Allen Park – The Lions left a lot to be desired after losing their first five games last season and limping into the midseason with a 1-7 record.
But the Lions rebounded in the second half, winning six of their final eight and were a play away from a 7-1 mark if not for Aaron Rodgers’ Hail Mary as time expired in a devastating loss to the Green Bay Packers.
And it was that final stretch of the season that caught veteran receiver Anquan Boldin’s attention, leading the free agent to spurn other suitors and sign a one-year, $2.75 million contract – which also includes incentives and a $750,000 signing bonus – on Thursday, the day before the team’s first training camp practice.
“I like the direction that I feel like this team is heading,” Boldin said. “Good, young talent and guys that are hungry. Just watching the last eight games of the season last year I felt like that this team would be in a position to compete this year."
There was also the familiarity factor with Boldin rejoining coach Jim Caldwell and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, who were both on the Ravens’ coaching staff during Baltimore’s Super Bowl-winning season in 2012-13. Austin also served as the defensive backs coach when Boldin was with the Arizona Cardinals.
On Friday, the Lions wasted little time getting Boldin accustomed to offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter’s system. Boldin slid right in and took reps with the first team, lining up in the slot with Marvin Jones Jr. and Golden Tate on the outside.
Boldin, who snared everything thrown his way by Matthew Stafford, said he feels he and tight end Eric Ebron will be able to create mismatches on the inside, whether it’s against a linebacker or a safety coming up to cover one of them.
"For me, I think I've always been reliable throughout my career,” Boldin said. “Always been tough, always been the guy who made those tough catches, not afraid to take a hit across the middle. I think those are some of the things that I bring to the table."
A 13-year veteran, Boldin also brings a wealth of experience, durability and a gritty edge to a receiving corps that will have to adapt following Calvin Johnson’s retirement.
And out of respect for Johnson, Boldin picked No. 80 and didn’t even ask about No. 81 – the same jersey number both players have worn throughout their careers.
“I think I know, everybody knows what Calvin Johnson means to this community, to this organization,” Boldin said. “So for me, I didn't even want to go down that road.”
At the age of 35, Boldin led the San Francisco 49ers in receiving yards (789) and receptions (69) last year, something he credits to hard work, paying attention to detail and taking care of his body. That was on the heels of back-to-back seasons with more than 1,000 yards receiving in 2013-2014.
Boldin, a three-time Pro Bowler, has also played in at least 10 games every year and averages 1,015 receiving yards, 78 receptions and six touchdowns a season for his career. He ranks No. 12 all-time in receptions (1,009), No. 17 in receiving yards (13,195) and tied for No. 33 in receiving touchdowns (74).
“When you look at him, he’s a well-rounded guy. He’s very physical,” Caldwell said. “I think, I don’t know what year it was, but I know the offensive linemen I believe in San Francisco adopted him as an honorary lineman one year because he blocked so ferociously. But he’s always been that way. He’s been highly competitive.
“But the things that he brings in terms of competiveness, desire, sets a tone for the room, toughness, is pretty special. So those are the kind of things that simply are under the radar. But production isn’t under the radar. I mean, every year he’s been right in the thick of it.”