2014 with four starts. He has good durability — he also played in 16 games a season for the Washington Redskins for three seasons (2011-2013).

(Follow @PaulaPasche on Twitter. Pre-order her new book “Game of My Life Detroit Lions” which will be be published in October on Amazon.com. Also order her book,  “100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die’’ here.)

Detroit Lions — Five reasons run game will improve

After finishing 28th in the NFL in the run game in 2014, there’s not much room to go but up.

The Lions have made personnel moves to get the run game in gear and coach Jim Caldwell hasn’t hesitated to say it must improve.

Here are five reasons the run game will be better:

  1. The whole offense should be better in the second year of the new scheme. Everyone should know his role.

  2. They have basically traded Reggie Bush, who had trouble staying healthy in 2014, for rookie Ameer Abdullah who had 4,500 career rushing yards at Nebraska against Big Ten defenses. Abdullah has been impressive in OTAs and minicamp. It’s tough to judge running backs without pads on, but wouldn’t expect his stock to completely plummet.

  3. Joique Bell is another year wiser too. It’s expected he’ll be healthy enough to participate in training camp after just watching OTAs and minicamp. Bell and Abdullah can form a good one-two punch.

  4. The offensive line appears to have been upgraded. It’s still a line in flux, but it looks like Travis Swanson will take over at center and either Manny Ramirez or first-round pick Laken Tomlinson at left guard. Also (and I know this sounds like a broken record) but the other linemen understand this new offense better too. Right guard Larry Warford said people don’t understand the complexities of the offensive line. He said it was a tough adjustment last year for the line and everyone else but they are feeling much more comfortable so far this offseason.

  5. Expect more emphasis to be put on running the ball. Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi has said he wants to unleash Matthew Stafford more often. To do that he needs the run game to be effective, to keep defenses in the box and open up the game downfield.

(Follow @PaulaPasche on Twitter. Pre-order her new book “Game of My Life Detroit Lions” which will be be published in October on Amazon.com. Also order her book,  “100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die’’ here.)

6/28/2015

Detroit Lions: Darryl Tapp among 5 top leaders on defense

Defensive lineman Darryl Tapp at minicamp
Like every team in every sport, leadership is important among players.

Here are five Detroit Lions who are the standout leaders on defense:

  1. Darryl Tapp is the voice you hear every day during workouts. “His enthusiasm is unmatched because he does it every single day, every minute of the day. In the classroom or on the field he’s always just got kind of a personality,’’ coach Jim Caldwell said. “That’s one of the things that we talk about in this game that makes it special is authenticity. He’s a very, very authentic person and you need guys like him. Matter of fact, before we came in Jim Washburn (defensive line coach) said to us, ‘Hey, if we sign this guy, let me just tell you something. This guy is a force multiplier.’ Nobody quite knew exactly what he meant. Certainly we understand the term, but it came to fruition when he walked into the building. Guys gravitate toward him, he’s a leader, great family man, has his life in order and he’s a great example for the young guys as well. But he loves the game. That’s what you see and you hear is the passion that he has for this game. We’ve got a few guys out there like that, but maybe none quite as vocal as Darryl Tapp.”

  2. James Ihedigbo starts his second season in Detroit. The starting safety has not been shy. He walks in the room and you know he’s a leader.

  3. Glover Quin and Ihedigbo form quite a pair. Both are NFL veterans that chose to sign with the Lions. Both are not just leaders in the secondary, but also for the whole defense.

  4. Stephen Tulloch was signed by the Lions in 2011, one of the qualities they Lions liked was his leadership. He had played for former coach Jim Schwartz in Tennessee so Tulloch’s natural leadership was no surprise.

  5. Rashean Mathis will be 35 in August, he just doesn’t play like it. The cornerback was signed for depth in August 2013 and since then has started 29 games. Plus, he shares his knowledge. He has been key in the development of Darius Slay. “He’s tireless. He’s a very effective teacher, outstanding performer, but there’s probably not a time where you see him standing over there and he’s not talking to one of those other defensive backs, whether it’s a safety and talking about a call back there, working out between the split of a receiver, or just talking to some of the younger corners and just talking to them about work habits and body position and technique and fundamentals,’’ Caldwell said.

(Follow @PaulaPasche on Twitter. Pre-order her new book “Game of My Life Detroit Lions” which will be be published in October on Amazon.com. Also order her book,  “100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die’’ here.)

6/24/2015

Detroit Lions — Five reasons Kellen Moore could be No. 2 QB

As Kellen Moore prepares for his fourth training camp, he is for the first time in the mix to become the Detroit Lions’ No. 2 quarterback. It’s between him and veteran Dan Orlovsky.

Here are five reasons Moore could be promoted to No. 2:

  1. He has improved as time goes along. “What we’ve seen from him is kind of what we anticipate when you have a guy that has the talent, anticipation and work habits that he does. He’s improved, he’s gotten better, so it will be a nice battle I think in the fall to kind of see what happens. But I think he’ll be right in the thick of things,’’ coach Jim Caldwell said.

  2. Moore, like the others has a better grasp of the offense that was installed last year. “You know, he has a good understanding of our offense as well. He has some unusual traits and he’s getting better all the time,’’ Caldwell said.

  3. He doesn’t have the arm of Stafford but he can get the ball down field. In the preseason games in 2014 he proved he can move the offense. Yes, it was against second and third-line defenses but he was working with second and third-tier teammates too.

  4. He has zero, zip experience in a regular season NFL game. But, hey, everyone has to start sometime. Preseason games aren’t the same, but it’s close. If he has a good training camp, look for him to be second off the bench instead of third in the preseason contests. Orlovsky does have NFL experience, but hasn’t thrown an NFL pass since he played in one game with Tampa Bay in 2012.

  5. Throughout OTAs and minicamp, he regularly split the reps with the twos with Orlovsky. That was the first sign that something could be brewing.

(Follow @PaulaPasche on Twitter. Pre-order her new book “Game of My Life Detroit Lions” which will be be published in October on Amazon.com. Also order her book,  “100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die’’ here.)

Detroit Lions — Five reasons Lance Moore was a good signing

When the Detroit Lions signed wide receiver Lance Moore as a free agent, it was greeted mostly with a yawn.

Then the media saw him on the field looking smooth. Then his new teammates started talking about the 31-year-old veteran.

Here are five reasons Moore was a good signing:

  1. He can catch the ball. He has a knack for getting separation from defensive backs. It’s a special and crucial trait. He’s got enough speed and he’s got great hands.

  2. Much has been made of his knowledge of the Lions offense. He played for the New Orleans Saints for seven seasons through 2013. That offense is quite similar to the one installed a year ago by coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. So not only does he know the routes, he can help other Lions wide receiver — even Calvin Johnson — understand them. And, yes, it’s big but still he has to catch the ball which he does.

  3. He’s good at helping out his new teammates. It’s not like he’s keeping all this knowledge to himself.

  4. He was cheap, signing a one-year $1.05 million deal plus he didn’t play much for Steelers last year so his legs are relatively fresh.

  5. Moore has worked with Ryan Broyles and Ameer Abdullah returning kicks and punts. So he could have double value.

(Follow @PaulaPasche on Twitter. Pre-order her new book “Game of My Life Detroit Lions” which will be be published in October on Amazon.com. Also order her book,  “100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die’’ here.)

6/19/2015

Detroit Lions 2014 draft class looks impressive now

Don’t look now but that 2014 Detroit Lions draft class is starting to look quite impressive. It could produce three starters this season — tight end Eric Ebron, center Travis Swanson and possibly defensive tackle Caraun Reid.

When coach Jim Caldwell was asked on Thursday about the impressive physical development of Reid, he talked him up big-time, but he also mentioned a few others.

“Kyle Van Noy’s healthy, a young that’s coming along. If you look at what kind of jump that Larry Webster has made physically from the time that he came in as a rookie until now, you’d be amazed. I mean, he’s packed on a lot of muscle, he improved in terms of his speed and power,’’ Caldwell said. “So, there’s a lot of guys I think that fit within that category. I can probably go up and down our roster and point out different individuals that fall under that category.’’

Van Noy, a pass-rushing specialist, was a second-round pick who was injured during the preseason. He played mostly special teams when he came back for the final eight games.

Webster was considered a bit of a project when drafted in the fourth round out of Bloomsburg. He was a basketball player who had played only two years of college football. 
He made the 53-man roster, but was only activated for two games and then didn’t see playing time. Still he impressed coaches during practices last season and now even more. It's likely Ziggy Ansah and Jason Jones will start at defensive end, but Webster has a good shot at being in the rotation.

Also from the 2014 draft class, wide receiver TJ Jones, a sixth-round pick, had a solid week of minicamp and could be in a battle for a wide receiver position.

Cornerback Nevin Lawson, a fourth-round pick, is coming off a severe foot injury and hasn’t been able to do much yet. He was impressive as a rookie briefly before his injury in the second regular season game.

If seven of the eight picks from the 2014 draft make the 53-man roster, general manager Martin Mayhew deserves much credit.

The only member of that draft class no longer with the team is kicker Nate Freese who was the seventh-round pick. He was cut early last season.

(Follow @PaulaPasche on Twitter. Pre-order her new book “Game of My Life Detroit Lions” which will be be published in October on Amazon.com. Also order her book,  “100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die’’ here.)

6/18/2015

Detroit Lions cut CB Bill Bentley

ALLEN PARK — Cornerback Bill Bentley was cut by the Detroit Lions on Thursday after the final minicamp session.

Bentley was trying to come back from ACL surgery after injuring his knee in the regular season opener in 2014. He was out the full season.

He had not participated in team drills throughout minicamp and organized team activities.

Out of training camp last year the third-year corner had won the starting nickel spot.

Bentley, who was a third-round draft pick in 2012,  played in 44 games in last three seasons with eight starts and 33 tackles.

From minicamp and OTAs, it appears Josh Wilson and rookie Quandre Diggs will battle for the starting position in the slot during training camp.

(Follow @PaulaPasche on Twitter. Pre-order her new book “Game of My Life Detroit Lions” which will be be published in October on Amazon.com. Also order her book,  “100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die’’ here.)

Detroit Lions: Ten quick hits after final day of minicamp

Lions offensive line works at Thursday's minicamp.
ALLEN PARK — The Lions wrapped up their final day of mandatory minicamp just before lunchtime on Thursday. Here are 10 quick hits:

  1. Calvin Johnson said he feels good and is a good place right now. He’s participated in all three days of minicamp.

  2. Matthew Stafford said no question the offense has taken strides forward and now they have to continue it and bring it back to get going at training camp in six weeks.

  3. Stafford also said he doesn’t think much about the playoff loss at Dallas. “In this business If you’re thinking about what was you have issues. You have to think about obviously be present and try to get better that day and think about what’s ahead of you, what’s coming up,’’ Stafford said.

  4. Jason Jones was absent for third straight day. Coach Jim Caldwell would not be specific on the injury but said it’s been taken care of.

  5. No big surprises on the field on Thursday. Still heavy rotations.

  6. Manny Ramirez takes reps at starting left guard. First-round pick Laken Tomlinson will have to beat him to earn the start. Michael Williams was at right tackle with the starters. Cornelius Lucas and LaAdrian Waddle remain out.

  7. Owner Martha Firestone Ford was on the sidelines watching for the second time in three days.

  8. Darius Slay picked off a pass from Matthew Stafford intended for Golden Tate. It was a rare interception for Stafford.

  9. Working on returns were Ryan Broyles, TJ Jones, Ameer Abdullah and Lance Moore.

  10. Caldwell wouldn’t share his thoughts on sending the team off for six weeks. But says his line on the “low cost of high living” is a constant reminder.

(Follow @PaulaPasche on Twitter. Pre-order her new book “Game of My Life Detroit Lions” which will be be published in October on Amazon.com. Also order her book,  “100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die’’ here.)

Check out transcript from Detroit Lions chat

ALLEN PARK — If you missed Thursday's live chat, check out the transcript here.

We talked about rookies, draft classes, the defensive line and much more after the Lions wrapped up their three-day minicamp.

Join me for the next chat on July 30 just before the start of training camp.  — Paula Pasche