Hopes high for Lions as Caldwell’s first training camp begins

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Jim Caldwell will take the field Monday afternoon for his first training camp as Detroit Lions coach.

He does so with much higher expectations than most coaches in their first year.

Lions center Dominic Raiola, entering his 14th NFL season, has been through a few of these coaching-staff transitions and insists that the Lions are in a great position with this one.

"The expectation is always to win, but this is the best chance for any coach who has come in to win right now," Raiola said. "With the collection of talent in the room, the collection of coaches on the staff, the attitude of the building, the culture of the building, what it is right now, what it went through in the offseason, this is the best chance since I’ve been here to win right now."

It’s the fifth time that Raiola has been part of a coach’s first season in Detroit:

— Marty Mornhinweg, in Raiola’s rookie year, went 2-14 in 2001 after inheriting a 9-7 team from Bobby Ross’ final year.

— Steve Mariucci went 5-11 in 2003 after inheriting a 3-13 team from Mornhinweg.

— Rod Marinelli went 3-13 in 2006 after inheriting a 5-11 team from Mariucci’s final year.

— Jim Schwartz went 2-14 in 2009 after inheriting a 0-16 team from Marinelli.

Now it’s Caldwell’s turn.

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The Lions are coming off a 7-9 season. They had gotten off to a 6-3 start last year and were in first place before losing six of their last seven.

This is certainly a lot different than five years ago, when Schwartz took over. This roster is filled with established stars such as Calvin Johnson, Ndamukong Suh, Reggie Bush and Matthew Stafford.

"It’s not fair to talk about when Schwartz came in because he inherited a 0-16 team," Raiola said. "It was a complete overhaul, and we’ve been a part of a couple of those. This is not a complete overhaul.

"There’s some additions, additions upstairs, additions in our rooms, and the cornerstones of the team are older. You’re not drafting a quarterback and saying, ‘Hey, you’re going to be our franchise.’

"Calvin is in his prime. Golden Tate is coming off a Super Bowl win (with Seattle). You could go on and on about the cornerstones of this team.

"The guys are in position, and they’ve been here and they’ve been around. They have some experience. This team is built to win right now. On paper, it looks great, and I’m excited to get going on the field."

The Lions are the last team in the league to begin full-squad practices, two days later than anyone else. Caldwell chose to bring in the rookies, quarterbacks and injured players last week to give them some special attention before the entire team arrived.

Defensive end Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah and rookie receiver TJ Jones aren’t expected to practice Monday. They’ve been put on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list but can be activated at any time once they’re cleared by doctors.

Caldwell gave no timetable on their possible returns, but it’s likely to be sooner than later. Neither is believed to be in danger of missing the start of the regular season, barring a setback.

"I cannot worry about how quickly the Lord allows someone to heal," Caldwell said. "It’s whenever the Lord says he’s healthy and healed. The medical staff will take a look at it after the Lord’s decree and then we’ll see what goes on."