Detroit Lions Training Camp: My Favorite Day Camp Experience

Michael SuddsCorrespondent IAugust 5, 2010

ALLEN PARK, MI - AUGUST 04:  Larry Foote #55 and Zack Follett #49 of the Detroit Lions get ready to run drills with linbacker coach Matt Burke looking on during training camp at the Detroit Lions Headquarters and Training Facility on August 4, 2009 in Allen Park, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

I arrived at the Detroit Lions practice facility at 7:30 a.m. Parking was plentiful and nearby. I was the 46th fan to enter the queue. The Lions can accommodate up to 700 visitors for each training camp session.

While it was Vietnam hot, there was no shortage of camaraderie with those around me. To see the Lions in such an intimate setting was going to be special.

I noticed a familiar looking figure slowly making his way down the line. He would pause in front of every fan, make introductions, and hang out. It was team president Tom Lewand.

When it was my turn to greet Lewand, we introduced ourselves. I thanked him for getting the Suh deal done. Lewand quipped “ He’ll be here by noon, or, at least I hope so.”

I asked him how he was doing. He replied “I’m doing fine. You know, Mike, I want to apologize to you for my behavior. I deserve everything coming my way. I hope that I can apologize to each fan, and move on.”

I didn’t want the conversation to end on a somber, yet cathartic note. I asked him that since he’s writing some nice paychecks these days, could he write one for me? Mr. Lewand laughed, and said “No Mike, not unless you play cornerback.”

As he moved down the line, I was stunned, and humbled. What a way to kick off the day. Lewand’s stock is soaring, in my opinion.

The gates opened at 8:30. As the magic moment approached, the efficient staff handed out roster sheets, and selected children to escort the players onto the practice field. They were presented with team credentials, and were escorted, along with their parents into the Lions sanctum sanctorum.

The kids would later be seen walking alongside a player, holding his helmet.

That’s class, folks.

I managed to hook up with John “Hammer” Farrier, his lovely wife Renee, Pete “Petesakes” (from Mlive.com), and his equally lovely wife Nicole shortly after entering. Later on, we would meet Ali Hammoud, one of our writers in the Lions community whose work I admire.

Kindred spirits

Let’s get this party started!

The players made their way to the field (with their special escorts), and began some individual warmups. The QB’s were closest to our position. The guys seemed loose, and were playing toss and catch to loosen up.

When the horn blew, every player hustled into position for some static stretching. The strength and conditioning coach ran the show, barking orders in the best tradition of every drill instructor that I ever met.

My eyes were drawn to Gunther Cunningham, the diminutive defensive coordinator. He moved up and down the lines of players, stopping briefly to speak to a player. Sometimes, he seemed to exhort them. At other times, he seemed to encourage them.

After the scripted stretching segment, the players moved off to do the positional group drills. The O-linemen, D-linemen, linebackers, DB’s and tight ends moved off to attack the sleds. The DB’s from their knees.

The centers, quarterbacks, and receivers did their thing right in front of the fans. That was a treat, and fans yelled out encouragement to the players. It was time for Matt Stafford to “air it out”. If he’s not the most accurate QB that I have ever seen, he’d be mighty close.

At the other end of the field, long snapper Don Muhlbach, holder Nick Harris, and kicker Aaron Petterey were working on PAT’s, and field goals. Petterey was perfect from as far as 45 yards out. I was relieved that we will not have to worry about him during Jason Hansen’s convalescence.

Near the end of the position group drills, the DB’s joined the QB’s and receivers for a little one-on-one. Good stuff!

Amari Spievey defended a sideline pass intended for Nate Burleson. Nate retaliated a few plays later. He put a series of moves on the rookie that made him look, well, kind of like a rookie.

Calvin Johnson victimized everyone who dared cover him one-on-one, making his patented leaping catches.

Brian Clark, and Tim Toone had standout performances also. Clark ran some beautiful routes, and Stafford rewarded him repeatedly. Likewise, Toone was very effective.

On the defensive side, Chris Houston and Jonathan Wade displayed their outstanding closing speed, and were responsible for some nice plays.

The horn blew, and it was time for seven on seven drills. Ahh. The sound of shoulder pads in the morning.

On the very first play, Cliff Avril blew past Gosder Cherilus like an evil wind. It would have been a certain sack, and I couldn’t help but to remark that “It’s too bad that Stafford can’t wear that red jersey on Sundays“.

Gosder settled down, and did a credible job for the remainder of the session.

We saw a lot of Aaron Berry at safety. Berry is listed at 5’ 11”. Standing next to Jonathan Hefney, who is listed at 5’ 9”, you will see no height difference at all. To put it bluntly, they are both “Smurfs”.

Backus and Sims looked leak free on the blind side, and when Jason Fox took his turn against Vanden Bosch, Fox was up to the task.

Jahvid Best. Wow! He runs like he’s kneeling on some jet propelled skate board. He runs that low! Best has some great inside moves, and finds space well. On the edge, he’s murder.

Kevin Smith did not participate in the seven-on-seven drills. While he worked well in some position group drills, contact is clearly not in his immediate future. Ditto for Brandon Pettigrew.

Jared DeVries seemed a bit gimpy. I hope that his Achilles isn’t haunting him.

Clark, Toone, Burleson, and Dennis Northcutt (yes, I said Northcutt) made some nice plays. The linebackers were in position to make plays (thank goodness), and Caleb Campbell got looks at the “Will”, and “Sam” positions. He did not disappoint.

Once again, the horn blew. After an intense seven-on-seven drill, the Lions addressed special teams.

This would be a good place to interject the observation that this practice was perfectly choreographed. There was nary a wasted moment. No confusion. No loafing.

The lessons learned during OTA’s were clearly evident.

Head coach Jim Schwartz was always in motion. Always coaching. His staff reflected those values during every phase of the practice session.

In short, every player was coached, and graded on every rep of every drill individually . It was impressive.

The special teams drills came to a conclusion, and it was time for a full squad scrimmage. The “Big Uglies” in the trenches went at it hard. The running game looked very nice, thank you. The defense actually appeared to have some coherence.

While it is difficult to see how effective the team will be due to severe contact restrictions, I came away from this experience with a sense that the Lions are building something that will deeply resonate with we, the fans.

Leaving the facility, we were presented with some swag, and an ice cold Pepsi for the road.

The perfect end to a perfect day.

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