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.

Five to watch in Lions preseason game against the Jets on Saturday

Bademosi, Killebrew bring another level of toughness to the defense

Ameer Abdullah spoke out this week about racism and Charlottesville, Va. When asked if he and his teammates discuss the issues in the locker room, he was quick to say they are focused on the N.Y. Jets, the opponent in the Lions’ second preseason game at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at the newly renovated Ford Field.

The Lions won their preseason opener handily 24-10 over the Colts at Indianapolis on Sunday. Adjustments will be made for the Jets. Some changes are forced due to injuries, some will happen because of performance in the opener.

Here are five things to watch:

1. Johnson Bademosi stands out for his special team play. It’s all good and was the reason he was signed in 2016. In training camp Bademosi has also been strong defensively. “He is playing much better (on defense) than he’s played at any other point in time through practice,’’ coach Jim Caldwell said. “He’s always been outstanding in terms of special teams, he’s rare in that regard, particularly covering punts. Between him and Don Carey, one of the things we used to say a long time ago, if you find a guy who can beat double press and force a fair catch, that it’s more than likely he’s going to be on somebody’s team. Both those guys have that kind of ability. So, that’s been part of his (skillset), but he’s becoming better in terms of his coverage skills, and I think that’s because of familiarity with the system, he’s gotten a little bit better feel and he’s got length and he’s got speed. Those are the things that you really like about him, and he’s rugged. He’ll get his hands on you and he’s pretty physical, so he’s making good strides I think.”

2. Safety Miles Killebrew, who also excels at special teams, got a good long look at Indianapolis on defense. Look for more of the same this week. Killebrew, in his second year, is one tough dude and has a better grasp of the defense.

3. Without Kerry Hyder and Brandon Copeland, the other defensive ends will get more reps. Jeremiah Valoaga had a good game against the Colts. Can he keep it up? Don’t forget to keep an eye on veteran Cornelius Washington (he practiced this week so may play Saturday) and also undrafted rookie Alex Barrett who has had a good training camp. Barrett was on the Lions’ radar on draft weekend but they passed as did the other 31 NFL teams. “Obviously, our scouts had seen him earlier and he had just a number of the traits that we were looking for. He’s very, very active. He’s got power, got speed, he’s got a variety of moves and he’s one of those guys that you knew was going to help you,’’ Caldwell said. “So, we tried to do as good a job as we possibly could making certain he knew we were interested, and were fortunate to get him.”

4. Greg Robinson proved that GM Bob Quinn knew what he was doing when he signed the veteran just after discovering Taylor Decker will miss the early part of the season after shoulder surgery. Robinson, who was the second overall pick by the Rams in the 2014 draft, has a little something to prove. He’s never lived up to his billing but sometimes a change of scenery can extend a career. Will be interesting to see if he can build on what he did against the Colts. He said the coaches graded him hard but he was not complaining he knows he has work to do. (If it seems like there are plenty of Robinsons on the Lions’ roster, you are correct. Along with Greg, there’s defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson and tackle Corey Robinson. Together they weigh 966 pounds — that is indeed a lot of Robinson.)

5. Ameer Abdullah was so happy to get back on the field after missing the last 14 games of 2016. He wants more playing time this week. He needs to get hit a bit to get back in the flow. It’s a fine line though. A healthy Abdullah for 16 weeks could make a huge difference in the offense.

Lions rookie Kenny Golladay earns time with starters after first game

Third-round pick continues to show he belongs

ALLEN PARK >> Kenny Golladay’s  solid showing in his first preseason game, Sunday’s win at Indianapolis, has bumped him up on the depth chart.

At Wednesday’s practice the rookie wide receiver was lined up with starters Golden Tate and Marvin Jones. At the game, TJ Jones started with the two veterans.

Coach Jim Caldwell, always cautious to praise rookies too much, explained the move.

“He’s one of those guys that we’re just trying to make certain that we give him a bit of experience in a little bit of everything to kind of see where he fits,’’ Caldwell said.

“We have an idea, but you really don’t know until you give him a chance to really delve into one spot or the other. So, we’re trying to cross-train him a little bit, but he has the speed and has the length and those kinds of things you look for, for good matchups on the outside,’’ the coach added.

He’d like all wide receivers to be able to play at every spot. With some of them that is just not possible.

“Often times you may find a guy that only fits a particular role, but the more flexible you are, the better. And particularly in our system, because we line up guys in all different types of spots,’’ Caldwell explained. “Even in their normal position you still have to line up in various positions, so you have to know all of the route combinations and those kinds of things.

“But, we’d love to be able to move guys around, it makes them a little bit tougher to double cover. Makes them a little bit tougher to plan on in terms of where they’re going to be. Gives us a lot more flexibility that way,’’ Caldwell added.

Golladay, the third-round draft pick out of Northern Illinois, has earned “darling of the week” status around the NFL.

Against the Colts, he had three receptions for 53 yards.  Two of them were for touchdowns — both from Jake Rudock.

He’s a lock to make the Lions’ 53-man roster behind Tate and Marvin Jones. Others in the conversation for the competition for the other one or two wide receiver spots are TJ Jones, Jared Abbrederis, Jace Billingsley and Keshawn Martin.

Lions Jim Caldwell, Ameer Abdullah discuss Charlottesville race issues

Caldwell thinks the world can learn from the diversity in sports

ALLEN PARK >> Ameer Abdullah had a few things to get off his mind about the racial issues surrounding Charlottesville, Va.

The Lions running back knew it was OK to speak out because coach Jim Caldwell has addressed the situation with players.

“What’s most disheartening is people still try to make excuses for certain behaviors. People in position of influence as well, still making excuses for specifically what happened in Virginia,’’ Abdullah said after Wednesday’s practice. “To me that’s the most disheartening thing. We know what the issue is, it’s been laid out before us. We just need more people on board who won’t make excuses, but will make change.’’

He was asked if he was specifically talking about President Donald Trump.

“Him and his followers,’’ Abdullah replied.

He is well aware that not everyone will agree with him. That’s OK.

“Not everyone is going to root for you, that’s something my dad taught me when I was young, everyone’s not going to like you. If somebody’s not going to like my stance on a situation, especially when it comes to racial issues, then I don’t really want that guy root for me anyway.

“That’s something my dad kind of taught me, not everyone’s going to like you but stand for something or you’re going to fall for anything,’’ he added.

Abdullah  feels he has a responsibility to speak out and credits Cleveland’s Lebron James with opening doors for other athletes to voice their opinions on hot-button topics.

“He’s been very vocal about a lot of instances in society, it helps someone like myself come out and feel more comfortable — not necessarily my opinions but what’s right and what’s wrong,’’ Abdullah said.

Caldwell used the example of trips he and his wife have taken with their two oldest grandsons the past two summers. A year ago they took them to Washington, D.C., around the Fourth of July.

We watched the fireworks, all the monuments. We went to the White House and it was great to just see how the people reacting during that time that the greatness of our country. And our two young guys were just I think extremely excited about it,’’ Caldwell said.

This summer they took them to the Civil Rights trail in Atlanta. He specifically mentioned one exhibit at the Civil Rights Museum.

“It had a lunch counter that was, it emulated the lunch counters of sit-ins and so while they were sitting there, and they had to put the headsets on, and (hear) all of the yelling, the screaming, name calling, etc. Trey put his hands on (the counter) and he took them off after about a couple minutes or so and he looked back at me and he said, ‘Papa Coach,’ he said. ‘That’s scary.’

They brought the kids, who are 7 and 10, because they thought it would be an educational experience. Caldwell, 62, grew up in the 1960s so it was nothing startling for him.

“I said, you know what it’s probably good for him just to get a sense of it. Not realizing that within his lifetime, he’s going to see some of the same things on television again. And that’s disappointing,’’ Caldwell said.

He thinks the Lions players — and all athletes — can make a difference.

“I think the world can take a lot from what we do in sports. It’s a highly diverse community. Guys get along. They’re from all walks of life. But there’s no place in this game for bigotry and hatred,’’ Caldwell said. “And I think that’s same way as society but it’s there. And it’s something that I think we all have to speak out against and not tolerate.”

The coach addressed the subject of protests like sitting during the National Anthem with the same thing he said a year ago when the spotlight was on Colin Kaepernick.

“My thing is, a lot of people talk about protest and those kinds of issues. They can do something about it in our communities. They go out and they work within their foundations, they can have an impact without necessarily what you’d consider to be a protest so you guys can talk about guys sitting down on the sideline and all that. What does that really do?

“And I think our guys are a little bit more concerned about action. But they’re men too. I mean they have their own opinions. I expressed to them, ‘Look at the world. Have your own comments.’ They’re not robots. And they do have feelings. Some of them have grown up in some of those communities where they have all kinds of issues,’’ Caldwell said.

“And I don’t think they should have to be quiet. And I think our guys when you ask them questions about it, Like Ameer (Abdullah) and some of those guys, they’ll speak freely about it and tell you what they think.”

UPDATED Lions notes: Kerry Hyder placed on IR; Copeland could be out for season; more on A’Shawn Robinson and Valoaga

Copeland suffers torn pectoral muscle

ALLEN PARK >> The Lions made it official on Tuesday that the season is over for Kerry Hyder. The defensive end, who tore his Achilles in Sunday’s preseason opener, was placed on injured reserve.

After Monday’s walk-through, coach Jim Caldwell only would say that an announcement was forthcoming. Hyder, who led the Lions with 8.5 sacks in 2016, is likely out until training camp in 2018.

Also on Tuesday, the Lions placed running back Mike James on injured reserve and waived guard Matt Rotheram.

Hyder posted on his Instagram account: “There is no quit in my body. I truly believe God has a plan for me and I will be back better than ever. I am blessed beyond measure and I know this is not setback. It is an opportunity for me to show my strength that God has put in me. All things are possible through him. Thank you to all the friends and family for support. To Lions nation I promise I will be back better than ever. Thank you all.’’

His teammates will miss him.

“Kerry is a big brother to me, having him in the room he has one of the biggest hearts and he plays and it shows day in and day out in practice. … Now we just think what we can do for him. He worked his butt off to get to where he is now. That this happened to him sucks,’’ said defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson (in photo).

Caldwell said not surprisingly Monday was a tough day for Hyder.

“It’s kind of what you can expect. I’m not got to say that it was obvious but there’s nobody that’s excited about going through what he’s going through, so it’s a tough time,’’ Caldwell said.

— Defensive end/linebacker Brandon Copeland could miss the season with a torn pectoral muscle, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.

His loss would mean another huge hit for the defensive line. Hyder is out for the season and defensive tackle Khyri Thornton (six games) and defensive end Armonty Bryant (four games) will serve suspensions to start the season.

Copeland left the game in the fourth quarter and did not return. The Lions have made no statement on Copeland. After a day off on Tuesday they return to practice on Wednesday.

— A’Shawn Robinson was a standout on the defensive line in the preseason win over the Colts.

He finished his rookie season in 2016 showing more s each week.

“You know, which is  kind of hard to believe with a guy that big, that strong that he’s stronger. He’s, I think, running well. He had a pretty solid game the other day and did some of the things he’s accustomed to doing. He put pressure on the quarterback by knocking his guy back into the pocket,’’ Caldwell said. “And certainly when he gets pushed, it just ties in together with him getting his hands up in the throwing lane and tipping a few here and there. But he’s coming along well.”

He’ll likely start alongside veteran defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. And while the line will miss Hyder and Copeland, Robinson on the inside will be a factor.

“That was the first game for all those guys and we’ll see what happens in the second. Like I told the rookies, for the most part, we have a period that we go through all the mistakes. And the reason why we do that is because of the fact that those mistakes have to be corrected because what the other team does now, you’re on film. They look at your strengths. They look at your weaknesses. And those are the things that you attack,’’ Caldwell said. “So, we got to work at correcting ours. So, it’s the same thing with the guys that have been around a little bit. They still will look at you next week, they’ll spend a little bit more time in terms of preparation. So, we’ll see how well they progress.”

— Jeremiah Valoaga seemed to make the most of his chances on Sunday. The defensive end, an undrafted rookie, has had a few moments in training camp too.

“He played well. He’s long (6-foot-5) . He’s got some push. Between he and Alex (Barrett), those number of guys got some pressure on the quarterback,’’ Caldwell said. “And we kind of like what he’s doing right now. But he’s still young.”

Defensive end is a key position with Hyder likely out, and suspensions for ends Armonty Bryant (four games) and Khyri Thornton (six games) to start the season.


Five things to know about Greg Robinson who could start at left tackle

The veteran played the first half Sunday in win over Colts

ALLEN PARK >> In his fourth season in the NFL, Greg Robinson knows how key it is to take advantage of every opportunity.

The left tackle, who was signed by the Lions after Taylor Decker tore his labrum in June, played the first half in the 24-10 preseason win over the Colts on Sunday. It’s unknown exactly how long Decker will be out but he’s expected to miss at least a few games early in the season. Robinson is the likely candidate to start in his place. But it’s not a sure thing just yet.

“I take it with a grain of salt, it’s just something I can’t take for granted, honestly come out every day and work my butt off. That’s the real important thing,’’ Robinson said. “Just because a guy got hurt it’s not like things are supposed to be handed to me, I have to come out apply what the coach is teaching in the room and take that to the field and each day just build.’’

The offensive line protected all three quarterbacks, allowing just one sack of Jake Rudock.

Robinson and Cyrus Kouandijo, who was also signed after Decker’s injury, joined the team just before they broke for several weeks off in mid-June. So both studied the playbook on their own but were thrown in the fire when camp started.

Five things to know about Robinson:

1. Coach Jim Caldwell is cautious with praise at this time of year but had some good things to say about Robinson. “Solid, he was solid,’’ Caldwell said. ”In terms of his first outing within the system against another team, I thought he did some good things. But he’s still got a ways to go.’’

2.  Robinson knows he has improvement to make after watching film of Sunday’s win. “Coach grades kind of tough. It wasn’t as expected. I knew I had a lot that I had to clean up. I played hard,’’ Robinson said. “I felt like when opportunities presented themselves I took advantage of it and that’s the things that really count. We don’t get many plays in preseason games so the opportunity to prove yourself is so critical so just deal with that. I feel confident that I can do that.’’

3. He knew the day before that he would be playing the entire first half on Sunday. “At night I  went to sleep a little early knowing that it wasn’t going to be a series, get my mind right mentally,’’ Robinson said. “I went  over the plays, I focused on things I was struggling with throughout the week and make sure I pounded that in my head so I could be prepared in case the coach called it. I feel my conditioning needs to ramp up a little bit just in case I had to play a little more but I felt good afterwards.’’

4. The 24-year-old Robinson was the second overall pick by the St. Louis Rams in the 2014 draft, but never lived up to expectations. He spent the first three years of his career with the Rams, so moving to a new team has offered challenges. “I would say just mentally things aren’t moving as fast as my rookie year. But I’m allowed to slow the game down a lot on my own, getting on the same page, getting the calls and those type of things. I’m able to  relate to guys when they make certain calls. It gives me a headstart almost,’’ Robinson said.

5. Robinson seemed to have a slow start in training camp but has been slowly trending up as he gets more comfortable. “Yes, honestly going against another defense (the Colts) helped a lot,’’ Robinson said. “When I was in this position and noticed that ‘OK, I’m covered, I won’t have help here, I have to change my footwork’ — a few plays I got downgraded by the coach because of that but I feel like it was just a platform I laid and I’ve got a lot of building to do.’’