Below is a recap of Detroit Lions head coach Jim Caldwell's comments from the first day of the team's rookie minicamp. (Quotes provided by the Lions.)
Opening statement: "First day, had an opportunity to work with the young men. I think overall they did a pretty nice job. It’s a great group of guys, very attentive, very focused, very serious group. Typically, you have a little light-heartedness somewhere along the line, but these guys have been serious from the moment they walked in the door, so it’s been fun working with them thus far. Today, and just like the next couple days or so, will be strictly to get an opportunity to try to get as much information to them as we possibly can in a three-day period to see how much they can absorb and see how much they can apply out on the field. That’s the real challenge, but it’s a good group and we’re certainly pleased at this stage."
On his evaluation of RB Ameer Abdullah as a kick and punt returner: "You know I’m not going to give you an evaluation from seeing somebody one day, a few hours, but he’s an athlete and he works hard. So, if a guy works hard I think he’s got a chance to continue to improve."
On RB Zach Zenner: "My impressions are, you know, obviously a productive guy who is smart, willing, so we’ll see how he matches up. He’s got some enthusiasm about him. He’s a quality guy."
On how much fun it is to work on the field with the new players and communicate his message to them: "It’s real exciting. You know, every time that you get an opportunity to get quite a bit of new blood like they have with this particular group, the challenge is to get them indoctrinated. So, we take every opportunity to try to do so. Typically, we’d have two team meetings maybe with this group, with our veteran group during mini-camp, but with this group we have two meetings per day. The sole purpose is to try to get them to understand how we do things, the way in which we like things done, to talk about our core values, to talk about the things that we value most around here in terms of our organization, to talk about what it should look like every single practice when they go out in terms of effort, consistency, things of that nature. So, it’s an ongoing process. Most of these guys have been in a system, or a lot of them have in a system where they never had to get in a huddle before. So, all of those procedures are things you have to implement, but the biggest part of it is from my vantage point is getting them to the point where they understand how we work, how we prepare and I think that’s something that we constantly do throughout the weekend."
On signing QB Anthony Boone as an undrafted rookie free agent: "He’s a good player. He’s been productive, been at a winning program, smart, so we’ll see what he can do."
On what he looks for in offensive and defensive linemen at this stage: "Bend, flexibility, intelligence, how quickly they catch on, adjustments that they have to make here this weekend, preparedness, how they come back after you’ve taught them something in the evening, the next morning when they come back if they’ve been able to absorb it. Then see if they can apply it rather quickly, so all of those kinds of things. Without pads on you can’t tell a whole lot about linemen in particular, but we do know from the film that we’ve watched on them, we know who they are. They haven’t done anything to discourage us from that particular vein at this point."
On Abdullah fielding punts in practice and not kickoffs: "Well, it really depends on what we’re working on. We haven’t worked on kickoff yet, so it’s just kind of what we implement. So, today just happened to be punt and punt return."
On the challenges for a guard to move from one side to the other: "You know, I think obviously you’re in a different stance, so that changes it up a little bit. There is some adjustment there, but I think most of the time when you have guys that have played in the line, a lot of these guys have played different sides, right side, left side. Some of them have played one side for an extended period of time. But if he’s an athlete, they can adjust. It’s just more so than anything else which foot they have back, which hand they have down. I’m not saying that that’s something that’s easy to do, but nevertheless I haven’t seen one falter as a result of that. They learn rather quickly and they adapt."
On if it is easier to recruit undrafted rookie free agents to this team based on the success previous free agents have had in the past: "That’s certainly part of it, that they know they’ll be treated fairly. They’ll get an opportunity just like everybody else in the room and I think that certainly resonates with them. But I think there’s a lot of young men that are looking for an opportunity to play in the National Football League and to play for the Detroit Lions, so we don’t have to do a whole lot of selling in that regard. These are pretty coveted jobs."
On how much pause a coach gets when hearing about injuries occurring to players in rookie mini-camp, specifically Jacksonville LB Dante Fowler, Jr.: "It’s unfortunate to hear that, but it doesn’t give us any pause. Unfortunately, it happens from time to time. Hopefully we’ll be able to stay healthy and it doesn’t happen to one of our guys."
On what steps the team took to potentially bring in LSU G La’el Collins: "One of the things that I’ve kind of learned through the years is that I don’t do a whole lot of discussing of guys that aren’t here or guys that maybe you all thought would be here that aren’t here. I can’t lend any credence to that. I worry about the guys that we have, that we do have signed and we have on our team. We’ve got enough issues of our own to focus in on."
On how improved he expects the running game to be this season: "It’s been a point of emphasis since we arrived. I think it’s one of the things that I’ve said consistently is that your offensive and defensive lines are the heartbeat of your team. The most important things that you have to make certain that you do is you have to stop the run and you have to be able to run the ball. I think I’ve talked about the benefits of that, you know, just in terms of being able to control the clock, the dirty work that has to be done in the running game. It’s not pretty, it’s hard, it’s tough, but it makes a difference. It helps you close out games. It helps you get some of that tough yardage, so we’re working at improving it in every phase. You can give it lip service all you want, but we also have added personnel to kind of help us do that. So, we intend to get better and we must."
On which players from last season’s roster can participate in rookie mini-camp: "There are league rules that are involved in it that are governed. It depends on whether or not a guy has an accrued season or not. You just can’t bring just anybody. That’s the point. You can’t have an accrued season. So, the guys that don’t have an accrued season are the guys that you choose from to bring in. Now, if it’s a position where we feel that we have a lot of guys that we brought in that we want to take a look at, we try to minimize that a little bit in terms of the numbers so we get a good look at people. So, we’ll make adjustments on those lines."
On WR TJ Jones’ rehabilitation from injury: "He’s been fully released, obviously, from the doctors’ end of it and he’s healed up quite nicely. I think he’s still working himself into a position where’s got all of his girth back because you do lose a little bit with inactivity. But he’s been working hard at it, he’s gaining and he’s making strides."
On how tough nerve injuries such as Jones’ can be for young players: "They’re unpredictable just in terms of the healing process. It takes a while for sometimes those nerves to improve. Everybody’s different. I mean, it just depends on the individual. Sometimes they take a little longer than you’d like, sometimes they heal rapidly, but in his particular case he came along, improved gradually and now he’s at the point where it’s not giving him any real difficulty. So, we expect him to kind of keep rising and he’s been doing a good job."
On how high character ranks when evaluating players: "It’s something that’s important to us. It doesn’t mean, like anything else, we’re not perfect. We have some imperfect people all over the place. I’m one standing before you, not perfect. But yet we do strive to make certain that we try and teach these young men about integrity, about things that they should and should not do. We talk about that, not once in a while, but on a consistent basis. Character is one of those things that I think there’s a process to it. You don’t get it over night. You’re not born with it necessarily. But for the most part it is a factor."
On if character can be learned: "I think so. I think most honest people would tell you that it can be learned because I think for most of the folks that we point to and we consider that they have character weren’t that way the entire time of their journey. So, yeah, I think without question you can learn. I’m not certain how many giant steps you can take, but can certainly move the needle in the right direction."
On his initial impressions of G Laken Tomlinson so far: "You know, it’s difficult right now, to be honest with you. I could stand up here and make something up, you know what I mean? But that wouldn’t be forthright. I’m not certain yet. I can see he gets along with people. As a matter of fact he sits in that chair right there and the guys around him have a good time being around him. I mean, he associates well, he’s a smart guy. He appears to be a real good teammate. That’s what we anticipate, that’s what he had been at Duke. He was just an outstanding individual, a great leader. Dave Cutcliffe sent me a text after we had drafted him. As a matter of fact I think his text arrived at about 1 or 1:30 in the morning. I forget if this is the exact words of his text, but he said, ‘He’s the kind of person that you build a program around.’ He said, ‘He creates job security for coaches,’ or something of that nature. But that kind of shows you what he thought of him. Now, he would have a better feel for him than I would. After I’ve been with him only a few hours, you know, we interviewed him a couple times and that kind of thing, but for me to give you an assessment of somebody we’ve got to go down the road a ways, you know what I mean? But I do think that he has all of the makings of being exactly what we anticipated and expect him to be."
On what a running game offers to a quarterback: "It’s a quarterback’s best friend, plain and simple. It really is. You hear that often. It’s an old term that’s been used for 70, 80 years, but the fact of the matter is it’s true because it takes some of the pressure off of him. You think, just in terms of our situation last year, we run the ball a little bit better, that gives us a chance to win a couple more ball games maybe. You know, a couple more ball games is the difference between 11-5 and 13-3, you know what I mean? So yeah, it helps. It takes some of the pressure off of him without feeling that he has to do everything. I don’t think he felt that way because our defense was so strong this past year, but I’d like to be able to add a real strong running game in there. You have to understand something now, our running game was sporadic. I mean, there were some times it was really good and then there were some times it wasn’t good enough. We’ve just got to get it to where it’s consistent."
On if he has had any recent contact with S James Ihedigbo: "Yeah, I’ve spoken to him. What I try to do is to make certain that they understand, in our business it’s unique. They have things that they have to look at from their vantage point what they think is best. My business is to make certain we have the best team we possibly can, so my interest is getting him here and getting him here pronto, right? I’d like to have every guy here. But the fact of the matter is it doesn’t always happen that way. Guys have got to look at things, he’s been around long enough, and make his own determination and make his own decisions in that regard. But he’s not mandated to be here at this point in time, so we’ll see when he is mandated what happens."
On what tryout players can do in rookie mini-camp to stand out: "It depends on the position, but you know, obviously, the things you can determine out here or within this setting is how quickly he learns, how much material that he can certainly gather in and communicate, how well he handles his assignments and speed, athleticism, nimbleness, you know, all of those kinds of things, dexterity sort of things you can do with shorts on and no pads. You can make some determination there and sometimes it depends on who he’s battling with. That may be enough, you know? One of the things we don’t have to rank with these guys is a toughness meter. They’re here because they’re tough. It’s the nature of the sport, but just being able to function within a realm at his position, now that’s a different story. There’s got to be some competition there, so those are things we try to look for."