Bush in the opening game last season took a sliver of an opening created by Detroit’s offensive line on a screen 77 yards for a touchdown, signifying Detroit’s screen game might be a bit improved with its new running back.
“Let me tell you what makes a good screen game. The guys carrying the ball. Let’s be real, now,” offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn said. “We became a better screen game a couple years ago when Reggie Bush and Joique Bell started touching the ball and now Theo Riddick and Mikel Leshoure and now the receivers that we have.
“That’s really what makes you have a good screen game.”
According to Pro Football Focus, no Lions player graded negatively on screen blocking last season. Five players -- center Dominic Raiola, left guard Rob Sims, right guard Larry Warford and wide receivers Calvin Johnson and Kris Durham – had season grades at plus-1 or higher, including a plus-4 rating for Raiola.
The Lions ran screens 67 times last season according to ESPN Stats & Information, completing 52 of those passes. While the 77.6 completion percentage isn’t great, Detroit gained 525 yards on screens last season, good enough for third in the NFL.
The Lions averaged 7.84 yards per screen and scored three touchdowns using them last season. The yards per screen, total yards, attempts, passer rating and touchdowns were all Top 5 in the league last season.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford's screen numbers would have been higher, too, except the Lions led the league with five dropped screens and were the only team to fumble twice on screen passes, losing one.
Last season’s overall success, though, is part of the reason why the Lions appear unconcerned about the team’s screens this preseason. While the Lions had a perfectly set up screen go for 36 yards with Riddick against Oakland, there have been other screens that have been blown up pretty easily.
Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said he didn’t have enough data to dissect Detroit’s screens yet or any concern about them yet -- it is the preseason -- but he was trying to run some different screens than what the Lions and Saints did last season. He is happy with the backs Detroit has running the screens and the linemen he has up front as well.
The screen is a boom-or-bust play and takes timing among the linemen, backs and quarterback, so perfecting the screen takes more time than most other offensive plays.
“It’s nothing we’re pulling our hair out about or having a crisis about,” right tackle Corey Hilliard said. “But we are working on it.”
There are simply a lot of moving linemen up the field and players syncing up, so it takes time. The offensive linemen have to figure out how to release on the defensive linemen and learn their aiming points to set up the blocks and the hole on each screen. Then there is timing it with the pass and the running back’s cut.
Instead of merely pass protection or opening a rushing lane for the back, there is precision from all 11 players. The Lions calling them at all in the preseason has been a help.
“The way we coach it, it’s like an odd-man rush in hockey,” Washburn said. “It’s not going to look the same any time and it’s one man knowing what the next man’s job is and it’s also knowing what the concept of the screen is and also what the concept of the defense is.
“Yeah, screens take reps. You just have to rep them. It’s awesome that we’ve been calling screens in preseason. Whether they’ve been pretty or not, there are coaching points on each one that we can use once we get to the season.”
Once Detroit reaches the season-opener against the New York Giants, it figures to have its screen game worked out much like the Lions did in last season’s opener.
While the coordinator has changed, Washburn remains. He is coaching screens to the linemen the same as last season. Once they have all the steps and alignments down, then it goes to what linemen like to do best -- hit and block.
“We just have to outhustle them,” Raiola said. “For screens, once you get it started, then it turns into a match of wills and hustle and finishing the play.”
That day was Tuesday and pretty much every NFL player had an idea it was coming since many sported bags with the Madden 15 logo in recent days. As expected and previously announced, Calvin Johnson was the top wide receiver in the game.
But where did the rest of the Lions stack up? I purchased the game Tuesday and immediately looked to see where the Lions rated (yes, I play ... if you have an XBox 360 and want to play online, message me on my Facebook page or on Twitter @mikerothstein).
So, here are all the Lions players in the game. Some have already been cut by Detroit. Others, like offensive lineman Rodney Austin, are actually not in the game either with the Lions or free agents as of the latest roster update. My guess is that changes once 53-man rosters are revealed.
Quarterback: Matthew Stafford 87; Dan Orlovsky 71; Kellen Moore 67
Running back: Reggie Bush 85; Joique Bell 84; Mikel Leshoure 72; Theo Riddick 71; Steven Miller (since cut) 66
Fullback: Jed Collins 83; Montell Owens 82
Wide receiver: Calvin Johnson 99; Golden Tate 84; Ryan Broyles 82; Kris Durham 71; Kevin Ogletree 70; TJ Jones 67; Jeremy Ross 67; Patrick Edwards 63; Corey Fuller 63
Tight end: Brandon Pettigrew 79; Joseph Fauria 77; Eric Ebron 77
Left tackle: Riley Reiff 80; Michael Williams 60
Left guard: Rob Sims 83
Center: Dominic Raiola 91; Travis Swanson 69
Right guard: Larry Warford 88; Garrett Reynolds 74; Bryce Quigley (since cut) 64
Right tackle: Corey Hilliard 78; LaAdrian Waddle 76; A.J. Dalton (since cut) 65
Left end: Jason Jones 80; Devin Taylor 75; Larry Webster 65
Right end: Ezekiel Ansah 82; Darryl Tapp 73; George Johnson 66
Defensive tackle: Ndamukong Suh 97; Nick Fairley 91; C.J. Mosley 76; Andre Fluellen 68; Jimmy Saddler-McQueen 66; Caraun Reid 65; Xavier Proctor 62
SAM linebacker: Ashlee Palmer 77; Kyle Van Noy 72
MIKE linebacker: Stephen Tulloch 89; Travis Lewis 62
WILL linebacker: DeAndre Levy 83; Tahir Whitehead 67
Cornerback: Rashean Mathis 80; Bill Bentley 73; Cassius Vaughn 73; Darius Slay 72; Nevin Lawson 70; Jonte Green (since cut) 70; Chris Greenwood 69; Nate Ness 66
Free safety: Glover Quin 84; Don Carey 74; Isa Abdul-Quddus 72
Strong safety: James Ihedigbo 81; DeJon Gomes 72; Jerome Couplin 67
Kicker: Giorgio Tavecchio (since cut) 65; Nate Freese 64
Punter: Sam Martin 81; Drew Butler (since cut) 71
Snapper: Don Muhlbach 74.
And now, on to Lions news from around the Interwebs:
- Golden Tate thinks he can stand out in Detroit's offense. The Lions practice report from the day. Detroit is still not settled at right tackle. The Lions cut two more players Tuesday. Cassius Vaughn talks his way to success in Detroit. Jim Caldwell rated 27th among the league's head coaches.
- The Lions safety Glover Quin is not a fan of a proposed 18-game schedule, writes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
- Detroit's players are looking at Buffalo defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz from a new angle now -- opponent instead of their head coach, writes Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News.
- The Lions cut Jonte Green due to performance, writes Kyle Meinke of MLive.
- This is a cool story about the upbringing and path to football of potential future prospect Duke offensive lineman Laken Tomlinson, from Laura Keeley of the Raleigh News & Observer.
- Players would be OK with HGH testing if it means guaranteed contracts, reports our latest NFL Confidential survey.
After spending the first four years of his career in Seattle, where the Seahawks ran the ball just as much as they threw it -- including 155 more runs than passes during the last three seasons after the team acquired Marshawn Lynch -- he has now moved to an offense that likes to throw.
This is why, when Tate says he believes he can better his 64 receptions and 898 yards from last season, it is a plausible thought even though he moved from being the No. 1 receiver in Seattle to the No. 2 receiver in Detroit.
"I think my numbers can be way better in this offense naturally how it's set up," Tate said. "I was coming from, you gotta think I was in the toughest division with the 49ers, Rams and Cardinals, defensively, with a run-heavy offense and now I'm going to a pass-happy offense where I'm on the same team as the best player in the league, one of the best players in the league who is going to draw a lot of attention, a lot of double coverage, which is going to leave me with a lot of single coverage with a lot of No. 2 and No. 3 cornerbacks.
"So mentally I think I should be able to excel and do very well here."
The player Tate is referring to is Calvin Johnson, who should still draw the majority of a defense's attention even with the additions of Tate and tight end Eric Ebron along with running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell and tight ends Joseph Fauria and Brandon Pettigrew.
Those are a lot of players for Matthew Stafford to choose between on a given play, so while Tate might not receive as many looks as he did in Seattle, he should see much more favorable coverage.
If Tate wants to eclipse those numbers, he might have to do it on fewer than the 98 targets he had last season. He did say, as many players will, he would sacrifice individual stats if Detroit can finally win.
"My goals are just to be better than I was last year," Tate said. "I think every year I just want to be better than I was last year. Just a little bit better. Coach (Jim) Caldwell does a great job of using, we just want to be six inches better, that's what I want to do. I want to help this team win.
"If my numbers aren't as great and we have 11 wins and go to the playoffs and go deep into the playoffs, I'm happy with that. I want this team to win. I think we definitely have what it takes to win and it's time to win now."
Caldwell, though, has no interest in making any predictions about statistics -- or about wins. He passed on commenting about season projections and when told of Tate's thought that he could put up bigger numbers in this offense, he downplayed that as well.
"You don't know. It could be game-to-game," Caldwell said. "You often see within schemes, in particular those, we'll run the ball as well, you'll see certain schemes and how they decide to attack you, one game one guy might catch six balls and the next game he might get two. One game a guy might get 12 and the next game he might get none.
"Just kind of depends on the situation so it would be tough for me to predict that."
One prediction will be easy enough -- Johnson will still see a lot of attention and if offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi is able to do it correctly, that should open up chances for everyone else on the offense.
It is likely this was just a veteran's day of rest for Jones, who was in the locker room prior to practice.
Some other nuggets from the short media practice viewing:
- Both of Detroit's waiver claims from Monday -- Emil Igwenagu and Michael Egnew -- were at practice. Egnew is wearing No. 49 and working with the tight ends. Igwenagu is wearing No. 44 and working with the running backs. How cruel is the NFL world sometimes? Jacob Maxwell, who was cut Tuesday, wore No. 49 on Monday and Chad Abram, who was cut Monday, wore No. 44.
- Linebacker Shamari Benton continues to not have a nameplate with his No. 44 jersey (on defense). Considering he was signed over a week ago, typically the Lions have been pretty good about making sure names are on jerseys.
- Tight end Brandon Pettigrew had guests from the Boys & Girls Club of Detroit at practice on Tuesday.
"The guys have been battling for it and doing a great job," Caldwell said. "We haven't named one as of yet and we have a while before our first game. Guys are doing a tremendous job, I think, working and challenging one another, and we'll get a chance to see how they end up."
Earlier this preseason, both Hilliard and Waddle seemed confident they could fit in well with the rest of the offensive line -- in part because they both already had. Both started games at the position for Detroit last season and played well while they were in there.
It is that same reason that Caldwell appears to have confidence in either guy, even if both have struggled at points during the preseason.
"There is a comfort level with them because they both are performers," Caldwell said. "They do a nice job. They perform extremely well. It is a very, very close competition so I think at this point, we would feel very, very good regardless of which one ends up winning that particular job."
Some other notes from Caldwell's 10 minutes with the media:
- DeJon Gomes went on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. Caldwell would not say whether or not Gomes will need surgery on the shoulder and declined to give any other details.
- Caldwell said Reggie Bush has sat out the past two days of practice due to "rest."
- If the Lions keep just two quarterbacks on the roster, they have plans for an emergency quarterback. Caldwell declined to name any of the players who could possibly fill that role. He said Detroit would make it known if the Lions ever needed to reach that point.
Detroit cut offensive lineman Bryce Quigley and tight end Jacob Maxwell on Tuesday to make room for fullback Emil Igwenagu and tight end Michael Egnew, a former third-round pick of the Dolphins.
Neither Quigley nor Maxwell had much chance of making the 53-man roster or the 10-man practice squad based on their playing time in games. Maxwell had one catch for four yards during the preseason.
Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell said Igwenagu might play Thursday night against Buffalo.
"Hopefully you will see him this week," Caldwell said. "He's one of those guys that he's going to have to be a quick learner in order for us to be able to utilize him, but we plan on doing just that. We're going to put him under an intensive learning curve here shortly."
One would think the same would go for Egnew. Both are potential practice squad candidates unless they really shine Thursday night against the Bills.
DETROIT -- The Detroit Lions have announced a name and sponsor for its college bowl game.
Team officials said Tuesday that the Quick Lane Bowl will be played Dec. 26 at Ford Field, the Detroit Lions' home. The multi-year deal is with Ford Motor Co.'s chain of Quick Lane Tire & Auto Centers.
The bowl, set to air on ESPN, will feature Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference teams.
Since 2002, Ford Field had hosted the recently canceled Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, which tried to match the Big Ten and Mid-American Conference. The Lions and the Houston Texans are the only NFL teams to operate a college football bowl game.
The art, of course, is talking. How to do it, how to speak what’s on your mind as a way to motivate yourself, make yourself laugh and also, potentially, get under the skin of opponents. One of the underrated things Vaughn brings to the Detroit Lions cornerback corps is his gift of gabbing. To anyone. About anything.
“I was raised like that,” Vaughn said. “My dad talked trash. I talk trash. My son talks trash. Even my little girl talks trash. It’s just a family thing.
Vaughn insists he never crosses a line with his talking and that it is done as much to motivate himself as it is to rankle the receivers he faces. But ask his teammates and there’s a combination of eye rolls, laughter and mutual admiration for how much Vaughn talks.
Since he signed with Detroit in the offseason to compete for a depth corner spot -- one he’s close to winning -- he’s been jabbering to whoever would listen. After a pass breakup? He talks. After an interception? You better believe he’ll start chattering.
“He talks his way, a lot of people like to do that, they talk their way into feeling good,” cornerback Rashean Mathis said. “He’s one of those guys. When he’s talking, you know it’s a good day for him.”
Vaughn said he started talking trash in preschool, before he started playing football and before he turned into a NFL cornerback in his fifth season. There is a difference between the way Vaughn talks and some of his contemporaries.
For instance, Miami cornerback Cortland Finnegan will occasionally research an opposing receiver before a game, looking for any way to have a mental edge on an opponent during a game. Vaughn does no research.
Anything he says or does is off the top of his head in the moment, mostly because it isn’t necessarily meant to be directed at an opponent. That said, the lifelong training in his particular art form has served him well when receivers start jawing at him.
It has led to some of his better lines.
“Somebody told me they was better than me,” Vaughn said. “And I told them I sleep better than you live.
“No research. Just straight up off the top of my head, however I feel at the moment. That’s how it’s going in. Now that I’m a little bit older, never scared to get beat because I’m able to come back and make the same plays. That comes from the trash talking.”
It led to some bonds with receivers as well. When Golden Tate, another Lions free agent signing, arrived in town, he and Vaughn became friends quickly. They both grew up in Tennessee -- Vaughn in Memphis, Tate from Nashville -- and they both have been known to talk on occasion.
“We both talk trash to each other,” Tate said. “It’s nothing ever vicious or anything.”
That’s what Vaughn prefers. Go at him with words. Try to make a play on him. He’s going to do the same to you. Have some fun. Line up and then do it again.
“I just like to enjoy myself,” Vaughn said. “More of the trash talk is to enjoy myself and have fun with the game because it’s at the end of the day a kid game and you have to enjoy it.”
Vaughn clearly does. As he said, “it’s a family thing.” One he’s more than willing to pass along.
Now in his second stint as a head coach, apparently some of his experience in Indianapolis has influenced his peers. Colleague Mike Sando took a poll of 30 league insiders -- including eight general managers and four former general managers -- to find how each coach is viewed within the league.
Those insiders voted Caldwell 27th among the league's coaches and second-worst among first-year head coaches in the league, only ahead of Cleveland's Mike Pettine.
In all, Caldwell received a 3.5 rating in a system where a 1 rating was the best and a 5 rating was the worst.
"He is a true head coach," a league general manager told Sando for the story. "He has a heartbeat on his team and what they need at the moment. He is also probably an underrated X-and-O coordinator considering the run he had with the Ravens. In this thing, he deserves to be a 3 for now."
In the poll, Caldwell received three votes in the Nos. 2 and 5 categories and 12 votes each in the Nos. 3 and 4 categories.
To read the entire piece, along with some more explanation, check out Sando's story here.
On Monday, colleague and former NFL quarterback Tim Hasselbeck named Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford as one of his fantasy players to avoid for 2014.
That said, I disagree with him.
Even if Stafford has less attempts than he did under Linehan, when he tried at least 634 passes in every season he was healthy, he should have a higher completion percentage this season, which could lead to more yards and more touchdowns -- and therefore, more fantasy points.
Stafford has only completed more than 60 percent of his passes once in his career -- in 2011, when the Lions made the playoffs and Stafford threw for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns. In a similar offense, Drew Brees had at least 650 attempts, completed at least 63 percent of his passes and threw for over 4,620 yards and 24 touchdowns in each of the past four seasons. While Stafford may not reach that level -- he's capable physically but has not shown the accuracy yet -- he has enough talented players around him to at least approximate those numbers.
So while Hasselbeck says to avoid him -- and mostly, just avoid him as his projected level of the fourth-best fantasy quarterback in a deep quarterback draft -- he's certainly worth drafting, especially if you believe Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate are going to have strong seasons.
And now, a look at Lions news from around the Interwebs:
- The Lions cut PK Giorgio Tavecchio, meaning even-keeled Nate Freese is the team's kicker. Tavecchio was always the underdog in Detroit. The Lions were able to cut down to 75 players Monday, but then made two waiver claims, so expect two more moves by 4 p.m. ET Tuesday. Meanwhile, rookie linebacker Kyle Van Noy is still not practicing. Here's my latest Lions roster projection and a 10-man practice squad projection.
- History suggests Kellen Moore won't make the 53-man roster, writes Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
- George Winn is trying to not get too worried about Saturday's roster cuts, where he sits on the bubble, writes Kyle Meinke of MLive.
- Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher is one of the leaders in concussion research, so this story from Eric Adelson of Yahoo! on potentially revolutionary technology for diagnosis of concussions is pretty fascinating.
- This story about USC cornerback Josh Shaw saving his nephew is pretty fantastic.
His demeanor, through good and bad, remains remarkably the same. He stayed the same after a rough first few days of Detroit Lions training camp last month and had the same reactions after making a 55-yard field goal on the dirt in Oakland.
It's a kick that might have sealed the news Freese received Monday -- that he won the starting kicker job over Giorgio Tavecchio and will join a club that includes Jason Hanson and Eddie Murray as rookies to kick for the Lions.
"He's a pretty even-keeled dude," his holder, Sam Martin, said.
After he made that 55-yarder, Martin said he was essentially the same as before he made the kick. Calm. Collected. Focused. Not much was going to get to him, even after he made a very difficult kick.
So when he ran into Giorgio Tavecchio and Drew Butler before he arrived at the Lions facility Monday and they essentially told him he won the job -- he indicated his reaction was somewhat muted.
Of course, Freese says he never doubted he would win the job because his approach is always the same. Try to make the next kick.
"As a kicker, you always want to be positive," Freese said. "You want to think like, you know, you want to have the mindset that this is my job and I need to do my very best every single day or I'm not going to have this job.
"So that's my mindset."
Lions coach Jim Caldwell didn't really go into specifics about why the team went with Freese over Tavecchio other than to continually say it was a very close competition and pointing out Freese's massive kick in Oakland.
In the way of the NFL, that can be all the difference. And Caldwell seemed confident Freese would remain as the team's kicker, even as veterans like Jay Feely -- who was released by Arizona -- end up on the market.
"This league is one where you don't ever stand pat, obviously. But obviously he's the guy we chose and he's the best guy for the job," Caldwell said. "Otherwise we'd tell ya that we'd open it up and look around and those kinds of things.
"But Nate's done a tremendous job and I think you'll continue to see him get better."
Detroit claimed both tight end Michael Egnew, formerly of Miami, and fullback/tight end Emil Igwenagu, formerly of Philadelphia, off waivers Monday. Both were cut by their prior teams Sunday.
Ignwenagu played three games over his first two seasons after going undrafted out of UMass.
Egnew played in 18 games over two seasons after being selected in the third round of the 2012 draft. He had seven career receptions for 69 yards and no touchdowns.
While it is unlikely either player pushes Eric Ebron, Brandon Pettigrew or Joseph Fauria for a roster spot, one or both could end up on the team's 10-man practice squad next week.
No corresponding roster moves have been announced.
Meanwhile, the second-round draft pick has missed his second straight practice.
"I'm not certain yet. He's still under evaluation. He's still got to see the doctors," Caldwell said prior to Monday's practice. "Doctor is going to tell him to go to a specialist to take a look at it and we'll make a determination at that point in time where he is."
Van Noy was one of three Lions players not practicing Monday, joining safety Don Carey (hamstring) and running back Reggie Bush. Both TJ Jones and DeJon Gomes were in attendance as well, but Jones is on the PUP list and Gomes is on season-ending injured reserve.
Running back Montell Owens, who suffered a head injury Friday night against Jacksonville, returned to practice on Monday.
Then came Monday's cut, and for the majority of camp, Tavecchio had been the more consistent kicker with the strongest leg. He started camp much more consistent than Freese and continued to be so throughout the open portion of practices.
Rarely did Tavecchio miss, although his most high-profile one came late Friday night on a 51-yard field goal attempt at Ford Field with the Lions holding a one-point lead.
Was that the difference? Tough to say, as Caldwell continually stuck to his close competition statement whenever the kicking game was brought up. The miss certainly didn't help Tavecchio, though, especially after Freese made a 55-yarder at Oakland the week before.
Of course, Freese was given more opportunities in games than Tavecchio. Freese worked with first-team holder Sam Martin all camp -- Caldwell said not to read into that -- and was the first kicker out in every circumstance.
That, to me, does not make for a close competition.
Caldwell wanted to change things in the third preseason game, saying the kickers would alternate attempts throughout the game. Except the Lions didn't do much on offense. They scored two touchdowns -- Freese took the extra point on one, the Lions went for two on the other -- and Tavecchio's only attempt was again late in a preseason game with backups playing.
This was Tavecchio's third straight training camp on the wrong side of the cut line -- first in San Francisco, where he lost out to David Akers, and then in Green Bay, where he challenged Mason Crosby.
If he proved anything in this camp, it is that he is good enough to be an NFL kicker. He just needs to find an opportunity to actually make a roster -- and the Lions appeared to be his best chance yet.
At least until Monday, when he faced the harsh reality of the NFL business once again.
Defensive backfield getting settled: Detroit released corners Jonte Green and Aaron Hester and sent safety DeJon Gomes to injured reserve on Monday, giving some clarity to their secondary. Green was a somewhat surprising cut since it seemed like the team might at least keep him around until Saturday’s final cuts, but Chris Greenwood clearly beat him out. The questions in the secondary is now how many corners and safeties the team takes and whether it looks at a sixth corner (likely Greenwood) or a fifth safety (either Isa Abdul-Quddus or Jerome Couplin). Those will be two situations to watch Thursday night.
What’s next: The Lions will probably search the waiver wire for secondary help, maybe take a look at a receiver or kicking options. Otherwise, they play Buffalo on Thursday and make final cuts Saturday.
Lions moves: Cut CB Jonte Green, CB Aaron Hester, FB Chad Abram, K Giorgio Tavecchio, P Drew Butler, QB James Franklin, OG Alex Bullard, OL A.J. Dalton, DT Gregory Hickman, RB Steven Miller, DE Kris Redding and WR Conner Vernon. Moved S DeJon Gomes to injured reserve. Moved WR TJ Jones to PUP/reserve.