By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Cut from both the Jacksonville Jaguars in the off-season and the Kansas City Chiefs in the preseason, free agent defensive end Austen Lane was minding his own business, watching “The Walking Dead,” when the phone rang. The Detroit Lions were calling.
Next thing he knew, Lane was in the Motor City, studying up for the Lions’ Sunday game against the Chicago Bears.
Lane played for the Jaguars for three seasons before being cut this summer, and he was picked up by the Chiefs only to be released before the start of the regular season. Now Lane is back in the game.
“You’ve just got to switch over from living the normal life to being back in NFL mode,” Lane said. “I’ve got a task of learning the playbook. Obviously I’m doing that right now, but at the same time I have to study on Chicago because we’ve got Chicago this week and we’re trying to win that game.
“I think they’re counting on me to get in there and make some plays,” Lane added. “I’ve kind of got to pull double duty right now with learning the playbook and studying Chicago, but I’m up to the task.”
With six former Jaguars on the team with him, the transition into the Lions locker room has been easy. The physical adjustment might be more difficult, and Lane has prepared accordingly.
“It’s one thing to be in football shape,” Lane said. “Obviously you can’t put on pads, you’re not going against guys every single day, but I try to do boxing, MMA stuff, that’s what I was really getting into, and then just weight training, things like that. Boxing and MMA kind of filled my void of hitting people and things like that because I still need some contact. I can’t just go and bench 225 a couple times and call it a day. I’ve got to do something else. That’s where MMA came in. It helped out a lot.”
Once again part of an NFL team, Lane is happy to play football instead of make use of his three and a half years of studying journalism and mass communications at Murry State University.
“I can’t sit behind a desk all day,” Lane said. “I’d probably gouge my eyes out from boredom.”
Standing by his new locker, Lane suddenly did a double take as he considered the writers in front of him.
“No offense to you guys!” he exclaimed, looking genuinely distressed. “Nothing against you guys at all! But I think I need something active, so when I’m done here, done playing football, whenever that’s going to be, I’m going to be doing something active.”
While Lane does not want to be behind a desk, he does like to write, and he has authored three guest columns this year for Sports Illustrated’s Peter King’s “Monday Morning Quarterback.” Lane wrote his first piece in early July about balancing focus on the present versus focus on the future since the NFL is a career in which the present is often limited. His next article, toward the end of July, concentrated on Lane being cut from the Jaguars, a particularly trying experience. His most recent piece entailed him getting cut from the Chiefs.
Despite the sometimes difficult subject matter, Lane enjoyed the experience.
“That was awesome,” Lane said. “I was nervous because it’s Peter King and he’s kind of a big deal, so I didn’t want to suck too bad. I think I did all right for the first one, and he asked me back for two more. I got a lot of great responses from it, obviously a great opportunity and maybe something that’s in my future, but like I said before, I just can’t write my whole life.”
Doing so this off-season, though, was cathartic for him.
“The first one I wrote about, getting cut from Jacksonville, I didn’t want to write it,” Lane said. “Just because you don’t want to look failure in the face and be like, ‘I didn’t do what I wanted to do,’ so it was hard to write. When I finally wrote it and looked at it and read it, it was almost therapeutic, I would say, helping me get through it.”
These days, though, Lane is not worried about writing – just football. A native of Wisconsin, he understands the depth of the rivalries between the NFC North teams, including his hometown Green Bay Packers.
“Being from Wisconsin, obviously the Packers are kind of shoved down your throat, so I had to be a Packer fan growing up, so I know what this rivalry means,” Lane said. “Obviously we have them Thanksgiving. I’ll have a lot of family watching that game, but that’s not something I can think about right now. We’ve got Chicago, and we’re focused on that.”
Lane joins a group of defensive linemen that might be one of the most celebrated in the NFL, led by Ndamukong Suh and constantly creating pressure on quarterbacks. The unit is one of the strengths of the Lions, and even though he is still learning, Lane feels ready to contribute.
“Right now, I’m just going to try to bring a spark, give 110 percent obviously,” Lane said. “I think they brought me in to try to bring a spark to this defensive line. Obviously we’ve got some really talented guys here, and these guys all hustle, so I’m just trying to stay with them right now, and hopefully when I learn everything I can be right there with them.”