In April, Lions linebacker Jordon Dizon was asked about his experience on draft day. He responded with an anecdote about being on the golf course when he got the call.
"I was in shock," Dizon said. "I was in awe. It was early. It was really early. I didn't expect it to be that early."
A lot of people didn't expect it to be that early. The Lions drafted Dizon in the second round last year.
They were looking for a middle linebacker to fit their Tampa Two defense. Their first choice, Jerod Mayo, was off the board when they picked in the first round. A couple of other options were gone when they were on the clock in the second round. So they took Dizon, a speedy, undersized tackling machine.
Dizon struggled to earn the coaches' trust and crack the lineup last year, and when the Lions changed coaching staffs, his future seemed in serious doubt. Coach Jim Schwartz ditched the Tampa Two and said he wanted bigger, stronger players. He moved Dizon to the outside, where the Lions have Julian Peterson and Ernie Sims.
So where does that leave Dizon? Well, the Lions might have a use for him yet.
Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said he was impressed with Dizon during offseason workouts. He even said he confused him with Peterson on film because of how well Dizon runs.
Cunningham said that by adding some bigger linebackers, the Lions might be able to get away with Dizon, who has added 10 pounds to get to 230. The new scheme also might free Dizon to use his instincts more.
"I heard he made a statement that he probably got drafted too high," said Cunningham, who worked for the Chiefs last year. "I said, 'Well, we had you in the top of the third round, and the Lions took you in the second. So does that mean we were stupid, too?' I think he needed to know that he's pretty good."
Dizon did need it.
"For me to have confidence in myself is one thing," Dizon said. "But for a coach to have confidence in you is a whole other thing. It shows that they trust me, and that's the biggest thing between a player and a coach. When a coach trusts a player, I can trust him. It works both ways, and it just works out better when it's like that."
- The Lions have added a lot of veterans to their defense this offseason, as Tennessee did in 2005 when it bottomed out after a salary-cap purge. Coach Jim Schwartz was the Titans' defensive coordinator then, and he saw how those veterans helped turn things around.
"It wasn't just their play on the field," Schwartz said. "It was their professionalism. It was their work habits. It was their leadership. It was their experience that meant as much as their play on the field."
- During the seventh round of the draft, linebacker Zack Follett heard from several teams that wanted to sign him as a free agent. He said he was on the phone with the Raiders when the Lions called to tell him he would be the next pick.
"All the teams that overlooked me and then tried to call me right after the draft, like, begging me to be a free agent," Follett said, "I'm ready to come back and just run down on kickoff and just smash some people."
- Tight end has been an important position in offensive coordinator Scott Linehan's system, and the Lions took tight end Brandon Pettigrew 20th overall.
"You want that production in the passing game," Linehan said. "It starts with the blocking, though. That's why Pettigrew was such a unique fit and profile for the position because he's a blocker and a receiver, and to be an every-down tight end in this league, you have to have some special physical qualities as well. With that said, obviously the spot the player's drafted, we've got big plans for the young man."
- Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham has brought his pressure packages to Detroit.
"Julian Peterson will be rushing the passer," Cunningham said. "He probably will do it as a down lineman. But I have a scheme where there's only three linemen, three linebackers and five DBs. We call it quarter, and a lot of coaches don't let you get it on the field. They'll go hurry-up because you can blitz and do so many things out of that scheme, and Ernie (Sims) and Julian are a really big part of that."
- Cunningham doesn't mind taking it easy on 36-year-old defensive tackles.
"If we have veteran players, we need to make sure we manage them," Cunningham said. "Grady Jackson's part of the management program. Working for Al Davis, I learned that a long time ago. He used to say, 'Gun, I need six plays out of the guy.' I'd say, 'Six plays?' He'd go, 'Six good ones in one game will do. Take care of him.' I think coaches, they want players to go hard every day. But when you have players that are in their 30s, you've got to be careful and you've got to know how to do that."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "For people to think you can put five rookies on a defense and stop anybody, you can do it for three quarters. But in the fourth quarter when the vet stands up and looks at you and says, 'Well, son, now it's time for me to kick your ass,' that's what they do." -- Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, who played several rookies in Kansas City last year.