Reviewing Rookie Camp: Finding Talent the Key


For some teams in the NFL, Rookie Camp evaluation might not be as important. It might be just a time to show off the new legs, arm or motor that was selected in the early rounds of the draft. For this Detroit Lions team, it is nothing close to that. Despite having one of the most exciting early round drafts of this team’s history, rookie camp in 2010 was formed around the same principles that Jim Schwartz’s staff put in place last season.

There is a lot of new weapons in the aresenal, but there is no point in touting them if they don’t know how to pull the trigger.

So when the Lion’s three day rookie orientation got underway, it wasn’t about touting the talent they acquired. It was more about finding even more talent to help this squad. Even that is rough around the edges. Sure, camp entailed the continious learning curve that is the NFL. Ndamukong Suh has continiously worked on learning the new one- gap system the Lions have in place. Of course it helps that he already has the motor and playmaking ability to handle it, but it’s the small adjustments that rookies make at this time at that level of talent that propel them during the pre and regular season.

At other levels, it’s trying to prove to more than patient coaches that you have the talent to contribute to a club that needs grit, determination and solid character. Players such as Willie Young, Caleb Campbell, Tim Toone, and other various rookie free agents worked their butts off. The Lions might not yet know if they found any true NFL studs in this group, but they at least have taken a look at some real talent. They have found guys in their system that can flourish. Simply because this staff knows how to evaluate talent better than any other regime in the last ten years. They are also the best at implementing that talent in various aspects of the game and on the field.

So when former Matt Millen draftee Caleb Campbell walked into camp ten pounds heavier and faster than when he was drafted, Schwartz and company found the true place where he belonged. A former safety for the Army Academy, Campbell will now get reps at the depleted linebacker position. If he makes the team he could be asked to fill the void of Zac Follet on special teams. The beauty of it is that unlike many other names that have come through this city and been through the process, Campbell has a really good shot at doing it.

Here is a kid with guts, a never give up attitude, and just the right defensive coordinator to push his buttons. No, he probably won’t see any in-game time at the position. The fact is though is that the Lions are finding players out of the blue that might have the talent to contribute. That’s what rookie camp is all about. Finally for the last two years, Lions fans are starting to see the fruits of the coaching staff and scout’s labors.

Rookie Camp Notes:

  • Though the Lions have Shaun Hill, Drew Stanton and Matthew Stafford under contract, three free agent quarterbacks were in camp getting a look from the offensive staff.   Donovan Portiere of New Mexico State, Andy Schmitt of Eastern Michigan and Taylor Bennett of Louisiana Tech were all given an oppurtunity to show off their skills. It seems likely though that the Lions will most likely stick with three quarterbacks throughout camp and the pre-season. Head coach Jim Schwartz did state that all three demonstrated that they have some playmaking ability and the Lions would not hesitate to call any of the three if something were to happen sometime between now and the regular season.
  • Remember that un-named linebacker Defensive Coordinator Gunther Cunningham really really really wanted to draft? Well Killer Kowalski unveiled the name of the wiz kid today. Apparently nobody was talking about him, because they were really interested in him. The name is Koa Misi and the Dolphins drafted him 40th overall in the second round. A former Utah Ute, Misi will be asked to rush off the edge for the Dolphins, filling the void that Jason Taylor created when becoming a New York Jet.
  • Third round draft choice Amari Spievy did not participate in much of camp because of soreness in his legs. Lions coaches are playing it like it’s only a temporary injury and that they don’t want to push him too far. Free agent signee Aaron Berry also sat out on Saturday. Berry had a successful career at Pittsburgh but never played to his full ability. He might have a good oppurtunity to make this team with the lack of depth at the cornerback position if he plays at the level he is capable of. He could also see some time returning punts in camp.
  • Jim Schwartz ended the rookie camp with a simple message to all of the first year players looking to jockey for a roster spot. It’s not about staying in shape, it’s about getting in shape. “These guys thought they were practicing hard,” Schwartz said. “Our pace is generally three times as fast as what these guys were going through. … They didn’t really have a feeling of where they need to be to be in shape. They think they’re in good shape, and they have no idea once they get here.”

The Lions training camp will begin in Late July.

(Joe Dexter is the lead blogger at Side Lion Report. For More Lions coverage and analysis follow the SideLion Report on Twitter.)