It was only two years ago that Matthew Stafford was a rookie, trying to adjust to a new team amid the pressure of being the top overall draft pick.
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Now, Stafford realizes he had it easy. The NFL’s latest newcomers are arriving in the most unusual of circumstances, training at informal workouts players have organized on their own during the lockout.
”It would be unbelievable trying to come in and be a rookie – to do that,” said Stafford, the Detroit quarterback. ”We’re going to try to make it as easy on them as possible, and catch them up to speed as much as we can.”
Stafford’s Lions worked out at Detroit Country Day School on Monday, the same place they gathered a few times last month. About 25 Lions were on hand, including two second-round picks from the team’s 2011 draft. Wide receiver Titus Young and running back Mikel Leshoure both were about as wide-eyed as expected.
”I don’t think they overwhelmed us with too much,” Leshoure said. ”There’s no playbooks for me to just go home and study. We’re going to take it bit by bit.”
Young played at Boise State, and Leshoure went to Illinois. The selections were a bit of a surprise because the Lions already have Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson at receiver, and they used a first-round pick last year on running back Jahvid Best.
The Lions figure they can never have too many talented players. They won their last four games in 2010 to finish 6-10, but they haven’t had a winning season since 2000. They’re hopeful that 2011 will be a chance to take a big step forward – assuming the labor dispute is resolved.
”We know that we’ve been drafted pretty high and the city is holding us to a high standard,” Young said. ”We know that we have a lot to do and a little time. We’ve got to make these days count right now.”
The 5-foot-11, 174-pound Young caught 150 passes over his final two seasons at Boise State. The 6-foot, 227-pound Leshoure scored 20 touchdowns last season and could make an immediate impact as a short-yardage back.
Leshoure, who has the Lions’ logo tattooed on his arm, said he was impressed with the workout, which included experienced trainers on hand to help the players.
”To tell you the truth, it was a little bit more organized than I expected. I figured it would just be run by the players,” he said. ”For guys to be here to help us out, that’s a blessing.”
Leshoure didn’t sound too concerned about the risk these workouts pose for a rookie still awaiting his first big contract.
”That’s something that I did talk to my agent about,” he said. ”You don’t want to be too selfish about it and look at it that way. You just want to get here and get better. We’re not doing too much to the point where we’re out there tackling or risking injury.”
For the non-rookies, these workouts are a chance to stay sharp and maintain camaraderie during this offseason of uncertainty. Some of the players were preparing to attend a potentially awkward charity golf outing Tuesday that also includes coach Jim Schwartz. With contact between players and the team limited because of the lockout, nobody was quite sure what to expect.
”I think you can say hi to them and stuff like that,” center Dominic Raiola said. ”I don’t know how that works. I think team charity events – that’s all right, I guess?”