Old School: Veteran Leadership Directs Lions

If the Detroit Lions weren't judging on a youthful curve, the team would likely be pegged to win the division. Fortunately for the ball club, that youth is accompanied by priceless veteran leadership. Comments and more inside from Lions' head coach Steve Mariucci.


A brief scan of the Detroit Lions roster generally reveals a few things, among them speed, talent, potential, and naturally, youth.

In fact, if you weren't judging on that youthful curve, the team would likely be pegged to win the division. Fortunately for the Lions, that youth is accompanied by priceless veteran leadership.

The wide receiver position is an obvious talent pool, but third-year man Charles Rogers has less pro experience than sophomore receiver Roy Williams. Last April's 10th overall pick, Mike Williams, didn't even play organized football last year. With an intricate offense employed by head coach Steve Mariucci, route shifts, movements, and patterns -- all contingent on the package -- can become a dizzying conundrum.

Yet, each has garnered valuable advice from veterans Kevin Johnson and Marcus Pollard since training camp. The two have a combined 18 years of experience between them, dwarfing the quasi-five years of professional experience defining the young Lions' trio.

Meanwhile, on the offensive line, which boasts youthful long-snapper Don Muhlbach, second-year right tackle Kelly Butler and first-year Lion Rick DeMulling, veteran help has also been present -- thanks to Jeff Backus and Damien Woody.

"They are still young guys themselves," Mariucci said. "Woody is only 28 and Backus is only 27. But, they are veterans and experienced.

"Woody is a little bit more verbal and outspoken. Jeff is more of a leader by example. They are different kind of personalities but both are very much leaders."

It doesn't stop there.

Defensively, the linebacker position -- in terms of youth -- mirrors the receiving core. Between Boss Bailey, Teddy Lehman, James Davis and Alex Lewis, the talent and speed isn't questioned; but the lack of experience certainly is.

To help tutor onfield (and perhaps keep up), veteran middle linebacker Earl Holmes dropped 10 pounds in off-season conditioning. The starting signal caller on the Lions' defense has been integral with the youthful but explosive group of linebackers, providing tips but also leading by example on the field.
Holmes Providing
Veteran Presence

"He's the veteran of the group. He's the smart guy that makes the calls and gets them lined up right," Mariucci said. "He's the voice in there. He has a lot of other young linebackers in that room and it's a really good group. They are going to be good."

Mariucci continued: "He's a very valuable guy. That position makes the call in the (defensive) huddle and also makes the adjustment calls too. You shift, there will be motion, there's going to be changing the strength of the formation and other adjustments. He makes those calls and he makes them well."

On the defensive line, Mariucci is confident that veteran Dan Wilkinson -- albeit not very vocal -- can have a similar impact on rookie defensive tackle Shaun Cody.

"Big Daddy (Wilkinson) doesn't say much," Mariucci said. "He's all business. He's a pro and a gentleman. When he speaks, everybody listens because he's been around the block. I'm sure Shaun Cody is grabbing onto everything that those veterans might say on occasion.

"They are competing for playing time, they are in the rotation together, and Big Daddy has had a good camp so far. He's been with us for three years and he hasn't missed a game. I don't know if he's even missed a practice unless we told him to sit down and rest. He's been very dependable. That will rub off on Shaun Cody - for him to learn prepare, stay healthy, be durable and dependable."

With a roster dominated by youth and talent, the Lions are hedging their bets that the former will be offset by those helpful veteran influences.

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