Lions minicamp observations: Coach stresses clean living at break

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — With minicamp concluding Thursday, Lions players will begin their six-week break before training camp begins in August.

After practice, coach Jim Caldwell told players what the coaches expect from them while they're gone and when they reconvene this summer. He also reminded them of his "high cost for low living" mantra, which he said is basically a daily message.

"We were always looking to make certain that we are doing this right, not that just appear to be right, but to do things the right way," Caldwell said, admitting that can be tough for many men in their 20s. "I think our guys have done a great job of staying out of trouble, but we're not perfect. And certainly trouble's going to come. It just depends on how they handle it, so that's important.

"We don't need to lose anyone because of an incident. It's tough enough to keep them healthy out on the field."

The Lions avoided off-field incidents last year during the summer break, and since Jim Caldwell took over last January, Rodney Austin's misdemeanor domestic violence conviction was the only publicly known legal issue involving a player.

With distractions limited, the Lions were able to focus on football for the past two months, starting with the conditioning program in April and finishing with 10 practices for organized team activities and three for minicamp this week.

"April 20 to now goes by quickly, but I think our guys have done a tremendous job just during this period," Caldwell said. "I think every guy has improved. Now, how much, we'll have to determine when we get the pads on in the fall, but we certainly have been pleased with the guys' work at this point in time."

Here are some observations from Thursday's minicamp:

*Rashean Mathis continues to defy his age and has looked impressive throughout the offseason program. On Thursday, he batted down a pass from Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson, and even when he did give up a catch in practice, he was rarely far from the ball.

*Similar compliments can be made to Darius Slay, who intercepted Matthew Stafford's ill-advised pass to Golden Tate.

*Overall, the offense played much worse than it did on Wednesday. In one 11-on-11 portion, Slay had the interception, and defensive end Devin Taylor batted down a screen on Stafford's next pass. In a red zone drill, Darryl Tapp likely would've sacked Stafford before the pass, and on the next play, Corey Fuller dropped a pass in the end zone.

*One of the offensive highlights, though, was rookie running back Zach Zenner. It's hard to evaluate the running game without pads, but Zenner's one-cut running style is as advertised. Compared to Theo Riddick, Zenner has been much more successful avoiding tight quarters with other players and finishing runs up the field. Ameer Abdullah has consistently played with a similar style, too.

*A defensive star Thursday was rookie safety Brian Suite, who had one pass break-up against tight end David Ausberry and another against Zenner.

*Quarterbacks Dan Orlovsky and Kellen Moore split time with the second and third teams Thursday, which they've done throughout the offseason. That competition should continue late into training camp.

*Eric Ebron's dog, Amber Rose, was at the facility during practice.

*Caldwell said that practices have been competitive and not combative, but there was some chippy play on Thursday. It was tough to tell how it started, but offensive tackle Riley Reiff and defensive end Ezekiel Ansah appeared to have a momentary skirmish. Defensive tackle Gabe Wright and guard Larry Warford exchanged words a play later, but it looked like veteran offensive lineman Manny Ramirez broke it up.

*The Lions have not said what ailment has held DeAndre Levy out of team drills, but it's a safe bet that it's something in his upper body. Though Levy has had no problem running in individual drills, he sat out one drill in which player lifted and pushed a sled with their arms.

*NFL vice president of operations Merton Hanks watched practice Thursday and chatted with Caldwell afterward. Both played college football at Iowa.