Lions QB Orlovsky throws negativity away

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
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Allen Park — The annual Taste of the Lions event at Ford Field is an excellent opportunity for fans to meet players in a relaxed setting surrounded by gourmet food.

For backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky, the night was a bit awkward.

First, there are the people who remind him of the time he stepped out of the back out of the end zone in 2008 — as if he’ll ever forget.

Then, because players are dispersed throughout the stadium concourse in pairs, Orlovsky is normally with another backup quarterback. The comments toward Kellen Moore in 2014 and 2015 and Jake Rudock this year might not have been directly antagonistic toward Orlovsky, but the underlying thought is clear.

“Someone would walk up to Kellen and be like, ‘Really counting on you this year!’ ” Orlovsky said Thursday. “And then that was it. It’s just funny stuff.

“Some guy walked up to Jake and called him Jack, said he loved him for all his years at Michigan.”

Rudock, a sixth-round pick this year, played one season at Michigan.

Despite the fan hostility toward Orlovsky, he’s still in Detroit, operating as the No. 2 quarterback behind Matthew Stafford. And while he admits that relationships with coaches — as well as understanding and accepting a role — can help a player stick in the NFL, ultimately, there’s another reason he’s entering his 12th season.

“Because I’m good,” he said. “Because I can play. That’s how this league is. If you’re valuable, they’ll keep you. If you’re not, they don’t.”

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As has been the case for most of his career, Orlovsky will have competition to retain his job — from Rudock. But, Orlovsky’s experience gives him a distinct advantage, just as it did against Moore the previous two years and others during stops in Houston (2009-10), Indianapolis (2011) and Tampa Bay (2012-13).

But make no mistake, the Lions value Orlovsky for more than his experience.

“He’s great ... just in terms of his study habits and his ability to adapt to different systems,” said coach Jim Caldwell, who was with Orlovsky in Indianapolis. “He’s extremely versatile in that area because he’s extremely bright. Not only that, he performs well within this setting, and I think does a tremendous job.

“Guys like that don’t hang around because they’re good looking. There’s a reason why he’s here. He still can throw the ball. He still obviously has skills and ability, he still commands the huddle (and) he does all the things that you require him to do.”

One of those requirements is tutoring his young competitor. Few situations are more awkward than seeing your possible replacement every day, especially in a quarterback room where there are only three or four players in meetings.

“You either understand the drill and go from there or you don’t,” Orlovsky said of working with young quarterbacks. “I was once him essentially.”

Orlovsky was a fifth-round pick by the Lions in 2005. He didn’t play significantly until 2008, when he was one of three starters during the 0-16 season.

And his career has been filled with more lows than highs.

Besides the winless season with the Lions, when he started seven games, Orlovsky’s most extensive playing time was with the Colts in 2011. He started five games for the 2-14 squad.

In fact, Orlovsky experienced one winning season — 9-7 with Houston in 2009 — in his first nine years. He finally went to the playoffs for the first time when he rejoined the Lions in 2014.

Despite all the losing, the Lions are glad Orlovsky is still around. Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said the veteran does well “running the show communication-wise.”

And even though the competition with Rudock might eventually be awkward, Orlovsky said he had no reaction to the Lions drafting him because he’s been competing for his entire career.

“If I did (react), then I would be disappointed in myself because I would hope that wouldn’t change my mindset,” Orlovsky said. “Listen, I was a fifth-round pick myself, so I’ve had to grind since … coming into (this league).”

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

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