By Will Burchfield
Throughout the 2016 offseason, and particularly in the wake of Eric Ebron’s injury, Lions head coach Jim Caldwell has been defiantly tight-lipped when discussing the team’s injured players.
His taciturn ways have frustrated reporters and left fans in the dark, leaving both parties to speculate when certain players might return. The situation seemed to come to a head on Monday, when Caldwell eluded question after question about Ebron’s status.
The Lions’ starting tight end was carted off Ford Field on Saturday after suffering what appeared to be a lower right leg injury.
Asked if the team had an update on Ebron, Caldwell responded, “We do, but we don’t discuss injuries.”
Asked if it was a good sign that Ebron was seen walking around the practice field, Caldwell replied, “I’m not going to talk about injuries or anything of that nature with you guys, you know that by now.”
Asked if Ebron’s injury could keep him out for an extended period of time, Caldwell retorted, “I’m not going to discuss anything. I’m not going to get into prognosticating. I’m not a doctor. I’m not going to talk about that.”
This dance continued for the next several questions, the reporters moving in for clarification, Caldwell sidestepping them with vague replies. Ultimately, after the conversation had turned to the injured T.J. Jones, who left Saturday’s mock game with what appeared to be a head injury, Caldwell put an end to the charade.
“We don’t have to talk about injuries at this point. We don’t release that information,” he said. “You guys can ask it as many times as you want. We’ve only got so much time. If you want to keep getting the same answer, that’s fine with me.”
The fact of the matter is Caldwell is well within his rights to withhold medical information from the media. The Lions have no obligation during training camp to release a comprehensive injury report and Caldwell has no duty to fill in the blanks.
The reporters aren’t wrong for asking, nor is the coach wrong for declining to answer.
One explanation for Caldwell’s evasiveness points to the recent hiring of G.M. Bob Quinn. Groomed in the New England Patriots’ organization, Quinn seems to have brought some of the “Patriot Way” to the Lions. Part of that credo implies reticence with the media, and Caldwell has certainly followed that rule since Quinn’s arrival.
Caldwell has been known to wax poetic on certain topics, but he’s always been tight-lipped when discussing injured players. (What NFL coach isn’t?) Just as the coach can be relied upon for a good ol’ Joe Paterno story (Paterno’s transgressions be damned), so can he be expected to dodge questions about sprained ankles and sore shoulders.
“We’ll see”, Caldwell said in 2014, when asked if Calvin Johnson would play in the Lions’ next game.
“Check the report,” he said last October, in regard to the health of Joique Bell.
“I don’t address rumors and innuendo,” he had said a month earlier, when asked to clarify an injury to DeAndre Levy.
So Caldwell hasn’t adopted a new demeanor under new leadership. His guarded nature with the media was established long before Quinn became the Lions’ G.M.
The difference, at least in regard to his stance on Ebron, is that Caldwell hasn’t even indicated whether the injury is long-term or not. That’s a concession he’s typically made in the past, and it helps paint a picture of the team moving forward. But Caldwell’s refusal to reveal any kind of information on Ebron has left the tight end’s status shrouded in mystery.
Might he play next week? Possibly. Might he miss the whole season? It’s hard to rule out.
And truly, had Ebron not been spotted walking around on Monday, the latter scenario would seem more likely than the former.
Such evasiveness makes sense during the season, when opposing teams factor injuries into scouting reports and game plans. To withhold the status of a certain player can be a competitive advantage.
But the recent frustration on the part of reporters and fans, it seems, is that Caldwell is denying them clarity for no defensible reason. He is keeping mum for mum’s sake, so committed to his “we-don’t-discuss-that” policy that he is unwilling to change course. It’s approaching an issue of pride at this point, as if Caldwell fears that conceding to reporters’ demands would be an admission of defeat.
Which is crazy, of course.
But it may be that Caldwell feels he has gone too far to turn back.
So the dance will continue as the preseason presses on, with the reporters dutifully asking questions and Caldwell coyly turning them away. It’s not a new jig, by any means, and certainly not one that Caldwell has learned from Quinn. But, at the risk of abusing a metaphor, the coach seems to have twisted himself stiff, and it’s hard to imagine the music shaking him free.