MIKE O'HARA

Barry Sanders to Lions: Face adversity and thrive

Posted Jul 28, 2014

Barry Sanders has some advice for the Lions as they start training camp in a quest to win the NFC North.

Barry Sanders has some advice for the Lions as they start training camp in a quest to win the NFC North.

Get ready for a tough fight, and enjoy the battle.

Sanders likes the attitude new head coach Jim Caldwell has brought, along with some positive additions. And he thinks Matthew Stafford can take a step toward joining the ranks of the NFL’s upper echelon of quarterbacks.

Barry SandersBarry Sanders (Photo: Detroit Lions)

But there are intangible qualities that have to be demonstrated, and one of them is being prepared and willing to face adversity and thrive in it.

“It’s embracing those things and really going into training camp expecting to be in those situations and looking forward to it and not sort of wondering what to do when you get there,” Sanders said Monday in a visit to the Lions’ Allen Park headquarters.

“Expect it to happen and embrace it this time of year. There’s no reason to panic over it.”

Sanders was in a good mood as he spoke and laughed at the mention that it was 25 years ago that he began his career as a rookie with the 1989 Lions. Sanders went on to become one of the NFL’s all-time great players and perhaps the most exciting runner ever.

Teams that survive tough times are the ones that win, and it’s something the Lions did not do last season in a collapse that kept them from winning the NFC North. They lost six of their last seven games to finish out of the playoffs with a 7-9 record.

“That really does separate teams in that league,” Sanders said. “Other than that, they were just two games or so out of winning the division. We’re not talking about wholesale changes.

“I almost want to say embrace the difficulty that’s going to come. You’re definitely going to have those moments that are tight, and they’re tense. Don’t wonder if they’re going to happen, but expect that they’re going to happen.”

Sanders likes the offseason roster additions but cautioned that the Lions aren’t the only team in the NFC North that has made improvement.

“You’d have to say they’ve certainly upgraded, but other teams have, also,” he said. “We definitely have a good addition with Golden Tate, and a good nucleus coming back from last year’s offense and defense.

“You would think that things would line up for this team to win the division, but obviously the Packers have upgraded, also.”

The big addition for the Packers is the return to health of quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He missed most of the second half of last season with a broken collarbone. Rodgers returned for the final game at Chicago and threw a late TD pass to win the game and give the Packers the North title with a record of 8-7-1.

“They got the guy (Rodgers) back and upgraded the running game,” Sanders said. “I think that part should be interesting.”

Sanders considers the attention Stafford has gotten as the key factor in whether the Lions are division contenders as part of what goes with playing quarterback.

“We know he’s going to play a big part in it,” Sanders said. “This is around the time (Stafford’s sixth season) when you would expect a quarterback of his caliber to step up and really embrace that challenge.

“Ability-wise, I don’t question that. He’s shown what he can do and what he’s capable of. It’s just a matter of him stepping into the pro game and stepping into that upper echelon of quarterbacks.

“He’s shown he can be a good player. He just needs to take that next step.”

Sanders spent considerable time with Caldwell Monday. Having experience in big games as head coach or an assistant with the Colts and Ravens and his associations with such people as Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning should give him credibility with the Lions.

“When you’re put into those pressure cookers, in a lot of ways, that’s almost a different game,” Sanders said. “The level of success, and the level that Peyton Manning played the game at is unique.

“Coach Dungy is one of those guys who always left his fingerprints on the game and on his defenses. All those experiences that Coach Caldwell has been through can only help him. Hopefully the players are receptive to it.

“Coach Caldwell has been around. He’s been around some great teams. That makes a difference. He comes in the door with a lot of respect. He’s been with some great players. He’s coming in with an amount of credibility.”