Offseason arrests may haunt Lions

That dark cloud - pun not intended - hanging over Detroit's offseason may carry into the regular season.

The arrests this offseason on Detroit's 2011 draft class have put a cloud over what has been a mostly optimistic and promising outlook for the Lions. Coming off a 10-6 season and their first playoff appearance since 1999, the Lions have re-signed core players like receiver Calvin Johnson, defensive end Cliff Avril, left tackle Jeff Backus and middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch.

The Lions were banking on improvement from last year's rookie class - particularly Mikel Leshoure and Nick Fairley, who battled injuries, to facilitate another step in the team's growth.

"We need to get better and the players we have need to get better," president Tom Lewand said at the recent NFL league meetings. "You have heard it from the guys we've re-signed, Stephen Tulloch and Calvin Johnson - we need to get back to work and get better. You heard Stephen Tulloch say that our defense will be better because we will have an offseason to work together.

"We will have young guys who were injured last season, guys like Nick Fairley, Mikel Leshoure, Jahvid Best, even Titus Young who missed all of training camp last year, coming back with full offseason programs. The development of those young players is critical."

The arrests aren't expected to land either player jail time and they should be able to compete in the team's offseason program, which is expected to start April 16.

But they will have a lot to account for to their coaches and teammates.

Leshoure, the Lions' second-round pick last year, pleaded not guilty and requested a preliminary exam, which was scheduled for May 15. A pre-conference exam is set for May 11.

He was first cited on a possession charge in Benton Township, Mich., on Feb. 18. He pled that down to a usage charge, which he cleared with a $485 fine.

He was arrested again in Baroda-Lake Township on March 12. Officers noted that he tried to eat the marijuana as they approached the vehicle.

Fairley, the team's first-round pick and 13th overall, was pulled over after police witnessed him speeding through the Mobile subdivision of Morningside Manor at 12:30 p.m. Pot was found and he was taken to Mobile County jail until he could produce $1,000 bail.

His arraignment is scheduled for May 14.

All three players will also face possible suspension from the league, as much as four games for a first offense.

NOTEBOOK:

  • The Lions' efforts to restock their special teams units have failed thus far in free agency. Ted Ginn Jr., Tim Shaw and Corey Graham all came for visits and all have signed with other teams. This could push the Lions to work deals with a couple of their own free agents - Rashied Davis and Isaiah Ekejiuba. Ekejiuba, who is coming off shoulder surgery, has met with the Ravens.

  • The Lions took a flier on underachieving defensive end Everette Brown, hoping their defensive system can do for his career what it did for Lawrence Jackson's and what coach Jim Schwartz believes it did for Cliff Avril's.

    "The biggest thing is trying to match players with what you're going to ask them to do," Schwartz said. "(Brown's) talents are unique and I think they fit our scheme very well. He reminds me a lot of Cliff Avril a few years ago and I think that if he's going to succeed, he has a very good chance to do it in this scheme -- and he's still a young player, he's still talented." Brown was a second-round pick of the Panthers in 2009 but has produced just six sacks.

  • Mikel Leshoure's legal troubles will not impact how the Lions draft for this simple reason - drafting a running back was already on their radar. They have spent a lot of time researching Oregon's LaMichael James and they are also intrigued by Boise State's Doug Martin.

    "You never can have enough depth at running back," Schwartz said. Especially when there are question marks around the top two on the depth chart - Jahvid Best (concussions) and Leshoure (coming off Achilles surgery and the legal trouble).

  • The Lions were pleased the NFL expanded the defenseless player rule to protect defensive players victimized by crack-back blocks - meaning they can't be hit in the head or neck when engaged with another blocker. But it comes a couple years too late. Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch had to have neck surgery in 2010 after being taken out by a crack-back hit.

    "I don't know if (the rule change) would have protected his injury but that's a similar play," Schwartz said. "The NFL has taken a strong stance with defenseless players, but traditionally that's been offensive players - quarterbacks in the pocket, receivers in the process of making a catch, running backs being held up. This change is a way of recognizing that sometimes defensive players are defenseless, too."

  • For the second straight year, the Lions will play a nationally-televised exhibition game. Fox will carry their game at Baltimore, Friday night Aug. 17. The main storyline for that game will be Schwartz, who grew up in Baltimore.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Many a prey has been missed because of buck fever. I think the analogy is pertinent to pro football and professional sports in general. Sometimes you can get close to your goal and you sort of get very anxious, you change the method that you use to get where you are. It's about having a process and sticking with that and if you do you'll be a contender." -- Coach Jim Schwartz on handling success.

TEAM NEEDS

  • 1. Cornerback: There is no cornerback on the roster signed beyond next season and the lack of depth was exposed late last season after starter Chris Houston, nickel back Aaron Berry and free safety Louis Delmas were injured late in the season. Compound the problem with the loss of Eric Wright and the Lions need to restock the shelves here. The only corners on the roster right now are Houston, Berry, Alphonso Smith and Don Carey.
  • 2. Offensive line: It is interesting that the Lions reached out to free-agent linemen Eric Winston (signed with Kansas City) and Marcus McNeill. Still, Mayhew has admitted that with left tackle Jeff Backus, center Dominic Raiola (34) and right guard Stephen Peterman (30) are getting older, and he needs to start developing some younger talent. Presently, the two developmental linemen are tackle Jason Fox, who's been injured the last two years, and guard-tackle Johnny Culbreath who was injured all of last season.
  • 3. Linebackers: The ranks are extremely thin here, too, even after re-signing Stephen Tulloch. Starters DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant will be back. One primary backup last year, Bobby Carpenter, signed with the New England Patriots last week. That leaves developmental linebacker Doug Hogue as the only other true linebacker on the roster.
  • MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.

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