Five Lions to watch vs. Patriots in preseason action

Plenty of competition for starting roles on defense

Of all the preseason games, the third one is always the most crucial. As you know it’s called the dress rehearsal game since typically the starters play for at least the first half.

The Lions’ Friday night preseason game has a bit of a twist. They will face Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, the defending Super Bowl champs.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford had a good camp and looked fine in limited time in the first two preseason games, both wins. He’ll get a chance to stretch out on Friday night playing for a half.

Others will be fighting for starting roles and spots on the 53-man roster.

Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said only safety Glover Quin and cornerback Darius Slay have nailed down starting spots. So he will watch how his defense handles the Patriots’ loaded offense.

Here are five Lions to watch:

1. Safety Miles Killebrew (in photo) is a force on special teams — the guy likes to hit — and when given the opportunity has performed well on the defense. He’s one of those guys making the big step from a rookie to second-year player. He seems to be growing, not regressing.  “I think just being around, understanding NFL football. Having an opportunity to be in our system for our year. Learn it. Being around really smart guys in terms of GQ (Glover Quin) and Tavon (Wilson) that help his development. So, I think he’s been better this preseason, obviously than he was last year,’’ defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “And we’re hoping he continues to improve because he’s still a young player who’s got a lot of upside.” He wears No. 35.

2. Nickel Quandre Diggs looks to rebound from an unsatisfactory sophomore year in 2016 after playing well as a rookie.  “I think he’s responded well. Last year was really a kind of eye-opener in terms of how he played. He didn’t play very well, and I’m sure if you asked him, he’ll tell you that,’’ Austin said. “But he’s really looked a lot more like the player that played that first year for us, really around the ball, active, physical, doing a lot of really good things. And I think he’s risen to the challenge.” He wears No. 28.

3. Linebacker Steve Longa, who was undrafted in 2016, spent most of last season on the Lions practice squad. So while he saw action in just one game, he’s familiar with the defense. He’s been one of the standouts so far. Like all the linebackers, he’ll learn to play all three positions. “Steve’s been a pleasant surprise. Runs around, physical, got a really good nose for the ball and again, that’s a good competition. I think that’s one of the areas where again, on our defense, we’ve had a lot more competition for spots. It’s not, ‘Well, you know you’ve got these five and maybe one other guy.’ I think we have a lot of guys fighting for spots and he’s one of them,’’ Austin said. “I think he’s done a really, really good job. He is a physical, get-after-it type of guy and you see that on defense. He does the same things on defense that he does on special teams. You just don’t see as much of it because he hasn’t played as many snaps.” He wears No. 54.

4. Tight end Michael Roberts, the fourth-round pick, has a shot at making the roster. “Mike Rob is learning a ton, he’s going out there, he is max effort every play. He’s getting a bunch of them right, he’s getting one or two wrong here and there, he’s correcting it and moving forward,’’ offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said “We’ve had pretty limited reps with Matthew Stafford so far this preseason, however many drives that’s been, three or four or five, I don’t know. But, at a certain point that’ll probably take place, but within the development of these guys, we want to make sure we’re putting them in the right position and putting them in a place to succeed and to improve, so that’s what we’re doing with Mike.” He wears No. 80.

5. Running back Dwayne Washington was pushed into service last year as a rookie due to injuries at the position. The coaches love his physicality but he has to work on his reads. The seventh-round pick has to earn a spot on the roster. “You’re talking about young guys going from year one to year two, getting a bunch of reps in the offseason and us seeing improvement along the way. So, we are seeing that improvement,’’ Cooter said. “He’s by no means a finished product, plenty of getting better to do, but I’m encouraged with the way he’s kind of attacked this training camp, attacked this offseason.” He wears No. 36.


Lions look forward to facing Tom Brady, New England Patriots on Friday

Tom Brady, Pats’ defense will provide a good test

While it is just a preseason game, perhaps the Lions will get a better sense of where they stand by facing the New England Patriots, the defending Super Bowl champions, on Friday night at Ford Field. Kickoff is at 7 p.m.

Since it’s third preseason game look for the starters — including Matthew Stafford — to play at least the first half.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady told the Boston Herald that he enjoys playing in the preseason and looks forward to getting back out there on Friday night.

Here are five comments from the Lions on facing the Patriots:

1. Jim Caldwell says it will be fun. “Obviously, any time you get a chance to play against a team that hasn’t lost very many games in the last decade — we’ve been battling against them a long time when I was in Indy for a number of years and even in Baltimore, we obviously had to battle against them as well, and they’ve always been good,’’ Caldwell said. “They make very few mistakes and not only that, they are technically sound as they get in every single phase. I mean, you just look across the board and look at the stats from previous years and they are perennially one of the better teams in our league in almost phase, well at least in the majority of phases. So, that in itself is a challenge for us because you have to be able to play well, so this will be a really good test. Last week we had a really good one with our offensive line, because of the big people they had up front that gave us a real challenge, and this week everybody gets a challenge, which makes it fun.”

2. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin says it will show, to some extent, where Detroit’s defense stands. “Sure, it’s always, those type of quarterbacks, the upper echelon quarterbacks, they’re really going to test you because they’re going to limit the margin of error you have. So, that’s why coming this week, if Tom (Brady) is going to play, which I assume he will, we’ll get an idea if we’re still making strides,’’ Austin said. “It’s not the end of the world, one way or the other. But it gives us an idea of where we are.”

3. Matthew Stafford seems to look forward to it also. “They’re obviously, you know, a heck of a football team. They had a fantastic season last year. Really good defense last year, No. 1 against the pass. No. 1 in scoring, bunch of stuff. So, really a good test for us as well,’’ Stafford said. “Obviously, our defense will have their hands full with the quarterback like Tom (Brady) and that offensive group and some of the weapons that they’ve added. But we have the same on defense. I mean they’ve got, not really good players, but always have a good scheme for each game and do a nice job.”

4. Safety Glover Quin says facing the Patriots will benefit the Lions. “You’re going against the best team, they were the champs last year. Obviously not the same team but Tom Brady is back, actually they’ve added some more weapons. It’s a good challenge for us,’’ Quin said. “It will be good to go against a quarterback like Tom Brady, an offense like that in the preseason, to see where you are, evaluate some things take a look at some things. It’ll be good for us.’’

5. Running back Zach Zenner sees it as a rare chance to face New England. ”It’s cool, I guess, to have an opportunity to play those guys because typically we wouldn’t,’’ Zenner said.”The only chance I believe we have to face them is now or the Super Bowl. To have an opportunity to play against the defending champion is cool and we’re looking forward to it.’’

Jim Bob Cooter, Jim Caldwell optimistic about Lions’ run game

They need Abdullah and Riddick to stay healthy

Hope is certainly not a strategy when it comes to the Lions’ run game which was ineffective for the past several years. It was ranked 30th in the NFL in 2016, 32nd in 2015.

It’s been a point of emphasis all through the offseason. It’s a big reason they signed veteran free agents T.J. Lang to play at right guard and Rick Wagner for right tackle.

Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter (in photo) has been working on it too.

“It’s been a big, big, big point of emphasis for me, myself. So, just dealing with my own background, what I’ve gone through, all that stuff. It’s been a really, important point of emphasis for me this offseason,’’ Cooter said this week. “I think I have personally improved in the run game, how I seen things, how I call things, some of those things. And at the same time, it is a player’s game.’’

Coach Jim Caldwell said the run game will be a concern for him until he is satisfied with it.

“Sometimes it just takes you a while, takes you a little bit longer than what you’d like in some cases. But that’s the way this game is. It’s not an easy fix and you’d like to see it turn around immediately, but that’s not the case,’’ Caldwell said.

He’d like to see 100 rushing yards a game. He’s not greedy, said they don’t have to run for 150 yards, but must be respectable.

Caldwell is optimistic the ground game will improve when the season starts on Sept. 10.

He has two specific reasons to see the glass as half full. Their names are Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick.

“I think I’ve told you on a number of different occasions that when you take a look at the stats, just look at them don’t take my word for it, when Ameer’s in the game, and he’s healthy, and he and Riddick are in the ball game, you look at our numbers,’’ Caldwell said. “And so, those are the things that make us all feel that we can get it done. But not only that, Zach Zenner can run the ball, we got a young guy in (Dwayne) Washington who’s coming along. And they also have to make certain defenses when they see us say, ‘There’s always a passing threat.’ So, when there’s a passing threat, often times that opens up some runs for you just in terms of being able to find some seams.’’

Cooter may be a young coordinator at age 33, but he wasn’t born yesterday.

He’s studied the film, but knows the reality.

“Outside of that (option) type of football, there’s not a lot of magic, creative run plays. A lot of guys are running the same run plays. If you leave this system and go to another system, you might call it some other word, but you know, our six or seven, or eight guys are blocking their six or seven or eight guys in the same pattern,’’ Cooter said.

”It looks the same whether you’re watching our game on FOX, or you switch over to CBS and you watch one of those AFC games back-to-back. So, we’re doing the same thing, I’m excited. I think our guys are getting better, what you’re supposed to do in training camp, and I do think we’re going to be better running the football this year,’’ Cooter said.

Time will tell.

Obviously the Lions need Abdullah and Riddick to stay healthy. Zenner has had a good offseason and there is optimism that Washington will take a leap after his rookie season when his ability to find holes to run through was an issue.

“When (Washington is) able to find the point of attack and hit it, he’s tough to bring down. He runs over guys, through guys, around guys,’’ Cooter said. “I think he is improving with his run reads and where he’s putting the ball. He’s improving in pass protection, which is something that doesn’t always show up maybe to the naked eye, to the fan at home on the TV copy. He’s a young guy that this is a big offseason for him to improve. I see him making those strides. Needs to keep them coming, but I do see him making positive strides, and like I said, really physical guy. I would not want to tackle that guy.”


Stephen Tulloch welcomed back to help Jarrad Davis, other Lions rookies

Retired LB knows Detroit’s defense well

ALLEN PARK >> If a rookie can learn from one of the best, just make it happen.

The Lions have invited former linebacker Stephen Tulloch back to talk to the rookies including Jarrad Davis the first-round pick who is expected to start at middle linebacker.

“He’s played a lot of football and made a lot of big plays in this league and to be able to come in and talk to a guy like Jarrad (and for Jarrad) to be able to talk to Tully and get knowledge from him, I believe that will be huge for him. It’s one thing for me to talk to him, it’s another thing for him to talk to Stephen,’’ linebacker Tahir Whitehead said.

Coach Jim Caldwell said it’s not unusual to bring guys back to help out.

“Tully is one of the guys that have been taught by Bill (Sheridan, linebackers coach) within the system, so he knows that. He was going to be in town, so we invited him to come on out. So, he’ll be here and he’ll be at practice and be around a little bit,’’ Caldwell said.

Tulloch, who played 11 NFL seasons — five of them with the Lions (2011-2015), can also help with off-the-field matters. He didn’t miss a game due to injury in his first eight NFL seasons.

“I think more so than anything else, the young guys could certainly learn something from the way in which he handled himself on and off the field, and then also how he took care of his body,’’ Caldwell said. “I think he was without question one of those guys that did a tremendous job.’’

Tulloch’s exit from the Detroit Lions was a bit odd and ongoing following the 2015 season. He finally was cut loose and signed with the  Philadelphia Eagles.

But all was apparently well in April when Tulloch returned to the Lions’ facility to announce his retirement (see photo).

On Tuesday morning, Whitehead said he had not seen Tulloch yet.

“I can’t wait to catch up with my guy, that’s my big brothe. I’m looking forward to seeing him,’’ Whitehead said.

Tulloch was at least partially responsible for helping Whitehead develop into an NFL starting linebacker.

“Tully’s great. Any time you can bring a guy back who’s played a lot of football for you he gives a unique insight to the young guys and the guys in that room,’’ defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “All of a sudden he goes from being in that room, now he’s out of it looking from the outside in. I think that helps with the perspective.’’

Jim Caldwell, Lions react to retirement of Anquan Boldin

‘When you imagine what a pro looks like you see Anquan’

ALLEN PARK >> Interestingly enough, Anquan Boldin caught his first and last career touchdown passes at Ford Field.

The veteran wide receiver, who played for the Lions in 2016, announced his retirement after 14 seasons in the NFL on Sunday.

In Boldin’s retirement announcement he made it clear he will be working on humanitarian efforts — a continuation of what he did in the NFL. He was the NFL’s Man of the Year in 2015.

Typically when Lions coach Jim Caldwell goes to the podium for his daily press conference, he does not make an announcement unless big news is breaking.

But on Monday, he had a few words prepared about Boldin who is 36.

Reaction from the Lions on Boldin’s retirement:

— “He’s not necessarily a guy that’s in front of the media often, but one of the true great gentleman and outstanding performers in our league. Just a quality, quality guy. I find it interesting … about him saying that his desire to help people (was more important than) his desire to continue to play at this stage,’’ Caldwell said. “And he’s one of those guys, you talk about guys that take action and make a difference in your community, who doesn’t just showboat, but he is focused in on trying to find ways to make a positive change. He went to Washington, D.C., last year (with Glover Quin) and he’s had a group that he’s taken young children over to Africa teaching educational lessons along the way through his foundation. So, I know he’s on the road to do some great things and (he’s a) real gentleman. One of the best in the business. … He’s been at it a long time. He’s one of those guys that’s got a great competitive spirit. So, he felt that he had had enough. He’s had a great career though. … Quite a family man and great player as well.”

— Golden Tate shared a few memories including a tale about a blood-dripping glove. “I think Anquan is still playing at a very, very high level. I think he could play as long as he wanted to. Just speaking on his career, I remember being in college watching him and modeling my game after him. I love how strong his hands are. That moment to make a play — he’s going to be the guy who makes the play and (I) had the pleasure of playing with him for a year. When you imagine what a pro looks like you see Anquan. A long career, wasn’t hurt very often through his career .

“He was a guy who showed up early and left late. I’d walk in and he’d be getting out of the hot box, going to the cold tub, getting to the hot tub, always stretching. He took advantage of it. His mindset coming in every day was unique. Every day he was consistent in his work ethic. You never had to worry about if he was going to not make a play or miss an assignment. He was always on point.

“One of the best stories I have, it might have been against Dallas, I think he broke his finger or something. As a receiver breaking your finger it’s kind of a big deal. He went into the locker room for two or three series and came back out and continued to play and he had some key catches in that game for us. I remember seeing his glove drip of blood. He went in, found a way and came back out and helped us. That’s just speaks of who he is.

“You have to admire that he’s transitioning from something he loves and the passion he has for football to something that’s even a bigger cause. That speaks on the kind of man he is. He’s a high character guy who uses the platform he has now to help others and help our future,’’ Tate added.

— Safety Glover Quin also admired Boldin. “Congrats to him, anytime you can play in this league for that many years and be that productive for so many years and to be able to look in the mirror and look in a situation and say, ‘You know what? I feel like my playing days are over. I can have a bigger impact doing something else.’ To have the freedom to walk away is huge. I tip my hat to him,’’ Quin said.

Five things to know about growth of Lions QB Matthew Stafford

Jim Caldwell, Golden Tate see a difference

ALLEN PARK >> Entering his ninth season, Matthew Stafford’s game is still growing.

It’s been evident in training camp and in his limited snaps into the first two preseason games (both wins) that the Lions quarterback has added to his repertoire.

“He’s really been dropping some passes in the bucket, some that either we catch or no one catches. When you can be a quarterback and make those type of plays that’s special. Every day, every year Matt’s getting better and always will,’’ wide receiver Golden Tate said.

Stafford will likely play about a half in the third preseason game where the Lions will face the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots at 7 p.m. on Friday at Ford Field.

Here are five new things to know about Stafford:

1. In Saturday’s game he found TJ Jones over the middle for a nice touch pass. It’s not a throw that’s been in Stafford’s regular rotation.  “I’m uncovering every stone I can to try and find a way to be better. And I think I got the fast balls down. Pretty good at those. Made a living doing those for a long time,’’ Stafford said. Any doubt, ask his receivers. “But at the same time, I felt like maybe when I looked at some tape last year, there were some plays out there that maybe I wasn’t trying to make that throw when I felt maybe, when you look at the tape, hey there’s a big play to be had there if you could just throw it over this guy and throw it around this guys, whatever it is. And so, I just studied all that kind of stuff in a while of how can I generalize this and work on something to get better. And that’s kind of some of the stuff that I’m working on.”

2. Coach Jim Caldwell has been a Stafford fan since Day One but he sees a difference too. “Yeah, I’ve always known him to be able to make every single throw that there is. I mean from the first day that I laid eyes on him watching him work. He’s not had any problems throwing screens. He’s not had any problems dropping the ball into open areas or anything of that nature,’’ Caldwell said on Monday. “But he’s trying to refine his game more so than anything else. But I’ve never seen any deficiency in any of those areas to be honest with you through the years or since we’ve been here. But like I said, he’s trying to get better and that’s the mark of a true champion, just in terms of how he goes about working, how he tries to improve upon every little detail, and he’s performing well right now.”

3. The quarterback, entering his ninth season, said the team will change a lot between now and Week 1 of the regular season. It’s like that every year. Who all is going to be on the team, who’s going to be doing what job for you. At the moment, everybody’s learning everything, trying to fill in holes where we can,’’ Stafford said on Monday. “You go into Week 1, you’re going to have a very specific game plan on how you want to attack teams and this guy’s going to be this kind of player for us, so it’s a little bit difficult to make an assessment of where our team is at the moment. Obviously, there’s things generally that we can do better. We can have less penalties, have less turnovers, those kind of things are a general rule thing, but as far as where we are offensively or defensively, it’s kind of tough to say.”

4. Golden Tate said one reason Stafford has improved is his comfort level with the offense. “One, his knowledge of this offense is higher, two and a half years we’ve been in this offense with Jim Bob (Cooter). He just gets better. … He hits the open guy, a lot of passes you don’t even have to break stride which is important and nice and that’s how you run after the catch,’’ Tate said. “It seems like guys are catching the balls a lot better so I don’t know if our grips are getting stronger, or we’re getting better at catching or if he’s getting us better balls. I’d say it’s a combination of both.’’

5. The Lions defense has been flying around (in a good way) in the first two games. Stafford goes against them every day in practice and has noticed a difference from last year. “I think they’re moving around faster, a talented defense. Some coverage specific stuff a little bit different too than what I had seen in the past just through training camp,’’ Stafford said. “Some of the same, some different, it’s tough, but there are a lot of young guys that are out there playing and doing a nice job.”

BONUS: For the first time since he came to Detroit, Stafford worked with a quarterback guru in the summer. He said we wouldn’t notice the difference, but he would both on and off the field. “Yeah I’m trying. Trying to implement some of that stuff. Sometimes it’s better than others, but yeah I feel comfortable with most of the stuff that we’re doing,’’ Stafford said.


Former Lions WR Anquan Boldin leaves Bills, retires from NFL

Lions have plenty of depth at wide receiver

Anquan Boldin had such a huge impact on the Lions last season, many thought the veteran wide receiver might be inclined to return to Detroit.

It didn’t happen.

Maybe Lions GM Bob Quinn knew something. Perhaps he didn’t think he could count on Boldin to stay with the team.

Boldin signed with the Buffalo Bills on Aug. 7. On Sunday (Aug. 20) he informed the Bills that he would retire after 14 NFL seasons, according to an ESPN report. In-between those dates the Bills traded wide receiver Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams.


Boldin had been lining up in the slot with the first team in the 13 days that he was with the Bills.

Boldin issued a statement on Sunday that read: “Football in its purest form is what we all strive for as a nation. People from all different races, religions and backgrounds working together for one shared goal. The core values taught in football are some of the most important you can learn in life. To always be there for the guy next to you and not let your fellow man down. You do whatever it takes to make sure your brother is OK.

“Football has afforded me a platform throughout my career to have a greater impact on my humanitarian work. At this time, I feel drawn to make the larger fight for human rights a priority. My life’s purpose is bigger than football.”

Boldin caught 67 passes for 584 yards and eight touchdowns in 2016, his only year with the Lions. He was signed a day before 2016 training camp, stepped in and was almost immediately up to speed on the offense. He and Matthew Stafford were on the same wave-length from the get-go.

He ranks ninth in the NFL in all-time career receptions with 1,076.

The 36-year-old’s training regimen set a good example for the wide receivers and every player in the locker room.

The Lions don’t seem to be hurting for depth at wide receiver which could be a reason they did not bring back Boldin.

Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and rookie Kenny Golladay are locks for the 53-man roster, then look for a battle between TJ Jones, Jace Billingsley, Jared Abbrederis and Keshawn Martin for the remaining four or five spots.

The Lions are 2-0 in the preseason after a 16-6 win over the N.Y. Jets on Saturday night. Next up they’ll face the New England Patriots at 7 p.m. on Friday at Ford Field.