Detroit Lions: Miles Killebrew excited for expanded role with Tavon Wilson out

Second-year safety also will serve as a captain

ALLEN PARK — With Tavon Wilson out with a shoulder injury, safety Miles Killebrew is expected to get his first NFL start when the Lions host the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

It’s kind of a big deal.

To add to it, Killebrew was named special teams captain for the game.

“When (Jim Caldwell) said my name I was actually kind of surprised, I’m not going to let it distract me, it’s an exciting honor, can’t wait to get out there,’’ Killebrew said on Friday.

The second-year safety is off to a great start this season. In the opening game he intercepted Arizona’s Carson Palmer and returned the ball 35 yards for a touchdown.

Usually Killebrew is used in certain defensive packages — he’s been compared to a Swiss Army knife. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin loves to have him on the field.

“Miles I think is just scratching the surface of being a really good football player no matter where you put him, so I don’t worry about that,’’ Austin said. “We just know we like to have him on the field and we’ll continue to use him the way we’ve used him.”

Killebrew is ready for whatever role he’ll have on Sunday.

“As far as being versatile that’s something I’ve always want to be. I’ve always wanted to be someone who can attack the game from all angles and be available for how the coaches need me,’’ Killebrew said.

He hasn’t changed up his preparation this week. It consists of the basics — practice and film work.

“My confidence is rooted in my preparation. I’m very prepared, the coaches prepare us very well here and I take a lot of preparation measures on my own,’’ Killebrew said. “As long as I’m  prepared I’m not worried about it.’’

He speaks the company line completely. It’s not fake, it seems very genuine. The whole team realizes the Atlanta Falcons are one of the best teams in the NFC but the only reason it’s a big game is because it’s the next game.

“After a win you are inclined to change up your approach but I’d have to say we’re taking it one game at a time,’’ Killebrew said. “This is another game that we’re going to have to perform at our best ability.”

Other captains for the game are Golden Tate for offense and Tahir Whitehead on defense.

Wilson, linebacker Jarrad Davis and running back Dwayne Washington have been declared out for Sunday.

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UPDATED: Detroit Lions’ Davis, Wilson, Washington out for Sunday vs. Falcons; Ansah, Swanson, Dahl questionable

ALLEN PARK — The Lions will be without three key players when they face the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

Middle linebacker Jarrad Davis (concussion), safety Tavon Wilson (shoulder) and running back Dwayne Washington (quad) have officially been ruled out. They did not practice today (Friday) and it was the third straight practice each of them has missed.

Defensive end Ziggy Ansah (knee), center Travis Swanson (ankle) and Joe Dahl (lower leg) are questionable.  Swanson hasn’t practiced all week while Ansah and Dahl have been limited.

It’s likely that without Swanson, Graham Glasgow will move to center from left guard. Dahl could start at left guard if he’s healthy.

Without Wilson in the secondary, expect Miles Killebrew to get more snaps.

It’s possible Paul Worrilow will step in at middle linebacker for Davis. Or Whitehead could take the role that he had last year. All linebackers learn all three positions for situations like this. Also likely that rookie Jalen Reeves-Maybin will see more action.

Running back Zach Zenner, who has been inactive for the first two games, will see his first action with Washington out. In the final five regular season games in 2016, he had 51 carries for 225 yards (4.4 yards per carry) and three touchdowns.

ALSO, Jim Caldwell said today that captains on Sunday will be Tahir Whitehead, Golden Tate and Miles Killebrew on special teams.

Detroit Lions bring back DE George Johnson hoping he can play like it’s 2014

Johnson had six sacks while with the Lions in 2014

ALLEN PARK — Defensive end George Johnson has been in the NFL since 2010. But in only one season did he ever notch a sack. That was in 2014, his only season with the Detroit Lions, when he finished the season with six sacks in 16 games.

On Thursday the Lions announced they had signed Johnson who had spent the last two years in Tampa Bay. They waived undrafted rookie defensive end Alex Barrett.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

The defensive line had been a concern going into the season but has played well, helping lead the Lions to a 2-0 start.

“We like George and we think he gives us a veteran presence in the room, and he gives us a good motor and obviously, we hope he can get back to the form he was in 2014,’’ defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said.

Coach Jim Caldwell agrees, saying he can’t see into the future.

“We know he can contribute, otherwise we wouldn’t have brought him back and he still has the same kind of fire he had when he was here. He’s still the same guy that works extremely hard, heavy-handed guy that can make some things happen and the rest of it we’ll see,’’ Caldwell said. “We certainly believe that, but to the magnitude that he — I mean he had an outstanding year that year, and those are hard to duplicate, but he will contribute to our team.

I think (Johnson) and Kris (Kocurek) have a real good synergy, what TA (Teryl Austin) puts him in on defense, all of those things kind of tie in hand-in-hand together, so he had an exceptional year and hopefully he can come in and do a few things for us which I believe he will,’’ Caldwell added.

Johnson is thrilled to return to the team where he had success

“Just the atmosphere, the coaches, the players, it was a team thing. It wasn’t guys who feel like they were on different pages,’’ Johnson said. “When I was here the first time it was (Jim Caldwell’s)  first time coaching. He just brought it out of us. He told us every week to go after it, hold nothing back, he never lied to us about what we were going to do and he always made sure he took care of us. When he took care of us we took care of him and we went out there and gave it our all for him.’’

He had nothing but good to say about Kocurek, the fiery defensive line coach.

“Kris, he just wants your best. If you can’t give him your best then he’s not going to play you,’’ Johnson said. “That’s all he wants. He wants you to go out there and play as hard as you can for how long the game is,  he doesn’t want anything else. He doesn’t want anything spectacular, he just wants your best.’’

Johnson said he worked out for the Lions a few weeks ago, but they wanted him to slim down. So he went back to his home in Tampa and worked off the pounds. He’s down to 260 which is the weight he played at during his previous tenure in Detroit.

“When you carry less (weight) you’re not dragging a sled behind you, so you’re playing a little more quicker, your movements are more precise,’’ Johnson said.

He should fit in quickly because he’s familiar with the defensive scheme, even though there might be some new terminology.

“They just want you to go, they don’t care about anything else , they just want you to go. They don’t want you to think, they don’t want you to read, they just want you to attack,’’ Johnson said. “If you’re attacking you’re not really reacting, you’re just going after it. Kris just wants the best out of you.’’

He’s had an eye on the defensive line during their first two games.

“They played extremely hard, I was watching the Giants game how they really got after it, relentless pressure, relentless attack. They never stopped, they never gave the offense a chance to even recover,’’ Johnson said. “They were after it the whole time. Just watching them the first two weeks (I’m thinking)  if they bring me in where do I fit? That’s a tough group of guys.’’

Zach Zenner ready to go for Detroit Lions after sitting for first 2 weeks

Running back had strong finish to the 2016 season

ALLEN PARK —  Running back Zach Zenner has been patiently waiting to get on the field two games into the Lions’ season.

With Dwayne Washington missing practices on Wednesday and Thursday with a quad injury, there’s a good chance Zenner will be active against the Atlanta Falcons at Ford Field on Sunday.

Last season when Lions running backs Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick were injured, Zenner played in 14 games with four starts.

He got stronger as 2016 progressed. In the final five regular season games, he had 51 carries for 225 yards (4.4 yards per carry) and three touchdowns.

In the first two games so far, Abdullah and Riddick are healthy. Washington, with nine carries for 31 yards, is the third back while Zenner has been inactive.

“There’s a lot of factors that go into who’s up, who’s down and all that stuff, and I’ll leave some of those to Coach (Jim Caldwell),’’ offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said on Thursday.

Pressed further, Cooter said he remains confident in Zenner.

Caldwell said many factors, including special teams play, go into who is inactive on game days.

“It does not certainly have any indication of what kind of – (it) shouldn’t give you any indication of what we think about Zach. Zach can run the football. I’ve told you that I don’t know how many times. Check back in the records. Zach is capable. And if he gets an opportunity to do it this week, I think you’ll see him get it done,’’ Caldwell said. “Believe in him. He’s a smart guy, makes very few mistakes, and well rounded.”

It would be natural for Zenner to be disappointed, but he’s taking all of this in stride.

“I don’t view it as tough I would view it as something that takes a little discipline no matter what happens,’’ Zenner said. “I think having that sort of discipline is helpful to sticking around. If you were to fall off your routine and do things differently because you expected to be down or whatever, when you do get your chance you wouldn’t be ready.’’

In other words, Zenner will be ready.

Detroit Lions’ Jim Caldwell on run game, adjustments, his contract and more

Coach also likes how his team prepares

ALLEN PARK — Jim Caldwell was his calm, steady self on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after the Lions’ 24-10 road win at the New York Giants.

Under “unflappable” in the dictionary you’ll find a photo of the Detroit Lions coach.

It’s the first time the Lions have started a season 2-0 since 2011 but that doesn’t really excite Caldwell.

“Only thing it guarantees you is that you won’t be 1-15, that’s about it, so still got a lot of work to do,’’ Caldwell said at his press conference.

It was an impressive win and could put the Lions on a path to earning national respect. They don’t get much, never have.

“I don’t think anybody’s ever been glowing in appreciation of us in which we don’t expect. That’s just how things are,’’ Caldwell said.

Indeed, the ESPN power rankings for Week 3 dropped the Lions from tenth to 12th after the Giants win. Four teams with 1-1 records are ranked ahead of Detroit.

Here are five differences he sees in this team:

1. They have built and developed a team that has multiple personalities, a requirement of a successful NFL team. A good team can’t always win with passing or a run game, the defense needs to be flexible too. The opposition can dictate that.  “Like my old basketball coach used to always say to us, if we had a right-handed guy, make him play left-handed. So, we’d overplay that right side and make him go to the left if he’s a guy that was dominant right side, and he’d better be able to dribble with that left hand and have some balance and pass or otherwise his evening was going to be a rough one. And the same thing happens in this league,’’ Caldwell said. “They end up taking away some of the things that you think are your staples or things you’d like to do. So, you have to be able to adjust.’’ He added in every game at least two of the units — offense, defense or special teams — need to be dominant.

2. Caldwell is most impressed with how this group prepares. “That’s the bottom line. How our guys do a very, very good job of working at it, paying attention to the details, and the older guys are doing a tremendous job I think of setting examples for the younger ones, mentoring along the way,’’ Caldwell said. “And we got a serious group of young guys that have some talent that want to work at it and want to become good at their craft, so those are the things I’m most impressed with, is how hard we work.” The roster does include a good mix of veterans and young guys including rookies and second-year players. The veterans teach the youngsters while those young guys help invigorate the guys who have been around.

3. The coach has tried to mold this bunch into an indoor team with an outdoor mentality. He wants them to be able to win anywhere in any circumstances. “The reason why we feel that way is because you’re going to have to be able to be that way in order to win, and win consistently, so you have to be accustomed to practicing outside versus under all circumstances,’’ Caldwell said. “And you also have to be able to play on the inside as well, and play well, but speed is not something that you ever sacrifice, that’s the difference in this league. Guys can run, so you better be able to move, so Bob (Quinn) and those guys have been doing a great job of finding guys that can run for us.”

4. The Lions run game which has been an issue more or less since Barry Sanders retired took a step forward on Monday night. The Lions had 138 rushing yards (86 for Ameer Abdullah) and were able to ice the win by running the ball for long stretches in the fourth quarter.  “I think overall we performed better. Not quite where we want to be yet, but we’re better. And I think Ameer is getting back into his old form. He ran hard and guys were patient with the running game, so our offensive line did a nice job there creating some holes for us, but we still got a ways to go in that area,’’ Caldwell said.

5. The ESPN broadcasters — Jon Gruden, in particular — were so impressed with the Lions during the game, they were campaigning for Bob Quinn to sign Caldwell to an extension. He’s in the final year of his contract. Caldwell has made it clear he doesn’t want to talk about it. He has not changed his tune. “Just like I’ve said before, I’ll say it a thousand times, I’ve told you guys I’ll answer it the same way now and you ask me eight weeks down the road, I’m only concerned about a couple things. It’s my men and my mission. And our mission is to win. Everything else will take care of itself,’’ Caldwell said. “And they aren’t worried about anything else other than that. So, that’s our focus.”

Five reasons the Detroit Lions beat the N.Y. Giants on the road

Defense sacked Eli Manning 5 times

It’s early so no need to get too excited but with the 24-10 win at the N.Y. Giants on Monday night, the Lions are 2-0 for the first time to start a season since 2011. Also, at 2-0 they are atop the NFC North with the Packers and Vikings at 1-1 and the Bears at 0-2.

It was a big team win in the national spotlight on Monday night.

(Photo courtesy of Detroit Lions)

It was also a little unusual for this bunch because they held the lead wire to wire. No need for a fourth-quarter comeback

Here are five reasons the Lions won:

1. Matthew Stafford was more than solid and less than spectacular. Not only was he 15-21 for 122 yards and two touchdowns, he scrambled on key downs, gathering 23 rushing yards on three carries. ESPN’s Jon Gruden couldn’t say enough about him and rightfully so. Marvin Jones Jr., (27 yards) and Eric Ebron (seven yards) made great touchdown catches. Ebron had five total catches. Usually Stafford has more than 122 passing yards but the win is more important than his stats. He led the offense to convert 7 of 14 third downs.

2. Ziggy Ansah looks like he returned to his 2015 form, finishing with three sacks of Eli Manning. It was not a one-man show on the defensive line. They pressured Manning early and often. Haloti Ngata and rookie linebacker Jarrad Davis also had sacks.

3. Even though it wasn’t always pretty or effective, offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter stayed with the run. Ameer Abdullah ran 17 times for 86 yards while Theo Riddick picked up 20 rushing yards on nine carries.

4. The Lions secondary came up big for the second straight game. Nickel Quandre Diggs made a big stop on fourth down and Caldwell wisely challenged the spot and won. Cornerback Darius Slay and safety Miles Killebrew combined on coverage to prevent a possible touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall.

5. Rookie Jamal Agnew, a fifth-round pick, returned a punt 88 yards for a touchdown to give the Lions a 24-10 cushion early in the fourth quarter. Agnew made a few good moves and then let his speed carry him into the end zone. He is the first Lions rookie since Eddie Drummond in 2002 to return a punt for a touchdown.

BONUS: Taylor Decker can’t heal soon enough. Greg Robinson struggled at left tackle. Also, too many holding penalties on the offensive line.