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.


Suspension still possible

Grady Jackson, the 350-pound defensive tackle, who was signed to shore up the defensive line, attended mandatory minicamp last week, but didn’t practice. He’s coming off knee surgery in mid-February and the Lions want to err on the side of caution before letting him on the field.
 Jackson said there’s no question he’ll be ready to play by the start of the season, but he could face a possible suspension for violating the NFL’s drug policy last season as one of several players who tested positive for a banned diuretic.
  The Lions are aware that he could be suspended.
  “We definitely have that in mind with it, for sure,’’ Schwartz said.
  Jackson said he’s been given no timeline on the issue by the league.
 “I don’t know too much about no suspension right now. Nobody’s saying nothing. I have to wait until it comes,’’ Jackson said.



Key factor on offense line

While quarterbacks Daunte Culpepper and Matthew Stafford are drawing a lot of attention, their success depends on the quality of the offensive line play.
 The contract extension of center Dominic Raiola this week will give the Lions more continuity on the line in the coming years which is crucial. But what about this year?
  A key factor will be offensive line coach George Yarno who was brought in from the Tampa Bay Bucs by coach Jim Schwartz.
 Yarno, who played in the NFL for 10 years, gets rave reviews from Raiola.
 “The first thing I like is that he played the game and played for a long time. He’s come up the ranks through college, he’s been under a great NFL coach in Tampa for a few years,’’ Raiola said. “... I’m excited. We connected right away.’’


Report: Lions trade Alexander for WR Northcutt

The Florida Times-Union is reporting that the Lions and Jacksonville Jaguars have made a player-for-player swap, with the Lions getting veteran wide receiver Dennis Northcutt in exchange for safety Gerald Alexander.

A 10-year veteran, Northcutt would add depth on the flanks for the Lions, who still lack depth behind Calvin Johnson. Detroit signed Ronald Curry and Bryant Johnson in free agency, and drafted Derrick Williams in the third round of this spring's draft. Northcutt also gives the team another option in the return game.

A second-round pick from Boise State in 2007, Alexander started all 16 games in his rookie season, but played in just five games last season before his season was ended by a broken vertebra in his neck.

Roster moves made

 The Lions signed undrafted free agent Kenneth Harris, a receiver who played at Georgia, on Friday.
 They released offensive lineman James Blair, a second-year player from Western Michigan, and receiver Tommy Saunders, an undrafted free agent from Missouri.

Lions Lowdown video

Paula Pasche gives her thoughts following the Lions three-day minicamp.

Consistency a virtue

 Obviously Lions coach Jim Schwartz has been keeping a close eye on rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford in the workouts since the draft which wrapped up with this week’s minicamp.
 “He’s been consistent from the very first time he took the field. He had confidence in the huddle, obviously he has confidence in his arm. One thing that you do see is his ability and confidence to try to fit ball into tight quarters,’’ Schwartz said.
 It will get tougher once the players are in full pads and hitting during training camp, but Schwartz said Stafford needs the confidence to know he can complete a pin-point pass.


Raiola signs extension

ALLEN PARK — Lions center Dominic Raiola has signed a four-year extension that will keep him with the team through the 2013 season. The deal was announced Thursday.
 “He’s a guy that’s been a great leader for us on offense and in the locker room. He’s been a stalwart on the offensive line, outside of a hand injury last year, he’s been great in durability. He’s the exact kind of guy the organization wants as part of the nucleus of this team going forward,’’ said Tom Lewand, the Lions president.
   Raiola, who was a second-round draft pick (50th overall) by Detroit in 2001, said he doesn’t want to play anywhere else.
 “I worked hard for this and there are a lot of people that went into me getting this. For where we’ve come from we haven’t done anything yet. I’m excited to be here and really finish my career,’’ Raiola said after Thursday’s minicamp practice.
  For more on Raiola’s new deal see Friday’s Oakland Press.


DeVries' high school coach murdered

ALLEN PARK — Before Wednesday’s Lions morning practice was over, Jared DeVries was pulled aside and given the bad news that his high school coach had been shot and killed just hours earlier.
  DeVries, who grew up in Iowa, appeared to be holding his side walking off the field, but there was no injury just hurt.
  According to the Associated Press,  Aplington-Parkersburg (Iowa) High School football coach Ed Thomas was shot in the school’s weight room with several students watching. A 24-year-old former student has been charged with first-degree murder.
   “Aside from my own father and mother, no one had a more profound impact on my life than Coach Thomas.  He truly was like a second father to me and to the hundreds of players from our community he coached over the years,’’ DeVries said in a statement released late Wednesday afternoon.
 “A part of him has been with me through my college and NFL careers and that will never change.  I will never forget Coach Thomas.  Heaven just got a great football coach and an even better man,’’ DeVries added.
  Thomas, 58, was the 2005 NFL coach of the year.
    Lions coach Jim Schwartz said there’s a special bond between a high school football player and his coach. DeVries will get his full support in handling his grief.
    Three other of Thomas’ players are in the NFL: Green Bay’s Aaron Kampman, Jacksonville’s Brad Meester and Denver’s Casey Wiegmann.
 “Aaron, Brad, Casey and I were so proud when he was named the NFL’s High School Coach of the Year in 2005. He truly epitomized everything that is good about high school football and all the things it can teach young men,’’ DeVries said.
   DeVries practiced with the Lions during the afternoon session, but opted to release a statement rather than talk to the media.


Foote surprised by Trammell

ALLEN PARK — Linebacker Larry Foote got a pleasant surprise walking off the field after Wednesday’s morning minicamp workout.
 Waiting to greet him was his childhood hero, Alan Trammell, who was in town with the Chicago Cubs where he is bench coach.
  Foote grew up in Detroit, idolized Trammell (still does) and wore No. 3 playing baseball as a kid, although he could never play shortstop.
“He was the greatest, are you kidding? They say Cal Ripken. If you compare the cards you see who got better numbers. Ripken had a little more home runs than Tram, hitting average Tram beat him. Him and Lou (Whitaker) turned more double plays so I’ll take Tram. He’s got a ring, Cal Ripken ain’t got a ring,’’ Foote said.
 Meeting Trammell caught Foote by surprise.
“If you all wasn’t here I would have been a little more excited, but I’ve got to keep my cool,’’ Foote said. “My father he’d go crazy. We used to go out to the old stadium and watch him all the time. It’s definitely an honor.’’



No depth chart for Schwartz

ALLEN PARK —  Lions coach Jim Schwartz will not compile a depth chart until just prior to the first preseason game, he said after Tuesday’s minicamp session.
  “There’s some positions it doesn’t take Vince Lombardi to figure out who our best player is at that position. I need to stay consistent. I can’t say we’ll have a depth cart at one position, but these other positions are going to be wide open for competition,’’ Schwartz said.
 Quarterback  Daunte Culpepper, who said he’s 100 percent healthy going into training camp for the first time since 2004, has no problem with that. Neither does Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 draft pick.
   “I said it when we drafted Stafford, but it applies to everybody on this team. You’re a starter on this team when you’re the best player and you’re ready. You need to fulfill both of those. If you’re the best player but you’re not ready physically,  emotionally, whatever it is, you’re not going to play,’’ Schwartz said. “If you’re ready but you’re not the best player you’re not the starter.’’
   Minicamp continues Wednesday and Thursday.
   For more on the competition between Culpepper and Stafford see Wednesday’s Oakland Press.


Minicamp this week

While Matthew Stafford’s career with the Lions will not be defined by the mandatory minicamp this week, perhaps we’ll get more of a feel for just how soon the rookie quarterback, with the $72 million contract, could be ready.  And, then again, perhaps not. Undoubtedly, all eyes will be on Stafford.
 The three-day minicamp — on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at Allen Park — will be the Lions’ last official workout before training camp, which is tentatively set to start on July 31.


Don't call it a comeback ... seriously

For someone who grew up with microphones and tape recorders constantly being shoved in his face, those kind of chances at the spotlight — however small — are few and far between for former Lion Charles Rogers these days.

So every opportunity he gets, it seems, he's pitching a comeback. This time, it's different, he says. This time, I'll make it, if I just get the chance.

Last weekend, while helping out at friend and former high school teammate LaMarr Woodley's youth football camp in their hometown of Saginaw, Rogers reiterated his most constant theme: I want another shot at the NFL.

"I'm still young," the 28-year-old Rogers told Hugh Bernreuter, the longtime Saginaw News reporter who has covered Rogers ever since he WAS young.

"I know my next shot might be my last shot. I know I have to work harder than I ever worked before. I'm willing to do that," Rogers said.

And I don't buy it.

I, too, covered Rogers some when he was a terror in the Saginaw Valley League in both track and football. And while I'll admit I haven't spoken in person to Rogers in a decade, I have watched his meteoric rise to the top, and his equally precipitous fall from grace, always keeping those few past encounters stored in the back of my mind.

Until something drastic changes, he'll still be the cautionary tale for two things: 1) how teams should look at a prospect's character as much as their measurable attributes of height, weight and speed; and 2) that extraordinarily gifted kids don't necessarily know how to work through adversity once they finally meet it.

Rogers was gifted, and knew it, too. His Saginaw High quarterback would lob a pass that looked like a punt nearly straight up in the air, and somehow Rogers would end up head and shoulders above a crowd of defenders to snare it.

The kid who claimed he'd never lost a race from elementary school through high school once told me that the only people who ever challenged him on the track were his teammates — and then only sometimes. Later that spring, I watched the crosstown rival Rogers seemingly would never admit to — Saginaw Heritage's Stuart Schweigert, the current Lions safety — beat him in the state finals of the 100 dash. The look on Rogers' face was one of pure shock, as if he truly believed that no was supposed to ever beat him.

Granted, immature behavior from a high school kid isn't so out of character. But it's not like Rogers — whom the Lions picked No. 2 overall in the 2003 draft, only to see his career derailed by a pair of collarbone injuries and running afoul of the NFL's substance abuse policy — has seemed all that mature in the years following his release by the Lions.

There were the paternity issues, substance-abuse issues and the coup de grace, the time he got stabbed in the abdomen with a fork. More recently, there was the probation violation that landed him in the Oakland County jail for a month earlier this year.

"At the end of the day, I can look myself in the mirror ... I probably couldn't do that awhile back," Rogers told Bernreuter. "Maybe it's maturity. As I get older, you think differently, talk differently, see things differently."

But it was another quote from Charles Rogers that made me see — and hear — the same old cocky prep star in my brain.

"I definitely want to see what Charles Rogers is made of," he said, speaking of himself in third person, as diva wide receivers are known to do. "I want to see if Charles Rogers can pull this off."

I want to see if it's not the same old Charles Rogers, too.


Millen gives himself too much credit, as usual

Did you see the latest report about Matt Millen's return to the broadcast booth? Check out what Matt Millen told and then ask yourself, "Can you honestly watch a game Millen is broadcasting with the sound on?

Here's a sample of what Millen had to say on

"I don't go backwards. I just don't think like that. There's nothing I can do about [Detroit]. All I can do is from here on out. I understand. In Detroit, they need a bad guy. I was a bad guy. I was to blame for the fall of the auto industry and the housing market. Somehow, I had something to do with [Detroit mayor] Kwame Kilpatrick [resigning], although I'm not sure what. But that's what happens when you lose in this game. You give everyone a cheap and easy story to jump on.''

Once again, as he did time and time again in front of owner William Clay ford, Matt Millen is giving himself far too much credit for the tough times facing Detroit. As much as we'd like to pile on Millen for Detroit's other shortfalls, we'll settle with running him out of town abd letting him take credit for just one mistake -- the Lions.

Millen was 66 games under .500 (31-97) during his eight years as team president and general manager of the Lions. His talent for blown first-round draft choices such as Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers and Mike Williams left holes the Lions are still trying to fill.

Millen has a right to move on. The NFL Network should have the right to hire whoever it sees fit to analyze what's going on around the league.

If Millen, or the NFL Network, expects any Lions fan to take anything he has to say in the near future with an ounce of respect, both are out of their mind.

Millen took a franchise that posted a 9-7 record and barely missed the playoffs the year he arrived and turned it into an 0-16 laughing stock.

And, now, the minute he's more than a stone's throw away, Millen is cracking jokes about a city and a fan base who stuck with him longer than any other city would have been willing to stomach.

Take a hike, Matt. Every time the NFL Network puts your mug on the scene to offer your expert opinion, the network should run a scroll under your name just like WDIV did during the playoffs on NBC: "31-97 record as GM of the Detroit Lions."

The offseason moves by the Lions have already made this team stronger than the one Millen left behind. There's hope. There's a new coaching staff and a mix of new talent with draft picks Matt Stafford and free agent signees Larry Foote and Jon Jansen to build on.

In time, the sting of Matt Millen will be a distant memory. For now, however, don't take the bait. Let Millen crack a few jokes and think of himself as a man among men. We here in Detroit know better.

Making camp for the fans again

In his first few months as Lions coach, Jim Schwartz has looked like a politician on the campaign trail, doing the proverbial hand-shaking, baby-kissing routine perfectly.

During yet another attempt to connect with the local fan base by making public appearance last Sunday at Michigan International Speedway — where he acted as the honorary starter for the NASCAR Sprint Cup LifeLock 400 — Schwartz dropped a nugget of information in a conversation with reporters.

Schwartz admitted he'd be in favor of moving training camp back out of Allen Park next year.

Whether that nugget of opinion had any grain of truth to it remains to be seen — the Lions have since denied the rumors that have started up in the interim — and regardless of where the camp might end up — be it Grand Valley's campus in Allendale, or back to Saginaw Valley State, where it resided from 1997-2001, or anywhere else — the impact of the move would be astronomically larger than any hand-shaking Schwartz can do.

It would be just what the Lions need to do to reconnect with a visibly shaken fan base, after the NFL's first-ever 0-16 season, one that had fans not showing up in droves. The Lions experienced a league-worst 11-percent drop in attendance last year, and only sold out one of their final six home games — that for Thanksgiving Day, after the NFL granted a 24-hour extension. The other five non-sellouts were the first games in the history of Ford Field to be blacked out for local television.

A league-low 435,979 attended Lions home games in 2008.

When the Lions — who'd previously had their training camps at exotic locales like the Silverdome and Oakland University in Rochester — moved their camp to SVSU's campus just north of Saginaw in 1997, on a one-year trial basis, the organization was stunned by the response. More than 107,000 fans showed up to watch practices during the three-week camp, making it a slam-dunk decision to sign an extended deal.

The final year of that contract was the first year of Matt Millen's tenure as Lions president and CEO — and highlighted by first-year coach Marty Mornhinwheg riding off in a huff on his Harley at the end of a practice. The Lions then moved into their state-of-the-art but less-than-fan-friendly practice facility in Allen Park for the next year's training camp.

While the franchise's relationship with its fans became increasingly acrimonious, the Lions did consider moving camp again to a remote site during Millen's tenure. Preliminary feelers were made to other small schools like Alma College, according to officials running the athletic programs at the time for the small private school in the center of the state.

No matter the site they may choose, holding open practice sessions again will be one of the quickest ways for the Lions to turn the tide of the apathy eroding their fan base.


Back working in the NFL ... sort of

Just when you thought we'd only have to see random glimpses of Matt Millen on ESPN's coverage of college football, and in-studio for as a commentator on the NFL, the former Lions president/GM will be back in the booth calling NFL games this fall.

The NFL Network announced Monday that Millen would be joining its "Thursday Night Football" telecasts, replacing Cris Collinsworth as color commentator. The Lions are not scheduled to appear on any NFL Network games.

Millen, of course, was a successful NFL color analyst for both CBS and Fox before his disastrous, eight-year run with the Lions, which culiminated in his firing last season in the midst of the league's first-ever 0-16 season.

In a teleconference Monday, Millen reportedly admitted to his failures with the Lions, but praised the organization for its offseason moves — including an endorsement for No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford.

Of the Millen hire, NFL Network executive producer Eric Weinberger was quoted in several publications as saying, "To have Matt available and not having him do NFL games this year would just cheat the fan."

Apparently, that's where Millen's expertise kicks in.


The draft is the thing

 So what can the Detroit Lions, who are coming off a 0-16 season, learn from the Red Wings who are in the process of creating a dynasty?
 While the NHL and NFL don’t have much in common, they both depend on drafts to stock their rosters.
 The Red Wings, who haven’t had a top-10 draft pick in as long as anyone can remember, draft masterfully. The key examples are Henrik Zetterberg, who was drafted 210th overall in 1999, and Pavel Datsyuk, the 171st pick in 1998. But also there’s speedster Darren Helm, the 132nd pick in 2005 and others.
 NHL players are drafted at age 18 which makes it more of a crapshoot because they aren’t close to being mature either physically or mentally.
 The Lions clearly haven’t drafted well and they’ve had top picks. (It’s way too early to judge April’s draft.)
 If you look at the Wings and Lions -- just from a draft standpoint -- it’s easy to understand why one is a success and the other is a failure. Of course, there are other factors, but drafts are key and not just in the early rounds.

Keeping a high profile

Since his hiring as the Lions head coach, Jim Schwartz has been anything but reclusive.

He appeared on the radio show "Mike in the Morning" on WRIF-FM (101.1) in early May, was a visible part of the Lions' own fundraising Tony Filippis Bocce Tournament weeks later, and just last Sunday thew out the first pitch in the series finale between the Angels and Tigers at Comerica Park.

His next appearance? How about waving the green flag Sunday at Michigan International Speedway as the honorary starter for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, the LifeLock 400.

It's a perfect time for Schwartz to spend getting to know the rest of the sports world in Michigan, since the Lions are between their recent organized team activities (OTAs) and a mandatory minicamp scheduled for the last week in June.


The story behind the tragedy

  Jeff Komlo was just one of many forgettable Lions quarterbacks over the years. But his life ended tragically on March 14 in a traffic accident in Greece. The 52-year-old former NFL quarterback was a fugitive from the United States because he was facing sentencing for two drunk driving convictions.
   L. Jon Wertheim, who was interviewed by WJR’s Frank Beckmann on Wednesday, saw the headline, then followed it up and wrote a lengthy story about Komlo which is featured in this week’s Sports Illustrated.
  Komlo was a ninth-round Lions’ draft pick in 1979 and played three seasons with the Lions. Due to injuries to starter Gary Danielson and backup Joe Reed, Komlo started the 1979 season.

Under the radar, over the crossbar

 With all new coach Jim Schwartz has on his plate, he can rest easy knowing that Jason Hanson is his kicker.
 Hanson will start his 18th season with the Lions this fall. Eighteen years in the league is rare. Eighteen years with the same team is practically a miracle. Eighteen years without missing a game to injury is definitely a miracle.
 Hanson, who will turn 39 on June 17, has not faded. Even though the Lions have struggled (to put it mildly) since 2001 (Matt Millen’s first season), Hanson has been solid. It’s tough to imagine worse results, but had it not been for Hanson perhaps the Lions would have sunk to deeper depths.
  Last season he tied for a league-high four 50-yard field goals. For the second time in his distinguished career he had two 50-yarders in one game (at Houston on Oct. 19).
 In his entire career Hanson has missed just eight extra points (522 of 530). At Ford Field he has just missed on 13 field goal attempts (103 of 116).
 In other words, he’s a machine.




No more Foster to kick around

With former Lions offensive tackle George Foster signing a deal to play for the Browns, the last links to the ill-fated Dre Bly trade are finally and irrevocably gone from the Lions franchise. One of the highest-profile free-agent signings of the Matt Millen era, Bly was traded to the Denver Broncos in March 2007 for Foster and running back Tatum Bell. A former first-round pick of the Broncos, Foster had fallen out of favor with the franchise, and wouldn't fare much better with the Lions. He continued a penchant for false-start penalties in his two seasons in Detroit, benched and released once in each campaign. After nine starts in 15 games in 2007, Foster was jettisoned after the Lions drafted Gosder Cherilus, then brought back for last season, starting three of the four games in which he played. He was released again after the Lions signed former Redskins (and U-M and Clawson) tackle Jon Jansen on June 1. Sadly, Foster was the better acquisition of the two players in the trade. Pedestrian statistically in five appearances in 2007 (44 rushes, 182 yards, 1 TD), Bell was best known for his now-infamous luggage-snatching incident in training camp last year, stealing the bags of Rudi Johnson, the player signed to replace him. Bell ended up back with the Broncos last season, but is currently out of the NFL. For the record, Bly had seven interceptions and 134 tackles in his two seasons in Denver, and was cut the roster purge by the Broncos' new coaching staff because of the $6.8 million he was due in salary this season. He's on a one-year contract with the 49ers. — MATTHEW B. MOWERY

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It wasn't really that long ago ...

   When I tell people I covered the Lions for The Oakland Press when they actually were in the playoffs, the initial reaction is that I must be really, really old.
 “When was that, the ’70s?” I was recently asked.
  No. It was 1993 (lost at home to Packers), 1994 (lost at Green Bay), 1995 (lost at Philadelphia), 1997 (lost at Tampa Bay) and 1999 (lost at Washington).
  Really, it wasn’t that long ago. (See, I’m not that old.)
  I’m back covering the Lions now and looking forward to the challenge.
  Have I missed anything?
  Just kidding.
  The last game I covered at the Silverdome was on Dec. 24, 2000, when the Lions lost a chance to advance to the playoffs by losing 23-20 to the Chicago Bears. The Lions held a 17-13 lead with 11:14 remaining, then lost on a 54-yard field goal with two seconds left. Gary Moeller finished the last seven games of the season as head coach after Bobby Ross had left due to health reasons. The game was a nightmarish end to 9-7 season.
 At that point the Fords were ready to blow up the team. They wanted not just to make it to the playoffs, they wanted to win a playoff game which they hadn’t done since the 1991 season.
 They hired Matt Millen to take the team to the next step.
 We all know how that worked out.
 (I still say that Millen’s first mistake was not keeping Moeller on as head coach. The players responded well to him, even though he was a more of a taskmaster than Ross. Had Millen kept him for the next season, my hunch is that the Lions would have won more than two games. Remember in 2001 they were 2-14 under Marty Mornhinweg. Plus, if Moeller had not worked out, Millen wouldn’t have looked bad since he just gave the guy a chance. But I digress ...)
 So I missed the whole Millen era.
 Now it’s time for a fresh start with general manager Martin Mayhew.
  It should be interesting to see the team grow with Mayhew and new coach Jim Schwartz.
 Perhaps now there is hope that one day they’ll get back to the playoffs.  We’ll see ...



Foote, Jansen bring U-M attitude

 For years there has never been much of a University of Michigan connection with the Detroit Lions. It changed a bit when tackle Jeff Backus was drafted in  2001. It has taken a huge leap this offseason with the signings of 29-year-old middle linebacker Larry Foote and, most recently, the signing of free agent right tackle Jon Jansen who is 33.
   Foote and Jansen — former Wolverines — will provide a more physical presence which is exactly what the Lions need, coming off a 0-16 season.
  But perhaps they can bring more to the table.
  Foote was on the Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl championship team when they won it all at Ford Field a few years back.
   Jansen, who grew up in Clawson, was shocked when he was cut by the Washington Redskins where he had been a mainstay until a series of injuries kept him off the field in recent seasons.
   Foote and Jansen bring more than size, they know what it takes to win. They’re respected for their accomplishments and signing with the Lions seemed to be a priority for each of them.
   Perhaps they can help shake off the losing mentality that has invaded the Lions. Not only will they bring experience from the Steelers and Redskins, but also from Michigan where winning is not an option, it’s the only thing.




My good-bye

Thanks, everyone, for the well wishes and questions about the blog. By now you've probably heard the rumors, and they're true. I'm leaving The Oakland Press. I'll still be in local sports and you'll still be able to read my reporting on this wonderful internet thing, but for now I'm off the Lions beat and turning this site back over to the paper.

I appreciate everyone reading and all the interaction we've had. I know you're all passionate about the Lions. Hopefully you're loyalty will be rewarded.

You can always follow me on Twitter @davebirkett and for the time being you can reach me by e-mail at