Zack Follett sure talks a good game. He started to play a pretty good one late in his rookie season, too. Follett, a seventh-round pick out of California who began the season on the practice squad, emerged as a playmaker on special teams and also got a chance to excel in some defensive packages at the end of the regular season.
"He took steps all along the way," coach Jim Schwartz said.
Now it's time for a giant step, though, provided Follett's ready. By trading away a four-year starter in Ernie Sims, the Lions created a void at weakside linebacker. Entering training camp, that No. 1 job appears to be Follett's to lose.
"The door's definitely open for me, compared to what it was last year," said Follett, who would join another second-year pro, DeAndre Levy, and veteran Julian Peterson in the starting lineup at linebacker in the Lions' 4-3 scheme. "It's real fun to see. Just to see how far I've grown in a year, I'm excited to go out there.
"The coaches have been doing a real good job of teaching me the defense. And it's coming along so much quicker than it was last year. I'm able to go out there and just play fast. And that's my game ... to play fast."
Follett's hard-hitting reputation and outgoing personality helped make him an instant fan favorite last fall. And this spring he has become a go-to interview for local and national media outlets, while also becoming an advertising pitch man in Detroit.
"Everyone's been real cool," said Follett, whose father, Bob, died unexpectedly at age 57 in April. "That's why I say it's easy to relate to these fans in Detroit. Because they're down to Earth, and that's kind of my style: blue-collar guy. And that's how the fans are, and they really appreciate that. So that's why I think I've been able to connect with them so much."
Still, he knows it'll take more than a quick wit - or his own cheering section at Ford Field - to stick around for long, and he sounds determined to do just that.
"Knowing the defense; last year, I didn't have a good grasp of it," said Follett. "That's something I've worked on quite a bit, getting in the playbook, knowing my plays, and then just being a smart football player. That's one thing (defensive coordinator) Gunther (Cunningham) likes: It's OK if you make your mistake once, but are you gonna make it the next time? And after you make that mistake, are you gonna come back and make a play? That's one thing he always looks for, and that's what I'm trying to improve on."
Added Schwartz: "He's taken the next step. He's had a good offseason. He's a lot more comfortable playing behind the ball. He worked really hard on the scout team last year to try to get a lot of that work, and it's showing right now."
CAMP CALENDAR: Rookies and veterans report for training camp July 30 at the team's practice facility in Allen Park, Michigan. The Lions' first practice will be July 31. Twenty of the team's practice sessions will be open to the public from Aug. 4-19, including an Aug. 7 date at the team's stadium, Ford Field. Season-ticket holders, suite holders and sponsors will get additional access July 31-Aug. 3.