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Week 12 Thanksgiving 10-pack

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We’ve moved the Friday 10-pack to Thursday, since posting it on Thursday puts the Thanksgiving games in play for our 10 takes regarding the coming weekend of games.

I also needed to get it done early because I’ll be spending Thursday night preparing to host The Dan Patrick Show on Friday, a process which may look a lot like achieving and maintaining a turkey-induced stupor.  Primarily because that’s precisely what it will be.

1.  At least the NFL tried to give us good games on Thanksgiving.

Every year, complaints arise regarding the quality of the games played on the fourth Thursday in November.  This year, the NFL did something about it.

Though the Lions continue to have a hammerlock on the early game, the NFL picked the Patriots to be the visiting team.  (Because CBS will televise the game, the road team had to be from the AFC; this year, the choices were the Jets and the Patriots.  Either way, a quality opponent would have been pegged for the game.)

For the afternoon contest, the NFL earmarked a game that, as of April, looked to be one of the 10 best of the year — Saints at Cowboys.  Though the Cowboys’ struggles have made the game less intriguing, the NFL opted not to take advantage of its captive audience by offering up the weakest home game on the Dallas schedule.  (Then again, the Lions already were booked.)

The night game — Bengals at Jets — also looked as of April to be a potentially great game, given that the Bengals and Jets both made the playoffs in 2009.  Who knew that the Bengals would be after 10 games The 2-Ocho Show?

Short of moving Thanksgiving to September, the risk that games that looked great in April will be relevant in November applies to every NFL season.  All we can ask is that the NFL attempt to provide quality games.

Even if the Lions and Cowboys would lose their automatic home games, there’s no way of knowing that the games picked prior to the season will involve quality teams by the time the games are played.  What if the Vikings had “earned” a home game on Thanksgiving as a result of their 2009 performance?  Or the 49ers, based on the widespread belief that they’d be much improved in 2010?

In April, every season is a crapshoot.  At least the NFL has finally decided to shoot for something other than crap on Thanksgiving.

2.  Favre could thrive under Frazier.

The decision of Vikings interim coach Leslie Frazier to keep brett Favre at quarterback makes sense.  Frazier will earn the job for 2011 only by winning games, and Farve at quarterback gives Frazier the best chance to do that.

The Vikings don’t need to know what Tarvaris Jackson can do; he had relevance only when a change of quarterbacks may have belped salvage a playoff berth.  And Frazier has no interest in developing Joe Webb to become the possible starter for the next regime.

So what of the notion that Favre will continue to produce more turnovers than a baker on an IV full of Red Bull?  Without former coach Brad Childress peering over Favre’s shoulder and constantly telling him what to do and what not to do, it’s entirely possible that Favre will perform better.

Even though reeling off six in a row likely won’t be enough to edge out one of the three-loss teams currently in position to take both of the wild-card spots, a strong finish to the season would partially rehab Favre’s fading legacy — and it would give Frazier a fighter’s chance at keeping the job.  Having Childress out of the picture will make if easier for Favre to just relax and play.

3.  Delhomme’s revenge.

Earlier this year, the Carolina Panthers discarded quarterback Jake Delhomme like an empty bottle of screw-top wine.  And for good reason.  Ever since the completion of the 2008 regular season, Delhomme had been playing like a guy whose Gatorade had been spiked with a full bottle of screw-top wine.

On Sunday, Delhomme will get his first start since Week One, due to Colt McCoy’s ankle sprain.  Coincidentally, that start will come against the Carolina Panthers.

So the game will provide Delhomme with a shot at redemption, a chance to prove the Panthers wrong.

Then again, given that Delhomme received a contract worth $20 million guaranteed before the 2009 season, it’s the Panthers that should be thinking about revenge.

Either way, the link gives a sliver of meaning to an otherwise meaningless game.

4.  It’s getting no easier for Mike Vick.

If the Eagles and quarterback Mike Vick struggle at Soldier Field on Sunday, it’ll be easy to blame the Sports Illustrated jinx, given that he graces the magazine’s cover this week.  But we’re not much for jinxes, unless the person to be jinxed allows himself to think that the jinx exists.

For Vick, the bigger concern should be opposing defenses studying ever bit of tape from his performances to date, building on game plans that slowed him down and trying to devise the one tactic that will shut him down and/or knock him out.

Though the Bears present the latest challenge, a pair of games against the Cowboys, a rematch with the Giants, and a date with the Vikings remain.  With each passing week, defenses will be trying even harder to be the team that solves the Vick riddle, preferably by putting him back on the injury report.

Look for the Bears, mired in a seven-quality-teams-but-only-five-spots chase for the postseason, to pull out all the stops.

5.   Monday night loser could still be alive.

Thanksgiving weekend wraps up with a Monday night game between the 49ers and Cardinals.  It presents a rare stinker on ESPN’s 2010 slate.  But it’s not as bad as it appears, if we ignore the fact that each team has a record of 3-7.

If the 5-5 Seahawks lose on Sunday against the Chiefs, the loser of Monday night’s game will remain only two games out of first place with five games to play.

Sure, the loser will be a woeful 3-8.  But if we can get past that won-loss record, the reality is that the loser can still get hot in December and steal the division and reset its record to 0-0 in the single-elimination tournament that will commence with the NFC West champion hosting a playoff game.

6.  In Atlanta, home-field advantage possibly hangs in the balance.

The game of the week undoubtedly occurs in the Georgia Dome, where the red-hot Packers take on the red-hot Falcons.

Under quarterback Matt Ryan, the Falcons have won 18 games and lost only one at home.  Under quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Packers have scored a total of 76 points in consecutive games against the Cowboys and Vikings.

The Packers are more than a good offense; their defense has allowed only 10 points in three games, including the pitching of a shutout of the Jets at the New Meadowlands Stadium.

With these two teams destined to play beyond January 2, this game will go a long way toward determining where the second game may occur.  And regardless of what happens this time around, the location of a January rematch will have a lot to do with its potential outcome.

7.  Keep an eye on Tom Brady’s foot.

Vikings quarterback Brett Favre has no qualms when it comes to talking about his injuries.  Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is more apt to talk about his hair.

And so it’s impossible to know the exact diagnosis of and prognosis for Brady’s current foot injury, which caused him to miss practice on Tuesday and Wednesday and to be listed as questionable for Thursday’s game, a rare departure from his usual designation as probable.

Sporting a defensive line that could give the Patriots flashbacks to Super Bowl XLII and a Detroit team that is otherwise irrelevant in NFL circles, it’ll be interesting to see whether these Lions use their rare national spotlight as an occasion to roar, by pouncing on Brady’s bum foot.

8.  Colts are suddenly in trouble.

If the season ended today, the Colts’ season would be over.  And while they’ll play four of their final six games at home, the Colts face the prospect of missing the playoffs — and of winning fewer than 10 games — for the first time since Jim Mora refused to use the “P” word.

The slide very well could continue on Sunday night, when the surging Chargers come to town.  The Chargers have played the Colts well in recent years, providing Indy with a consistent thorn in their side.

And while both of the quarterbacks have had to overcome injuries to their supporting cast on offense, the Chargers are getting healthy a lot faster than the Colts.  And the Chargers will have receiver Vincent Jackson back, for the first time all year.

It could spell trouble once again for the Colts.  At 6-5, the Colts would have to make like the Chargers and finish strong in order to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade.

9.  Bucs get their chance to impress.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have handled every team they’ve faced, with the exception of the three elite franchises they’ve played — the Steelers, Saints, and Falcons.

This weekend, the Bucs draw the Ravens.  On the road.

On paper, this is another game that Tampa should lose.  If the Bucs find a way to win, it’ll be time to take this team seriously.

Actually, it’s already time to take this team seriously.  With upcoming games against the Redskins, Lions, and Seahawks, 10 wins could be in the offing.  With the Ravens, Falcons, and Saints also on the docket, victory in any one of those games will help the Bucs do the unthinkable — nailing down coach of the year honors for Raheem Morris, and possibly executive of the year recognition for Mark Dominik.  With a roster devoid of pricey veterans, the Bucs are one of the few teams that is playing like a true team.

10.  Chargers are following form, and will likely continue to do so.

After the Chargers lost five of their first seven games, we said (one or twice, or more often) that the team eventually would try to follow a slow start with a fast finish — and fail.

But the Chargers have shown that they can do it again, reeling off three wins and moving to within a game of first place in the AFC West.  And they’ll likely continue their climb to the playoffs.

Where they’ll likely lose in one of the first two rounds.

While, as mentioned above, they match up well with the Colts, the Chargers eventually would face the Patriots, Jets, Ravens, or Steelers.  And with five losses already in the standings, the Chargers will have to take their pass-first offense to an open-air stadium in the Northeast.  In the middle of January.

Moving forward, and as our friend Scott Caplan of XX 1090 in San Diego pointed out during our weekly Wednesday morning radio visit, the Chargers should redouble their efforts to figure out why they can’t win more games in September and October.  If they could emerge into November and December with a better record, they’d be able to force some of the other elite teams to San Diego in January.

Hey, at least the Chargers wouldn’t have to face a long flight home after losing.

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Daryl Washington sentenced to probation

Patrick Peterson,  Daryl Washington, Jeff Sadorus AP

Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington won’t be going to jail, but that doesn’t mean his chances of punishment are over.

According to Darren Urban of the Cardinals’ official website (how progressive of them), Washington was sentenced to one year of supervised probation from an aggravated assault charge. That will reduce the felony to a misdemeanor if he complies with the terms of his probation.

As we pointed out earlier today, now Washington has to wait for NFL justice, to see if he’ll face a fine and/or a suspension under the league’s personal conduct policy.

Even the team website acknowledges that a suspension is likely, so the Cardinals will have to expect being without one of their defensive leaders for some time this season, and they don’t have Karlos Dansby to lean back on this time.

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Jets announce they’re going back to camp this summer

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While the trend league-wide has been to stay closer to home, the Jets are going camping again this summer.

The Jets announced they were returning to SUNY Cortland for training camp this summer, the fifth time in six years they’ve gone to the central New York school to get away from it all.

“I love the fact that we are going back to Cortland,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said in a release from the team. “Everyone knows how I feel about going away. I think it is a big part of building our team camaraderie. The community, the school and the people of Cortland have been outstanding and we are all excited to be going back this summer.“

Many teams elect the familiarity of their own facilities for training camp, along with not having to pack up and move.

But there’s something to be said for eliminating the distractions that go along with being at home, although the Jets never really seem to avoid them wherever they go.

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Josh Freeman: I still see myself as a starting-caliber quarterback

Josh Freeman

Josh Freeman rapidly declined from a franchise quarterback in Tampa Bay to a disappointment in Minnesota to a backup where he is now, with the Giants. But Freeman thinks he can be a franchise quarterback again.

Although Freeman knows he has no chance of beating out Eli Manning this season, he believes that a good year as a backup for the Giants can put him back into position to start somewhere else a year from now.

I still view myself as a starting-caliber quarterback,” Freeman said, via NJ.com. “I love the situation because I have the opportunity to be around a guy that really had a lot of success, year after year and continues to win and get his team to the playoffs consistently. It’s a really, really cool opportunity.”

Freeman admits that he played “an awful game” the last time he was in New Jersey, his lone start for the Vikings against the Giants. But Freeman says he didn’t have as much time to prepare for that game as he would have liked, and he thinks he’ll be better when he gets time to settle in to a place where he’s comfortable.

“Looking back, maybe not as prepared as I’d like to have been for the situation, or as much as I thought going into the situation,” Freeman said. “But like anything in your past, it’s an experience to learn from.”

At just 26 years old, Freeman still has time to gain more experience, and to become a starter again. It just won’t happen this year, as long as Manning is healthy.

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PFT Live: Bob Glauber, PFT Planet calls and tweets

Eli Manning,  Tom Coughlin AP

The Jets and Giants both opened up their offseason workouts this week after a couple of months spent trying to build themselves into teams capable of making it back to the playoffs.

The Jets added wide receiver Eric Decker, running back Chris Johnson and quarterback Michael Vick to a roster short on offensive playmakers while the Giants made major changes on offense and in the secondary after missing the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five seasons. Bob Glauber of Newsday will join Mike Florio on Wednesday’s edition of PFT Live to discuss those changes and what the teams might do during the draft.

If you’ve got questions about either MetLife Stadium resident, we’d love to hear them as we again throw the door open to questions from PFT Planet. Send them in on Twitter — @ProFootballTalk — or give a call to 888-237-5269 during the show to ask about those teams or any of the 30 others.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can watch it all live by clicking right here.

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Bills hosting Sammy Watkins for visit, would need to deal

Sammy Watkins AP

The Lions might not be the only team thinking about making a move up for one of the top offensive players in the upcoming NFL Draft.

According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins is visiting the Bills today.

The Bills pick ninth, which won’t be high enough to take the playmaking receiver. Like his recent trip to see the Lions, the visit will create some intrigue about the possibility of deals with teams in the top four or five spots.

Watkins said he grew up a Bills fan, and would make a nice pair of deep threats in Buffalo with former Clemson running back C.J. Spiller.

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No extension appears imminent, but Roethlisberger always wants to be a Steeler

Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers Getty Images

At different points this offseason, Steelers owner Art Rooney II and General Manager Kevin Colbert have both said that the team wants quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to spend his entire career in Pittsburgh.

That suggested he’d be a candidate for a contract extension as he has two years left on his deal and cap numbers north of $18 million in each of the next two years that could come down for a team than annually has to make adjustments to fit under the cap. Roethlisberger, meanwhile, would secure his football future beyond 2015 while likely bumping his base salary over the $12.1 million he’s set to make during the 2014 season.

The Steelers moved in other directions to do their cap maintenance, however, and Roethlisberger’s $18.895 million cap figure looks like it will be remaining in place for this season. Roethlisberger’s agent Ryan Tollner said that discussions are ongoing with the team about a new contract, but said he wouldn’t offer any predictions about when it might be completed. The expectation is that it will be completed, though, because his client doesn’t want to play anywhere else.

“It’s always been critical to him,” Tollner said, via Scott Brown of ESPN.com. “From Day 1 he’s always admired players that could play with one organization and retire with that organization. That’s an underlying goal that always drives him, that he would always be a Steeler.”

Tollner said there was “mutual respect” on both sides regarding the talks about an extension and there’s every reason to think one will eventually get done as long as that remains in place.

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Daryl Washington faces sentencing on Wednesday

Washington Getty Images

Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington wasn’t available to start the 2013 regular season, due to a suspension imposed under the substance-abuse policy.  He could be unavailable for the start of the 2014 regular season, for different reasons.

Per the Associated Press, Washington faces sentencing on Wednesday after pleading guilty to aggravated assault.

Police contend that Washington choked the mother of Washington’s daughter, and that Washington caused the woman to fall and break a collarbone.

He faces probation to up to 18 months behind bars.  The lawyers have agreed to recommend probation.

The recommendation won’t be binding on the presiding judge, and it definitely won’t be binding on Commissioner Roger Goodell.  Once the matter has concluded, Washington will be subject to discipline under the Personal Conduct Policy.

Four years ago, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended after two allegations of sexual assault; he was never arrested or charged with any crime.  So what happens to a guy who was arrested for aggravated assault of a female, who pleaded guilty to an assault charge, and received some type of criminal penalty for it?

It probably won’t be a fine.  And it shouldn’t be a fine.  Tonight, the Cardinal will know how their schedule unfolds.  Eventually, they’ll know how many of those games they’ll have to play without Washington.

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PFT takes a look at the Raiders’ biggest draft needs

Justin Tuck AP

In studying the Raiders’ personnel entering the 2014 draft, something became quite clear: the club’s off-season additions have done well to bolster some areas of the roster.

On paper, the Raiders have a decent starting lineup, one that could very well allow Oakland to improve upon its 4-12 record from a season ago. After all, the Raiders did suffer three four-point losses in 2013; with a stronger roster, perhaps they close out a couple more games in 2014.

The performance of the Raiders’ veteran additions will likely define Oakland’s 2014 season. For instance, if quarterback Matt Schaub returns to top form, the club will be materially better than a season ago. Defensive ends Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley have each been standouts on their best; so has running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Wide receiver James Jones and left tackle Donald Penn have been good starters for other clubs. They can help Oakland.

Still, there’s no doubting the importance of the 2014 draft to the Raiders’ future. A strong class of rookies will help the Raiders skillfully retool their starting lineup on the fly — and those sort of changes will be coming soon. The Raiders’ free agent haul surely helps them in 2014, but which of the veterans will be left to contribute a few years down the road?

In short, the Raiders’ draft needs are a consideration of both their present and future roster, which explains why quarterback, even with Schaub likely to hold down the position for 2014, is atop the list.

Which brings us to the poll question: should the Raiders take a quarterback at No. 5? Cast your votes and share your comments below.

 

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E.J. Manuel says his knees feel fine, knows he has a lot of growing to do

EJ Manuel AP

It has been a year since the Bills drafted quarterback E.J. Manuel in the first round of the 2013 draft and they approach his second season without a clear idea of what the future holds for him.

Injuries to both knees affected Manuel from training camp through the end of the regular season, leading to six missed games and lost time that would have helped him develop as a quarterback. Manuel said Tuesday that he’s participating in workouts without any limitations this spring, which means he can devote all of his attention to improving into the quarterback the Bills want him to be.

“I definitely agree there’s a lot out there for myself as a quarterback to get better. I had some success. And I had some bad games as well. It’s obvious,” Manuel said, via the Associated Press. “I’m eager about it. I’m excited. I know there is a lot of area for me to grow. That’s why I took these last four months to allow that growth.”

The Bills have built a solid defense over the last few years, but it won’t be enough to carry them if the offense isn’t able to be more productive in 2014. Manuel will have a big hand in determining that outcome and the future trajectory of his career along with it.

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Aldon Smith reports for offseason duty

Smith Getty Images

With plenty of unknowns surrounding 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith, one fact has become clear:  He will participate in the team’s offseason program until he’s told not to.

Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area reported that Smith was present for the launch of offseason workouts.

Unless Smith is suspended by the team or the league or incarcerated, Smith has every right to report for voluntary workouts, which pay $175 per day.  The structure and support could be useful to him at a time when his career, and his life, could go in one of two different directions.

Having Smith in the building also gives coaches (initially, strength and conditioning coaches only) and teammates an opportunity to get a close look at him, to see how he’s doing.  And to assess whether he’s possibly having ongoing struggles with alcohol, which placed him in rehab for more than a month last season.

His recent arrest at LAX resulted in an observation from police that it appeared Smith had been drinking earlier in the day.  If the 49ers decide Smith needs further intervention, he could be placed on the non-football illness list at some point.

Smith’s presence at offseason workouts comes at a time when the team is still deciding whether to pick up the fifth-year option on Smith’s rookie contract.  The deadline for exercising the option arrives on May 3.

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Eli Manning wants to reinvent himself this season

Eli Manning AP

Giants quarterback Eli Manning threw 27 interceptions last season, the most in his career and the most any NFL player had thrown in any season in the last eight years. But Manning thinks things will change this year.

At the first day of the Giants’ offseason workouts, Manning said this season will provide himself and his teammates with an opportunity to show that last year’s 7-9 record doesn’t define who they are.

“This is an opportunity to reinvent yourself and to come back and change what occurred last year, some of the difficulties, and bounce back and have a clean slate, prove yourself again and play at a high level,” Manning said.

Manning is recovering from ankle surgery and not able to work out with his teammates, so he’ll get a late start on reinventing himself. The Giants need him to get healthy, and to play a whole lot better than he did last year.

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John Mara: Not expecting playoff expansion vote this year

John Mara AP

While expanding the playoff field from 12 teams to 14 seems inevitable, it won’t be happening this year.

Though such a sudden change hasn’t been ruled out by commissioner Roger Goodell, Giants president John Mara, a member of the competition committee, said a change this year would be unlikely.

I don’t think it’s going to happen this year,” Mara told Bob Glauber of Newsday. “I think it’s kind of late. We have a May [20th owners] meeting [in Atlanta], but I sense that we’ll wait a year before we do that. It hasn’t been voted on yet. . . .

“[The league] would notify us in advance, but I’m thinking it’s probably not going to happen for another year or so. My guess is that it’s going to pass at some point.”

Since the topic didn’t come up in recent meetings between the NFL and the NFLPA, it seems everyone’s content to let this one slide for a year, though a larger playoff field is coming.

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As schedule approaches, all eyes on September 4

Seahawks Getty Images

The 2014 schedule consists of 256 regular-season games.  The first one will be played on the Thursday after Labor Day in Seattle.

Later today, we’ll know which of the eight teams to visit CenturyLink Field this season will be there on the night they raise the championship banner.  The options are the 49ers, Rams, Cardinals, Cowboys, Giants, Broncos, Raiders, and Packers.

If it’s the 49ers, then the 49ers won’t be opening that swanky new stadium in Santa Clara until Week Two.  And the NFL would be giving up one of the truly marquee games of the season right out of the gates.

Typically, the defending champion doesn’t open the season against a division rival.  A Super Bowl rematch makes sense, but given the outcome of the Super Bowl maybe it doesn’t.  The Cowboys always draw a crowd on TV, but the Cowboys have taken a step backward this offseason.

That’s why I continue to think it’ll be a rematch of 2012′s Fail Mary game, with the Packers coming to town for a playoff game that has seemed inevitable the last two years, but that hasn’t happened.  It’ll happen this season — and it could happen on the first Thursday of the season.

Here’s where you say what you think, as we re-post the poll that first appeared while the confetti was still in the air at MetLife Stadium.

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MJD: No reason Darren McFadden and I can’t be one of the best duos in league

Maurice Jones-Drew AP

When Maurice Jones-Drew was making the free agent rounds this offseason, he found teams that wanted him to serve as a mentor for younger backs on their roster.

Jones-Drew told Vic Tafur of the San Francisco Chronicle that he was almost sold on that role by Steelers coach Mike Tomlin before changing his mind and signing with the Raiders in hopes of playing a larger on-field role. How big his role will be in Oakland will be somewhat dependent on Darren McFadden as the two players will likely be splitting carries. However that split works out, Jones-Drew thinks it has the potential to be a fruitful partnership.

“But first, we’re going to compete,” Jones-Drew said. “Let’s see if someone can win the job. I expect us both to be better coming out of training camp because of that competition. It’s going to be fun. There’s no reason we can’t be one of the best 1-2 punches in the league.”

He said that his foot feels “phenomenal” one year after surgery and that his goal for 2014 is to show that he’s still the explosive runner he was earlier in his career. If he realizes that goal and McFadden is healthy, it would be quite a 1-2 punch. Two big ifs, to be sure, but vital ones for the Raiders offense.

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First Lions minicamp has a “calm feeling” even without stars

Jim Caldwell AP

The Lions opened their first minicamp under new coach Jim Caldwell Tuesday, without their best player on either side of the ball on the field.

But while Ndamukong Suh was away while a contract gets sorted out and Calvin Johnson is still rehabbing from finger and knee surgeries, the Lions are far from panicked.

There’s a calm feeling around the building,” 14-year-veteran center Dominic Raiola said, via the Detroit Free Press. “You just get a sense that this guy’s been there, done that. And he has. I mean, look at his track record; but more so being around him, not just hearing about it. It’s fun to be around him and be back in here.”

Caldwell was brought in, in part because of his steadying influence. After the frenetic years of not-much-happening of the Jim Schwartz era, that’s probably welcome to many.

But several players noted the pace of actual work, even without the high-profile stars.

“The energy today was good, man,” linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. “I’ve never been a part of fast-tempo day like this on a first day. Guys are receptive of it and did a good job.”

Caldwell getting the extra minicamp to implement systems and instilling his calmness will help, but keeping those stars happy and healthy will be more important to his success in Detroit.

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