Detroit Lions president says team wants to re-connect with Calvin Johnson

Also, updates on bringing draft to Detroit and ‘Hard Knocks’

DETROIT — One thing on Rod Wood’s to-do list is to get Calvin Johnson back in the fold — not on the field — but to have the former wide receiver as a part of the organization like Barry Sanders.

The Detroit Lions president spoke at the Taste of the Lions, an annual charity event, on Wednesday night at Ford Field.  

“I had it on my agenda today to talk internally about some things  to approach (Johnson) about getting back and involved,’’ Wood said. “It’s on the agenda to reach out to him. We have Barry (Sanders) coming in this week for a couple of events. I want to kind of try and find a way to do something similar with what we’re doing with Barry, if Calvin would be interested.’’

Johnson retired unexpectedly in March 2016 after nine seasons with the Lions.

“It’s a very high priority. I would expect in a couple years he’ll be considered for the Hall of Fame and I really want to have a relationship at that point that’s productive for both sides,’’ Wood said. “We could be there celebrating with him and find ways to have him here to celebrate as well.’’

Also on Wood’s agenda is bringing an NFL draft to Detroit.

The draft held in Nashville a few weeks ago seemed to be a success from all angles.

“I wasn’t down there obviously, but we had people down there. I saw it on TV. I think they did a great job,’’ Wood said. “Obviously they have a special area there with Broadway and the bars and the restaurants. I think what we learned is we need to do something, if we do it here, that’s iconically Detroit. We have a few ideas of how we may do that. We’re in the running for a couple years from now to bring the draft here.’’

His thoughts would be to showcase all of downtown Detroit, using multiple venues. He’s uncertain about the timeline but thinks the 2021 draft location could be announced next spring.

One more thing:  Wood said no word yet on whether the Lions will be featured on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” this preseason. He expects a decision to be announced soon.

Since the Lions have missed the playoffs for two straight years, they are one of the teams eligible for the behind-the-scenes, NFL reality show.

“So far I’ve not heard anything. I don’t know if that means we’re under consideration and no one has told us or it’s such a top secret thing they didn’t want to leak it out,’’ Wood said.

The tight-lipped organization would just as soon pass, but they won’t have a choice.

“The consequences of ending the season the way we did makes us eligible. We’ll deal with the consequences,’’ Wood said. “I’d much rather be here a year from now saying we’re not eligible.’’

The Taste of the Lions has become a major charity fund-raiser for the team.

“During the offseason it’s one of the big things we do to get the fans close to the players and the coaches,’’ Wood said. “When you’re in the building every day you kind of get immune to how special this is for a fan to get a chance to talk to one of our players or get a picture with coach, or Mrs. Ford is downstairs – get a picture with her. It’s a great opportunity to get close to the fans, raise some money for charity and showcase some of the great restaurants around town.’’

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Detroit Lions GM Bob Quinn follows draft board not the advice of fans, media

Quinn wants what the fans want

Bob Quinn doesn’t let fan expectations or sentiment drive his draft decisions.

That shouldn’t even be questioned. He has worked all his professional life to learn the draft process.

The Lions general manager just completed his fourth draft weekend in Detroit.

On Day 3 of the draft Saturday he added three players on defense and three on offense. He was all smiles taking the podium afterward.

“Good mix of skill guys and big guys – felt like good value. Kind of made that one trade with Atlanta, moved back a couple spots, thought that was good business to acquire that other pick for really just moving down six spots, I think. I thought it was a good day,’’ Quinn said.

And it wasn’t just a good day.

“Thought it was a really good weekend for us overall as a team, got the team better,’’ Quinn added.

T.J. Hockenson, his first-round pick, filled a need at tight end and seemed to go over well.

It was the second-round pick, linebacker Jahlani Tavai, who raised a few eyebrows.

Why? Because he was not deemed second-round worthy by many NFL draft analysts and fans. That led to hand-wringing and deep sighs from many fans and short-sighted media members who thought they knew better. Ask them, they’d give you a list of players they preferred with that pick.

Tavai wasn’t as well known, in part because he played at Hawaii.

Will he be a Pro Bowl player? Maybe. It’s too early to know. No guarantees on his future.

None of this matters to Quinn. He took Tavai because he followed the Lions’ draft board which was created over the past 12 months.

With all due respect to fans, media, Mel Kiper, Todd McShay and other NFL draft analysts, Quinn knows the Lions’ needs and wants better than any one.

His first three drafts yielded good results. A year ago he made six picks and the five that stayed healthy made significant contributions to the season. His top six selections in 2017 are starters or regular players and in 2016 he drafted Taylor Decker, A’Shawn Robinson and Graham Glasgow with his first three picks. All are starters.

Quinn has proven that he can draft. With each draft he gets closer to the roster that he desires.

Still his pick of Tavai was roundly criticized.

The GM, who learned his craft while with the Patriots, won’t lose sleep over the criticism.

‘If I worry about what other people think, I’ll be up all night. Trust me. I respect the question. I really do and I understand it. But if we go into this process being scared about what other people think about our team and our evaluations, then we’ve got a long way to go,’’ Quinn said.

“We’re convicted on the guys we take. Are we going to be right 100 percent of the time? No, no team is. But I think we do a tremendous amount of work. And this is a 12-month process for us and this is something that is the lifeline of this organization in terms of players. So, I feel very confident about the evaluations and the guys we took this weekend, and also some of the rookie free agents we’re working on now,’’ he added.

Quinn wants exactly what the fans want — a team that can win in the playoffs.

Is that so hard to understand?

Let’s watch Tavai and the other picks on game days. That’s the only way to judge the draft.

Detroit Lions draft Amani Oruwariye in the fifth round

Penn State cornerback earned first team all-Big Ten honors

ALLEN PARK — The LIons drafted their fourth straight defensive player when they selected cornerback Amani Oruwariye (Penn State) in the fifth round (146th overall).

He’s a bigger, taller corner at 6-foot-1 and 203 pounds.

“(My size) allows me to use my body to my ability, really dominate at the line of scrimmage and go up with receivers and make plays on the ball,’’ Oruwariye said on a conference call.

Oruwariye was a starter in 2018, earning first-team all-Big Ten nod by leading the Nittany Lions with 12 pass breakups and tying for the team lead with three interceptions, to go along with 51 tackles (two for loss) in 13 starts.

He ranked No. 5 in the Big 10 and No. 30 in the nation with 1.2 passes defended per game. He was No. 8 in the Big Te in the FBS with three interceptions.

He’s familiar with Lions Pro-Bowl corner Darius Slay. Says he’s watched a good amount of film of him. “Darius Slay plays the deep ball really well, it’s just great technique,’’ Oruwariye said.

Oruwariye, who attended Tampa’s Gaither High School, began to show his potential as a lockdown corner his junior season in 2017, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors despite not starting in 11 games played. He intercepted four passes and broke up eight others as a reserve, making 28 tackles.

He was a reserve as a freshman (five tackles, one PBU in 13 games) and sophomore, as well, though his playing time was more significant in 2016 (23 tackles, one INT, one PBU).

Oruwariye is pronounced OH-rue-war-ee-AY.

NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein wrote: “He can be an effective press-man defender, but must win at the line of scrimmage or he could become an early target for quarterbacks as he lacks makeup speed once he’s beaten. Oruwariye is a proven disruptor at the catch point and is willing to step up and take on run support duties. When all factors are considered, he’ll be considered a scheme fit for zone-heavy teams who covet physicality in press.”

Other defensive players drafted by the Lions include linebacker Jahlani Tavai (second round), safety Will Harris (third round) and defensive end Austin Bryant (fourth round).

The Lions opened the draft by selecting tight end T.J. Hockenson in the first round (eighth overall).

Detroit Lions draft DE Austin Bryant with fourth-round pick

He helped Clemson win a national title

 

ALLEN PARK — The Detroit Lions addressed a need on the defensive line when thy drafted defensive end Austin Bryant in the fourth round (117th overall) to kick off Day 3 of the 2019 NFL draft today (Saturday).

The Lions traded the 111th pick to the Atlanta Falcons for picks 117 and 186. They had given up pick 184 on Friday to move up and draft safety Will Harris.

“It feels great to be a Lion,’’ Bryant said on a conference call shortly after the pick.

Bryant (6-foot-4, 271 pounds) is the third straight defensive player drafted by the Lions but the first on the line. Three of his Clemson defensive line teammates were drafted in the first round — Clelin Ferrell (Raiders), Christian Wilkins (Dolphins) and Dexter Lawrence (Giants).

Bryant was part of Clemson’s two-deep rotation for his entire career, finishing with 153 tackles, 35 tackles for loss, 20 sacks, 32 quarterback pressures, four pass breakups, two caused fumbles and an interception in 1,807 snaps over 51 games (29 starts).

In 2018 he earned most outstanding defensive player honors in the Cotton Bowl with three tackles for loss, including two sacks, among his six tackles against Notre Dame. In the national championship game against No. 1 Alabama he contributed three tackles, one for loss.

He tore a pec muscle in November and played through the season, undergoing surgery in January.

“Recovery is going well, I should be cleared here soon. I have a few more weeks left on my rehab but everything is coming along great,’’ Bryant said. “Shouldn’t be any setbacks, I’m ready to get to work.’’

NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein’s analysis of Bryant: “Long-limbed base end with moldable potential as a rusher, but a lack of play strength and balance finds him on the ground way too often. Bryant offers potential as a rangy edge rusher with the length to separate and turn the corner, but he might not offer up enough rush talent to overcome his struggles in holding the point against the run. He has starter’s traits and backup talent, but he could end up as a future starter if he gets his strength right.”

Bryant had outstanding junior year, per NFL.com, and followed it up with another solid year in 2018 helping Clemson win a national title. He was third-team all-ACC with 44 tackles, 14.5 for loss and eight sacks.

He graduated in December with a degree in management.

In the first two days of the draft the Lions selected tight end T.J. Hockenson (Iowa) in the first round, linebacker Jahlani Tavai (Hawaii) in the second round and safety Will Harris (Boston College in the third round.

Lions draft safety Will Harris after trading up in third round

He says Friday was best day of his life

ALLEN PARK — Will Harris said Friday was the best day of his of his life.

In fact, to make his point, he repeated it several times.

Harris, a safety from Boston College, was drafted in the third round by the Detroit Lions who traded up to grab him. Detroit dealt picks 88 and 204 to the Vikings for the 81st pick.

“I’m ready to rock,’’ Harris said in a conference call late on Friday night.

He will be reunited with Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni who coached him at Boston College. “I can’t wait to get back to work with him. I’m familiar with the things we’ve done in the past it’s really exciting to be able to play under him again,’’ Harris said.

That familiarity may have played into the decision to key in on Harris, but it wasn’t the only factor.

“I remember going to (Boston College) practice, and like I said, I know a bunch of staff members, honestly probably 15 or 20 years. And you go there and Boston College had a pretty good list of prospects this year,’’ GM Bob Quinn said. “… Really, the first guy that a lot of guys mentioned to me was this guy. Like, ‘This guy’s like the heartbeat of our team.’ Not that those other guys were bad, they weren’t, because they have a lot of good football players and a lot of good leaders. But this guy was voted captain on that team, on that defense. So, that spoke volumes to me.”

Harris started at strong safety for the Eagles since late in his freshman year. He started all 12 games as a senior, finishing with 75 tackles and one interception.

CBSSports.com reported on Harris: “Active, run-support specialist safety who’s best when he can flow toward the line of scrimmage after the snap. Hips are a little stiff but his range is above-average, and because he’s decently explosive, he can close on the ball in a hurry. Good No. 3 safety with starting upside.’’

Harris’ father, Will, played receiver at Mississippi State from 1989 to 1992 and was drafted in the seventh round by Buffalo in 1993.

“Ever since I could remember, ever since I was really young, since I was able to even pick up a football, I’ve always been enamored by the game,’’ Harris said. “He grew up playing receiver. So, naturally I wanted to follow in his footsteps, but also at a young age I fell in love with defense. So, switched over to the defensive side of the ball in college and one of the best things I’ve ever done.

“He played an integral part in my football career and in my life. That’s my father. That’s my guy. He’s been there every step of the way. He’s been my coach growing up, my trainer, my mentor, above else, my father. He’s been a great father. It meant the world for me, for him to be here and see our culmination of work finally come down to this day. So, this is the best day of my life,’’ Harris added.

Earlier on Friday night, the Lions drafted linebacker Jahlani Tavai (Hawaii) in the second round, 43rd overall.

The Lions drafted tight end T.J. Hockenson In the first round on Thursday night with the eighth overall pick.

The 2019 NFL draft wraps up starting at noon on Saturday. The Lions have one pick in each of the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds, and two picks in the seventh round.

Detroit Lions draft LB Jahlani Tavai in second round; Bob Quinn explains why

GM says Tavai’s body type is a perfect fit

ALLEN PARK — GM Bob Quinn and the Detroit Lions coaching staff have a preferred style of linebacker.

Jahlani Tavai (Hawaii) fit the bill which is why the Lions drafted him in the second round with the 43rd overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft on Friday night at the Lions facility.

“Versatility, body type we like thick-built linebackers, really thick guys that can take on blocks, but when they play on the edge they have enough playing strength and arm length to set the edge,’’ Quinn said. “… He’s 6-2 ½, he’s 250, his wingspan is as tall as guys who are 6-4 or 6-5. If I remember correctly he has an 82- or 83-inch wingspan which is rare for that position, he’s got a really wide back and his arms are average to above average length.

“These guys are hard to find and really felt fortunate to be able to get him, there was some interest around our pick so we were getting pretty nervous,’’ said Quinn who said they had targeted him as early as October.

Tavai will give them options at the position along with Jarrad Davis, Christian Jones and Devon Kennard.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who do a lot of different stuff. … When you add a guy like Jahlani to the mix, you see him on film play on the edge, you see him set the edge, you see him rush the passer. Two snaps later he’s playing mike bubble linebacker coming downhill and smashing the guard,’’ Quinn said.

“There’s guys who can do that, a lot of guys in the draft, (but) every year there’s a very select few guys you see them do it on film. You’re projecting this guy plays on the edge but we project he can play mike and come downhill. This guy, there’s visual evidence, you see him do that on a game-by-game basis,’’ Quinn said.

It didn’t matter to Quinn that many analysts projected Tavai to go in later rounds. Part of that could be because his senior season was cut short with a shoulder injury but that is no longer an issue. He was able to have a pro day in April.

“Right now I’m feeling blessed and thankful that the Lions showed some love towards me. I’m really happy right now, I’m speechless,’’ Tavai said in a conference call after the pick.

Prior to the draft he said his agent told him to expect to be selected in Day 2 or Day 3.

CBSsports.com had Tavai ranked as the 195th best draft prospect and the 17th best linebacker. ESPN analyst Todd McShay had Tavai ranked as the 93rd best prospect in the draft.

“I want fans to know I’m going to play every down that I can, I’m going to hustle to the ball and show that I’m giving 110 percent after every play,’’ Tavai said. “I want to be that guy that they’re looking for.’’

The linebacker said the Lions talked to him at the NFL Draft Combine and brought him to Lions headquarters for a pre-draft visit a few weeks ago.

At Mira Costa High School (Manhattan Beach) he was rated as the No. 305 athlete nationally by 247sports Tavai was also a standout in rugby, lettered in volleyball and track, and was a Bay League champion in discus as a sophomore.

“I love playing rugby, that’s one of my hobbies,” said Tavai who was on the national rugby team.

His brother Jordan, was a defensive lineman at Kansas while another, J.R., played linebacker at USC and for the Tennessee Titans.

Tavai was a first-team All-Mountain West pick in 2016 when he started all 14 games and led the conference with 19.5 tackles for loss (129 total, 7 sacks). He was a second-team all-conference selection in 2017, ranking 10th in the FBS with 124 tackles and leading his team with 11 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks.

According to his NFL draft prospect bio, he was suspended for the season opener in 2018 due to a June arrest for assault at a Honolulu night club.

“I try not to think about that, the past is the past. Right now I’ve learned from my mistake and I’m trying to move on right now and show the Lions I’m ready to go and not allowing anything off the field to ever affect me again,” Tavai said.

Quinn said they are totally comfortable with his explanation and his character.

In the third round on Friday night the Lions drafted safety Will Harris (Boston College).

The Lions drafted tight end T.J. Hockenson In the first round on Thursday night with the eighth overall pick.

The draft starts again at noon on Saturday. The Lions have one pick in each of the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds, and two picks in the seventh round.

Five things to know about Detroit Lions first-round pick T.J. Hockenson

Iowa tight end likes Disney, golf and football

ALLEN PARK — T.J. Hockenson was introduced to Detroit Lions fans on Friday.

The tight end from Iowa was the eighth overall pick in the NFL draft on Thursday night in Nashville. He and his parents flew to Detroit on Friday and were welcomed into the Lions practice facility.

“We’re very excited about the addition of T.J. When the opportunity came up last night in the draft, he’s somebody we targeted, somebody we knew would be a great fit in our organization, we’re thrilled to have him and his mom and dad here to celebrate just a tremendous achievement but also a beginning and the next phase of what’s going to be a great career,’’ coach Matt Patricia said in his introduction.

The coach said it was a perfect match. They were excited when he was not selected early but didn’t want to get too excited.

Five things to know about Hockenson:

1. The 21-year-old tight end was not heavily recruited out of Chariton but Iowa and Iowa State came calling. “Being from Iowa and being from a small town, growing up and watching coach (Kirk) Ferentz there, I was excited to be a Hawkeye,’’ Hockenson said.

2. At 6-foot-5, he was just 220 when he arrived at Iowa which was way under-sized for a Big Ten tight end. He redshirted his first season. He tips the scales at 250 now. He credits the coaches at Iowa with giving him all the tools he needed to gain weight and strength. “It comes down not only working hard, but having the right tools to do it,’’ said Hockenson who only played two full seasons for the Hawkeyes. Those early practices when he weighed 220 certainly toughened him up. “They’ll definitely get you tougher that’s for sure, they were fun,’’ Hockenson said. “You just have to play the game. When you get knocked down you’ve got to get back up and go back at it and go as hard as you can.’’

3. He’s excited to get going but has to wait a few weeks for rookie minicamp. He’s had a chance to talk with quarterback Matthew Stafford. “I’m excited, he’s such a great quarterback and he’s a great person, just being able to talk to him today, just learning who he is as a person and how genuine he is, I’m excited about learning the game from him and see how he sees it,’’ Hockenson said. “Like I said I’m going to try to be a sponge and figure this thing out.’’

4. It will be a big change coming from Chariton, Iowa, which has a population of 4,122. “It’s cool, the entire community has come together. Last night they had a draft party and able to get a lot of pictures and phone calls,’’ Hockenson said. “I literally think I have 600 text messages right now. I don’t know what I’m going to do I’ll spend next week (going) through them. I’m excited, they’re so excited, they’re happy. I’ve loved my time in Chariton. It’s put me where I needed to be from a small town, I always know I’ll have those people.’’

5. Away from football, he enjoys playing golf and being outdoors. He was pleased and surprised to learn the Lions have a par-3 hole behind their practice fields. He’s also a big Disney fan. He was wearing “Lion King” socks on Thursday night at the draft and his dog is named Lilo from the Disney movie, “Lilo and Stitch.” He’s been to Disney properties a few times. “It’s the best place on Earth,’’ Hockenson said.