In another sign of the times, the Detroit Economic Club conducted its 24th annual Lions Kickoff Event virtually on Monday. The event is typically light on news, but provides local business leaders the opportunity to hear from the team’s leadership ahead of the upcoming season.
With the team focused on its rapidly approaching season-opener against the Chicago Bears in a little under two weeks, neither Lions coach Matt Patricia, nor any of the team’s players, were able to participate this year. But general manager Bob Quinn and president Rod Wood fielded a series of questions from the Lions’ play-by-play voice and event emcee Dan Miller.
Here were some highlights:
► Wood said the team remains hopeful to have fans at Ford Field this year and will be closely monitoring other franchises around the league that are planning to allow limited attendance at their early-season home games.
The Lions have already ruled out fans for the first two home games this year and are looking to re-assess before the third contest at Ford Field, a Nov. 1 tilt with the Indianapolis Colts.
“There’s a lot of time for us, thankfully, between now and our third (home) game of the season,” Wood said. “There are, as far as I know, five teams that will be hosting fans the first week of the season. Obviously, we hope that goes well in those stadium and we can learn and watch what happens there. And continue to work with the Governor’s office and her advisers to get them comfortable that we can host fans in a way that’s safe, which I’m very comfortable and confident that we can.
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“And I do think, at the end of the day, if we do it well — and I think you’ll see that with those games that do have fans early on — it could be a great example for the whole country as to how you’re supposed to behave with this virus,” Wood continued. “People will be wearing masks, they will be six feet apart, there will be a lot of safety measures in the stadium, temperatures being taken, questionnaires being filled out, Plexiglas between concession stands and the fans. And I think a lot of things that are being preached about what you can do to prevent the spread, you’ll be able to see live on TV. We can continue to be a good example for everybody if we’re allowed to have fans do it at a safe place.”
Wood also noted that the Lions won’t see fans at any stadium, home or the road, until Week 6 of the season, when the team travels to Jacksonville
► Both Wood and Quinn praised the work the various staffers have put into making the team’s practice facility prepared to handle players during this pandemic, as well as the financial commitment from ownership to implement all the changes.
Quinn noted it took about a week after players reported at the end of July to become comfortable with the new procedures put in place to protect them.
► Talking about offseason additions, Quinn discussed how the pandemic influenced the team’s free-agency approach.
“We added one guy at each layer of the defense that has some experience in our system and are established players in the NFL,” Quinn said. “From Duron Harmon in the secondary, to Jamie Collins at the linebacker level, and obviously Danny Shelton along the defensive line. That was something by design because as we got into early March with the virus going on, we wanted to prepare for the possibility of not having an offseason program, which we kind of predicted and knew was probably going to happen. Some of those things made some of the free-agency decisions a little bit easier, to get guys that were good players, number one, and number two, if they missed the offseason program, or it was virtual, we wouldn’t miss a step.
► As for the rookies, Quinn said one of the reasons offensive lineman Jonah Jackson has been able to hit the ground running is because the team had a week to coach him at the Senior Bowl.
Jackson is currently projected to be the team’s starter at right guard.
► Another thing that’s been changed dramatically by the pandemic is Quinn’s training camp workflow.
“Rod and I have kind of laughed about this a little bit; it’s considerably different this preseason,” Quinn said. “Normally, we have practice in the morning, normally come in and grab a quick lunch and watch that practice, and by this time (mid-afternoon), I’m sitting in my office watching every other preseason game until late at night, trying to find that next guy that might help us.
“It’s a little different with no preseason games to watch,” Quinn said. “It’s a different workflow for everybody on my side, in the personnel department, but we’re doing the best we can kind of monitoring the league, seeing what we can find out from other teams and obviously going back and watching last year’s stuff when we have to on any guy that might get released.”