Notebook: Staffords donate Lions tickets to first responders

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
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Allen Park — First responders from Dearborn, Detroit and Allen Park were invited to attend Day 5 of Lions training camp Wednesday night.

It’s something the team has done the past few years, but this time there was an unexpected bonus.

In addition to getting to watch the team, the firefighters, police officers, emergency medical technicians and their families each received two tickets to one of the Lions’ home preseason games that were donated by quarterback Matthew Stafford and his wife, Kelly.

The Staffords approached the Lions about the idea to show their appreciation and bought the estimated 2,000 tickets that were passed out prior to practice.

“It’s important,” Stafford said following practice. “Obviously it was great for the Lions and my wife and I to get together. These people do a great job of keeping our community safe, saving lives, whatever it is here and abroad so we were happy to give back and let them know we were thinking about them.”

Stafford said there was no specific reason that led to their act of generosity. Rather, it was just an opportunity to thank those who put their lives on the line to protect and serve.

Kelly Stafford and Lions team president Rod Wood were on hand to greet the first responders and their families, pass out the tickets and take the occasional selfie.

“They were all surprised and very appreciative,” Wood said. “I’d give them two tickets and they’re like, ‘Wow, thanks.’ I gave two tickets to everybody. There were families of four there so each of the four got two tickets and told them to bring a friend. Hopefully, they get to experience Ford Field, maybe they otherwise wouldn’t have gotten a chance to do that.”

Lions coach Jim Caldwell said it was just the latest example of players making a difference in the community.

“Obviously, we’re proud of them and it’s the way in which I think things have been done here for a long time,” Caldwell said. “There are a number of different foundations and guys take it to heart.

“They work at it, they want to try and improve our community, but also they certainly understand they’ve been blessed with great opportunities so they spread it around quite a bit. I think that’s extremely important.”

The Lions host the Cincinnati Bengals on Aug. 18 and the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 1 in their two exhibition home games.

Getting over the hump

For former Lions linebacker Chris Spielman, the keys to the team’s success this season and chances of earning the franchise’s first playoff win since 1991 will hinge on Stafford and the run game.

“I think this team obviously coming into this year, they’ve been close and I do think you have a quarterback that can take you over that hump because I really think he’s a top 10 guy in the league,” Spielman said. “Also one thing that never changes about football — no matter what level — is you have to have some consistency running the ball.”

Lions mailbag: Third place likely finish in NFC North

The Lions ranked last in the league in rushing offense, averaging 83.4 yards per game, and tied for 25th with 3.8 yards per carry. Ameer Abdullah led the rushing attack as a rookie with 597 yards and a 4.2-yard-per-carry average, and is expected to shoulder an increased workload.

Theo Riddick, who set a franchise record with 80 receptions at the position last year, is also expected to see a larger, more balanced role, with Stevan Ridley and Zach Zenner likely in the mix.

“You have to be able to establish something on the ground,” Spielman said. “Then it’s difficult — I don’t want to be cliché in this case — if you’re one dimensional and you have a defense that’s not forced to bring an extra guy up there to slow down the run or every defensive lineman, including the interior guys, are in a pass-rush stance every single down, that puts a lot of stress on an offense.”

Digging Diggs

Cornerback Quandre Diggs was named to ESPN and Football Outsider’s top 25 breakout candidates. Diggs, a sixth-round pick in 2015, was No. 14 on the list that features players who are under 26 and drafted in the third round or later, among other criteria.

“Diggs had a 56 percent success rate on 38 targets last season, and allowed just 8.5 yards per pass. While his size (5-foot-9, 197 pounds) and arm length (29⅝ inches) are sure signs that most teams would never put him outside, ace slot cornerbacks are pretty valuable in today's NFL,” writer Rivers McCown said.

“But in the 10 years we’ve been doing this, we have seen our share of one-year-wonder slot cornerbacks, so we resisted putting Diggs inside the top 10.”

Diggs, 23, made an immediate impact as a rookie, playing in all 16 games, recording 38 tackles and six passes defended and making four starts at nickel cornerback. He’s one of three young starters returning in the Lions’ secondary, along with 25-year-old cornerbacks Darius Slay and Nevin Lawson.

Extra points

Safety Don Carey suited up for the first time in training camp after being taken off the active/non-football injury list. Receiver Ryan Spadola (chest) cleared waivers and was placed on injured reserve.

“It’s great to have him back,” Caldwell said of Carey. “Obviously he’s guy with a lot of experience. Really on our special teams unit he’s certainly a guy that’s been extremely effective year in and year out.

“He does a tremendous job and he does a lot a jobs for us on the perimeter. He plays a little bit of nickel, plays a little bit of safety position as well. Don has a valuable role and not only that, but he has a lot of opportunity to add a few more things to his repertoire.”

… Caldwell said linebacker DeAndre Levy, who remains on the active/non-football injury list and has yet to take part in training camp, is “progressing” and running back Theo Riddick is “coming along” and will see his activity increase. Riddick returned to practice on Wednesday after missing the past two.

… Caldwell will be traveling to Canton on Saturday to see Indianapolis Colts receiver Marvin Harrison and coach Tony Dungy be inducted into the Football Hall of Fame. Caldwell served as quarterbacks coach and assistant head coach on the Colts from 2002-2008 before taking over as head coach from 2009-2011.

“It’s been two years in a row now that I get to go down,” Caldwell said. “(Colts president/vice chairman) Bill Polian was inducted (last year) and it was a quite moving experience. Now having an opportunity to see both Tony and Marvin going in on the same evening, two guys I think have had a tremendous impact on our game and me personally.

“It’s going to be great to see them go in and great to see a number of the guys that were there the same time Marvin was there so it should be a lot of fun.”

… Sports Illustrated released its NFL preseason power rankings and the Lions checked in at No. 22, behind divisional foes the Chicago Bears (No.16), Green Bay Packers (No. 9) and Minnesota Vikings (No. 7).

jhawkins@detroitnews.com

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