Class (still) in session: Lions go to work

Calvin Johnson, Detroit's No. 2 overall pick in last weekend's draft, learned first hand on Friday that with skill and investment comes great responsibility. The Lions opened up mini-camp to the new class of rookies, a rather brief period that is more excercise and homework than fun and games.

ALLEN PARK -- It's slightly different from college.

Slightly.

In this school, you aren't rewarded with a diploma, but a multi-million dollar contract -- and whatever endorsement deal that follows. The homework? The exams are a pain, but orientation is the worst.

Calvin Johnson, Detroit's No. 2 overall pick in last weekend's draft, learned first hand on Friday that with skill and investment comes great responsibility. The Lions opened up mini-camp to the new class of rookies, a rather brief period that is more excercise and homework than fun and games.

And although he left Georgia Tech University, Johnson learned that class was anything but dismissed.

"(It's similar) in that you're trying to get everything established," said Johnson on a study-intense first day. A towering (6'5) presence on the field, Johnson demonstrated his agility, soft hands and athletic prowess during drills. Meanwhile, Detroit's coaching staff and, most notably offensive coordinator Mike Martz, hammered playbook details and route guidelines into the players.

While much the practice was closed to the media, it was apparent to anyone within earshot that cram-session began Friday and won't end until the team closes training camp and preps for the regular season in late August.

"There's a lot of stuff to learn (and) we've only gone into part of it so far," said Johnson, who was confident that he was "catching on" to most of what was taught. "When you first get out there trying to put all the plays on the field, you start thinking about everything and when you're sitting in the huddle, you're trying to see what pertains to you."

Lions' head coach Rod Marinelli admitted that the team's mini-camp was rather intense, but also helps give the players an idea of what to look forward to with training camp, especially in terms of the physical requirements. For the second consecutive season, Marinelli and staff coached each player -- even a small army of undrafted free-agents and try-out players -- as a starter.

"It's a team setting," explained Marinelli, "So it's all good in terms of that: having a rookie mini-camp like this and having the chance to go out - our scouts have done a great job going out and getting other guys that we want to look at and give them some opportunities and then the players we drafted and signed as free agents can come in, in a team setting, and really make (these five) practices really beneficial for them."

Marinelli was impressed with Johnson, but did notice signs of fatigue among everyone on the field. Unless they've secured a personal trainer (and most draftees were too busy with the demands of the draft), many of the players in attendance haven't had organized instruction since their final college practice -- for most, late November and early December.

"(He's) a young player, coming down sometimes not knowing exactly what to do - all of those different things," said Marinelli. "Obviously, his talent level and the skills are exceptional. We just have got to go now and start refining him.

"The biggest thing for all of the guys right now is the pace and tempo of the practice. They're tired and the conditioning factor is going to be big. That's why after the afternoon practice, we'll get them in the weight room to do the conditioning and all of those things.

"It is (tough) for all of these guys; just learning the pace and the language and the long meetings last night and the long meetings all day this morning. We just want to get them into a groove (and see) what this league is about and what the Detroit Lions are about."

Marinelli on second-round pick DE Ikaika Alama-Francis (Hawaii): "Oh boy - he's what I saw (on film). He's very athletic; his eyes are this big; he's hungry; he's in great condition. He's really a highly conditioned athlete. He's 285 pounds and he's lean."


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