Allen Park — Little harm, few fouls. And above all else, no drama.
That has been the underlying story of this Lions training camp, which officially ends today without much fanfare and with about as much fuss as we’ve come to expect from Jim Caldwell’s team.
Unlike other NFL cities, where camps have been disrupted by arrests, brawls, feuds and other assorted nonsense — from DeflateGate to the Great LA Debate — things have been quiet in Detroit.
Almost too quiet, even for Caldwell, who joked Tuesday he preferred not to talk about a fight-free offseason lest he jinx it.
“I know one thing: I’m not gonna talk about what we don’t do,” Caldwell said, smiling. “Because we could have a fight at any time, you know what I mean?”
Yes, but so do his players, quite clearly. And that they don’t duke it out is to their credit, as the Lions “just do what we do,” Caldwell says, and don’t waste much time or energy explaining away the things that, frankly, they used to do.
Last week, in the wake of the Jets’ fisticuffs fiasco, Caldwell talked about his own house rules, borrowing a line from the late Al McGuire.
“There’s a bar that his father owned, and they lived upstairs from the bar, and Al McGuire would always say, ‘It’s not a fight until the bouncer has to take off his jacket,’” Caldwell said. “We’ve had a couple situations where the bouncer didn’t have to take off his jacket …”
But they’ve still managed to mind the coach’s mantra: Be competitive, not combative. That’s one I heard repeated — unsolicited — by a couple players Tuesday after practice. And that’s hardly the only sign of maturity here.
Mum’s the word
The Lions have dealt with one player arrest the last two years — Rodney Austin, who was promptly released this spring — after enduring a rash of them in the middle of Jim Schwartz’s five-year tenure here. (The rest of the NFC North, by comparison, has 18 reported arrests during that span.)
And they’ve dealt with little in the way of player-fueled, media-sating controversy the last six months or so, on or off the field.
Gone is Ndamukong Suh, the All-Pro defensive star who always managed to stir up a commotion. And absent are any serious contract squabbles this summer. DeAndre Levy signed his extension early in camp, Haloti Ngata’s negotiations reportedly are progressing, and James Ihedigbo’s would-be holdout never really materialized. The veteran safety skipped voluntary workouts, then showed up for OTAs and hasn’t said a word about his deal since.
The closest thing to a controversy in camp might’ve been tight end Eric Ebron’s self-imposed media blackout, which ended last week with smiles and laughter and a vow to be “20 times better” than he was as a rookie first-round pick in 2014.
Indeed, if there’s a valid criticism of this team off the field, it’s that they often don’t have much to say. And when they do, the words are mostly measured. That’s by design, of course, as the front office has sought out serenity along with the talent it has acquired the last couple years.
Much like Caldwell, many of veteran leaders on this team are low-key personalities, from Calvin Johnson on down.
“We have ’em all over the field,” said cornerback Rashean Mathis, whose mentoring relationship with brash, young cornerback Darius Slay has drawn rave reviews from Caldwell and others. “And that’s how they built this team. I think that’s a big reason why we’re able to succeed.
“You don’t have to say much for someone to respect you. … You just have to live a certain life.”
Mathis pointed to DeAndre Levy as one example among many on the Lions’ roster.
“He’s one of the most respected guys in the locker room, and he says the least,” Mathis said, laughing. “And that shows how much your play — and your life — speaks volumes for yourself.”
Call for accountability
It speaks to Caldwell’s even-keeled influence as well, obviously.
“I heard some things when I first came to Detroit,” defensive end Darryl Tapp said, pausing to choose his words carefully from there.
Things like what?
“How things kind of happened to our guys,” Tapp continued. “But Coach Caldwell let everybody know, ‘I’m gonna treat you all like men. These are the rules. And if you don’t abide by the rules, you get fined to the highest amount.”
And if you can’t abide by them, “he’ll get you out of here,” Tapp said. “Guys really respect that, and take his word as the law. So we haven’t had any issues.”
Accountability was the catchphrase last year as the Lions broke camp. But it’s more than that now, it seems. It’s ingrained.
“There’s no sacred cows here,” said Tapp, beginning his 10th NFL season after previous stops in Seattle, Philadelphia and Washington. “Everybody gets treated the same. As leaders, we still police it, because we want everything going in the right direction. But Coach Caldwell laid a firm foundation and guys abide by it.
“It’s great. I’ve been a lot of places where they kind of let the guys that are established or the star players slide by on some bad technique or footwork and then they ride the young guys hard. Now, we still ride the young guys hard here, too, but I get my fair share of criticism and stuff, because they want everybody to great.”
And while there’s no telling whether this team will be great this season — coming off an 11-win season and a wild-card playoff berth a year ago — this much can be said for the Lions under Caldwell: At least they’ve been good.