Training camp postcard: Lions
SI.com has dispatched 10 writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. For the complete schedule of postcards, click here.
Setting the Scene
The Lions hold camp at the same $36 million Allen Park training facility they use in the regular season. The joint probably seemed a little more impressive back in 2002 when it was built, what with the fingerprint ID technology at various checkpoints inside. It's Ethan Hunt circa Mission: Impossible (Part I). But it beats some of the temporary college-lent facilities out there. Location-wise, it's smack in the middle of a dreary business park and walking distance to Ford Motor Company's world headquarters.
The team practices out back on twin fields devoid of any character or, for the most part, fans. But coach Rod Marinelli bends over backward for the few who make it out, even moving practice closer to the grandstand one morning when 700-plus fans unexpectedly showed up. The handful that made it for two-a-days on Monday (200 tops) did their best to gain the attention of two men: Roy Williams and a burly security guard who donned aviators and a thin goatee.
Why Williams? Because if you ask enough times, he'll actually come over to the sideline. It's his schtick. Twice on Monday, the receiver walked away from practice to lollygag alongside the fans. The first time, he posed for a picture and left without signing autographs. The second time, he returned with a dry erase board and appeared to school fans on the intricacies of an offensive play. Or not. When asked, most fans agreed that they had no clue what he was talking about. One reporter explained, "It's just Roy being Roy. I think it's cureable."
And the security guy? That's Bill Cory. He gets a player to sign one ball at the beginning of every session, then he doles it out to "the most deserving fan" when the final horn blows. Good luck figuring out what "most deserving" means, though. After scolding one section on Monday ("This is a bad cheering section, you have no chance at the ball") Cory admitted, "few women ever get the ball." Beyond that, he's not explaining. Anyway, he's got a job at Roc Center waiting for him some day if he wants it. He's the bizarro child of Kenneth the page on NBC's 30 Rock and one of those hack comedians who warms up the crowd before Conan O'Brien.
1. Speaking of Roy Williams ... At camp, he's really a sight to see. After an offseason during which he -- and the team, for that matter -- waffled about his departure, Williams makes sure he's always center stage. On most days, he dons what have become his trademark pants, a pair of sweats that he cut and frayed at the knees, evoking The Incredible Hulk. Last week, he stripped out of a similar, sweaty pair and tossed them to the crowd after practice. On other days, he goes with a pair of gray biker short-shorts, thus mocking center Dominic Raiola's identical ones. He walks alone and mumbles to himself plenty. And he's not above plopping himself down to rest at any moment. On other days, you could get the sense he's on the verge of becoming an elite receiver. In one individual workout session, Jon Kitna hung up a deep ball out for Williams, who turned on the jets and managed to bring it in on his fingertips while at full speed. Truly amazing concentration. As the crowd erupted, Williams paused and basked in the excitement -- and then he punted the ball in no particular direction. Why, Roy?
2. It seems unfathomable that Detroit's secondary will be as bad as it was last year. In '07, the Lions allowed 258.2 passing yards per game, second-worst in the league. Only three teams have put up worse numbers over the last five years. In that time, no one has allowed more than the 32 TDs Detroit yielded. To remedy that, GM Matt Millen brought in four guys who should turn things around, and most of them are Marinelli disciples. Safeties Dwight Smith and Kalvin Pearson each played for Marinelli in Tampa Bay; Smith was in Minnesota in between. As did cornerback Brian Kelly, who also played for Marinelli at USC. Cornerback Leigh Bodden comes as part of the deal that sent Shaun Rogers to Cleveland. If that foursome starts in Week 1, it would be a remarkable improvement on '07.
3. The depth chart -- or lack thereof. Marinelli insists that he likes what he's seen in quarterbacks Drew Stanton and Dan Orlovsky, who are fighting for the backup spot behind Kitna. Rest assured, they'll remain backups. Both QBs have had trouble with simple things like the center exchange and each throws at least one interception per day. Orlovsky's bad days are slightly less horrific, so he's the likely No. 2 right now. But Kitna is taking almost all of the first-team snaps in camp and is good for a sparkling deep ball every now and then. Even if Detroit staggers out of the gate, it's hard to imagine a change. In two seasons in Detroit, Kitna has managed 39 touchdowns while being sacked 114 times, meaning he's capable of taking the licks that come with learning a new offense (see below). Only two other QBs have as many scores while being sacked even half as many times.