(Eds: Updates with quotes, detail. Stands for FBN–Lions-Camp on some digests. With AP Photos.)By NOAH TRISTERAP Sports Writer
Amid the monotony of the NFL preseason, Detroit’s Nate Burleson is determined to entertain.
Burleson zinged the Cleveland crowd last week when he scored a touchdown and then mimicked the chalk toss that NBA star LeBron James made famous with the Cavaliers before bolting for Miami. Burleson now says he actually had another celebration planned – a re-creation of Michael Jordan’s famous shot that knocked the Cavaliers out of the playoffs in 1989 – but the veteran receiver changed his mind.
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”I always have a backup plan,” Burleson said. ”I was going to do `The Shot’ by Jordan. … But I scored, the fans from Cleveland had some harsh words for me, and after that I was looking for my powder.”
The Lions signed the gregarious Burleson before last season to play opposite star receiver Calvin Johnson. As it turns out, the two have teamed up in more ways than one. Burleson calls Johnson his ”celebration consultant” – and says his teammate has quite a show planned for later this season if the right situation arises.
”I’m not going to let anything out of the bag, but Calvin’s got something planned this year,” Burleson said. ”If the stars align in the way they need to, this celebration will be the best celebration you’ve ever seen.”
Burleson caught 55 passes for 625 yards and six touchdowns last season, despite missing a couple games because of injury. He also quickly became one of the more outgoing members of the Detroit locker room. Showmanship comes naturally to Burleson, who turned 30 on Friday, the same day he showed off his LeBron-themed celebration against the Browns.
On at least one occasion, Burleson went too far. He was fined last season for kicking the ball into the stands while celebrating a touchdown. But in general, he tries to keep his antics playful, whether he’s bragging on Twitter about his ”(hash)ToeDragSwag” or plotting his next end zone routine.
”When I first got in the league, I was told, `Keep your eyes open and your mouth shut,” so I observed more than I talked. That’s part of the game,” Burleson said. ”Maybe I come off as a little over the top. I’m just friendly, though.”
Although Burleson likes to keep the atmosphere light, he has a serious role to play on this year’s Lions. Detroit drafted wide receiver Titus Young in the second round, he has been bothered by hamstring problems.
With quarterback Matthew Stafford healthy after missing most of last season, the Lions are hoping to make a push for the playoffs, but they need someone other than Johnson to be a consistent receiving threat.
Of the remaining wide receivers, Burleson has by far the most impressive track record. Two seasons ago with Seattle, he caught 63 passes for 812 yards in 13 games.
”He’s a big-time energy guy,” Stafford said. ”He gets guys excited before the game – during the game, keeps guys up – and he’s just a tough player. He’ll go across the middle, take a hit, and keep running. Guys feed off that kind of tough play and energy.”
Detroit’s next preseason game is Saturday night against the New England Patriots, and it’s not clear who will be available. Johnson, running back Jahvid Best and defensive lineman Kyle Vanden Bosch didn’t practice Tuesday, but coach Jim Schwartz insists the players aren’t seriously hurt.
At the very least, the Lions are being cautious. Schwartz said Vanden Bosch had a sore shoulder and had a doctor’s appointment Tuesday. Best left Friday’s game with a concussion. It’s not clear whether either will play against the Patriots.
”Jahvid, I believe, was cleared this morning,” Schwartz said. ”He had some stuff he was doing, getting his blood pressure up on the exercise bike and stuff like that.”
Schwartz says he’s more hopeful about Johnson’s status for Saturday. The receiver has been bothered by a left shoulder problem.
”It’s not so much him getting hit, it’s the abrupt movement of running and bringing his hands up to catch,” Schwartz said. ”We just tried to give him some time off.”
The Lions announced Tuesday they have signed tight end Gijon Robinson, who spent the last three seasons playing for the Indianapolis Colts.