A common theme in head coach Rod Marinelli's training camp thus far has been one of opportunities. Marinelli and his coaching staff view every player as a potential starter.
During Saturday's morning session, tight end Casey FitzSimmons worked out with the first team. Receiver Mike Williams, who spent all day Friday with the third unit, was bumped up to the first team with Roy Williams.
And rookie safety Daniel Bullocks, just moments into his first practice as an NFL professional, will be tossed into the mix sooner than later. He just doesn't know when, or really where, for that matter.
"Right now I'm working at free safety, but we're going to mix it in at strong safety a little bit," said Bullocks, who finally completed his rookie contract with the Lions after missing all of Friday's session. The two sides continued to negotiate through Friday evening before finishing a deal that was thought to have been wrapped up a day earlier.
Although he played primarily at strong safety at Nebraska, Bullocks will compete with incumbent Terrence Holt for the starting free safety nod. Holt spent all day Saturday with the first-team defense. But free-safety is a position that Bullocks is familiar with, and that penchant for versatility has the Lions pleased he has joined them in camp.
"We're looking at free (safety), that's the biggest thing there," commented
Marinelli, "But I like all of those guys to have some position flexibility. I
want to constantly build the depth of the team."
"You need to have the ability to have range and tackle. You can eliminate a lot of big plays. Usually an offense needs a big play on a drive to score. If you have guys that have ball skills back there and are tacklers – that is key. Then sometimes those guys have got to drop in the box and you would like to have both be able to do that for disguise purposes. They've got to be very stout run defenders and great tacklers."
Bullocks is a natural hitter, tallying 58 tackles for the Huskers in 2005 (second on the team), including two forced fumbles and 10 pass deflections. He was also a traditional All-Big 12 conference choice, recognized by many opponents both a pass thief and feared defender. Marinelli said that Bullocks has "got that stuff that were looking for." And the second round draft choice sounded eager to display it.
"I want to compete," he said. "I want to contribute to the team as quick as
possible, whether that's starting or playing on special teams, I just want to be
out there on the field."
Added Bullocks, "I'm just trying to make my plays and not try to overdo it (but) try to work as hard as I can. I'm going to try to make the play. I like to make big hits. That's part of the game -- you've got to be physical."
Marinelli's 'Tampa 2' scheme, which is a blend of the popular Cover 2 and Cover 3 defenses that frequent the National Football League, will become a staple of Detroit's defense. It requires that each safety, strong or free, be responsible for one half of the field. And it also requires vast athleticism. Bullocks said he feels right at home.
"This is kind of the same scheme that we ran at Nebraska, but a little different as far as cover 2 and cover 3; we didn't run that as much," he said, "We ran a lot of zone presses and zone blitzes and man coverage. But the transition is coming along easier and I kept my notes from the last mini-camp and went over them over the summer, which made things a lot easier."
Like everyone else in camp, Marinelli said Bullocks will have his chance to be on the field.
"Every guy is coming out here to work to be a starter right now," said the coach, "We're going to give him that opportunity. We don't want to put the cart ahead of the horse; we just have to see where he's at. It's his first day (and) he's a little behind right now and has to catch up a little bit."NOTES: Lions' first-team receiver Corey Bradford departed practice after requiring an IV because the extreme cramping at the team's outdoor practice facility .... Lions' third round pick Brian Calhoun is a third team running back, but has displayed flashes of brilliance during the team's 9-on-7 drills. Calhoun has caught the ball well, and shows a seamless transition from receiver-to-runner that coordinator Mike Martz loves (Arlen Harris is currently in front of Calhoun on the depth chart, although that is subject to change).... Kelly Butler maintained the starting right tackle one day after spending a few snaps at guard. Butler will likely be Detroit's starting right tackle, although the Lions will flirt with versatile lineman Rex Tucker at the position. Tucker can also play guard .... Lions' DT Shaun Cody left practice with what is believed to be a mild knee sprain. He isn't likely to return to the afternoon practice.