NFC North: Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions finished their voluntary veteran minicamp on Thursday afternoon with Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert watching from the sidelines. Gilbert, whom the Lions could select with the 10th overall pick next month, has been at the team facility in Allen Park, Mich., this week on a pre-draft visit, which comes at a time when the Lions might consider breaking their long-running habit of not taking a defensive back in the first round of the draft.

As ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando pointed out in his column this morning,Insider
the Lions haven't taken a defensive back in the first round since they selected Terry Fair in 1998. That's the second-longest streak in the NFL, behind the Chicago Bears, and the current state of the Lions' secondary could nudge them toward ending it two weeks from Thursday.

Rashean Mathis was re-signed on a one-year deal, but he turns 34 in August. Chris Houston missed the Lions' minicamp with an injury presumed to be related to the toe problem he had at the end of last season, though coach Jim Caldwell wouldn't specify what was ailing Houston this week.

Many mock drafts, including the latest ones from ESPN NFL Draft experts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, have the Lions taking Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with the 10th overall pick. Gilbert could be an option there, too, though McShay said on Thursday he liked Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard more than Gilbert, and thought the Oklahoma State corner might be a better candidate to go in the middle of the first round. In the end, though, the Lions face the same consideration the other teams in the NFC North must deal with: the fact they play in a division with Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler. The Minnesota Vikings also figure to address their quarterback situation in the draft, and might at least be able to develop a consistent passing game with Matt Cassel throwing to receivers Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson this season.

The Lions allowed the 10th-most passing yards in the league last season, and were right in the middle of the NFL with 15 interceptions. If Houston gets healthy and Mathis can have another year like he had last season, the Lions might be able to survive a little longer without taking a defensive back high in the draft, but their minicamp this week was another reminder that the time to spend a high pick on the secondary could be coming.
The Detroit Lions acquired free-agent safety James Ihedigbo and re-signed cornerback Rashean Mathis, but leakage in the secondary will continue until the club utilizes May’s NFL draft to plug holes.

Despite fielding one of the league’s most disruptive defensive lines in 2013, the Lions still stumbled to near the bottom of the NFL in pass defense (246.9 yards per game). Perhaps the Lions fix that early in the 2014 draft. ESPN.com’s Todd McShay ponders Detroit’s prospects for doing so today in revealing his fifth 2014 NFL mock draftInsider on ESPN Insider.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South Predictions

Breakdown: The Lions hired head coach Jim Caldwell on Jan. 14 to provide stability to a talented but reckless team that posted a 7-9 record in 2013. The nation won’t have to wait long to see if Caldwell can deliver results. Detroit opens its regular season at home on "Monday Night Football" versus the New York Giants before facing back-to-back playoff qualifiers from last year: the Carolina Panthers and Green Bay Packers. Winnable games appear on the schedule from Weeks 4-7 (New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Minnesota Vikings) until the Lions host the always dangerous New Orleans Saints and then travel to London to square off against the Atlanta Falcons. The highlights of the second half of the schedule include a trip to New England in Week 12, and two games versus NFC North rival Chicago Bears, who will be this year’s Thanksgiving Day opponent at Ford Field. Detroit could have a chance to control its destiny within the division with four of its final five games to be played against NFC foes. Caldwell and company wrap up the regular season with consecutive road games in Chicago and Green Bay, cities that usually prove difficult for road teams in December.

Complaint department: The easy target is the trip to London in Week 8. But the NFL pulls out all the stops to make teams feel comfortable whenever they play overseas, and their bye is the following week. In all likelihood, the Lions will have overcome the long flight and time zone change by the time the second half of their season kicks off. The real issue for Detroit is wrapping up the year with back-to-back games in Chicago and Green Bay. The Lions did manage to knock off the Bears and their banged up quarterback, Jay Cutler, last year at Soldier Field, but had lost five straight in Chicago from 2008-12. But that pales in comparison to their struggles on the road versus Green Bay. Detroit has not won a game in the state of Wisconsin since 1991. If the NFC North crown or playoff positioning hangs in the balance for the Lions in Week 16 and Week 17, Caldwell’s group figures to be at an extreme disadvantage.

Uncharted territory: The Week 1 NFL prime-time matchups are generally reserved for the league’s elite -- except for the second of the opening Monday night doubleheader that caters to the West Coast audience -- but a pair of 7-9 teams pop up on the schedule this year. This is the first time the Lions will open their season on Monday night since September 20, 1971, when they lost a 16-13 decision to the Minnesota Vikings at old Tiger Stadium. This marks the fourth straight year "Monday Night Football" has paid a visit to Ford Field, with the Lions owning a 1-2 record the past three years in that prime-time spot.

Strength of schedule: 16th, .492 | Vegas over/under : 8

Lions Regular-Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Monday, Sept. 8, N.Y. Giants, 7:10 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at Carolina, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, Green Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, at NY Jets, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, New Orleans, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, at Atlanta, 9:30 a.m. (in London)
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, Miami, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, at Arizona, 4:25 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, at New England, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 27, Chicago, 12:30 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, at Chicago, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at Green Bay, 1 p.m.

Maybe the Detroit Lions are just doing their diligence on as many potential draft picks as possible, but Tuesday's visit by former Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack should only fuel more speculation that general manager Martin Mayhew might try to move up from No. 10.

Mack
Todd McShay currently projects Mack will go third to the Jacksonville Jaguars in his latest mock draft Insider, while Mel Kiper Jr. has the Oakland Raiders taking Mack at No. 5 in his latest mock draft Insider.

Mack is at least the third top prospect to make a pre-draft visit to the Lions. Potential number one overall pick Jadeveon Clowney of South Carolina visited last week.

This month, the Liions also hosted Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, projected by Kiper Jr. to go third to the Jaguars and by McShay to go fifth to Oakland.

In reporting on the visit, the Lions' team website quoted Mack as saying it would be fun to play in a defense like Detroit's.

"Just talking to coaches you can't help but get excited," Mack told DetroitLions.com. "Just being able to be mentioned with and play with a guy like [Ndamukong] Suh and [Nick] Fairley and all those guys inside.

"Knowing all those guys they have around them in [DeAndre] Levy. [Ziggy] Ansah is a new addition to the madness coming off the edge. Somebody has to get single blocked, and that’s fun."
Despite signing free-agent safety James Ihedigbo and re-signing cornerback Rashean Mathis, the Detroit Lions still have plenty of holes in their secondary.

So says ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.

In an ESPN Insider piece, Kiper identified the top needs for all 32 teams.

For the Lions, who hold the 10th overall pick in next month's draft, Kiper’s list looks like this:
  • Cornerback
  • Safety
  • Receiver
  • Outside linebacker

The Lions' defense ranked 25th in the league in passing yards allowed per game last season despite having one of the best defensive fronts in the NFL. So, help on the back end of the defense remains a need.

"The Lions will hope to get some development out of young players Darius Slay and Bill Bentley, but that doesn't diminish the need here given their performance in 2013, when veteran Rashean Mathis was often the best corner on the field," Kiper wrote.

In his most recent mock draft , Kiper had the Lions taking the top safety in the draft -- Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.

"James Ihedigbo has been added, but he was allowed to walk away by Baltimore, and the addition of high-level talent would be useful here," Kiper wrote. "A free safety at No. 10 shouldn't be out of the question. Anything the Lions can do to improve in coverage would be good."

The Lions also made a significant addition at receiver, signing free agent Golden Tate.

"But another target on the outside besides Kris Durham and a hopefully healthy Ryan Broyles would be useful," Kiper wrote.

As for outside linebacker, Kiper wrote: "Currently part-timer Ashlee Palmer is slotted as a potential starter, so the Lions could look to add help to go with Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy."
Detroit’s potential dalliance with trading up for Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins might scream splash, but practicality might be the better approach for the Lions in the upcoming draft, as they need to upgrade on defense.

The Lions hold the 10th overall selection and will have plenty of strong defensive prospects capable of contributing immediately available in addition to several solid options for the offense in the later rounds. Mel Kiper’s fourth 2014 NFL mock draft (this one covering two rounds) is out Thursday, and his picks appear to fall right in line with what ultimately might be best for the Lions.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

ALLEN PARK, Mich. – He’s able to come in and meet with his coaches now, finally able to pick their brains about what the new Detroit Lions offense will look like. What he might be expected to do under his new coaching staff that he didn’t have to do before.

Already this week, Matthew Stafford has spent time watching old game tape of both the New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens offenses to try and learn. He’s studied the routes those receivers ran, the varying plays both teams implemented.

He knows it won’t all be the same and he anticipates having a lot of questions – but it’s a start.

[+] EnlargeMatt Stafford
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsDetroit quarterback Matthew Stafford has been a fixture in the film room during the offseason.
“It’s exciting. These guys have great track records, have worked with some really great players at the quarterback position, specifically,” Stafford said. “I’ll be picking their brains as much as they’ll allow. Obviously Golden [Tate] is a big-time addition to our team.

“He’s going to be a big contributor this year and we’re excited to have him.”

Much of the offseason has been focused around Stafford because of what happened to Detroit at the end of last season. The Lions collapsed at the end of the 2013 season, eventually costing former coach Jim Schwartz his job, mostly due to an inefficient offense prone on drops from receivers and turnovers from Stafford.

So look at what the Lions did this offseason. They hired a head coach, Jim Caldwell, and quarterbacks coach, Jim Bob Cooter, who has worked with Peyton Manning. They hired an offensive coordinator -- Joe Lombardi -- whose main experience was as the quarterbacks coach for Drew Brees in New Orleans. Their two biggest free-agent signings were pass-catchers – Tate and tight end Brandon Pettigrew. They also brought back another big offensive piece, Joique Bell, to complement Reggie Bush.

The focus has been offensive at almost every turn, all to help Stafford be the best version of himself as a quarterback. He also recognizes for the Lions to be good, he has to be good.

“In the NFL, if your quarterback plays really well, your team generally plays really well, and I understand that. We’re no different than any team,” Stafford said. “The better I play, the better we’ll play as a team. Common theory says that. Nobody puts more pressure on me than I do. I want to be as good as I can possibly be, not for myself but to help this team win, and that’s the No. 1 goal.”

Stafford said he has not spoken with Brees about Lombardi but had texted with Manning about Caldwell and the progression Manning made under his former head coach. Since the hiring of this staff, that has been the focus of the questions -- how will they work with Stafford to turn him from a good quarterback with inconsistencies and some accuracy issues into one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks.

“He’s a sharp guy,” Caldwell said. “He’s smart. He’s dedicated. He wants to be good and still, it’s obviously quite present in his attitude today, yesterday and tomorrow, right? He’s a worker. I have no doubt, with a guy that has that kind of attitude and obviously he has ability, both physically and mentally.

“He has the intellect to do it and I think he’ll be fine.”

Stafford has already put some of the work in by grabbing the old game film to understand the receiver route trees he might now be throwing to as opposed to what he worked with under Scott Linehan. He doesn’t know the terminology yet -- that’ll come -- because the offensive installation has been in meeting-form only thus far.

He knows he needs to improve and make smarter, better decisions. From what he says, he’s committed to doing so. That’ll start now, by making sure he learns as much as possible and asks so many questions it is almost like he’s turning into a reporter.

“I think I can always improve. I’ve had some really great moments, some bad moments, for sure,” Stafford said. “But the biggest thing I want to do is help this team win any way I can. I’m going to be learning a new system and I want to be coached in that system as well as I can.

“I don’t know everything there is to know about this system, for sure, and so I’m going to ask a bunch of questions and do everything as right as I possibly can.”

Detroit’s success depends on it.
The Detroit Lions are in the midst of a somewhat public lovefest with Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins -- a player they would certainly have to trade up for to acquire.

But until they make that trade -- if they make that trade -- the best we can project is what Detroit will do if the team stays at No. 10. And considering the Lions are not in need of a quarterback (or an offensive tackle, really), they have a bunch of options.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The offense will be both old and new to running back Reggie Bush. Old in that he has seen all of this before, the Saints' terminology, the Saints' playbook. New in that he is with a different team now, the Detroit Lions, and his offensive coordinator, Joe Lombardi, has a New Orleans background but has never called plays.

But the one thing he can anticipate -- probably correctly -- is that the workload for both he and Joique Bell will be a little bit different. And Bush is fine with that.

Bush
Bush
Bell
“We had a pretty good rotation going last (season), so, you know, we did some pretty special things with that,” Bush said. “It can only go up from there, even if the workload is less for both of us, that’s only going to help us toward the end of the season, help us to stay healthy and probably play a little bit stronger and better toward the end of the season.”

Last season, both Bush and Bell topped 500 yards in rushing and receiving -- the first time two running backs on the same team accomplished that in the same season. Considering the way the New Orleans offense is run, it could happen again in 2014.

Some of that speculation comes from the New Orleans Saints history. Under Sean Payton -- and this is the offense Lombardi said his attack will be based on -- the Saints used more running backs in varying rushing and route-running situations than the Lions did last season, when the team primarily used Bush and Bell with small doses of then-rookie Theo Riddick.

Last season, no New Orleans running back had more than 150 carries, although four had at least 60. Two, Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles, had more than 70 catches. That type of breakdown has been typical of a Saints' offense in recent years.

One of the other differences will be the use of a fullback. Detroit was determined during the offseason to find a fullback, and the team signed Jed Collins, who last played in New Orleans, to a one-year deal. They also envision Montell Owens, who was on the team last season but injured, as a hybrid fullback/halfback.

Does that change how Bush and Bell will run? Kind of.

“It’s just a guy in front of you,” Bush said. “The reads are a little bit different because you have to wait on the fullback to make their move and make their block.

“There’s a little bit more patience involved when you have a fullback in front of you as opposed to when you’re back there by yourself and you can just read the defense and you’re just waiting on the offensive line.”

This will be one piece of the offense for Detroit, a team that believes it has the personnel in place on that side of the ball to win.
 Mike EvansThomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsIf Mike Evans is available when the Detroit Lions pick at No. 10, Mel Kiper Jr. would select the Texas A&M wide receiver.
Since the end of the 2013 season, when the Detroit Lions once again found themselves in the familiar position of being in the top 10 of an NFL draft, many questions have been asked about what the team will do with the pick.

Could they trade it and try to move up to nab receiver Sammy Watkins? Could they try to trade back to acquire a position of need – perhaps a cornerback – and also to stockpile picks? If they stay at No. 10, what could happen?

Would they draft a wide receiver? Reach for a corner? Take the best defensive player available or best player available (other than a quarterback) period?

With Detroit not in the market for a starting quarterback this season, the Lions have many, many options available to them a month from now when the NFL draft starts at Radio City Music Hall.

And with so many potential scenarios playing out, I gave one to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. last week. Four names, four different positions, one slot – assuming Detroit stays at No. 10 – available. What does he think the Lions would do if wide receiver Mike Evans, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, linebacker Anthony Barr and cornerback Justin Gilbert were all available at No. 10?

This came on the heels of his Grade A draft last week , when he selected defense for the Lions in the first three rounds. He did that, in part, because he doesn’t seem to believe Evans will be available for Detroit at No. 10.

So what does he think Detroit would do if those aforementioned four players were all sitting there for the Lions?

“If Evans, Barr, Clinton-Dix and Gilbert are there, it’s a no-brainer for me,” Kiper Jr. said. “It’s Mike Evans because he’s the highest-rated player, by a pretty good margin now. I always say, if you’re picking at 10, you have to get a guy who is six, seven or eight. He’s number five on the board right now. Five, six on my board, right on the heels of Sammy Watkins as the second-best receiver in this draft and some may even have Evans ahead of Watkins. He’s a big-time talent. He’s a physical freak.

“People say, well, he reminds some of us of Mike Williams, well, yeah, you could make that argument but he’s much more consistent catching the ball and is more explosive. But there’s always going to be that comparison. So I would say Evans.”

The Lions, of course, drafted Mike Williams in 2005 -- the first draft Martin Mayhew was the assistant general manager for. That selection did not work out too well for the Lions, who were hoping to pair Mike Williams with Roy Williams for a dynamic receiver pairing.

Unlike 2005, receiver isn’t as big of a need position since the team signed Golden Tate to be the team’s No. 2 receiver this offseason.

Kiper went on, though, and explained what he thinks the Lions might do if Evans is unavailable at No. 10 – and considering Tampa Bay traded the other receiving Mike Williams (Syracuse-and-still-in-the-NFL variety) to Buffalo – the Bucs are now in desperate need for a receiver and pick ahead of Detroit.

“Clinton-Dix is still the major need. He’s a hot guy right now and is clearly, I think, the consensus best safety,” Kiper said. “So if you want to stretch it a bit and fill a need, I’m not saying they are stretching because their rating may have Clinton-Dix in the top 10, but I would say just on need alone in a division with Aaron Rodgers and [Jay] Cutler and you know Minnesota is going to address the cornerback spot, I would say they may stretch it a bit for Clinton-Dix if Evans was gone at that point.”

This would be a fairly logical selection for Detroit even though the team signed James Ihedigbo to a two-year deal this offseason to play next to Glover Quin. Ihedigbo will be 31 years old by the end of the season, and if the team can pick someone up to be a third safety this year and a starter by 2015, that scenario would put them in a good position in the defensive backfield for the first time in a long time.
The Detroit Lions appear to be falling in love with wide receiver Sammy Watkins and while that is nice, they appear to be entering the same territory they did a decade ago.

Bolster the offense and deal with the defense later on.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsSammy Watkins set Orange Bowl records for catches (16) and receiving yards (227).
Considering this is a team that wants to win now, it should be much more cognizant of its other needs instead of making what will likely end up being a large move up to grab a receiver it believes has a bright future.

Especially in this draft, which boasts one of the best receiver groups in recent history and where second- and third-round value at the position is high.

Detroit has too many concerns on the defensive side, from safety to cornerback and even to linebacker and defensive line, to ignore. Going with a wide receiver in the first round -- and even more so, by trading away more draft picks or even a player to do so -- reeks of a team that has not learned its own focused-on-offense lesson from before (Mike Williams over DeMarcus Ware in 2005) and one that hasn’t learned from mistakes other teams have made in the past.

In 2011, Atlanta traded way up in the first round to nab Julio Jones -- a receiver like Watkins who was considered an immediate difference-maker. In return, Cleveland got the Falcons' first-round pick (No. 27), second-round pick, fourth-round pick and Atlanta’s first-rounder and fourth-rounder in 2012.

Atlanta did this, in part, to pair Jones with one of the top receivers in the game: Roddy White. That sound familiar in this case?

So far in his three seasons in the NFL, Jones has been a fantastic receiver, albeit one who has played in every game just once -- in 2012. The Falcons were also a team that had three straight winning records entering the 2011 draft. They had gone 13-3 the season before.

Since drafting Jones, Atlanta has gone 10-6, 13-3 and then 4-12 in 2013. They have not made a Super Bowl. But they were a team with a lot of strong pieces and saw Jones as the difference to reach the championship game they haven't gotten to yet with him.

In 2012, Jacksonville traded up two spots to make sure it grabbed Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon, a player who didn’t have the credentials of Jones or Watkins coming out of college. Blackmon played in four games last season and has yet to hit a 1,000-yard year.

This is just recent history, and we're not even mentioning the Saints giving away the equivalent of a roster (OK, not a whole roster, but a boatload of draft picks) for Ricky Williams.

If you're noticing something familiar, it is this: All of those trades were for offensive skill position players. They worked or didn't to varying degrees, but none of the teams that made the big moves ended up making the Super Bowl with the player they made the move for.

Atlanta still can, but three years is a long window to wait with this Detroit team, for instance.

To get Watkins, the Lions would have to make a similar move up -- but this team is nowhere near one player or two players away from turning the franchise into a Super Bowl contender. They have pieces to be one at some point, maybe even in 2014.

To get there, Detroit needs defensive difference-makers, not another shiny offensive toy for Matthew Stafford to throw to. And this is a team that seems solely focused on winning in 2014, even if it means sacrificing the future for a successful present. And that would seem like why they would be looking to grab Watkins.

Since rumors of Detroit maybe making a move up started, one thing has stuck out. After he was fired, Jim Schwartz discussed on a Nashville radio station how depth was a major problem for the Lions. That there were a lot of talented front-line players there, but when injuries hit, they didn’t have as capable a group of replacements.

That problem hasn’t changed with the Lions, which are star-heavy but have added very little in terms of experienced and talented depth.

Moving up and sacrificing draft picks in a deep draft at multiple positions -- including receiver and cornerback -- doesn't seem to be the correct answer here. It seems to be one of desperation and one of wanting to make the big splash instead of the systematic build Detroit has tried to do in other areas the past few years. Draft for true need with the best player available, something the Lions have done smartly over the past four seasons under general manager Martin Mayhew. And this is a draft where depth can be built both for now and in the future.

Not moving up has little to do with Watkins' ability -- he is likely to become an excellent player in the NFL and could end up as an All-Pro at some point in his career. And if Detroit were a 10- or 11-win team a few years running, this move would make sense.

But the Lions aren't and haven't been, well, ever. If they want to reach that point -- and want to be sustained there -- not making this move would probably end up being the smarter answer.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- He was on a rival a year ago, unsure about his future in the NFL and not knowing whether he would have a job with the Green Bay Packers for much longer. Jeremy Ross made the roster then fumbled away his opportunity early in the season.

This is all known by now, part of Ross’ past. The receiver/returner in some ways had to go through all of that to find his home now, to get released from Green Bay and then land in Detroit weeks later, first on the practice squad and then as the team’s primary returner when he replaced Micheal Spurlock.

Here he is now a year later, on the first day of voluntary workouts for Detroit, and his role with the Lions appears to be somewhat set. After returning both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown last season and also being dynamic in his ability to bring back kicks and punts along with being a gunner on punt coverage, he has a place with the Lions.

So now he’s trying to expand on it and work himself into a refurbished receiver rotation behind Calvin Johnson.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Ross
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJeremy Ross wants to be more than a special-teams player for the Detroit Lions.
“I feel like I have a lot to offer,” Ross said Monday afternoon after dropping his bags in his car. “My versatility is something good. I can play slot. I can play outside. I can be in the backfield. I can do a lot of different things for the offense.”

While winning one of the receiver slots would increase his standing with Detroit and help to solidify a roster spot come fall, his primary value entering the offseason workouts will be as a returner and special-teams player.

He trained in the offseason for everything, but worked specifically on both his straight-line speed and his ability to change directions quickly. He also worked on his strength and his quickness, the former to help give him a better foundation than he had a season ago.

Last season, Ross essentially was a returner and an occasional offensive player. He played 175 offensive snaps for the Lions last season, caught five passes for 59 yards and dropped two balls. He was also targeted on only 10.2 percent of the routes he ran. He also had two rushes for 40 yards.

His role was smaller last season, though. He was playing behind Johnson, Kris Durham, Nate Burleson and, at points, Kevin Ogletree and Ryan Broyles. He had to, in some ways, wait. Now with a new coaching staff, he can try to move up on his own merit.

“It’s good. New coaching staff. Fresh start,” Ross said. “Everybody’s coming in and coming in to compete. So when they are looking and evaluating, they aren’t going off of previous years. They are seeing what’s in front of them and that’s how they are going to make their decisions.”

That includes the spot where he has worked out the best -- on returns. With the Lions signing Golden Tate in the offseason and Tate expressing a desire to keep returning punts if possible, Ross will have competition from a player the team has invested a lot of money in as both a receiver and, if possible, returner.

Will that change how Ross does things? It won’t. After all, he is in a much better place than a season ago no matter what happens.

“I go out there and I work hard. I don’t really need any external motivation,” Ross said. “I’m pretty motivated.

“So I’ll just continue to do what I do to work on technique, catch balls after practice, watch film, all the things I’ve done in the past to do well.”
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- As odd as it might sound, as weird as it might seem, when quarterback Dan Orlovsky knew he would be headed to free agency this offseason, he had one place he wanted to go.

Never mind it was a place that, for many in his position, would elicit thoughts of frustration and pain, of mistakes made and games lost. No, the 30-year-old Orlovsky understood those questions would come when he told his friends and family he wanted to return to the team that initially drafted him, the Detroit Lions.

[+] EnlargeDan Orlovsky
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesDan Orlovsky is looking forward to returning to the place where he started his NFL career.
So when Orlovsky, one of the quarterbacks on the 2008 Lions team that went 0-16, returned to Detroit last week, those closest to him had the same question fans and others had: "What?"

"Not everyone's, but 99 percent of people's reactions were the same," Orlovsky said Monday. "But after expressing to them kind of my views on it and I'm at the point in my career where it's important for me to really enjoy going to work every day, really enjoy the people I'm working for and also go to a place where I think I'm not, I'm tired of kind of being on bad teams so trying to be a part of a good team and I think this place has a chance to be a good team."

Orlovsky has spent the majority of his career on teams that have missed the playoffs and in some cases been historically bad. Besides the 2008 Lions, he was also on the 2011 Indianapolis team that went 2-14, Jim Caldwell's final season with the Colts.

It was in Indianapolis, though, where this reunion of old player and coach started to take shape. Working with Caldwell again was an attractive option for Orlovsky, who had his triplets born right at the end of the 2011 season.

What stuck with him the most is what Caldwell did after that season. Three weeks after the year was over, the coach called the quarterback. The quarterback figured it was about football. It wasn't. Caldwell was instead checking in to see how his wife and kids were doing.

"Not knocking in any way people I have played for, but he is one of the best if not the best man I've ever worked for and played for," Orlovsky said. "What he stands for, who he is and how he treats people and how every day at work is going to be.

"I'm a believer in working hard and going about your business and doing it the right way and Jim is a lot like that. I'm just looking forward to enjoying the process with him. I had a lot of conversations with him and kind of expressing to him the kind of things I'm looking for."

First was someone who would be honest with him, and Orlovsky's familiarity with Caldwell assured him of that. The second was understanding what his role would be. Orlovsky said Monday he understands he is coming to Detroit to back up and help Matthew Stafford, not to try and win his job.

Instead, he is hoping to impart some of what he has learned as a veteran with four teams throughout his nine-year career. He's played in 24 games, completed 276 of 472 passes, threw 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

Much of that came during his season in Detroit -- which comes back to why he wants to come back and the trepidation he understands some have about his return to the Lions. He knows people are going to link him to the 2008 team and, specifically, to Jared Allen chasing him out of the end zone for a safety during that season.

And he wants a chance to rectify some of that. In his first day back at the Lions facilities, he said the culture around the place "it's vastly different." A lot of that, he said, has to do with Caldwell and what has changed within the organization since the 2008 season.

It is why even if others had worries about Orlovsky heading back to Detroit, he was not concerned at all.

"I guess, in the fact that there's not much I can say to unmask the things that happened or erase those things. I've always, in my personal aspect of it, I knew I played well. We were just not a good football team," Orlovsky said. "Did I have a part of that? Sure. I wish I played better in certain spaces. But I knew I played well and I kind of look at it like this. It's hard to play in this league for four years. It's really hard to play in it for 10 years.

"My personal look, my goal is just to come in and do my job and help my team. But I get the fears maybe with obviously fans and whatnot. But the organization knows what they're doing and I know I'm a good player and I certainly hope to be a part of changing some of that past, whether that's directly or indirectly."
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions have been spending part of the offseason trying to upgrade their secondary.

On Monday, the team added what could be another piece, signing cornerback Cassius Vaughn to a one-year deal according to the Detroit Free Press.

The 26-year-old Vaughn played college ball at Ole Miss and went undrafted in 2010. He spent two seasons with Denver before heading to Indianapolis for 2012 and 2013.

He played in every game for the Colts over the past two seasons and has played in 54 games in his NFL career, making 116 tackles and intercepting five passes. He has also recovered four fumbles in his career.

Vaughn adds to a large group of cornerbacks already on the roster, including veteran Chris Houston and younger players Darius Slay, Bill Bentley, Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood. The Lions are also expected to add a cornerback during May's NFL draft, perhaps even with a first round selection.
He won't be someone Detroit will take at No. 10, but if the Lions choose to look at defense early in May's NFL draft, the player visiting the team Thursday could be a big option on the second day.

Clemson wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who played opposite Sammy Watkins with the Tigers, visited the Lions.

Bryant is an intriguing prospect because of his size and his speed. Rated as the No. 12 receiver and No. 76 player overall in the draft by ESPN.com, his 6-foot-3, 211-pound frame is a nice one for an outside complementary receiver.

He is a dynamic vertical threat and has very long arms at 32 5/8 inches and also has 9 1/2-inch hands, large for a wide receiver. His 4.42-second 40-yard dash time was tied for fifth among wide receivers at the combine.

The biggest questions about him are about production, although that could be a tricky one considering he played opposite Watkins, the top receiver in this draft.

Bryant caught 42 passes for 828 yards and seven touchdowns last season and 83.3 percent of his catches resulted in first downs.

He kind of disappeared in the fourth quarters of games, however, as he only had five receptions for 113 yards and a touchdown in the final portion of games, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

All of those catches, though, went for first downs. He had four catches in the red zone last season -- all of them for touchdowns.

He had only one 100-yard game last season -- a 176-yard effort against Georgia Tech in November.

The numbers are somewhat difficult to analyze because of Watkins' insane production, but because of that he also knows how to be a complementary receiver, something he'll have to be comfortable with playing alongside Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider

NFC NORTH SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/4
Sunday, 9/7
Monday, 9/8