Emphasis on the fans
Every true Detroit Lions fan is holding his or her breath, waiting to see if the optimism of training camp is just a mirage.
Then again, if they really want to know, there's every opportunity for them to come out and judge for themselves.
Through the first week of practice, the Lions have already opened up a number of the practice sessions to fans, and the turnout — if not surprising — has at least been inspiring.
“No, I wasn’t surprised. I got in early this morning and there were a lot of fans that beat me here. Believe me, as a head coach, you appreciate that. As a player, you appreciate that. As an organization, you appreciate that strong of a response," head coach Jim Schwartz said after Wednesday's practice.
"I think we had the biggest crowd we’ve ever had for a practice here (a record 1,612). I mentioned that a while ago, that as a kid I used to go see the Baltimore Colts practices. I went with my dad and it was something we could do in the afternoon, it didn’t cost us anything. We’d go, get a soda, and watch the game. I watched the practice and had a father-son moment.
"I wanted the people in Detroit to be able to have that, what I had as a kid, so we tried to get it opened up as many times as we could. We had a great turnout and like you said, it can’t help but bring up the intensity level. Guys like to perform, you know. It’s one thing trying to prove yourself to new coaches, to the other players in the locker room, but you have to prove yourself to this city," Schwartz continued. "That feedback and stuff, it’s awesome to have those guys out here.”
The fans have gotten their chances to ooh and ahh at big plays, catch some rays, and get some autographs. Saturday's practice will be no different — with the exception of the rays.
The two-hour, open-to-the-public workout — dubbed Lions Uncaged — will be held at Ford Field at 1 p.m., preceded by a 45-minute autograph session. Doors will open at noon, and everyone will be admitted, whether or not they've picked up a free ticket from an outlet of SVS Vision, the exhibition's sponsor.
“It’ll be a normal practice. We’re going to have pads on so it will probably resemble more like Tuesday’s practice. We’ll get after it a little bit, the juices will be flowing a little bit. Fans will be there, the players will be excited about that. It’ll be a change in atmosphere. Rather than coming out to the same practice field, we’ll be down there so that will bring some excitement to it," Schwartz said. "You have a lot of the same drills; you see a lot of the same situations. We’re going to end with a ‘move the ball’ period, which will be a little bit more like game situations. Maybe we’ll do a couple of plays live here and there just to get calm. It’s more like a regular practice, just with full pads.”
And bringing out the pads — as well as the fans — brings out the best in the players.
"That's what we're trying to sell to the players: who we're here for. We're not here for the money, we're here for the city and to make the fans cheer. Because, if you see the fans out here, just watch the defense. When they come out, it's a whole different deal. If the fans aren't out here, and you guys (reporters) are out here, practice is kind of lethargic. The minute they (fans) come out, the tempo picks up," Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said. "You can say NFL players play for the money — (heck) they do, they play for those people cheering. That's what they want to hear. And, to be honest with you, that's what I want to hear."