(ALLEN PARK) - To a man, the players that make up the Detroit Lions roster can feel something special building.
When asked, they can't really put their finger on it, but they all sense a notable difference in the way the team is doing things this season. Some say it's tempo, some say it's structure, but they all point to the reason for it; new head coach Steve Mariucci.
Lions receiver Az-Zahir Hakim was the teams leading receiver before being lost for the season with a serious hip injury. Hakim watched during the off-season as Mornhinweg was given a vote of confidence, then fired and Mariucci was hired.
He too, points to a difference in camp this off-season and gives the credit to Mariucci.
"He brings tempo, he brings good spirits. He makes you want to get out there and go to work and accomplish something and get something out of the workday. He's motivating. He wants you to get out there. He's moving; he touches you in every way. You listen to every word. He's very detailed and that's what coach is great at. He's just a great coach and I love to be here playing for him."
It's not often that players heap such high praise on a guy who criticizes, scolds and puts them through grueling workouts in the rain and cold, but Hakim says Mariucci does thing the right way.
"Everything is structured, he has a plan and his plan is basically 'football scheme-wise.' So when we're out there, we're not just out here practicing 'football', we're working towards something, whether it's third down, you know, just situational-type football. You've got to love that because when you're playing the game of football it's always situations."
While unwilling to compare Mariucci to his predecessor, Marty Mornhinweg, Hakim said the offensive scheme the Lions are using this year is the same as last year, but the methods for implementing it are the difference.
"Actually it's no difference at all, Hakim said referring to the offensive scheme, "it's the same offense [with] maybe a [few] little wrinkles. Just some stuff we needed to iron out and that's why we're out here practicing. It's going to be a beautiful thing. But it's not too much difference offensive scheme-wise."
Going into his sixth year in the NFL, Hakim is taking it slowly entering back on the field to avoid a setback in his rehabilitation. But he is jogging and catching balls and anxious to get back on the field.
"I'm doing good, [I'm] feeling real good. I'm moving around a lot, doing the things I'm used to doing so it's good to be back out here."
When asked the pace of his recovery and what speed he's running at, Hakim was non-committal.
"I'm moving. I couldn't tell you what speed it is because I'm not out there with the timer or the clock. I'm just moving along out here with my teammates and I'm moving real well.
Hakim says that the presence of #1 draft pick Charles Rogers, 6th round pick David Kircus and 7th rounder Travis Anglin can only help the receiving corps, but they still have a lot to learn.
"That's why the vets are here," Hakim said.
"We are here to help them out on everything they do, but at the same time, we don't want to have to keep telling them over-and-over again. So they are actually out here learning, which is a good thing."
Smiling faces? Optimism? You bet.
Will it last once the rigors of training camp begin? Stay tuned.
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Hakim ready to give it a "go'
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