Naturally, the Lions had insider access to the news that second-year linebacker DeAndre Levy will have to emerge as a leader of the defense even faster following the trade of Ernie Sims to Philadelphia.
Levy had already been slated to start in the middle with the team choosing not to re-sign Larry Foote. Julian Peterson will remain on the strong side, but the weak side now becomes a significant question mark. Undersized Jordan Dizon would be the default option at this point, so acquiring linebacker help and depth in this week's draft would appear to take on extra significance.
In dealing Sims as part of a three-team trade, the Lions acquired tight end Tony Scheffler from Denver. The Broncos reportedly received a second undisclosed draft pick and the Lions received their fourth seventh-round pick of this year's draft as well.
Scheffler battled with new coach Josh McDaniels last season, but fills a need in Detroit for a strong receiving option at the position following Casey Fitzsimmons' retirement last week due to concussions.
The Denver Post reported that Scheffler told the Lions he would not seek a new contract or hold out. He signed his one-year, $1.176 million tender as a restricted free agent last week, opening the door for the Broncos to seek a trade.
It's a homecoming for Scheffler, who grew up in nearby Chelsea and was drafted by the Broncos out of Western Michigan. He should provide a good complement opposite second-year man Brandon Pettigrew, who is more noted for his blocking at this point in his career.
Pettigrew is also coming off ACL surgery. They brought back Will Heller this offseason. The others tight ends on the roster are Dan Gronkowski, Michael Matthews and Jake Nordin. At least three tight end prospects have made pre-draft visits to Detroit: Florida's Aaron Hernandez, Oregon's Ed Dickson and Miami's Jimmy Graham.
"Just kind of the way things shook out in Denver and not knowing what's going to happen, to be able to have the comfort of coming back home and playing for a set of coaches like that and a quarterback like Matt Stafford, I'm just pumped, you know? I'm at a loss for words," he told the Detroit News.
As for Levy, he played in all 16 games last year, making starts inside and outside due to injuries to Foote and Sims.
"I think the first year is the toughest because you don't know what to expect," Levy told the team's website. "I think this year I can relax a little bit more because I know what to expect. I know the system a little bit better, I know my teammates a little better, so that can really only help me."
Individual Player Notes:
- Lions tight end Casey Fitzsimmons was forced to retire because of concussions.
"It's frustrating because the rest of my body is still capable of playing at a high level in the NFL," Fitzsimmons said in a statement. "However, given the seriousness of the risk associated with continuing to play, I have to listen to the advice the team has given me." Fitzsimmons suffered multiple concussions in his seven-year NFL career, the last Dec. 6 at Cincinnati. He finished the season on injured reserve and still experiences symptoms. "This has been a very difficult decision," said Fitzsimmons, 29. "I feel like 2009 was one of the best seasons of my career, because I was so consistent and was able to contribute in a variety of ways. If it wasn't for the concussions, I would not be retiring."
Fitzsimmons can look back on a remarkable football career. He went from playing eight-man football at a small high school in Montana, to starring in the NAIA at Carroll College, to latching on with the Lions as an undrafted free agent in 2003. He became a key contributor as a receiving tight end and special teams stalwart. He played 99 games over seven seasons with the Lions, catching 88 passes for 677 yards and five touchdowns.
"We signed him as a free agent in 2003 because we needed a tight end for our rookie camp," Lions president Tom Lewand said in a statement. "All he did was start in his first NFL game as a rookie and go on to play as many seasons at tight end as any player in Lions history, other than Jim Gibbons and Charlie Sanders."
- The Lions brought back defensive end Jared DeVries after releasing him in February. The 33-year-old missed the 2009 season with a torn Achilles tendon. The Lions released him before having to pay a $400,000 roster bonus. He was in the last year of a contract that would have paid him a $1.3 million salary. Now he has signed a one-year contract that will pay him $1.7 million -- what he would have made in the first place -- if he makes the team. "I've never really been worried about the Achilles itself, but I understand the stance they took," DeVries said. "I'm very excited to be back and in the fold and with the guys. That stuff sometimes you've just got to work through, as far as the release goes. The timing of signing back, I didn't work out for them, so they didn't gain any more confidence. But it was just something that we were working through."
DeVries said he spoke to the Lions' coaches recently to "get a firm grasp on their stance, what they were thinking." The Lions could draft a defensive tackle No. 2 overall April 22 -- Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh or Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy. They already have made major changes to the defensive line, adding tackle Corey Williams and end Kyle Vanden Bosch. Kris Kocurek is replacing the retiring Bob Karmelowicz as the position coach. "He's high energy," DeVries said. "He's very knowledgeable. He played the game, so he knows about defensive line play. In just speaking with him throughout this whole thing, we're going to be a lot more disruptive. I like the direction he's got the group headed. He's a perfect fit for a guy like Coach Schwartz."
Vanden Bosch is working at right end. What does DeVries envision his role will be? "My vision is to be the starting left end, but obviously, I'll have to compete for that like I do every year," DeVries said. "That would have been my role last year had I not gotten hurt. But like I said, it's good to be back around the fellas, and competition is good, and I look forward to it."
- Lions cornerback Chris Houston had only three interceptions in three years as a starter for the Falcons, but he plans to improve that part of his game. "My ball skills is the main thing I need to work on," Houston said. "I get that down, then I can be a Pro Bowl player, and I'm going to work on that during the off-season. ... "I envision achieving those goals that I have set for myself. I know I can make it to the Pro Bowl. It's just a matter of putting in the work and working on the weaknesses that I need to work on." Houston said his strengths are his speed and ability to play press coverage. He thinks he can develop good chemistry with safety Louis Delmas, a second-round pick last year. "I'm real eager to line up with Louis Delmas, because he has the same attitude that I have -- aggressive," Houston said. "The coaches are establishing that within the DB group. They want us to be more physical."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I happen to think Suh and McCoy are better football players at their position than Okung is at his. And should you take a player that's better? And, usually, I say yes, because I think you dilute the overall quality of your roster when you pick a guy that you acknowledge is not as good as a guy that's available because of need." -- NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, who is leaning toward Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh for the Lions at second overall in his mock draft, over Oklahoma DT Gerald McCoy and Oklahoma State OT Russell Okung.