Allen Park — During Matt Patricia’s first mini-camp as Lions coach, we learned a lot. For instance, we learned the Lions are trying really hard to get better. Also, that last year is last year. Also, under intense questioning from reporters, several players revealed everyone is working diligently.
OK, I’m not saying Camp Patricia is battened down tightly, few clues given, few comparisons offered. I’m just saying some of the automated answers make you wonder if the Lions developed a football version of Siri. Even their most-loquacious players aren’t saying much about the past regime, or the new regime, or what’s different. But, oh, it’s different.
Patricia and GM Bob Quinn are reluctant to tout the “Patriot Way” here, as they carve their own path.
But all the signs are showing up, from the no-nonsense practices, to the occasional stern outbursts from Patricia on the field, to the reluctance by anybody to say anything.
Golden Tate is as frank and open as any Lion, so surely he could give some insight into the changes, right?
“I really don’t want to talk about last year,” Tate said Thursday as the mandatory minicamp concluded. “We’re just out here trying to compete, that’s it, point blank. We have high expectations and we’re chasing those every day.”
The basics of the offense actually might not be much different with Jim Bob Cooter back as offensive coordinator. But the defense will be completely remade under Patricia and coordinator Paul Pasqualoni, and the demands will be different.
Patricia has emphasized conditioning and mistake-free drills, and at times made the offense and defense run sprints after unsatisfactory efforts. The post-practice routine was heavy on laps and sprints by the entire team.
That shouldn’t be a problem for NFL players, but after the reputation of Jim Caldwell as a players coach, there might be an adjustment. Just don’t expect anyone to explain it.
Matthew Stafford long ago perfected the art of speaking politely and plainly and revealing little. So if there is some sort of edict from the new regime — which wouldn’t be a surprise based on the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady model — Stafford has no trouble handling it.
Hey Matthew, what about the increased emphasis on running the ball with new backs LeGarrette Blount and rookie Kerryon Johnson?
“We’re just trying to get better, man,” Stafford said. “We’re just trying to figure out who fits where, and just trying to call plays.”
Fans are hungering for football tidbits even in early-June, and there’s fascination with the new direction. No team is obligated to be forthright or glib, but this feels like a strategy, and maybe it’s a safe one for a new staff, to avoid any bold proclamations.
Stafford chuckled, like someone who has played the game for a while.
“I understand this time of year, there’s nothing to write and talk about for you guys, in terms of final scores of games,” Stafford said. “I understand you guys are trying to compare this year to last year, but we’re focused on now. We’re a different team, we got different players, got different coaches, gotta go out there and make it work.”
Ask Patricia about the running game and he’ll talk generically about the 90-man roster. Ask him about individual players, such as undrafted rookie receiver Teo Redding, and he says he’s “just a young guy trying to learn.” Ask him about injuries and the status of, say, Ziggy Ansah, and while he doesn’t drop Caldwell’s “check the report” line, he’s just as tight-lipped.
It’s not overly annoying but it’s odd, considering Patricia has a big, engaging personality. Football is about discipline and authoritative leadership, and of course he was going to bring those tenets from the Patriots. One caveat: It works in New England because of Belichick and Brady, and because winning quiets dissent. The Patriots’ success gives Patricia credibility to institute it here, but he’ll still have to show he can do the winning part.
New England’s model has started to wobble amid reports of a Belichick-Brady rift, and former Patriots don’t mind griping once they’ve left.
Defensive end Cassius Marsh was the latest ex-Pat to say “there’s nothing fun about” playing for New England after his brief stint there.
Asked if it was important to build a similar culture with the Lions, Patricia didn’t bite. He did, however, confirm reports the Lions are trying to get better. Also, working hard.
“I think that’s the main focus for us, we’re trying to improve,” Patricia said. “We’re trying to learn. We’re trying to do a better job than we did the day before.”
Words don’t win games, and the average fan might not even care if players or coaches are enlightening.
This is not a media whine, and I’m not stomping my feet and yelling, “The public has the right to know!” This is an observation on how quickly the message has trickled from the top and stuck with the players.
New England famously uses fear as a tool — don’t do the wrong thing or say the wrong thing or ask for too much money. Fit in, blend in, don’t draw attention to yourself, no matter how interesting the story.
Kerry Hyder was the Lions’ sack leader in 2016, then missed all last season with a torn Achilles. He’s ecstatic to be back, but reticent to talk about it.
“I haven’t given it much thought,” Hyder said. “Since the day (the injury) happened, I’ve been onto the future, getting better, chopping wood, getting better, getting better, chopping wood.”
Talking points don’t necessarily matter, but generally are used to hammer a message. During the first real glimpse at Patricia’s business-like approach, it came through loud, clear and largely unspoken, saying something without saying much.