The first week of Detroit Lions training camp is in the books. At least, the portion of camp that the media was allowed to attend.
I’ve got to say it was the closest thing to a normal sporting event I’ve attended. There were players hitting each other in padded practices, coaches yelling, players laughing and music blaring.
It was so normal that it was almost easy to forget all the reporters were wearing masks, separated into two bleachers about 50 yards apart.
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On the first day, one reporter in my bleacher looked over at the other bleacher and asked me to ID an unfamiliar reporter. It was Dave Birkett — almost unrecognizable because he wasn’t wearing his normal (ugly) bucket hat. I’ll buy him a Cal State Fullerton hat of his choice, if he promises to wear it and post a picture on Twitter.
I, too, was almost unrecognizable in my cap, sunglasses and mask. I had fun teasing Lions radio analyst Lomas Brown about whether it was actually me or not. I think he’s still unsure.
It sure felt good to be back.
Myself and a few of the other reporters at practice covered the PGA Tour’s Rocket Mortgage Classic and Detroit Tigers baseball games at Comerica Park this summer. I think we agreed Lions camp felt the closest to normal, even with all the safety protocols.
The Lions are doing a good job of trying to keep everyone safe. I applaud them for exercising caution and deciding not to have fans in attendance for their first two games at Ford Field.
But I’m also bummed fans won’t be around. Football, more than any other sport, feeds off the crowd. You can sense the excitement, the disappointment and the frustration in a game from the fans’ reactions. I’ll also miss seeing the fans milling around the stadium and tailgating on my way into Ford Field.
Let’s all do our part to be as safe as possible — if for no other reason than to return to Lions games.
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Swift’s smart start
If there’s a year that draft picks can feel especially secure about making the team, it’s this year; coaches won’t have a lot of evaluation time to possibly favor free agents or undrafted rookies.
But rookie running back D’Andre Swift, a second-round pick from Georgia, impressed me when he said he learned every rep counts. That’s a valuable lesson for a high pick to learn early, realizing he’s no longer on scholarship and that if he wants to earn more playing time and thrive in the NFL, he can’t be complacent because of his draft status.
Tuesday’s episode of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” featured Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, who spoke about the difficulty of undrafted players making an impact this year without preseason games. Ekeler was undrafted out of Western State, a Division II school in Colorado, and earned a roster spot by shining during the 2017 preseason. In March, he signed a $24.5-million contract.
That got me thinking about which Lions might not be around if they’d had the misfortune of trying to break into the NFL during a pandemic. The best example I could think of was quarterback Chase Daniel, who was undrafted out of Missouri in 2009 over concerns about his athleticism but had a great preseason that led to the New Orleans Saints signing him and launching a 10-year career.
One of the things I miss most about normal camp is the chance to catch up with players I’ve covered for a while. Marvin Jones and I have conversations in Spanish. Don Muhlbach and I have August birthdays, so we usually extend each other our best wishes.
But I just learned a fun fact about Muhlbach’s playing days at Texas A&M — sorry, I’m keeping it a secret for now — that I wish I could tease him about. Muhlbach is one of my all-time favorite Lions, and it’s fun to watch him squirm when he gets a little too much attention.
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