Today we have a very special edition of the Pride of Detroit Podcast. It features not one, not two, but three interviews. One of the interviews is with linebacker Isaiah Ekejiuba, who just became a free agent on Tuesday after spending the last two years with the Detroit Lions. The other interviews are with Temple tight end Evan Rodriguez and UConn wide receiver Kashif Moore, who both could potentially be picked by the Lions in the 2012 NFL Draft.
You can check out the audio of the interviews below. (The Moore interview is up first at the six-minute mark, followed by the Rodriguez interview at 12:20 and the chat with Ekejiuba at 18:50.) After the jump is a transcript of Ekejiuba's interview.
Pride of Detroit: Thanks for your time, Isaiah. How's it going?
Isaiah Ekejiuba: Hey, it's going well. I appreciate you having me.
POD: Let's take a look at the Lions' season last year. You kind of had a different role. You were more so on the sideline. You got injured early and were put on IR. What was it like watching this team (that kind of struggled a little bit, now they got better, they made the playoffs)? I'm sure you were happy, but you were kind of watching. What were your feelings overall?
IE: One, I was very happy for the team. The year before, we went 6-10 and started out kind of rough (2-10) and then ended the season really strong with those four wins. Coming into this past season, we were very excited about the kind of potential the Lions had because Coach Schwartz had put together a really good team. We started out good, but when I got hurt -- every time you get hurt in this league you always want to be out there playing with your teammates because that's what you signed up for. These are the guys you sweated with at training camp and all that, so I kind of felt like I was letting the team down. And I knew I couldn't help on the field, so it became my job to be off the field to help the guys, some of the younger guys, to get on board because we were trying to win a championship.
POD: Speaking of one of the younger guys. Doug Hogue, a guy that we brought in, drafted last year, is also a linebacker. He spent most of his time in the special teams, which is your expertise. Did you get a chance to kind of work with him, talk with him and what did you see from him if you got a chance to kind of work with him a little bit this year?
IE: Yeah, I did. I actually worked with Doug a lot this year. Doug is a very smart guy, talented, athletic. He wouldn't be in the league if he wasn't. With the linebackers we had this year -- DeAndre Levy, Justin Durant and Stephen Tulloch starting -- his role, he realized, was going to be special teams. And he put in a lot of work. I tried to help him out, doing different looks. I've been in the league -- I just finished my seventh year -- so I've seen a lot of the looks that I was trying to help him out with that early in my career had kind of bothered me. We just worked at that, and he picked up a lot of it really quickly. Like I said, he's a very athletic and very smart kind. He's a great addition to the Lions.
POD: No doubt throughout your football career -- college, high school, etc. -- you saw a lot of playing time and it was probably more so on other areas, not on special teams. Now when you got to the NFL, there has been a bit of a transition. How have you dealt with that -- going from being maybe a go-to guy on defense or offense to being primarily a special teams guy?
IE: The thing about the NFL is there's a lot of elite players up here. You might be the star in your college and come to the NFL and then you have guys that just have a bigger role than you, are better at what they do than you. But that's what makes a team. You put together everybody that you can and everybody has to know their role. If you know that you're not a starter, okay, you have to ask yourself, "What can I do to help the team?" If it's special teams, you go and do that. If it's taking more plays on, taking less plays, it's all about what can you do to help your team. You don't want to be selfish and say, "Well, I got all this playing time in college. I want to get the same playing time here in the NFL." It doesn't work that way. There are people that are better than you or drafted higher than you, and these things will happen. You have to know your role and you have to accept your role.
POD: I want to ask you one last question about the special teams. We'll get on to some other things. Just your opinion of the new kickoff rules. You got to see a taste of it for a couple of games -- preseason and then regular season -- before you went down against Minnesota. What's your opinion of the new kickoff rules? They've put it in college now, too, but as far as the NFL, obviously you're not going to have as many opportunities to get after a guy. But how do you feel about that rule as a whole?
IE: You think about it, that rule was put in primarily for safety reasons. There had been a lot of injuries that had come on kickoffs and things like that. It hurts teams that build a lot of their offense on their kick returns (look at the Chicago Bears, a team like that). But if it reduces the chances of injury, I'm all about it. It's all about longevity in the NFL, and if your job is primarily special teams and you play on a high-caliber offense that's scoring a lot and you're kicking from the 30, you're running down there five or six times as fast as you can. There's more of a chance to get hurt. It hurts some teams, but all in all, I think it's a good rule if it's gonna reduce the chance of injury.
POD: Looking at the Lions' season last year, it was a wild season. It was exciting -- the comeback wins. There were a lot of ups, there were some downs. I want to ask you about one incident in particular, with a particular teammate, Ndamukong Suh -- the whole stomping incident. Just tell fans from your standpoint -- you've gotten a chance to be in the locker room with him for a couple of years now -- the type of person that you know Suh to be and then just a reaction that incident as a whole.
IE: I've played two years with Suh and Suh's a great guy. He's respectful, he's smart, he's a hard worker. The whole league has portrayed him as that one incident, and that's not who he is. Something had happened, and he made a mistake. And he apologized for the mistake. It's not something that is gonna define Ndamukong Suh because he's such a smart kid, because he's such a talented kid. And he knows that. He's focused, and at a young age, after his second year, he's already a leader in the Lions locker room. I think people are going to see a different side of Suh. The league is taking a closer look at him these days, and he accepts that. He knows what he has to do. He has to go and play at the caliber we know he can play, why he was drafted No. 1 for the Lions. A guy like that, he's gonna go out and show that he's actually a good guy, and people are going to start changing their opinion of him.
POD: I'm going back to special teams. As an NFL player you get to see things and you notice things that us that are watching, we'll never get a chance to see. Now, we know about your Devin Hesters, your Joshua Cribbs, your DeSean Jacksons. If you could pick a kick or punt returner that's kind of under the radar, he doesn't get talked about a lot, he doesn't get a lot of accolades. If you could pick one of the more underrated guys, where he's getting the ball, you're saying to yourself, "You know what, I've got to get to him really quick, because he's really good." What's one of the more underrated kick return specialists in the NFL?
IE: I have two. One I've played with, Stefan Logan. And the other guy is Jacoby Ford out in Oakland. Both guys are smaller guys but extreme speeds with that you know every time they touch the ball, they can hit a home run. Guys like that are dangerous. Maybe teams that are not exposed as much you don't see that that often. The Raiders had a lot of different headlines with Carson Palmer, so you didn't really see Jacoby, then he got hurt. Little things like that you don't see, but those two guys are amazing.
POD: I want to ask you about this whole bounty thing that just went on in the NFL. This was a big news piece. Gregg Williams is under a lot of heat. What's your thoughts about it in general, knowing that there's coaches out there, especially a team that the Lions played twice last year, there's coaches that's giving incentives for things like that. Have you seen it? Have you heard about it from other teams? What's your opinion about the whole bounty scandal that's going on right now?
IE: I'm following everything that's going on in the news right now. I've been reading about the whole bounty with the Saints thing. My whole thing is this -- if you're blessed enough to make it to the NFL and your incentive to play harder is that somebody offers you what, five hundred dollars? A thousand dollars? If that's your incentive to play then that's crazy to me. I've not heard about these incentives, but if it has been happening, I've never seen somebody say, "I'm gonna go player harder just so I can make five hundred dollars." You want to play harder because you're on film, the coaches are evaluating you, the other 31 teams are evaluating you, and when your contract is up you're going to take a look at all these other teams. That's what you want to put on film. If you put on film "oh he's a headhunter, he wants to go hurt people" GMs don't want you in their locker room because you're going to cause problems.
POD: Free agency is approaching. You're gonna be out there. You're gonna be available. I really hope, and all the fans here really hope that you're back with the Lions. We really need you on special teams. Like I said, too many times we gave up big plays that I think you could have helped out on. Whether you're talking to (Martin) Mayhew or whatever GM or team you're talking to, if they ask you what separates you from everyone else that plays a similar role in the NFL, what are you gonna tell them?
IE: I'm gonna tell them that I'm more determined than whoever it is that my opponent is. I don't think that anybody that I go out there and play one on one on special teams can really block me. My combination of size and speed. My ability to help everybody else out. Playing special teams, you have to be able to read who you're playing with. It changes so much, and I think I've been around so many different players that it's easier for me to adapt in any situation that I'm put in.
POD: On behalf of myself, PrideOfDetroit.com, the podcast, we want to thank you for your time. We are hoping you're going to be back with us, but wherever you may end up, whether it's here or anywhere, we wish you the best and much success, Isaiah. Thanks very much for the time.
IE: I appreciate ya for having me on there, Jerry.