Well, I’m back from a two-night stay in Detroit, which is actually Dearborn, Mich. It becomes Allen Park when you drive a mile and get to the Lions facility. That was the place where I wrote this article that is now posted on NFL.com.
What else happened on my trip? Come on in…
Overall feel from OTAs: I went over a bunch of this here yesterday, but the Lions did have a very business-like feel. There wasn’t the euphoria that you might expect from a team that has just started winning after being really, really terrible for so long. Maybe that’s good. They aren’t satisfied. Another sense I got was how familiar everything is for the returning players. Think about how many key players the Lions have back in key spots, and their staff is essentially the same. Continuity is big. If I had to pick one team to get off to a really, really fast start, the Lions would be it. Should be hummin’ early.
Some discipline issues are right at the forefront: The Lions have amassed talent, but it seems sometimes they’ve been willing to take on guys of questionable character to bring the talent in. Coaches who have strong personalities like Jim Schwartz tend to do this, and the belief is that the foundation is strong, too. It may have to be to handle the 2011 draft class. WR Titus Young getting into a rumble and being barred from being at OTAs is the latest example. No doubt, the Lions are building a beast, and they are a little brash. Fine. But it may cost them with possible suspensions looming for Nick Fairley and Mikel LeShoure at least. It’s a fine line between guys on the edge and real problems. That’s the line the Lions are walking.
Rules are rules: I always enjoy the random rules that teams employ for practice, mini-camp, OTAs or whatever. Some teams (Patriots, Rams) don’t allow tweeting during practice. Others limit videoing certain portions. Others merely restrict reporting on what is said between coaches and players. Well, I violated one of these at Allen Park — unknowingly. I brought a can of soda out to the practice field. Big no-no. A very polite member of the staff informed me of my violation, but said I could drink what was in the can, then throw it out. Next time, he told me, no cans. Fair enough. Kinda nice he didn’t make me toss my Diet Coke right there, though. I threw it into the trash, since I figured left cans were probably the reason.
Best post-practice food: I had heard about this oddly named dive called, Traffic Jam & Snug and had to go. It was everything I hoped for. The staff was semi-rude (didn’t understand why I asked to put on the Celtics game at the bar), but the macaroni & cheese used cheese made right at the restaurant. They brewed their own beer, too, which was a nice tough. I had a flavorful hefeweizen. But the kicker was the panini. Holy cow. The beef (pictured) was insanely tender, and it kept falling apart. Totally worth it.
Best random act of kindness: I arrived in town Sunday night and sat down at dinner at Chelio’s Chili bar past 9:15 p.m. At that point, there was no chili being served. But, considering it was the signature dish, I wanted to try some. I didn’t actually say anything, not wanting to be rude. But sensing my disappointment, Stephanie at the bar went into the kitchen and asked them to heat me up some. She didn’t have to, but was just being nice. Can’t go wrong there. It was tasty, too.
A good working environment: The Lions are very business-like in the way they do things, and that pervades the entire organization. You don’t feel like you’re in their warm embrace, but they get the job done. I bet everyone gets to their appointments on time, and I bet when PR says a player will be available, he is. It just seems like that kinda place. I have a feeling, when national media descends because of how good they are, they’ll handle it fine. One helpful thing, I thought, is that media is allowed to walk the perimeter of the field. It’s not a major deal, but most teams restrict reporters to a square area on one side. Being able to walk around allowed you to see all drills up close, while still staying out of the way. I liked that.
Biggest regret: I always try to mix in a tourist-style stop at places when I’m there for two nights, but I couldn’t swing it this time. Last time, I hit up the Motown Museum, which was fantastic. This time, I had my eyes on the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, but I couldn’t find time. Heard it’s really good. Maybe I’ll get to go back in the summer. Something tells me the Lions will be a story for a while, so maybe I’ll return. The Dearborn Inn, however, was kind of annoying. A rough time, service-wise. Really bad. But a cool-looking hotel.
Local flavor: I love the Detroit Free Press. So creative, so interesting, great writers, and well-designed. Their Page 2 features short articles on every major team they cover every day. Just a perfect thing. So, that’s always a treat to read that paper. Also, nice to see local beat guys Dave Birkett (Freep) and Anwar Richardson (MLive.com) kill it on that story about Young’s fight. They had good details and got reaction from Jim Schwartz while also keeping it away from those who were not wise to it. That’s fantastic to have the story posted and reported before practice even ended. Good hustle.