The Detroit Lions have released wide receiver Nate Burleson and safety Louis Delmas, two starters from last season's team.
Burleson spent four seasons with the Lions, but Detroit likely made this decision with financial flexibility in mind. The 32-year-old Burleson caught 39 passes for 461 yards and a touchdown last season in nine games. He missed time after injuring his arm in a car accident.
The Lions drafted Delmas in the second round in 2009, and he's been a consistent starter for them since then. If Burleson and Delmas don't return to Detroit under different contract terms, the Lions will have significant holes to fill at both receiver and in the secondary.
"The last 4 years in Michigan been incredible!" said a message on Burleson's Twitter account Thursday. "MY TEAM, FANS & the CITY will missed more than you know! Thank You!"
When healthy, Burleson was a productive complement to star receiver Calvin Johnson. Now the pressure will be on Detroit's other receivers to step up. Ryan Broyles has been limited by injuries, but Kris Durham caught 38 passes for 490 yards last season, so perhaps he could fill a bigger role in 2014.
Delmas started 15 games last season and finished with a career-high three interceptions. It looked like Delmas might leave the Lions last offseason, but he agreed to stay with Detroit on a two-year contract.
Safety Glover Quin started all 16 games for the Lions last season, but none of the other safeties on the roster have much experience in major roles.
The popular Burleson caught 194 passes in his four seasons with the Lions, including a career-high 73, when Detroit made the playoffs. That was also the last time he played a full season.
GOODELL CLEARED WILLIAMS BEFORE RAMS HIRE
Before hiring Gregg Williams as his defensive coordinator for the second time, St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher cleared it with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Williams was part of Fisher's first staff with the Rams in 2012, but only for a few weeks before getting suspended for his role in the Saints' bounty scandal.
After a news conference to introduce Williams Thursday, Fisher said he'd been in contact with Goodell throughout the process two years ago and "I wanted to inform him about the direction I was thinking about going."
"He was very excited, and he endorsed it."
Before signing Williams, Fisher said the two spent a few days revisiting the 2012 experience. The suspension left the Rams in a bind and they went without a coordinator in ‘12.
Fisher said then that the suspension was "warranted" and asked if he'd consider Williams in the future said he'd "cross that bridge when we come to it." After the 2012 season he fired Williams' son, defensive line coach Blake Williams.
During his suspension, Williams had no contact with the Rams but said he attended all of the home games. He was a defensive assistant last year at Tennessee and called it a "good stop."
"His handprint was all over the Tennessee defense, it was obvious that he'd gone in there and had a significant impact," Fisher said. "I'd say 60-70 percent of our terminology is his. I just really felt strongly about just pulling together."
Fisher initiated contact a few weeks after the season ended, and believes he'd surprised Williams. He made room by firing Tim Walton after one season, telling Walton he'd done nothing wrong but that Williams had been his first choice.
The 55-year-old Williams was defensive coordinator under Fisher with the Titans from 1997-2000.
"Things are in perspective, things are behind him, his past is his past," Fisher said. "The arrow's going up with the defense and I just felt like Gregg was the person to make sure that happens."
Williams shed no light on the discussions, saying "Those are things that are between Jeff and I." He deflected a question about how he's changed as a coach since his suspension, saying every coach must adjust, but thought the familiarity would make this a good fit.
"It's fun to be back with people who think and believe the same way you are," Williams said. "So now you get a chance to spend more time with the players, because you're spending less time having to sell or defend yourself with your staff before you ever get with the players."
Fisher said the hire got a big thumbs-up from players, adding "my phone was blowing up." Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, who was at Rams Park for a workout, anticipates a more aggressive approach.
The Rams have one of the NFL's top pass rushes but enter free agency and the draft needy in the secondary.
"Win or lose, I want to know that we're going to go down swinging," Laurinaitis said. "Everyone I've known that has played for him just absolutely loves the guy."
Williams, who grew up in Missouri, said he hoped this was his last coaching stop.
Williams scoffed at a claim from a player who said the coach bragged about using a stolen playbook to help Tennessee beat Jacksonville in the 1999 AFC championship game. Williams called the allegation by former Jaguars defensive end Renaldo Wynn "a joke" and added he had every team's playbook.
"Every time a free agent walks in a building, he gives you the playbook," Williams said. "We all have everybody's playbook. When you turn the film on, do you have their playbook?
"How much traction did ‘Omaha' get when Peyton (Manning) said ‘Omaha' 46 times one game on TV? What's that mean? It doesn't mean anything."
Williams said he's watched all of the Rams games from last season but declined to discuss specific needs. Fisher wants his new coordinator to concentrate on improving a defense that was ranked 15th overall.
"I told Gregg this time around he's going to be the mad scientist," Fisher said. "He's not going to do a lot of player evaluations, I'm not going to take up his time evaluating unrestricted free agents and getting ready for the draft.
"I want him to take this defense and run with it."
NBC BORROWS FROM FOOTBALL FOR OLYMPICS
NBC has borrowed an idea — and a voice — from football's popular "Red Zone" broadcasts for a digital channel that tries to reflect the breadth and immediacy of the busy days at the Winter Olympics.
The "Gold Zone" is one of NBC's most popular online offerings, and perhaps a model for how future Olympics will be presented on television.
On Thursday, the "Gold Zone" dipped into coverage of the first U.S. men's hockey game, a 7-1 rout of Slovakia. Shrinking pictures so two appeared side-by-side on the screen, host Andrew Siciliano simultaneously displayed Russia's game with Slovenia, and asked viewers to vote via Twitter which game they most wanted to see.
Within an hour, "Gold Zone" also darted around to live speed skating, curling and biathlon.
At one point, the screen was divided into quarters with live action in each box.
NBC tried something similar during the London Olympics in 2012 as an alternative to streams of individual sports, but without any narration, said Rick Cordella, senior vice president and general manager of NBC Sports Digital. A few months ago, the company decided to fully embrace its inspiration by contacting Siciliano.
Siciliano was hosting a sports talk radio and a cable TV program on fantasy football nine years ago when Fox and DirecTV approached him with the "Red Zone" idea. "My initial reaction was, ‘I'm going to miss sitting on my couch with my friends'" on NFL Sundays, he said.
The football show follows several games simultaneously, hopping from one to another at key moments, often when one team is within an opponent's "red zone" — 20 yards or less from a touchdown. It appeals to fans, along with bettors and fantasy football players, who don't want to watch entire games, but do want to see every big play.
The idea clicked, so much so that the NFL Network began producing its own version for distribution to cable companies. Siciliano doesn't miss his friends on the couch at home.
"I get to stand in front of a wall of televisions and be America's remote control," he said.
For "Gold Zone," Siciliano works in a studio at the NBC Sports Group's headquarters in Connecticut. He's onscreen for a 7 to 11 a.m. ET time shift, which is late afternoon and early evening Sochi time. He's relieved by colleague Ryan Burr, who works his own four-hour shift starting at 11.
With the NFL, Siciliano figures he knows about every player in the league. But for the Olympics, he's had a crash course on the more than 2,000 athletes in competition, including how to pronounce difficult names.
"Gold Zone" will take feeds of individual sport announcers, both from NBC and the IOC, and Siciliano ties it all together as a narrator to keep viewers abreast of developing stories.
"People want to see the celebrations. They want to see the emotions," he said. "The emotions are so raw because these athletes have been training for this for all of their lives."
The show is a clearinghouse for Olympic fans who don't want to curate their own viewing experiences. Traffic to "Gold Zone" has exceeded all expectations, Cordella said. The stream has had 279,000 unique visitors throughout the Olympics, with more than 10 million minutes watched, NBC said.
"I love it," Siciliano said, "because I truly think it's the future. With instant gratification, it's getting to the point where the viewer assumes that everything will be like the ‘Red Zone.' They won't miss anything."
It's also no stretch to see the same concept be applied to television during future Olympics, perhaps on the NBC Sports Network.
"That will be a decision for others to make," Cordella said.
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Notebook: Lions release Burleson, Delmas
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