Someone shouted from behind a fence, as Detroit Lions owner Sheila Hamp walked across the practice field.
“Hey Martha!” Ali Dakroub, 32, of Dearborn, yelled. “Martha!”
OK. So he didn’t exactly nail the name. But Hamp walked over with a smile.
“I’m not Martha,” she explained. “I’m Sheila.”
After a warm greeting, she shook his hand.
“Thank you for being here,” she said politely.
So that’s a first.
You don’t see many owners walk to a fence and greet a fan out of the blue.
“It was crazy,” Dakroub said, smiling. “It’s a first-time experience for us.”
Everything feels like a first-time experience at the Lions’ practice facility and not just because of the “Hard Knocks” crews. The vibe and culture changed when coach Dan Campbell arrived — that has been well-documented. But something else is changing: the type of players you see on the field.
The Lions are trying to find tough, passionate, pads-rattling football players. It doesn’t matter if those players are coming off an injury — the Lions will take them.
It doesn’t matter how tall those players are — the Lions just want ballers. Guys with grit.
“It means we are unbreakable,” Campbell told his team in a video clip released by the NFL promoting the HBO series. “It means we’ll play you anywhere. We’ll play you on grass. We’ll play on turf. We’ll go to a landfill. … We’ll tread water as long as it takes to (bleepin’) bury you.”
Which brings us to my new favorite, must-watch player.
Yeah, I’m a sucker for late-round picks who hit like a cement truck.
Because he epitomizes the Campbell mindset.
This kid has grit and toughness.
And he’s fun as heck to watch.
TUESDAY’S OBSERVATIONS: Practice gets physical, even if it doesn’t sound like it
Bigger than you think
Campbell had glowing things to say about Rodriguez early Tuesday before practice.
“He showed up (Monday),” Campbell said. “We’ve been pretty pleased with him, and all of a sudden, we go first day of pads and guess who shows up?”
“Now that we’re in pads, man, all of a sudden guys come to life,” Campbell said.
So I spent Tuesday watching Rodriguez every time he touched the field.
He started out in individual drills, and he was running through blockers. He might be short — listed at 5 foot 11 — but he hammers people.
“Everyone looks at me like a small linebacker, so I’m gonna go show them that I can put a little thump down on some linemen and tight ends,” he said.
That’s exactly what he did during the team portion of practice. He kept putting a little thump down.
Rodriguez came flying up the middle and smashed a blocker, lifting him into the air.
Two plays later, he knocked another guy down.
“I’ll tell you what, his key and diagnose for a young guy right now is pretty good, pretty good,” Campbell said. “And so, as you see the competition in that room and you just watch, ‘OK, here he is. Let’s just give him a rep,’ and (Lions linebackers coach Kelvin Sheppard has) done a good job with that and now there’s already conversation, ‘Hey, let’s push him to the next group a little bit and give him some more reps and see where that goes.’ So, we’re going to give those guys a fair chance in that room to compete and let the two or three best come out of there, defensively.”
Nobody is putting him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. During a pass drill, he got beat across the middle. You’d expect that. He still has things to learn. But this kid is a player.
He made at least three bone-rattling plays on Tuesday.
Plays that make you snap your head and go: Who did that?
Folks might get his name mixed up.
But people are quickly learning about this linebacker from Oklahoma State.
From one linebacker to another
The Lions have put an emphasis on tackling in practice — yet another welcome change.
I mean — hallelujah, right? How many times have you seen a Lions defender miss a tackle over the years?
“Pads on pads is what they preach here,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez is playing mostly weak-side linebacker but he moves to the middle in a dime package.
And he has gotten advice from Chris Spielman, the former Lions great who now works in the front office.
“He told me, ‘Hey, you aren’t the biggest linebacker, you just have to work,’” Rodriguez said. “I’ve seen his film and he’s a dude. He was a dog.”
Rodriguez’s biggest contribution this season will probably be on special teams — he played on all four units early in his college career. And Tuesday, he played on both kickoff and kickoff return.
A two-time state-champion wrestler, he has agility and body control. He shows that he can get off blocks or blow them up.
Oh, and he’s a tackling machine.
“It’s fun, running around out there and hitting somebody,” he said. “At the end of the day, you got pads on, so you can’t can’t be soft.”
His eyes grew wide, just talking about hitting people.
I have this feeling, he’d tread water as long as it takes, as Campbell so eloquently put it, just to bury you.
Contact Jeff Seidel: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.