Turning up the heat
ALLEN PARK — It's not hard to figure out where Gunther Cunningham is coming from.
Unless you're an opposing quarterback.
Then, you're not entirely sure where the next blitzer is going to be coming from.
The new Lions defensive coordinator has been preaching his blitz-happy ways to a receptive audience so far in the offseason, but the results aren't exactly where he wants yet.
In an effort to mask some of the defense's deficiencies — and to satisfy his own preference for intensity — Cunningham has been preparing to turn up the heat on opposing offenses by installing a multitude of blitz packages.
"That's what we're looking for, how to cover up every area. What's the best option for us, to get us through the game?" Cunningham said. "We're heading down the road on the packages. Jimmy (head coach Jim Schwartz) says the other day, 'Gun, you've got every coverage in football.' And, in some respects ... yeah, we are experimenting with what fits us the best, but we have a multitude of defenses in, both up front, and in the secondary, and we must have 40 blitzes in already."
But Thursday's lone practice session — for the second straight day in full pads — didn't quite provide Cunningham the results he wanted to see.
"We're still not good enough in blitzes," Cunningham said. "I'm not used to guys coming slow. When we send them, they have to get there, and we're going to have to have a little attitude adjustment meeting after this practice. They're going to hear it, loud and clear.
"When you put pads on, you find out the real men. There's lots of frauds around. You know, the coaches are, too. They talk a good game, then you watch them coach, and they don't do it. Players do the same thing. And sometimes, the guys you don't expect to be the real tough guys they show up, and you go, 'My god, was I wrong on this guy.' The game is with pads on. We're gonna look for all areas, and keep studying those guys that fit the packages best."
And Cunningham isn't opposed to testing the facility of his players to pick up the nuances of those packages. When the defense ran 140 snaps in 20 minutes during a recent blitz walkthrough, the reaction of backup middle linebacker Cody Spencer gave Cunningham a chuckle.
"Cody Spencer walked up to me, and he goes, 'I almost just died.' I said, 'Was it hard?' He said, 'My god, Gun, you tried to kill my brain.' Because, you have to think," Cunningham said.
Some of the installation is still a work in progress, like four-linebacker formations and using linebacker Julian Peterson as a hand-on-the-ground, pass-rushing end in some situations. Just as much is both Cunningham and Schwartz learning the tendencies and abilties of their players, and how to utilize them best.
"There's a fine line, and I think we're learning how to get to that line, without crossing it. If you want to be known as a tough, physical football team, you'd better be ready to be a tough, physical football team in practice, when you have the pads on," Schwartz said of the trial-and-error process in camp.
"That's what training camp's for. You have a lot of situations that come up. We had a situation that I put guys in in practice yesterday that didn't come out the way that I wanted, from a defensive standpoint. And there was a lot of discussions, late into the night on what we're going to do in those situations. But what I don't want to do is have those discussions on Monday after a game on Sunday. Training camp's the time to put the team in those situations, to challenge the staff."
CAMP NOTES With the injuries to Brandon Pettigrew (thigh) and Casey FitzSimmons (ankle) limiting the Lions at the tight end position, the team added another familiar face on Thursday, signing former U-M standout Carson Butler. The team cut kicker Swayze Waters to make room on the roster.
Sharing practice reps with free-agent addition Will Heller, Jake Nordin and camp surprise Dan Gronkowski, Butler showed up well in Thursday’s drills, drawing applause when he caught a short play-action pass from Drew Stanton and turned it into a long gain.
INJURY REPORT The Lions didn't have any additions to the laundry list of injuries Thursday, but they didn't have any subtractions from it, either.
Defensive backs Keith Smith (groin), Louis Delmas (knee) and Daniel Bullocks (knee) all sat out practice, as did linebacker Jordon Dizon and wide receivers Bryant Johnson and John Standeford.