Lions perk up at Ford Field practice before 17,000 fans

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Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Detroit — Lions coach Jim Schwartz was glad to get his players out of Allen Park for a day.

“It changed the pace a little bit,” Schwartz said Saturday at Ford Field, where the Lions opened their practice session to the public. “When you get into the dog days of camp — and we’re officially in the dog days — a change of scenery like that and having the fans out there behind them, it helps practice out and that was good tempo.”

Most of the players also seemed excited, and witnessed the fans’ enthusiasm up close and personal during a 45-minute autograph session prior to practice.

The only booing sound of the afternoon came when rookie Ndamukong Suh came out of the tunnel, but most fans were undoubtedly yelling his name instead of showing resentment for his recent holdout.

Otherwise, the crowd of 17,112 was very much behind the Lions, cheering loudly for good plays, including a forced fumble by cornerback Jonathan Wade.

“To be here, to have these fans here, I can’t even explain how exciting it is because this team and this town has been through a lot of rough, rough times,” Wade said. “The support is still here, and we’re going to do everything within our might, within our power and our will to give them something to look forward to each and every Sunday.”

Wade popped the ball out of rookie Jahvid Best’s hands on a running play during 11-on-11 drills. The play amped up Wade and the defense, which had been picked apart during much of the practice.

“That’s this crazy guy that I become on Sundays that hit that guy. We look alike,” Wade said. “Him and (Louis) Delmas are really close relatives.”

Wade has been impressive throughout camp, and although he’s been a little more consistent than fellow cornerback Chris Houston, Schwartz insisted that Houston is coming along.

“Chris has really been an improved player and when you go against someone like (receiver) Calvin Johnson as much as he does, you really have no choice,” he said. “It’s sink or swim and he’s been swimming so far.”

New experience for rookies

Saturday’s practice marked the first time some of the players have been on their home field, and a few of the rookies took the opportunity to shine.

Tim Toone, the Mr. Irrelevant of the 2010 draft, actually received the loudest roars during the practice when he caught a deep pass after blowing past cornerback Jonathan Hefney at the line of scrimmage. A few plays later in the single-coverage drill, Toone broke free again but was overthrown.

Best also heard some loud cheers for several runs, displaying his ability to cut and get upfield. Schwartz said a few of the rookies seemed more excited than usual.

“A lot of them have never seen the stadium before,” Schwartz said. “It’s the first time they’ve been in Ford Field, it’s the first time they’ve walked down the tunnel, and there’s an excitement to that.

“It gave them a little pep in their step this afternoon when they came out.”

First game looming

The Lions have less than a week before their first exhibition game in Pittsburgh next Saturday. The team also has just three weeks before its first home preseason game against Cleveland (Aug. 28) and five weeks before opening the regular season in Chicago (Sept. 12).

“Before you play a preseason game it’s good to come down and do something like this so they get acquainted with where the locker room is, where the training room is, where all the different things are,” Schwartz said. “It just makes it a little easier when they come down for their first preseason game.”

Wade was a member of the Rams last year, a team that won just one game. Although he wasn’t with the Lions last season, he said the defense has improved and its first test will come next Saturday.

“We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re not where we used to be,” Wade said.