Five young Detroit Lions to watch vs. Giants on Monday night

Second-year guys stepping up

ALLEN PARK >> The Lions have not started a season with two straight wins since 2011 when they opened with a 5-0 record.

With an opening win over the Cardinals, the Lions’ next big challenge will be the New York Giants (0-1) tonight at MetLife Stadium.

Matthew Stafford didn’t have his best game when the two teams met in December but he also had a finger injury on his throwing hand.

There are not your 2016 Lions. Same goes with the Giants who lost their opener at Dallas.

While the LIons are not the youngest team in the NFL — that distinction goes to the Cleveland Browns — they do have young players at key positions.

Here are five to watch:

1. Nickel Quandre Diggs had a good game going up against veteran wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. It was no surprise with his camp and preseason play. “I thought Quandre had a good game. I think when you look back two years ago when he was a rookie, he played really well the second half of the year, and we kind of expected that last year and he tailed off a little bit. I think this was just more of him getting back to form and playing the way he’s capable of playing,’’ defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “So, it was good to see.”

2. Safety Miles Killebrew’s interception and return for a touchdown may help comprise the best game of his career. He was brought along slowly last year as a rookie. The more opportunities he was given, the more he took advantage of them. It paid off. “We can do a lot more things with Miles because he understands our system a lot better. Last year was kind of, ‘Boom, where am I going, what am I doing? I’ll get there and make some plays because I have some talent.’ This year he kind of understands really our defense and what he has to do within the defense,’’ Austin said. “Not perfect, again like all of us, still trying to get better, still got a ways to go, but you can see that he’s much better equipped this year to make more plays and to play more plays. So, I’m happy where he is but he’s still got a long way to go.”

—3. Running back Ameer Abdullah needs to find a way to gather more rushing yards. The run game needs work as coach Jim Caldwell put it. Abdullah had 15 carries for 30 yards against the Cardinals and two catches for 11 yards. It’s a work in progress but no one is panicking with Abdullah and Theo Riddick healthy to start the season. “That’s run game and pass game, just having those guys back, I’ve said it 100 times is really beneficial for us as an offense. We think those guys are productive in the run game and tough to cover in the pass game. Just adds an element, adds a guy they’ve got to be aware of and maybe make some adjustments for, so we’re glad they’re up and rolling,’’ offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said.

4. Rookie wide receiver Kenny Golladay’s two touchdown catches got his Lions’ career off to an impressive start. He’s good, he’ll get better. While the Lions obviously like what they have in Golladay, a third-round pick, they have been cautious in not over-hyping him and setting expectations too high. “I doubt the guy gets two every week, so if fans are expecting that, that’d be a little bit of a tall order. But he’s doing better, he’s getting better,’’ Cooter said. “He’s got a good head on his shoulders, he’s going about things the right way working real hard, so we’re excited to have him, excited to continue watching him get better and seeing where that leads us.”

5. Defensive end Anthony Zettel, in his first career start, had the Lions only sack and played well throughout. “Zet had a good game. Plays hard, just like he always does. Same things that he’s been doing in the preseason,’’ Austin said. “He carried it over into the regular season which is good to see. He’s been really improved from last year. The big thing is let’s see if we can improve this week and that’s really our goal.”


Detroit Lions’ rookie Jarrad Davis off to good start; preparing for Giants

Middle linebacker quickly earned respect of veterans

ALLEN PARK — Most NFL rookies slowly work into their roles as starters.

Jarrad Davis, the Lions first-round pick, is not one of those rookies.

From the get-go, the starting middle linebacker has been a serious student of the game, a hard worker and has somehow in his short time with his teammates earned their respect.

“He’s not bashful about setting the defense, making calls, typically you have to prop them up to get it done. With him it comes naturally,’’ coach Jim Caldwell said. “It’s a nature versus nurture thing with him. This guy was born with it and he’s done a nice job so far.’’

Davis’ next challenge is at New York Giants on Monday Night Football. All eyes will be on the young linebacker.

Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin called Davis’ play in the win over the Cardinals “outstanding for a young guy.”

“He really flew around. Physical. Really he makes a difference in our defense in terms of our temperament and how we go, and that’s something that your middle linebacker should do because he’s really at the end of the day he’s the quarterback of your defense,’’ Austin said.

“He stands in front of our guys. He calls the defenses. No hesitation. He’s right up front. He’s right there, and our guys know he’s with them. And I thought he was productive,’’ Austin added. “Like all of us, there were things that we could do better last week, and that’s what our goal is this week. We want to be better than we were last week.”

Communication was not an issue for Davis which is a good thing since it is his job and if he doesn’t do it well the defense will flounder.

“He was fine. He was fine and he’s been working on that since Day One. I think that’s one of the reasons from Day One, we put him in front of the huddle. We knew this day would come, and so we wanted to make sure he was prepared and he was ready for it,’’ Austin said.

This is not an easy role for a rookie or any young player regardless of draft status.

Davis talked about leadership and how he works at it on the night in April that he was drafted by Detroit.

One of the reasons he was so desirable to the Lions is his maturity and work ethic. That has not changed since his arrival in Detroit.

“He’s really first one in, last-one-out type of guy and so, I think our veterans respect that type of work ethic, and they gravitate to a guy like that,’’ Austin said.

Detroit Lions Matthew Stafford’s 5 thoughts on facing the Giants

Stepping in as a punter crossed his mind

ALLEN PARK >> Every NFL team deals with injuries, but when the Lions lost to the N.Y. Giants last Dec. 18, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was playing with an injured finger on his throwing hand.

Never a good thing. He completed 24 of 39 passes for 273 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception. If Stafford had 10 healthy appendages would the result have been different?

“Golly man, I have no idea,’’ Stafford said on Thursday.

The Lions get a chance for revenge of sorts when they play at the Giants on Monday night.

Here are five thoughts from Stafford on the upcoming game:

1. The Giants’ run defense allowed 129 yards in their opening loss at Dallas. “I think they’re a really well-coached defense. There’s not a lot of guys missing gaps and fitting wrong and all that kind of stuff. They’re good tacklers, and they’ve got some guys inside that do a heck of a job,’’ Stafford said on Thursday. “They eat up blocks and let their linebackers run. And then if they’re not eating up blocks, they’re making the plays. So, it’s a big challenge for us this week and something we’re looking forward to.”

2. He likes that the Lions receivers possess various strengths.I think we do a good job of trying to use those guys’ skill sets to their strengths as much as we possibly can. Eliminate them from situations where they might be weak. So, we try to find ways to exploit defenses with those guys and they did a nice job Week 1,’’ Stafford said. Seven Lions each had at least two catches in the win over Arizona. Golden Tate led the way in yardage with 107. Rookie Kenny Golladay hauled in two touchdowns.

3. It’s an advantage to have a dual threat like running back Theo Riddick going up against a stacked Giants’ secondary. “Obviously, he’s a veteran player, has played a bunch of football, played in big environments. He’s really, as we all know, really good out of the backfield catching the ball. Does some things that are really good in the run game as well. So, the more guys we have back there, Theo included, the better we’ll be,’’ Stafford said.

4. Stafford was sacked just once by the Cardinals behind the new-look offensive line featuring T.J. Lang at right guard, Rick Wagner at right tackle and Greg Robinson at left tackle.  “I think every game is different but I think they went out and executed really well the first time. And the first game of the year, those guys rushing the passer on that team were no slouch either, you know, Chandler Jones and No. 44 (Markus Golden). So, this week will be a different challenge, different guys, and we’ll have to go out there and prove it again,’’ Stafford said. “Just because somebody on our team played well Week 1, doesn’t mean they’re going to go out there and play well Week 2. You’ve got to prove it every week in this league.”

5. The Lions were running out of punters on Sunday. After Kasey Redfern injured his knee, knocking him out for the season, kicker Matt Prater punted four times. What if Prater had gotten hurt? Stafford did punt in high school. “I was more of a quick-kick guy from the gun than I was a punter. But I had some decent stats because there’s no returner back there,’’ Stafford said. “Yeah it crossed my mind for a minute, but glad I didn’t have to do it.” (To steal a line from Lions’ writer Mike O’Hara — world’s highest paid punter.)

Detroit Lions Golden Tate to Giants secondary: ‘Pick your poison’

ALLEN PARK >> First, of all know that Lions wide receiver Golden Tate respects the Giants defense.

“The Giants’ secondary, they’re fantastic. Last year they had 12 turnovers between picks and fumbles. They’re a very dangerous group of guys,’’ Tate said. “We definitely have to be on our game. We can’t come out flat like we did last week. We’re excited about it. Who doesn’t want a challenge?”

That said, the Giants defense will face their own type of challenge, especially with the Lions offense, on Monday night at MetLife Stadium. It’ll be their first time going up against rookie wide receiver Kenny Golladay who hauled in two touchdown passes in his debut in Sunday’s win over the Cardinals.

“Kenny has shown he’s a dangerous player, he’s a game-breaker kind of guy, glad to have him on our team,’’ Tate said. “It makes the opposing team put some more time in scouting him and covering him.

“To me you have to pick your poison — who you going to double-cover? Me? Marv (Jones)? Theo (Riddick)? Golladay? Ameer (Abdullah)? (Eric) Ebron? (Darren) Fells? Pick your poison. We’re excited about it,’’ Tate added.

The Lions lost at the Giants, 17-6, last Dec. 18. In that game, Matthew Stafford was hampered with a wonky finger and Golladay was still playing at Northern Illinois.

Here is Tate’s breakdown of the Giants’ secondary:

— “Eli (Apple) is a young guy who’s made a bunch of plays and still learning the game. The best is yet to come for him.”

— Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: “A savvy guy, fast guy, ballhawk that can make some plays.”

— “Janoris Jenkins, been going against him for a long time when he was in the NFC West. He’s a very talented guy, a  ballhawk as well, physical guy, loves contact, going to talk some smack to you.”

— “Landon (Collins) all pro guy, he knows his assignments, savvy guy, he’s in the right place at the right time, makes plays.’’

“It’s going to be a great challenge for us, but I love our guys against their guys,’’ Tate said.

In the opening win, Stafford passed for 292 yards and four touchdowns. Seven Lions caught at least two passes. Tate was tops with 10 receptions for 107 yards.

Of course, Tate is not alone in his respect for the Giants’ secondary.

“It’s a pretty strong group, and there’s no doubt about it between the three corners and the safety. I mean it’s hard to think there’s any team that has any more than they have. They have talented guys,’’ Lions coach Jim Caldwell said.

Stafford knows he will have his work cut out for him especially after the results from last season’s game.

“They got a ton of talent. I mean you look around, they’ve got two extremely good edge rushers, a really good, if not the best, interior run presence guy in the league, an all-pro safety and two maybe three all-pro corners,’’ Stafford said.

Detroit Lions’ Matt Prater named NFC special teams player of the week

Prater’s four punts were the first of his career

Lions’ placekicker Matt Prater was forced into double duty on Sunday in the Lions’ 35-23 win over the Arizona Cardinals. He didn’t miss a beat.

Prater was named the NFC special teams player of the week on Wednesday. He also won the award last season in Weeks 9 and 12.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

When punter Kasey Redfern injured his knee early in the game, Prater then became the punter too which was a first in his career. He had four punts averaging 34.8 yards.

He kicked a 58-yard field goal — his only attempt of the day. It was the longest field goal in team history at home and tied for the second longest ever.

Prater joins Jason Hanson as the only Lions kickers since at least 1960 to register a punt and a 50-yard field goal in the same game. Hanson punted three times and made a 53-yard field goal at Tennessee on Sept. 23, 2012.

Prater’s 58-yard field goal was the 36th 50-plus yard field goal of his career. It is also the third he has made from at least 58 yards since joining the Lions in 2014.

Prater was also 2 of 2 on extra points.

Redfern is now out for the season. He had temporarily replaced Sam Martin, one of the NFL’s best punters, who is out with a non-football related injury.

Punter Jeff Locke was signed by the Lions on Tuesday.

Detroit Lions DE Anthony Zettel having a blast on his way to earning respect

The former Penn State end notched the Lions’ only sack

The job description for an NFL defensive end does not include the word “fun.”

But that is exactly the word Anthony Zettel used to describe his first start at the position in the Detroit Lions 35-23 win on Sunday.

Zettel was the only one to sack Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer. The pressure created by Zettel and his linemates played a part in the three interceptions thrown by Palmer.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

“There was some pressure. It doesn’t mean you get a bevy of sacks all the time, but if you can put enough pressure to create and muddy to pocket a little bit, I think we did muddy the pocket some,’’ coach Jim Caldwell said.

“I feel like I played well but I’ve got a lot to improve on. … I was playing as hard as I could, the rest takes care of itself. I’m looking forward to next week to get back on the field with those guys because that was the funnest I’ve ever had on the field with someone,’’ Zettel said on Monday.

Zettel, a sixth-round pick out of Penn State in 2016, played in 13 games as a rookie with his first career sack in Week 15.

He had a good training camp. And while there was plenty of hand-wringing about the depth on the defensive line, he and the others just kept working. They’ll get more help after the suspensions of Armonty Bryant (three more games) and Khyri Thornton (five more games).

The next test comes on Monday night at the New York Giants.

“I play this game to earn respect from the guys across from me. I just want the guy on the Giants who plays across from me just to know he played me that game and I did get on him,’’ Zettel said. “That’s the only thing I play this game for is that and the love of team and the work and sweat we put in together is the biggest thing that’s why I play this game.’’

The line is also without Kerry Hyder, the 2016 sack leader, who tore his Achilles in the first preseason game. The numbers may be down but the spirits are high.

“We have a really tough group this year. Everybody is on the same page and we really want to play as hard as we can for each other,’’ Zettel said. “That’s when you have a good team when everybody cares about the other guys and they’ll do anything they can to win the game.’’

Zettel said they practiced well all last week, getting after the scout team.

“So we had high expectations coming into this game, I think it all starts with practice and it translated really well over to the game,’’ Zettel said.

While he was certainly pleased with many things about the win, he was thinking about the next challenge.

He liked the energy the defense brought to the field.

The line can’t be judged on just one sack.

“We don’t talk numbers but we want to be the best in the NFL,’’ Zettel said. “I think if any team doesn’t try to be the best they’re cheating themselves.’’

Killebrew, Davis among youngsters who make big plays for Detroit Lions

Eight rookies played in win over Cardinals

ALLEN PARK >> Jim Caldwell and the Lions got major contributions from a group of youngsters in Sunday’s 35-23 win over the Cardinals.

Eight rookies played a role with first-round pick Jarrad Davis as the only rookie starter. Wide receiver Kenny Golladay, who was in for 62 percent of the offensive plays, finished with four catches for 69 yards including a pair of touchdowns.

“I think it’s kind of been, the last couple years we’ve had quite a few young guys playing for us early. It helps us without question because they make plays for us,’’ Caldwell said. “We just anticipate to we’re going to keep working, keep going.’’

Plus, second- and third-year players like safety Miles Killebrew who ran back an interception for a touchdown and defensive end Anthony Zettel who had the Lions only sack.

Here’s a look from Caldwell’s perspective on what he got from the young crew

1. It only seems like safety Miles Killebrew is on the field for every defensive snap. That’s because the second-year player is always in the middle of the action. “I think everybody knows from the first time he was in a ball game that he’s around the ball a lot. He’s active, he runs and he runs hard all the time. That without question helps him get himself in position. He’s always around the ball. Tipped ball, interception is one we talk about often. Because in the National Football League tipped balls rarely hit the ground. In college they’ll hit the ground more often than in the pros. … His progress has been good because he’s got the right traits — he works at it, he loves it, he has great passion and he has the talent level. … He’s a talented guy who works hard.’’

2. Jarrad Davis was in on 100 percent of the defensive snaps at middle linebacker. At times he looked like a rookie, other times he looked like a first-round pick. Davis had a team-high nine tackles. “He’s a young player, the thing about him is he’s got the kind of attitude you love, he’s going to make some mistakes here and there but he’s going to work to correct those things,’’ Caldwell said.

3. Something about rookie wide receiver Kenny Golladay makes people want to compare him to the best receivers in the NFL. Caldwell won’t be drawn into that game. “He is who he is. He’s a guy I think we’re a long way away from defining what he can do after one ballgame, but I do think he’s got the right traits,’’ Caldwell said. “He’s got speed, he’s got height, he’s got quickness and he’s got toughness. We’ll see in the long run. We’ll see how many big plays he can make for us. He’s certainly capable. I wouldn’t like to compare him to anybody. He is who he is.’’

4. Nickel Quandre Diggs got his third season off to a good start on Sunday with three pass defenses. He rocked as a rookie and had a bit of an off year in 2016. Caldwell credits his improvement to three things: Years of service, familiarity with the scheme and competition. “It’s been a really good competition,’’ Caldwell said. “A lot of guys have stepped up their game and played better. I always felt that (Diggs) was always a play maker, always a gamer, he’s smart. The great thing is he had a very good game, the position he plays is full of challenges.’’

5. Defensive end Alex Barrett, an undrafted rookie, had his standout moments in training camp and the preseason — always on defense. On Sunday, he played 14 snaps on defense and made a surprise play as fullback for one red-zone play. “We’re always looking for opportunities to utilize our roster as much as we possibly can,” Caldwell said. “We’re also searching for body types and trying to see through evaluations throughout the spring and summer who could fill in that role. He did a pretty nice job yesterday. (He’s got the) body type,  he’s mobile, he’s got vision and he doesn’t mind a collision once in awhile.’’