Scheffler Hopes To Help Open Up Lions Offense

The boot is off, and so tight end Tony Scheffler is finally off and running with the Lions. After a minor foot injury kept him out of organized team activities, Scheffler returned for two OTAs recently and made what coach Jim Schwartz called big-time catches.

The boot is off, and so tight end Tony Scheffler is finally off and running with the Lions. After a minor foot injury kept him out of organized team activities, Scheffler returned for two OTAs recently and made what coach Jim Schwartz called big-time catches.

"He's a big target," Schwartz said. "He's got great natural hands. He's got good speed. Just real savvy in the pass game. He was a little bit behind because he spent some time in the boot. But he's back now, and it's not even a concern right now. We're starting to get him with the quarterback more and more, and we're starting to see the role that he's going to take in the offense."

With 2009 first-round pick Brandon Pettigrew recovering from a torn knee ligament, the Lions wanted some insurance. They also wanted another weapon for quarterback Matthew Stafford.

So they acquired Scheffler and a seventh-round pick from the Broncos in April, while sending linebacker Ernie Sims to the Eagles in a three-team trade. Philadelphia sent a fifth-round pick to Denver.

Scheffler wasn't happy with the way things went last season after new Broncos coach Josh McDaniels came in and traded quarterback Jay Cutler. His numbers dipped. He was benched for the season finale.

So he was happy to hear from Lions coach Jim Schwartz about the trade.

"One of the questions was if I wanted to be a part of what was going on," Scheffler said. "I was thrilled. I couldn't be any more happier, not only for myself but for my family. It's just a lot of dreams come true kind of getting back here and playing for the Lions."

Scheffler is from the Detroit area. He said ticket requests have been "just a little overwhelming," so he has delegated that duty to some of his supporters. He also played at Western Michigan, spending a season with the Lions' up-and-coming safety, Louis Delmas.

"He still talks as much as he did when he was a freshman in college," Scheffler said with a smile. "I was a fifth-year senior at Western, and he came in as a true freshman, green as they come. And boy, he was chirping, though, like a little bird. That was the one of the things that was 'welcome back,' was to hear his voice chirping over there in the locker room."

Scheffler sees similarities to 2007 and '08, when he put up big numbers for the Broncos. Calvin Johnson is the dominant wide receiver, like Brandon Marshall. Matthew Stafford is the strong-armed quarterback, like Cutler. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan is the chess master, like Mike Shanahan, moving pieces around to create mismatches.

"It's something that we kind of got away from last year in Denver," Scheffler said. "Coach Linehan is going to find the guys that can win in situations, and he's going to get them in those situations. It's been fun. It's been fun being here so far."

Team Notebook:

  • Lions backup quarterback Shaun Hill doesn't have a rocket arm like starter Matthew Stafford does. His delivery is a little quirky, side-arm, maybe short-arm, a little like a third baseman or a catcher.

    But coach Jim Schwartz is confident Hill can do the job if needed.

    "It doesn't always look pretty," Schwartz said. "I don't know if you're ever going to say effortless and Shaun Hill and a pass together, like you did with Matt. It's not disrespect to Shaun. I mean, that's what he has, and he finds a way to get it done."

    Hill might be the ideal backup for the Lions. He's happy behind Stafford. He is comfortable playing without practice reps. And he has a history with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.

    "My role here is defined, and I'm fine with that," Hill said. "I know my role, and I'll be great at my role. What's best for this team is for Matthew to go out and have a successful season and for me to step in if need be. That's what's best for the team. That's what I'm going to do. I've always been a team guy."

    The Lions likely will give Stafford the vast majority of the practice reps in his sophomore season, but they could need Hill at some point. Stafford missed six games last season because of shoulder and knee injuries.

    Hill knows the drill. He didn't attempt a pass until the 13th game of his sixth season. Then he showed he could play by going 10-6 as a starter over three seasons with the 49ers, posting impressive statistics -- 61.7% completion rate, 3,490 yards, 23 touchdowns, 11 interceptions.

    The first time Hill attempted a pass, with the 49ers in 2007, he hadn't practiced in four weeks because of a broken index finger. He didn't practice much the next two weeks, either, and still won his first two starts.

    "So I've done that, and I feel totally comfortable coming in without any reps," Hill said. "What I do is, I take my practice reps against our defense and I treat them as if it's our plays. When I see the picture, I call the play in the huddle as if it's our play, so that the other guys kind of get that same thing. I call our protections in the huddle so that we feel like we're getting some of our reps as well."

    Hill, 30, spent his first three NFL seasons under Linehan in Minnesota. He called Linehan "instrumental" in his development.

    "Without him I don't think I would have made it anywhere," said Hill, known for his intangible abilities more than his physical skills. "It was always amazing to me. We'd go into preseason games, and the first guy would go in and play, the second guy would go in and play, and then he'd call a totally different game for me.

    "He was able to see what I did best and call the game for me as he did for everybody. That was one thing I really, really liked about him. I was able to put together some pretty good preseasons and stick around the league, all because of the things that he was doing for me."

  • Coach Jim Schwartz says it often, one way or another. Quarterback Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 pick in the draft last year, is the key as the Lions try to leap forward this year.

    "I'm excited about the offseason, where we are right now," Schwartz said. "We're at a different spot this year as opposed to last, mainly because of our quarterback situation. We're not trying to find out who are quarterback is going to be. We know who our quarterback is, and it's all about putting pieces around him."

  • Schwartz served as the chairman of the Lions' charity golf tournament, but he didn't actually golf much. He mostly stood on the course and posed for pictures with the foursomes as they played through. "In the last 18 months that I've been the head coach, I think I've played -- let's see -- one, two, three, four, five rounds of golf," said Schwartz, who took over an 0-16 Lions team in January 2009. "So the people of Detroit can rest easy knowing that I'm not fiddling while Rome is burning."
  • Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch posed for the pictures with Schwartz. Why didn't he play?

    "He might break some stuff if he were to play," Schwartz said.

  • Jason Hanson isn't sure he deserves his reputation as the team's best golfer. "You know," Hanson said, "I wonder if that's true or that's just that stereotype of a kicker." Why is that the stereotype? "Because I have all the time to go golfing, as if I'm not doing anything," Hanson said, smiling. "And I don't. So I can get out here and golf more than most of the other guys. But mostly because it's similar to kicking in some ways." Hanson said he actually doesn't play a ton, maybe once a week in nice weather. He doesn't belong to a club and has a six or seven handicap.
  • Linebacker Vinny Ciurciu apparently intended no pun as he described a drill the Lions have been doing with a 6-foot, 300-pound tire.

    "It's pretty tiring for your upper body," Ciurciu said. "If you don't have your feet in the right place, you kind of get pushed around."

    The Lions stand the tire on end. One player faces the "O," another faces it on the opposite side and they push it back and forth, striking it at the top. "It's just to work on your leverage," Ciurciu said. "Keep your hips down, your feet in the ground. Just explode out. That's what we do a lot when we take on linemen and fullbacks and stuff like that. It's just getting that engraved in our head since we can't really do it now, so we use the tire to practice our technique."

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "We still have a lot of questions that need to be answered. I think we're closer to having answers for those questions." -- Coach Jim Schwartz, on the Lions' progress in the 1 1/2 years since the NFL's first 0-16 season.


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