Allen Park — It was no secret the Lions benefited from improved chemistry this season.
And as much as coach Jim Caldwell and his staff helped, many of the players on the back end of the roster contributed.
Practice squad safety Nate Ness, for example, was one of the most boisterous players in the locker room and always quick with a joke. During one December day in the locker room, he rattled off some nicknames for players as they walked by — "Long-face Larry (Webster), Soft (Ndamukong) Suh and 12 'Shean (Rashean Mathis, who's played 12 seasons)."
"It's a brotherhood," said Ness, who's been on seven teams since going undrafted in 2009. "These are my bros, and every day — win, lose or draw — try to have fun. This opportunity doesn't come to everybody."
But guys like Ness, cornerback Mohammed Seisay and interior offensive lineman Rodney Austin contribute in more ways than making teammates smile. Caldwell said the team gives out an award each week to players who have best helped the team prepare during practice, and Ness and practice squad receiver Andrew Peacock received it multiple times.
During practice, the 5-foot-10 Peacock typically mimics the top opposing receiver for the week. And Ness plays defensive back and receiver on the scout team. Caldwell joked he'd play tackle or guard if the Lions needed, too.
"Ness is full of energy," Caldwell said. "He gives us help on offense and defense. He never stops running during the course of practice — tireless. He's smart and one of those guys that's going to be really successful even after his playing days are done."
Being involved in practice and meetings isn't just a chance for some of the bottom-level roster guys to go through the motions.
Ness was active during Week 2, playing special teams as the Lions dealt with injuries in the secondary. The following week, the Lions promoted Seisay from the practice squad, and the undrafted rookie was active 13 games, primarily playing special teams.
"Everybody is a part of what's going on," Seisay said. "You never know. In Week 3, when a lot of people went down, they called my number and moved me from the practice squad. I wasn't really expecting that, but it happened and I had to come in and fill the role."
Seisay is quieter than Ness in the locker room, but he said that's because he's trying to be observant as a rookie. His teammates explained that during meetings, Seisay easily can cause teammates to laugh.
Ness, meanwhile, sent his fellow defensive backs an encouraging group text message before each game, according to cornerback Darius Slay, and always would provide an honest assessment of how they played.
"He builds us up as a team," Slay said. "Everybody appreciates that kind of stuff."
Said Ness: "We got some characters on this team. When you come to the facility, you don't want to just be like, oh man, I'm going to work. When you go to work, you want to have fun."