Lions Head To Camp With Questions About Conduct
Sports Fan Insider
LARRY LAGE,AP Sports Writer
The Detroit Lions took a leap toward respectability last season when they made a playoff appearance for the first time in more than a decade.
Instead of enjoying a feel-good offseason, the Lions had off-the-field setbacks that marred the mood.
And when they did get on the field for workouts, there was at least one flap when receiver Titus Young punched safety Louis Delmas when he wasn’t looking.
“Time heals all wounds,” Young insisted.
The decisions Detroit’s players made raised questions about a team that seemed to have a discipline problem last season. Ndamukong Suh had to sit out two games for stomping on a Green Bay Packers player in the team’s Thanksgiving showcase on national TV. Emotionally charged coach Jim Schwartz lost his cool after a postgame handshake with San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh that was caught by cameras.
Detroit will have at least one key player who won’t be able to play in Week 1 at home against St. Louis or against the 49ers the next week on the road.
Mikel Leshoure was suspended for two games for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy after pleading guilty to marijuana possession in May. Police discovered him with pot in his mouth during a traffic stop in southwestern Michigan. That happened on March 12, less than a month after police in a different Berrien County community say they caught Leshoure with marijuana.
Nick Fairley will likely join Leshoure on the suspended list. Fairley was arrested twice, including once for passing a state trooper driving 100 mph and being charged with DUI and attempting to elude police. Johnny Culbreath might hear from the league after having a marijuana-related run-in with law enforcement.
Aaron Berry had his contract terminated after being arrested twice in Pennsylvania over the offseason.
Defensive lineman Corey Williams is still dealing with a drunken driving charge after a police officer pulled him over last year in southeast Arkansas. He pleaded not guilty and his lawyer argued that Williams, who is black, was a victim of racial profiling. There hasn’t been a decision made about the charge out of Monticello, Ark.
Green Bay receiver Greg Jennings, a Michigan native, was one of the many people this offseason who raised questions about the Lions’ ability to keep their cool.
“Can they maintain their composure both on the field and off the field?” Jennings asked in an NFL Network interview. “They’re a very talented team, but they have struggles on the field containing their composure, and definitely, the things we’ve heard of, them being in the media with off-the-field problems and off-the-field issues. Can they maintain their composure? Can they be a professional ballclub for 16, 17, 18 solid weeks throughout a regular season?”
Nate Burleson acknowledged that the Lions need to learn how to dial down their emotions sometimes.
“We just got to know how to turn our energy in the right direction and utilize it for our benefit,” Burleson said. “If we can do that, I think a lot of people will see an even better season than we had last year.”
That won’t be easy.
Detroit went 10-6, reaching double digits in wins for the first time since 1995, and earned a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
To have a better season, the Lions have to win a playoff game for the first time in more than two decades and for just the second time since winning the 1957 NFL title.
“Our team needs to move in the right direction,” Matthew Stafford said. “If everybody takes that next step for themselves personally, our team is going to be that much better.”
Stafford threw for 5,038 yards with 41 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in his first full season. The No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft was healthy enough to play just 13 games combined in his first two years.
Calvin Johnson took advantage of Stafford’s presence. He joined Jerry Rice and Randy Moss as the only players in NFL history with at least 95 receptions, 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns in a season. Johnson earned All-Pro recognition and cashed in on his big season, with one year left on his contract, getting an eight-year deal worth up to $132 million.
He’s hoping the team can strike more of a balance this season on offense.
“Last year, our running game wasn’t really there,” Johnson said. “We threw the ball all day.”
Jahvid Best was limited to six games because of concussion problems and Leshoure, who was drafted a year ago to add power to the running game, tore his left Achilles tendon in training camp.
“No matter how we do it — running the football, throwing the football — we need to have the ability to pick up tough yardage,” Schwartz said. “I think that that’s something that Mikel can do for us.”
Detroit re-signed left tackle Jeff Backus to a two-year deal, keeping its offensive line together, and drafted tackle Riley Reiff to add depth and perhaps competition.
On defense, the Lions retained defensive end Cliff Avril with the franchise tag. Avril will make $10.6 million this season after both sides failed to agree to terms on a multiyear contract. Detroit did get a long-term deal done with linebacker Stephen Tulloch, signing him for five years, and lost only cornerback Eric Wright from the first-string units on both sides of the ball.
The Lions attempted to address their biggest need, drafting cornerbacks Dwight Bentley, Chris Greenwood and Jonte Green along with the signing of cornerback Jacob Lacey, who started 27 games for Indianapolis the past three years.
Detroit’s secondary was exposed in its last two games against Green Bay and New Orleans, giving up 946 yards passing and nine touchdowns.
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