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Lions’ Caldwell ripe with anticipation

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ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Detroit Lions head coach Jim Caldwell rarely talks about his emotions, but in looking ahead to 2015, he couldn’t hold back his anticipation.

“I’m probably about as excited as I could be this time of year,” Caldwell said Sunday after veterans reported for camp. “It’s an unusual (feeling) when I’m standing up in front of these guys this afternoon at 3 o’clock (Sunday). You can hear the buzz in the air, the excitement, the camaraderie, just the opportunity that we have.

“I feel fortunate and blessed to get a chance to coach once again, to lead a team once again. I’m excited about that. I’m excited about the challenges.”

The challenges the Lions face — besides an exceptional Packers team and an improved Vikings squad — are clear going into next season. First, the Lions have to replace All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, but Caldwell and the players aren’t thinking about the man who left for Miami in free agency.

“What happens with us depends on the guys in our locker room, not necessarily who’s not here,” Caldwell said. “It’s who’s here and what they do and how they perform, and we focus on that more than anything else.”

Plus, the Lions have a plan for replacing Suh as Haloti Ngata, their top offseason acquisition, will take his spot as the left defensive tackle. They also have to fill the void left by Nick Fairley and C.J. Mosley, but the coaches hope Tyrunn Walker, formerly of the Saints, can become a solid starter at right defensive tackle with some young players stepping in as backups.

When asked what his biggest concern is for next season, Caldwell said, “Everything.” Beyond the defensive line, the Lions tried to revamp their running game this offseason with a younger offensive line and by replacing Reggie Bush with rookie Ameer Abdullah. If the Lions can run more effectively, they’ll be closer to fulfilling Caldwell’s desire for a more balanced offense.

Matthew Stafford’s performance will be critical to the Lions improving an offense that ranked 19th overall in 2014.

Caldwell didn’t like hearing that Stafford lacks a killer instinct, which one NFL offensive coach told ESPN in its recent quarterback tiers story.

“I think you probably should ask the guy who made that statement,” Caldwell said. “I don’t think he’s out here on the field working with him. (Stafford is) a guy that does have what it takes to win. We’re interested in a championship quarterback; he has the necessary qualities to be just that.”

Stafford himself is more focused.

“Obviously, you’ve got to continue to get better,” Stafford said Monday after the first practice. “We had some positive things that we did, and we’ve got some things that we need to work on just like every practice. But, I’m confident in this group. We’ve got a bunch of guys that like to work hard and we’re going to do what it takes to make sure we’re playing good football on offense.”

As many different ways as there are to dissect the team, Caldwell’s goal is simple.

“My anticipation is that we can put together a team that’s better than last year’s team,” Caldwell said, referencing last year’s 11-5 finish. “That’s the goal, and we have to get that done. It’s not only a want; we must. And I think there’s a lot that goes into it.”

In addition to simply playing better, Caldwell mentioned that players must avoid the hubris that often follows a playoff berth. He said he told the team in the spring about the failings of good teams from year to year, and although there’s been significant roster turnover, some Lions players still remember going 4-12 in 2012 after their 10-6 finish and postseason appearance in 2011.

“Coming off the season that we had last year, there’s an itch to get back to it because we know what we can do and what we’re capable of,” punter Sam Martin said. “We’re just excited to get going.”

–Defensive Haloti Ngata went on the active/non-football injury list Monday before the first practice. He’s dealing with a hamstring strain and shouldn’t be out long.

The Lions also have three players on the active/physically unable to perform list: running back Joique Bell (knee/Achilles), offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle (knee) and defensive end Jason Jones (knee). Waddle is likely the only one in danger of missing the start of the regular season, and Jones said he hopes to participate in at least one preseason game.

“I’m feeling good,” Jones said. “Just take my time with it and let the trainers and (coach Jim) Caldwell decide when I’ll be ready to go back out there.”

Jones is also looking forward to lining up next to Ngata when they’re both healthy.

“It’ll be important for both of us to be out there together,” he said. “I can’t wait to play with him, alongside of him, and I can’t wait to get back out there with my teammates.”

–Second-year tight end Eric Ebron had the highlight of practice, high-pointing a ball on a seam and reeling it in while falling over linebacker Stephen Tulloch.

“That’s what I came to do,” said Ebron, last year’s 10th overall pick.

–The Lions traded second-year cornerback Mohammed Seisay to the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, receiving a sixth-round pick in return. Seisay was unlikely to make the Lions’ roster, but at 6-foot-2, he fits the profile of other Seahawks cornerbacks.

–Besides the players on PUP and NFI, rookie cornerback Alex Carter was the only player sitting Monday. The third-round pick will likely be a backup option on the outside.


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