Lions head coach Jim Schwartz made a small detour last Tuesday on his way out to the practice field. He walked over to the side and gave former Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck a huge hug and chatted him up for a bit before practice began.
Bulluck was visiting Lions practice as part of his NFL training camp tour with co-host Jim Miller for Sirius NFL Radio.
Bulluck played under Schwartz for nine seasons in Tennessee when Schwartz was the Titans’ defensive coordinator. Bulluck started every game for the Titans at linebacker from 2002-08, amassing 879 tackles over that span.
There are few players who’ve spent more time with Schwartz in the NFL and probably few who know him better.
“He’s definitely a guy that’s going to make sure you have the information,” Bulluck told Detroitlions.com. “He’s a smart coach. What that translates into is him being smart enough to understand his players, realize the talent he has and put them in the best position to be successful, or to get coaches that can get through to those players and understand where they need to be within a defense.”
If there's one word that probably best describes Schwartz more than any other it’s prepared. NFL analysts and former players who visit Lions practice always talk afterward about the pace and amount of situational work the Lions go through in a typical practice.
“I’m always amazed at just how hard working this team is under Jim Schwartz,” said Miller, a former Michigan State and NFL quarterback.
“When you go out to practice, they get after it. They are out there accomplishing something and they are preparing themselves for what they are going to see on Sunday. What I mean by that is that you have to stress your body and you have to gruel your way through some things and that’s what this team has done.
“I think Jim Schwartz has done a great job willing this team, this attitude, to have that type of mindset and I think the players on this team respond to it. Now going on his fourth year here it’s almost like rope memory. These players know they are packing a lunch and bringing a flashlight and going to work. That’s the mindset for this team. I think it’s crucial.”
Every practice Schwartz has a whistle attached to his finger and is barking out the down and distance and the situation. Either it’s 3rd down and 1 and a first down wins the game or there is less than a minute on the clock and the offense needs 40 yards to get into field goal range.
Schwartz has both coordinators call all the plays onto the practice field through the wireless headset to the quarterbacks and linebackers to simulate game situations.
“You have to prepare for those situations because if you don’t, how is your team going to handle it if they haven’t been there?” Miller said. “The game is a situational game and unless you’re preparing for those situations, you’re going to end in failure.”
There’s a good reason quarterback
Bulluck said the defensive players in Tennessee used to make fun of Schwartz for being the “smart guy” with a Georgetown degree. But he said every single one of them respected how prepared he made them feel for Sunday. It’s the same thing current Lions players say about their coach.
“Be on time. Be sure to execute assignments,” said Lions defensive end
Schwartz has come up the coaching ranks under two of the games best in Bill Belichick and Jeff Fisher, two long time coaches who have a reputation for being prepared. Schwartz and general manager Martin Mayhew have turned an 0-16 team into a playoff contender in just three seasons by acquiring more talent and then preparing it to compete.
Bulluck said he isn’t surprised at all at the success Schwartz has had in Detroit in so little time.
“We had talent in Tennessee with our defense when Schwartz first become our coordinator, but it had to be re-cultivated,” Bulluck said. “It’s the same thing with Detroit. They drafted talent but it had to be cultivated. Now that it’s cultivated to the way he wants it, it’s a winning organization.
“I can honestly say that I’m not surprised because he did the same thing with us as far as a coordinator. We may not of been the best team in the beginning statistically on defense but we had a defense that would go out and hunt and go out and play hard and it didn’t matter who we were playing. We were out there to kick ass. I think that’s where he has the Detroit Lions. Their mentality is like that.”