ALLEN PARK -- For the life of him, Lions coach Rod Marinelli couldn't understand the preoccupation of the team's media and players with his policy of practicing nearly fulltime in pads.
"I came here and it was like we had invented something new," Marinelli said. "And I'm looking at you (reporters) like 'Man, you guys are weird.' I said, 'When did this happen? When did this start? When you play football, usually the way to get a guy better is in pads.'
"We, as a staff, have to do a great job — and me in particular — on practice etiquette. On how you practice in pads, staying off the ground. I think there's a bigger chance of injury when we're going fast — like in our OTAs — without pads; I'm nervous as get-out because of the shoulders with all those helmets coming.
"Here we can protect 'em. We have to keep 'em up off the ground, understand how to practice. Then we can make it a safe, very physical practice. This is what I'm used to."
For many of the young Lions players with less than five seasons in the league, the emphasis on practicing hard in full pads twice a day is a relatively foreign concept. Previous coaches Steve Mariucci and Marty Mornhinweg frequently worked without pads on the theory that it kept the players fresh deeper into the season.
It is Marinelli's belief that the discomfort of practicing hard in pads during the dog days of summer makes players tougher and better conditioned for the long NFL season.
Marinelli met some resistance early in the off-season workouts, long before the Lions got into pads for the start of training camp. A grievance was filed by still-unidentified player or players complaining about the intensity — or perhaps the lengthy sessions — of the work when the players were still in helmets and shorts.
It seems the players now have bought into Marinelli's rigorous training/conditioning approach.
"No problem," said wide receiver Roy Williams. "This is what football's about. We play in pads; we don't play in shorts. We don't play (without) helmets. This is what we do, this is what we get paid for so let's get out here and do it.
"If we want to be 3-14 or 3-13, let's go out there in shorts. Let's get this thing done so we can be 10-6."
Quarterback Jon Kitna said Marinelli's approach of practicing fulltime in pads is similar to what he experienced playing under Mike Holmgren in Seattle and Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati.
"This isn't anything I think is out of the ordinary," Kitna said. "This is just out of the ordinary here."
CAMP CALENDAR: Aug. 5 — Ford Field scrimmage, open to the public; Aug. 11 — exhibition opener against Denver; Aug. 17 — Break camp; Aug. 24 — Kickoff luncheon, hosted by Economic Club of Detroit.
Sims had missed the first two days of two-a-days while his agent and the Lions worked out details of the deal but he was there, ready to start delivering blows in the fifth practice of training camp.
As it turned out, his first contact came against fellow rookie Brian Calhoun, a running back the Lions took in the third round.
"That felt good," Sims told reporters after the Lions' morning practice. "I couldn't unload on him like I wanted but it was nice to get a lick in."
Sims' aggressive attitude is one of the things the Lions liked about Sims when they drafted him. They are expecting him to move into the weak-side linebacker position.
After running with the third set of receivers through most of the off-season mini-camps, Rogers was lining up with the second string receivers on the first day of training camp and getting appreciative comments from coach Rod Marinelli and quarterback Jon Kitna.
|WR Charles Rogers has turned in
a strong effort thus far into Lions
"I've said many times, he's been our most improved receiver throughout the spring," Kitna said. "He was playing at a high level the last four or five weeks we were in practice. Every day he was doing something that caught your eye on film so I think the expectation level for him with our team and him individually has been raised to a point where now we know what he can do and it's expected of him every day, and he's stepped up to that challenge."
Rogers, the second player taken in the 2003 NFL Draft, missed most of his first two seasons with two broken collarbones and was hit with a four-game drug abuse suspension last year. As a result, his production has been disappointing, leading to speculation he might be dumped by the Lions.
That no longer seems likely, however.
He reported at his lightest weight ever (195 pounds) and seems to have regained the speed he lost when last year's coaching staff asked him to put on weight to get stronger and avoid injuries.
"I believe he's come in in pretty good shape," Marinelli said. "We've just got to work, get it going."
"Folks, I'm here for the free food and to steal t-shirts," he joked with reporters. "And I've got four days to do it."
Actually, the former NFL and college coach was in Lions camp on the invitation of his good friend, Lions head coach Rod Marinelli.
"Rod and I worked together and have been friends for many years," Robinson said. "I always thought he was the most unique coach I've ever been around. He could motivate one of these blocking dummies into becoming a player.
"I've never been around a man who could get in a man's face and demand things that the guy said, 'I just can't do that,' and the guy wound up loving him. I just have an enormous respect and affection for him."
Neither Robinson nor Marinelli could recall exactly when they met. They worked together when Marinelli was Robinson's defensive line coach at USC in 1995 but their relationship obviously goes back much farther.
"It goes back further than I can explain to you," Marinelli said. "But he really is one of the coaches I look at as my teacher. You get a teacher here that sits down with you and to have him here and everything he brings to the table, but just to have him here as a friend is very important also."
If he is to have any chance of giving the team immediate help in the defensive secondary, he has a lot yet to learn.
Coach Rod Marinelli expects a lot from the safeties in his defense and Bullocks has a lot to learn if he is going to compete with veterans Terrence Holt, Idrees Bashir and Jon McGraw for a starting job.
"They're the guys who are your last line of defense, really," Marinelli said. "They have to have range and the ability to tackle. I mean you can eliminate a lot of big plays. Usually, an offense needs a big play on a drive to score and if you have guys who have ball skills back there and are tacklers, that is key.
"Sometimes those guys have to drop in the box and you like to have both of them be able to do that, for disguise purposes. They've got to be very stout run defenders, great tacklers."
Bullocks is expected to work initially at free safety but will also get practice time at strong safety to provide the kind of position flexibility Marinelli wants in the secondary.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I like the heat for them to work in. We've got to water them down, we've got to be smart with them but the heat is good. The heat is good; the heat is our friend." — Coach Rod Marinelli on practicing in high heat and humidity of the Michigan summer.