ALLEN PARK >> It was a little like the first day of school and Christmas combined when the Lions held their first practice after the roster has been cut to 53 men.
On Labor Day, the Lions were back at work preparing for their opener on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals at Ford Field at 1 p.m.
“In particular now because the squad’s reduction in terms of your roster limits, your practices should be more crisp,’’ Caldwell said. “They should be fast, if you got the best of the best out there amongst the group that you choose from, then everything should improve in that regard. So, we’re expecting that to happen. But then also, our crystallization, our focus and things of that nature, should be in place as well.’’
Five things to know as the week of preparation gets under way:
1. Like every year, there’s a big shift in the roster. Some starting roles are uncertain (no depth chart has been released yet) but there will be at least nine guys who didn’t start the final regular season game of 2016. We’ll see new faces at four offensive line positions; no WR Anquan Boldin; also DE Devin Taylor, LB DeAndre Levy, CB Asa Jackson are gone; and punter Sam Martin still out with an injury. “It’s always I think pretty drastic change from one year to the next these days in our game. So, you have to be able to adjust. You got to be able to teach well,’’ Caldwell said. “You got to be able to train. You got to develop. I think those things are important. But we still got core guys that’ll be able to lead the way for us.”
2. Caldwell won’t explain why they kept five running backs instead of four, but he will elaborate on undrafted running back Tion Green. “I think those things are pretty obvious. He’s a guy that’s, he’s coming, he’s growing. He can move well. He’s deceptive in terms of his speed, as you saw the other night,’’ Caldwell said. “But he’s a guy that’s got some power, balance. And he’s been effective in special teams too. So, all those things just in terms of dealing with him in particular.”
3. The coach is excited about this group of guys. “First of all because I think that No. 1, we got a real good core group of guys leading the way for us that have certainly proven that they can play in this league and play well. And then we got a group of young guys that I think are coming that have talent and ability. They just got a little ways to go in terms of learning and developing,’’ Caldwell said. “But I’m excited about this group. I mean this is a good group. So, health’s on our side and where it’s not, we get the next man up playing and doing his job, we’ll be fine. But it’s a great group.”
4. Leadership among players is key to Caldwell. Not just veterans, but a few young guys will be counted on as well. “I think it’s vital. And I think that’s one of the things that you sense with good core leaders that they have to be able to kind of carry that banner for you,’’ Caldwell said. “There is a certain way you want things done. There is a certain type of attitude that you want in terms of preparation and things of that nature. And those are the guys that generally set the tone for you.’’
5. It’s the 40th year of coaching and the 17th in the NFL for Caldwell. His favorite time of year? “Ballgames, obviously. But, I like the preparation leading up to the ballgames even more. Getting guys in position to do what they got to do and the challenge of getting the team ready, that excites me, that’s a lot of fun,’’ Caldwell said. “Because you see during the course of the week that guys look at their opponent, they look at what they have to do, you implement a game plan, and then to go see if you can carry it out. But, it’s the preparation I think more so than anything else.’’