Former U-D Jesuit back George Winn making noise with the Lions
Allen Park — Generally, there aren’t very many big hits in Lions training camp. With an emphasis on avoiding injuries and just running through drills to learn the new offensive and defensive schemes, there’s very little in the way of oohs and aahs in the intrasquad drills.
So when there was a loud noise from the crack of pads during a drill, the assumption was that a defender might have been a little overzealous and put a good hit on an offensive player.
Not so fast.
It was Lions running back George Winn delivering the hit — to reserve safety Jerome Couplin — and continuing to run after the vicious contact.
“I was pretty surprised — that’s one of the biggest ones I’ve had this year,” said Winn, a second-year back who played in college at Cincinnati.
That hit got some notice, as has Winn, who is trying to get a spot on the 53-man roster this season. He bounced around last season as an undrafted free agent, from the Texans to the Patriots in the preseason, and was on the practice squad for the Cowboys, Raiders and Steelers.
With the Lions, Winn is looking to get into the mix as a backup to Reggie Bush and Joique Bell, but is competing with Theo Riddick, Mikel Leshoure and Steven Miller to secure a spot. His power-running style has earned his nicknames such as Dump Truck and Hammerhead, but Winn, who played in high school at U-D Jesuit, is leaving a bigger impression on the veterans.
“Man, dude is fearless,” guard Rob Sims said. “He’s not afraid to throw his face in there and mix it up; he’s doing a really good job.
“You can see he’s got the fire and he wants to be here. You would think everybody would be like that, but it’s not like that. It’s good to see.”
Last week, Winn was promoted to play with the top special-teams group, which could be a sign that he’s getting a serious look from coach Jim Caldwell.
“He is tough, he plays hard and he’s hungry,” Caldwell said. “At that position, it depends on where you line up as a running back and where you are on the depth chart that you have to make strong contributions in the special teams area in order to be a guy that will have an opportunity to hang around and make this team.”
“That’s one of the reasons why we put him in that position, to see how he would do and how he would function and react — and he performed well.”
Caldwell, though, warned against putting too much stock in a single performance, albeit a good one.
“Now, one game does not do it. This is the thing about this league, you’ll be able to find — and I’m not necessarily referring to George but all across the board,” Caldwell cautioned. “You’ll find guys that’ll have a good game, you’ll find guys that have a good season, but the ones that make a difference are the guys that do it every single day, every single week, every single game, year after year.”
But Winn’s two tackles on special teams in Friday’s loss to the Raiders did raise a couple of eyebrows, as his power running has.
“If you have a 10-tackle year on special teams, it’s huge, so two in a game is really big,” linebacker Travis Lewis said. “He’s taking advantage of his opportunities and that’s what you need to do to make the (53-man roster).”
With versatile veteran running backs ahead of him on the depth chart, Winn knows that working hard on special teams will be the only way that he can make the roster. For inspiration, he can look at Bell, who played at Wayne State and bounced around, earning his way first by playing special teams.
That starts with physical play, whether he has the ball on offense or whether he’s trying to get the ball carrier on a kickoff or punt.
“I like to be physical and the best way I know to protect myself is to deliver the first hit, so I try to do that as many times as I can,” Winn said. “It all comes together; I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t able to run the ball. But obviously I had to perform on special teams to see the field.”
Winn, who led the Big East in rushing yards (1,334) and rushing touchdowns (13) as a senior in 2012, is having fun and just looking to have a shot at making the final roster.
At Cincinnati, he got his start on special teams and is looking to follow the same path to make a name for himself in the NFL. He’s looking to use that work ethic to push him forward, without worrying about which nickname might stick.
“I just like to be here,” he said. “Call me whatever you want to call me.”
Jaguars at Lions
Kickoff:7:30 p.m. Friday, Ford Field
Exhibition records:Lions 1-1, Jaguars 1-1
Outlook:Lions receiver Calvin Johnson should see limited playing time in the last exhibition home game.