Lions eager to get to work; James Ihedigbo is no-show

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
James Ihedigbo

Allen Park — Don Carey described the first day of the Lions' offseason program as a chance for players to reconnect and discuss their offseasons.

The Lions players worked out and met with their respective position groups, and coach Jim Caldwell delivered a message to the team.

"Last year means nothing; look forward to the new (year)," Carey said of Caldwell's speech.

"Basically, this is where it starts," cornerback Crezdon Butler said. "In order to be a good team, it don't start in September. It starts now."

Over the next month, Lions players will participate in strength and conditioning exercises at the team's headquarters in Allen Park. The real football practices begin May 26 with the commencement of organized team activities, another optional event. The first mandatory activity is minicamp, which begins June 16.

The offseason program is an opportunity for players to bond, but one of the team's best leaders was the only absence. Strong safety James Ihedigbo's agent said recently the 31-year-old safety would miss optional workouts unless the Lions gave him a new contract. After a strong 2014, Ihedigbo made his desire for a raise known shortly after the season ended, but there's been no progress toward a new deal.

Carey and Butler said Caldwell didn't address Ihedigbo's situation with the team. The 31-year-old Ihedigbo plans to train at home in Houston.

"He's a veteran doing what he feels is best for him, and I'll just leave all that stuff to him to talk about," Carey said.

Even though the conditioning program that began Monday has limitations, defensive end Jason Jones said Sunday in Ann Arbor he was looking forward to reuniting with his teammates.

"It's time," he said. "Every player gets that kind of itch to get back to some structure, and I'm definitely excited to get back and start working out with all the fellas."

A few Lions players from 2014 will be noticeable absences. Defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley signed elsewhere in free agency. Center Dominic Raiola didn't have his contract renewed either. One of the more recent players to leave was defensive end George Johnson, a restricted free agent the Lions traded to Tampa Bay after the Buccaneers signed him to an offer sheet.

"He was a shock to a lot of us, a surprise," Jones said of Johnson. "But he's a hard worker and he had success. You lose that pass rush ability, but I feel like at D-end we're deep."

Among the new faces will be defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, a five-time Pro Bowler in his nine years with the Ravens.

"From what I hear, he's a great guy," Jones said. "I guess I'll be picking his brain as well and learning from him."

Extra point

Lions tight end Joseph Fauria declined to speak about the offseason program, but did say "no" when asked if he underwent offseason surgery on his injured ankle as he walked away from reporters.