Calvin Johnson checks out Lions minicamp as he continues to mend fences

ALLEN PARK — Calvin Johnson visited the Detroit Lions minicamp on Thursday. The Hall of Famer has not been a familiar site around the team since he retired after the 2015 season, but has mended fences in recent months.

Johnson said he was there Thursday to inquire about equipment for a football camp he is going to run on Saturday at the Lions’ facility. When most players were off the field, he got a lesson on how to start the motor that runs the JUGS machine which throws passes, punts and kickoffs.

He arrived fairly early and stayed until the end of the session which lasted nearly two hours.

Johnson was spotted talking on the sidelines and shaking hands with Rod Wood, the team president. 

He also chatted with several players and Sheila Ford Hamp, principal owner and chairwoman of the Lions. She was attending for the second straight day.

This isn’t the first sighting at the Lions facility recently. Johnson was on hand to welcome first-round picks Jahmyr Gibbs and Jack Campbell the day after they were drafted in April.

Johnson also chatted with Lions GM Brad Holmes after practice.

Coach Dan Campbell, a former Lions tight end, was teammates with Johnson in 2007 and 2008.

EXTRA: If you’re at the Taylor Swift concert at Ford Field and see a guy who looks like Dan Campbell, it’s him. While he’s more of a Metallica kind of guy, he will be there with his wife and guests.


It’s only June, but Lions’ secondary shows signs of improvement

ALLEN PARK — While it is just June – three months away from the Lions’ season opener – even quarterback Jared Goff has noticed that it’s tougher to find an open wide receiver during mandatory minicamp.

Coach Dan Campbell credits defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and his staff for the improvement so far.

“The additions that we do have — there again it’s early, we’re in spring. There’s a reason why we got Cam Sutton, there’s a reason why we got (Emmanuel) Moseley, there’s a reason why we got C.J. (Gardner-Johnson)  because we believe they certainly upgrade us production-wise and they’re also football guys,’’ Campbell said on Wednesday. “They fit everything that we’re about — the way they go about their business, they’re veteran guys, they’ve got skins on the wall, they come from winning programs and they play the game the right way.’’

Campbell feels like the team is way ahead of where it was two years ago and sees the biggest difference in the secondary.

“That’s without Moseley right now being out there. Once we get him back and he’s healthy and obviously getting Tracy (Walker) back that’s a big transformation with depth and competition,’’ Campbell said.

Of the new guys, Gardner-Johnson has been a standout on the field for his talkative style.

Defensive lineman Romeo Okwara said the secondary is noticeably louder. 

“I think it’s huge for the guys back there, especially the young guys. (Gardner-Johnson) brings a lot to the table. I think we’ve totally got better in the secondary and the defense of course.’’

Safety Ifeatu Melifonwu, entering his third season, is one of the younger guys picking up on playing with the more experienced additions to the defensive backs room.

“(Gardner-Johnson) is very vocal, very talkative but in a good way though,’’ Melifonwu said. “It comes from a good place. He wants to see all of us be great and push each other so it’s good.

His energy and just the energy of the (defensive backs) room in general rubs off on everyone.’’

Melifonwu made the switch to safety last season, but was limited to 10 games due to injury. He came back and played in the final eight games mostly on special teams but the final three at safety.

“I was just really coming back. It was my first real game reps at safety,’’ Melifonwu said. “I never had played the position before, but I feel that helped coming into this year.’’

He and the other younger defensive backs are benefiting from the more veteran players which could help boost the defense. The new guys have fit in seamlessly.

“We all want to see each other be great and be successful as a team. It all comes from a good place. We have a lot of older guys in the room, so it’s like our meetings might be a lot of people giving different perspectives,’’ Melifonwu said. “The way one guy says something might resonate with a younger guy better than the other one said it. It’s like we have a lot of vets and leaders in the room so everyone listens and, obviously, to the coach, I think it helps.’’

Melifonwu has switched jersey numbers from No. 26 to No. 6. He said he wanted No. 2, but Gardner-Johnson got it. That’s OK with him. “Six is my second-favorite single digit,” Melfionwu explained.

The Lions wrap up the mandatory minicamp on Thursday and finish their OTAs next week.

Lions’ Penei Sewell blossomed as a leader last year and it continues

ALLEN PARK —  While Penei Sewell is entering just his third season as the Detroit Lions’ right tackle, last year he took on a leadership role for the offensive line.

The 22-year-old is picking up where he left off as the Lions go through OTAs this week, with a mandatory minicamp on the schedule for next week.

It seems like a natural role for Sewell, a Pro Bowl alternate last season.

“As the season went along I kind of felt like my body was trying to say something. I didn’t know if it was to myself, a specific person or the whole team,’’ Sewell said on Thursday. “So actually one of the teammates came up to me and said, ‘Man you have to talk.’ It was really Jared (Goff). I kind of stepped into that role and let my heart speak and ran from there.’’

It started late last season and, while it was not the only reason the Lions made the turn-around to win eight of the last 10 games, it did not hurt.

Sewell said being more vocal starts in the locker room where he spends the most time with his teammates and they get away from football and learn about each other as human beings.

“I think it starts from there and everything after that it follows through,’’ Sewell said.

Other young guys, like wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, have also assumed leadership roles in their position groups.

“It’s kind of unspoken. Everyone has expectations for each other so we just come out here and work and let our hearts speak for ourselves. I’m not trying to force nothing I’m just trying to be me and I want everybody else to be themselves too,’’ Sewell said.

He said they are given the green light by coach Dan Campbell who tells them it’s their team and whoever wants to step up, should do just that.

It’s the circle of life in the NFL, veteran teach rookies who become leaders themselves.

Veteran guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai, 29, who didn’t play last season due to a back injury, thought about retiring but decided he wanted to play and mentor young guys like Sewell.

The young right tackle could not be happier about that decision.

“We joke around all the time but that’s damned near my uncle. For him to say that, appreciate you, love you man,’’ Sewell said. “I can’t wait to hopefully put the helmet and jersey on with him again because when we’re out there together it’s something special.’’

Vaitai should battle for the starting right guard spot with Graham Glasgow who re-signed with Detroit after spending the last three seasons with the Denver Broncos.

“Those are two funny human beings, the vibes are definitely upbeat, it’s very joyful in the room, never negative so that’s a positive,’’ Sewell said. “And it’s all love, we all have fun out there for sure.”