For Detroit Lions, Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick can pack a one-two punch

They combined for 228 yards in 2016 opener

ALLEN PARK >> Despite last season’s inept rushing game, Lions coach Jim Caldwell has remained confident for this season.

The coach has two good reasons for his belief in a revitalization of a run game that was ranked 30th in the league averaging 81.9 yards per game in 2016.

It’s a whole new ball game with Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick both healthy.

It all starts with the opener against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday at Ford Field. Game time is 1 p.m.

Abdullah missed the final 14 games last season due to foot surgery and Riddick played in just 10 games with a variety of injuries.

“Explosive. Both those backs, he and (Theo) Riddick, they can hit a home run on every play and you got to have them up. Ameer, one missed tackle and he can take it to the house, and same thing with Riddick,’’ Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said in a conference call this week. “In pass coverage, you better know where you’re going.”

No one is more excited to take the field than Abdullah who worked so hard to reach this point.

“It means a lot. I worked really hard. … That’s something I’ve always done. I’m the youngest of nine so I’ve always had to work to be noticed in my family because I have a lot of successful people. That’s something I pride myself on. I want people to know i’ve worked my tail off this offseason to be in the position and I don’t expect anything but good things for myself and this team moving forward,’’ Abdullah said.

He looked strong in OTAs and that carried on through training camp and his limited time in preseason games.

“Ameer creates big plays in the run game at a pretty high clip, and that’s exciting. Also creates big plays in the pass game. He’s an explosive player. Looks good running around out there, looks healthy, and he’s excited to get going this year,’’ Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said on Thursday.

Abdullah looks forward to getting back on the field with Riddick.

In the opener in 2016 — the only game they both played four quarters — they combined for 228 yards of offense. Abdullah ran up 63 rushing yards with 57 receiving yards and a score while  Riddick rushed for 45 yards and had 63 receiving yards with one receiving and one rushing touchdown.

“That’s cool, but that’s in the past really. This is 2017. What we did in 2016 when we were together it was good to watch on film to learn from but we don’t expect to be the same players as we were in 2016 even though it was a positive note we left on,’’ Abdullah said. “We want to be better and I feel like we are better. Just watching Theo I think he’s 10 times better. Anytime he’s out I’m definitely competing with him trying to keep that level of play.’’

The two have grown to be close friends, helping each other on and off the field.

“We always talk about it. It’s good to have a friend much more than just a teammate in Theo. A guy who wants to see you do well,’’ Abdullah said. “… That’s such a dream connection. We understand we’re only as good as when we’re on the field together both healthy.’’

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Five things to know about Detroit Lions Matthew Stafford as he prepares for Arizona Cardinals

Benching against Cardinals 2 years ago not a factor

ALLEN PARK >> Matthew Stafford played probably the worst game of his career on Oct. 11, 2015, in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals, the team the Detroit Lions will face on Sunday in their season opener at Ford Field.

That day, Stafford had thrown a pair of interceptions by half-time and coach Jim Caldwell told him, he’d be benched if he threw one more. Indeed he did and Dan Orlovsky took the field.

“Just tough start as a team, myself included. Didn’t play well enough. Not a good feeling obviously but like you said, a lot’s happened since then so I feel good about where we are now,’’ Stafford said on Wednesday.

He’s played well since, but doesn’t think the benching played a part in that.

“I think that game was in itself its own game like every game is. I don’t sit back and go into this week and go, ‘Man, for 27 weeks, man, I’ve played pretty darn good ball. Looks like I’m going to play good again this week.’ You’ve got to earn it every week and that’s just how I go about it,’’ Stafford said.

That game is not a concern at all for Caldwell who seemed surprised that anyone even brought up the subject.

Five things to know about Stafford as the Lions prepare for the Cardinals this time around:

1. The quarterback, entering his ninth season, likes the roster depth. “We have guys at a lot of positions that can help us. I think all the way up and down the line, maybe more so than we ever have,’’ Stafford said. “I’m obviously extremely excited about all the guys that are going to be in there with the first-string guys. I think we’ve got a very talented team in that way too. But we’ve done a nice job of building some depth whether it’s through free agency or the draft.”

2. He said preparing for the Cardinals’ defense is not easy. “They’re obviously unique in their scheme and play a guy that’s 210 pounds at linebacker (Deone Bucannon) and he flies around and blows up plays in the back field and plays a lot bigger than he is,’’ Stafford said. “And like you said, guys in the secondary, you know, ball hawks out there, 21 (Patrick Peterson) and 32 (Tyrann Mathieu), have done it for years. And some of the other guys that are maybe new to the team this year or new to their role, are playing really well too. And then they have guys that can rush the passer really at all spots up front. So, they do a really nice job, traditionally have been a very good defense, and don’t expect to see anything different.”

3. The Cardinals finished 2016 with a league leading 48 sacks and they cover with speed. Stafford calls that a good recipe. “They’ve got guys that can play man coverage and just make it tough on you as an offense. Play man coverage and really create one-on-one matchups in the pass protection schemes as well,’’ Stafford said. “So, they’re about creating one-on-ones and betting that their guys are going to win more one-on-ones than you are and that’s a challenge, a fun one. As an offense, you enjoy those challenges.”

4. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians holds the utmost respect for Stafford. “I’ve always been a big, big, huge fan of Matthew. I think he has one of the best arms in the business. He can make every single throw, he’s tough as nails,’’ Arians said in a conference call. “Just watching him stay in the same system, that’s most young quarterbacks — they get to stay in the same system with the same coaches and you see them improve.’’

5. Stafford knows that his play will help determine the Lions’ success or lack of it. “I’m a quarterback. In this league, you probably get more credit when you play well and more blame when you don’t as a team, so I feel extremely responsible for the way this team goes,’’ Stafford said. “And I know that. I’ve felt that way for, going into my ninth year now. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. The quarterback in the league is an extremely important part of the team. And part of that role isn’t just going out and playing well on Sundays, it’s helping our team prepare throughout the week and getting us into the right frame of mind and readiness to play.”

Five things to know as Lions get under way after roster cuts

At least nine new starters expected on Sunday

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.’’

Five reasons Detroit Lions CB Darius Slay loves match-up with Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald

Slay says Fitzgerald can only make him better

ALLEN PARK >>  Lions cornerback Darius Slay can’t wait to face Cardinals’ wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald on Sunday.

Arizona plays Detroit at 1 p.m. at Ford Field in the season opener.

After working against his teammates Golden Tate and Marvin Jones since the spring, Slay can’t wait to go up against guys in different uniforms when it counts.

“I’m looking forward to competing with all the best guys in the league,’’ Slay said after Monday’s practice.

Five reason Slay loves to match up with Fitzgerald:

1. “You know how the game plan goes, I’d be honored to (cover him). One of the best to ever do it,’’ Slay said.  “I just love, everybody looks up to Larry. Fourteen years in the game, takes care of his body. He’s so professional about everything.’’

2. Not only does Slay like the 34-year-old Fitzgerald on the field, he thinks he’s a great guy. ”I’ve met him a couple times. He’s very very great guy. I look forward to going against him,’’ Slay said.

3. “The only thing he’s going to do is make me better,’’ said Slay who is entering his fifth season.

4. Fitzgerald isn’t shy on the field during the game. “For people who don’t know, he kind of corrects you if you’re wrong about something out there on defense. That is how nice of guy he is, that’s good about him. That’s why I love about him,’’ Slay said. “Man. no arguments just friendly fun enjoying the work. Competing, it’s just fun.’’

5. Let’s get into specifics. “One time we was in coverage — I ain’t goin to tell what coverage we was in — we was in the coverage and he told me why he got me and how he knew what it was. So I’m’ like, ‘Dang, you know.’I hope he don’t remember. I hope I don’t refresh his mind remembering that, just in case I might try to do something different,’’ Slay said.

BONUS: Slay said that even if he has perfect coverage, Fitzgerald’s strong hands are tough to beat.

Detroit Lions reduce roster to 53

Not many surprises among those who were cut

OK, after several months of work, the Lions whittled the roster to 53 men today.

The roster features a few surprises. They’ve gone with youth on the defensive line at least until Armonty Bryant and Khyri Thornton return from their suspensions.

This is just the start of getting the roster to GM Bob Quinn’s liking. Don’t be surprised if they add and subtract prior to the season opener on Sept. 10 against the Arizona Cardinals.

Here’s a look by position:

 

QBs (2)

Matthew Stafford

Jake Rudock

CUT: Brad Kaaya

SKINNY: Jim Caldwell typically keeps just two quarterbacks so this isn’t a surprise. Kaaya could be signed to the practice squad

 

WRs (5)

Golden Tate

Marvin Jones

Kenny Golladay

Jared Abbrederis

TJ Jones

CUT: Jace Billingsley, Dontez Ford, Michael Rector, Noel Thomas

SKINNY: TJ Jones looked strong in camp. The final battle could have been between Abbrederis who has more NFL experience than Billingsley who spent most of last season on the practice squad.

 

RBs (5)

Ameer Abdullah

Theo Riddicck

Zach Zenner

Dwayne Washington

Tion Green (rookie)\

CUT: Matt Asiata

SKINNY:: Not much drama at this position. The big question was whether Green, an undrafted rookie, could make the cut. The top four were locks.

 

TIGHT ENDS (4)

Eric Ebron

Darren Fells

Michael Roberts (rookie)

CUT: Cole Wick, Khari Lee, Robert Tonyan, Scott Orndoff

SKINNY:: Ebron must be ready to go after missing much of camp with a hamstring injury. Last year they kept four tight ends.

 

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

G T.J. Lang

G Graham Glasgow

G Brandon Thomas

G/C Joe Dahl

C Travis Swanson

T Rick Wagner

T Greg Robinson

T Cornelius Lucas

T Corey Robinson

PUP: Taylor Decker

CUT: Storm Norton, Nick Becton, Leo Koloamatangi, Connor Bozick

SKINNY:: Laken Tomlinson was traded Thursday which opened a spot for Brandon Thomas. One of the Robinsons — Greg or Corey — should start at left tackle until Decker return from shoulder surgery.

 

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

DE Ziggy Ansah

DE Anthony Zettel

DE Jeremiah Valoaga (rookie)

DE Cornelius Washington

DE Alex Barrett (rookie)

DT Haloti Ngata

DT A’Shawn Robinson

DT Akeem Spence

DT Jeremiah Ledbetter (rookie)

SUSPENDED: Armonty Bryant (first four games), Khyri Thornton (first six games).

CUT: Pat O’Connor, Ego Ferguson, Caushaud Lyons, Giorgio Newberry, Derrick Lott

SKINNY: It’s a young D-line until Bryant and Thornton return with a bit more experience. Barrett and Valoaga earned the spots with their preseason play.

 

LINEBACKER (6)

Jarrad Davis (rookie)

Tahir Whitehead

Nick Bellore

Steve Longa

Paul Worrilow

Jalen Reeves-Maybin (rookie)

CUT: Antwione Williams, Thurston Armbrister

SKINNY: Bellore, who is a solid special teams contributor, beat out Williams for a spot. Williams had looked like a lock until they played him late in the final preseason game. Still a bit of a surprise that he is gone.

 

DEFENSIVE BACKS (11)

S Glover Quin

S Don Carey

S Miles Killebrew

S Tavon Wilson

S Charles Washington

CB Darius Slay

CB Quandre Diggs

CB Nevin Lawson

CB D.J. Hayden

CB Teez Tabor (rookie)

CB Jamal Agnew (rookie)

TRADED: Johnson Bademosi (to Patriots)

CUT: Alex Carter, Rolan Milligan, Adairius Barnes, Tramain Jacobs, Josh Thornton

SKINNY: So long Alex Carter who had been moved to safety from corner. He just never got going after he was a third-round pick in 2015. No real surprises. Agnew is in the hunt to return punts. Don Carey’s strength is special teams.

 

SPECIAL TEAMS (3)

K Matt Prater

P Kasey Redfern

LS Don Muhlbach

NFI: P Sam Martin

SKINNY: Redfern’s good preseason earned him a job until Martin is ready to return.

My Detroit Lions’ projected 53-man roster

Final cuts due at 4 p.m. on Saturday

After four preseason games, the final cuts are due at 4 p.m. on Saturday to reduce the Detroit Lions’ roster to 53 men.

This was the first year the NFL had eliminated earlier cuts, although the Lions had released a few guys earlier in the week including Tim Wright, Keshawn Martin and Cyrus Kouandijo. The early cuts gave the veterans a chance to sign with another team.

On Thursday they traded guard Laken Tomlinson. On Friday they released running back Matt Asiata and waived guard Connor Bozick and defensive end Giorgio Newberry.

Depth at a few positions will provide GM Bob Quinn with some tough decisions. Running back Tion Green had a good showing on Thursday night but can he crack the roster? If not, the rookie would be an ideal practice squad candidate.

At wide receiver Jared Abbrederis and Jace Billingsley have made their cases at wide receiver.

Remember after the cuts are made to 53, it’s likely more changes will be made before the season opener on Sept. 10 against the Arizona Cardinals. Expect that Quinn will be looking for more help on the defensive line.

Here is my projected 53-man roster:

QBs (2)

Matthew Stafford

Jake Rudock

 

WRs (5)

Golden Tate

Marvin Jones

Kenny Golladay

Jace Billingsley

TJ Jones

 

RBs (4)

Ameer Abdullah

Theo Riddicck

Zach Zenner

Dwayne Washingtom

 

TIGHT ENDS (4)

Eric Ebron

Darren Fells

Cole Wick

Michael Roberts (rookie)

 

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

G T.J. Lang

G Graham Glasgow

G Brandon Thomas

G/C Joe Dahl

C Travis Swanson

T Rick Wagner

T Greg Robinson

T Cornelius Lucas

T Corey Robinson

PUP: Taylor Decker

 

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

DE Ziggy Ansah

DE Anthony Zettel

DE Jeremiah Valoaga (rookie)

DE Cornelius Washington

DE Alex Barrett (rookie)

DT Haloti Ngata

DT A’Shawn Robinson

DT Akeem Spence

DT Jeremiah Ledbetter (rookie)

SUSPENDED: Armonty Bryant, Khyri Thornton

 

LINEBACKER (6)

Jarrad Davis (rookie)

Tahir Whitehead

Antwione Williams

Steve Longa

Paul Worrilow

Jalen Reeves-Maybin (rookie)

 

DEFENSIVE BACKS (11)

S Glover Quin

S Don Carey

S Miles Killebrew

S Tavon Wilson

S Alex Carter

CB Darius Slay

CB Johnson Bademosi

CB Quandre Diggs

CB Nevin Lawson

CB Teez Tabor (rookie)

CB Jamal Agnew (rookie)

 

SPECIAL TEAMS (3)

K Matt Prater

P Kasey Redfern

LS Don Muhlbach

NFI: P Sam Martin

 

Five reasons the Detroit Lions’ trade of Laken Tomlinson makes sense

Former first-round pick was likely to be cut

It just makes sense that the Lion traded guard Laken Tomlinson to the San Francisco 49ers for a fifth-round pick today.

Tomlinson started 10 games in 2016, the last four at right guard due to injuries on the line. He was at left guard for the first five games and then was switched to right guard in Week 6.

Here are five reasons why it was a good move:

1. The former first-round pick was likely to be cut on Saturday when the 53-man rosters are due. This way at least the team gets something instead of nothing.

2. Yes, he was a first-round pick (2015 out of Duke), but he was drafted by former Lions GM Martin Mayhew. Believe me, it would have been a little tougher to trade him if Bob Quinn had drafted him, although Quinn still might have done it. Some people say drafting first-round picks is easy. Tomlinson is evidence to the contrary.

3. Mayhew is currently a senior personnel executive with the 49ers. Obviously he still thinks Tomlinson is an NFL-caliber player. We will see if he survives the 49ers’ cuts.

4. The writing was on the wall when Tomlinson, who had started at left guard as a rookie, was benched for rookie Graham Glasgow after five games in 2016. That said it all. It also let the players know that coach Jim Caldwell and his gang do not care what round you are drafted in, the best players will be on the field.

5. It’s likely Glasgow again will start at left guard. Joe Dahl should be active on Sundays because he can back up at guard, center and, in a pinch, at tackle. Dahl has played in just six regular season NFL games with no starts, but obviously the coaches have confidence in him. There was no reason for the Lions to keep Tomlinson if he wasn’t going to be active on game days. They only keep seven offensive linemen active for games including one backup tackle.