There didn’t seem any way that OLB Zack Follett would ever play in the NFL again. He was momentarily paralyzed after a helmet-to-helmet hit against the Giants last October. He quickly regained movement and, after nine arduous months of rehab, was cleared to resume his career.
“I never thought I’d have a helmet on again,” he said. “This is a big blessing, and I’m very thankful. It felt good, running around and getting back on the field, something that when this all happened I thought wouldn’t be a possibility. And to be honest, because of the way my neck felt earlier this year, I was ready to hang it up.”
He still has a steep hill to climb to make the roster. He won’t get his starting spot back — that has gone to free agent Justin Durant. His future now will be as a special teams player. Nobody in the Lions’ camp is betting against him.
–OT Tony Ugoh was unable to start training camp on time because he agreed to restructure his contract. He is on a one-year deal with the team.
–CB Marquise Liverpool was released
–WR Demario Ballard, an undrafted rookie out of Western Oregon, was added to the roster.
EXPECTED BATTLE OF THE WEEK
When the Lions signed free agent kicker Dave Rayner, veteran Jason Hanson, the longest tenured Lion and franchise scoring leader, knew that coming into his 20th training camp, he’d have to fight to keep his job.
The reason: Hanson is 41 and he’s had knee surgeries (first his plant leg and then his kicking leg) the last two years. Rayner filled in last season and went 13 for 16 including a game-winner at Tampa Bay.
“I’m not the one making the decisions, but I feel like if I’m healthy and I’m kicking like I always have (then I’ll keep my spot),” Hanson said. “If I’m not healthy, then it’s probably over because they have someone reliable and good.”
Said coach Jim Schwartz: “If we have a pressure kick, I would trust Jason to do it. It’s just been a matter of health. He’s getting a little bit older and the last two training camps he hasn’t been healthy.”
Rayner can’t join the team until the new league year starts, but Hanson has looked strong. On Saturday he was booting them comfortably from 45 yards and beyond.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS
A couple of young veterans are fighting for the jobs. At running back, third-year Aaron Brown is running no higher than fifth behind Jahvid Best, rookie Mikel Leshoure, Maurice Morris and Jerome Felton. At wide receiver, Derrick Williams is now behind Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, rookie Titus Young and newly signed Rahied Davis. KR Stefan Logan is also in the mix at receiver.
–DT Nick Fairley, 13th overall pick, showed up in decent shape and has had some good moments in drills. He dominated undrafted rookie lineman Pat Illig in one team drill.
–RB Mikel Leshoure, albeit only in shorts and helmets thus far, has impressed. He’s a physical specimen for sure, but he’s also been quick to pick up the offense, thus far.
–WR Titus Young has been slowed by leg tightness.
–LB Doug Hogue looks much smaller than his listed 6-2, 266. His best bet to make the team is on special teams.
–LT Jeff Backus, who has started 160 straight games, will miss at least the first couple of weeks with a torn left pectoral muscle. “This is different, but I am very confident with what I am dealing with and with how to get it better,” Backus said. “I am not going to discuss a timeline for this. The doctors I have seen and the athletic training staff here are confident that we know how to get this better. We will keep moving forward and get ready for the season.”
–CB Alphonso Smith, expected to battle for a starting spot, broke a bone in his foot three weeks before camp opened and is on the non-football related injury list. “It’s frustrating because you want to be out there after such a long wait,” Smith said. “You want to come into camp and be able to contribute right away and develop that camaraderie with the team. But it’s beyond my control.”
–WR Titus Young (leg tightness) sat out practice Saturday.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
–S C.C. Brown will not be re-signed.
–LB Bobby Carpenter seemed to find his game within the Lions’ 4-3 scheme last year. He will have a chance to earn a starting spot this season.
–LB Vinny Ciurciu won’t return.
–WR Brian Clark will not be re-signed.
–CB Tye Hill isn’t in the team’s 2011 plans.
–LB Landon Johnson won’t be back with the team.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
–TE Jake Nordin (not tendered as ERFA).
–RB Kevin Smith (not tendered as RFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
–DE Cliff Avril (tendered $2.6M with first-round pick as compensation) had a breakout season last year and he figures prominently into the team’s long-range plans.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
–DT Nick Fairley (1/13): $10M/4 yrs with 5th-yr option; $5.7M SB.
–WR Titus Young (2/44): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
–RB Mikel Leshoure (2/57): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
–LB Doug Hogue (5/157): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
–T/G Johnny Culbreath (7/209): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS RE-SIGNED
–G/C Dylan Gandy: UFA; terms unknown.
–CB Chris Houston: UFA; terms unknown.
–CB Brandon McDonald: UFA; terms unknown.
–K Dave Rayner: UFA 1 yr, terms unknown.
–QB Drew Stanton: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
–CB Nathan Vasher: Potential UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
–S John Wendling: UFA; $2.75M/3 yrs, guarantees unknown.
–LB Korey Bosworth: ERFA; terms unknown.
–LB Caleb Campbell: ERFA; terms unknown.
–FB Jerome Felton: RFA (tendered $1.2M with fifth-round pick as compensation); $1.2M/1 yr.
–DT Andre Fluellen: RFA (tendered $1.2M with third-round pick as compensation); $1.2M/1 yr.
–T Corey Hilliard: ERFA; terms unknown.
–WR/KR Stefan Logan: ERFA; terms unknown.
–CB Prince Miller: ERFA; terms unknown.
–LB Ashlee Palmer: ERFA; terms unknown.
–S Randy Phillips: ERFA; terms unknown.
–CB Paul Pratt: ERFA; terms unknown.
–S Erik Coleman: FA Falcons; terms unknown.
–WR Rashied Davis: UFA Bears; 1 yr, terms unknown.
–LB Justin Durant: UFA Jaguars; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
–DE Taylor Hilee (waivers Panthers).
–CB Maurice Leggett: Not tendered as ERFA by Chiefs; terms unknown.
–DT Quinn Pitcock: FA; terms unknown.
–LB Stephen Tulloch: UFA Titans; $3M/1 yr, guarantees unknown.
–CB Eric Wright: UFA Browns; terms unknown.
–LB Jordon Dizon (released).
–DE Jared DeVries (UFA; retired).
–WR Bryant Johnson (released).
–CB Eric King (released).
–DE Turk McBride: UFA Saints; terms unknown.
–LB Julian Peterson (released/failed physical).
–DT Quinn Pitcock: FA; terms unknown.
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