Lions Coach Jim Caldwell showed up early Monday morning dressed like a typical Tigers fan for a radio appearance in the Ford Field atrium across from Comerica Park, where the Tigers will start the season later in the day against the Kansas City Royals.
Caldwell wore a dark blue Tigers cap, with the famed Olde English “D” on the front – and spent most of the morning talking football.
Caldwell was a guest on ESPN’s popular Mike&Mike show, which is aired in Metro Detroit on 105.1-FM from 6-10 a.m.
The show, anchored at the Ford Field atrium, attracted a large, enthusiastic crowd – especially considering the early start. Enthusiasm about the Lions is something Caldwell has gotten accustomed to since being hired on Jan. 15.
“I think it’s great,” Caldwell said after signing autographs and posing for pictures. “That’s one thing you find – they’re great, passionate fans here that have great expectations and high expectations.
“That’s far better than apathy.”
Most of the questions from show hosts Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic and the local media were about football, either concerning the Lions or proposed rules changes from the NFL Annual Meeting in Orlando last week.
Caldwell told Greenberg and Golic that he is eager for the official offseason workout program to begin next Monday. Under NFL rules, it will be the first time he is allowed to speak to the team as a group and talk football. He has spoken informally with numerous players since being hired.
Caldwell also talked some baseball. After the show, he went to work in Allen Park with plans to return for the Tigers-Royals game.
Last week’s pro day at Texas A&M for quarterback Johnny Manziel and wide receiver Mike Evans, any interest by the Lions in DeSean Jackson, and the need to sign a veteran backup quarterback were among the issues Caldwell discussed with the media on Monday as follows:
A&M Pro Day: The Lions are not in the market to draft a quarterback high, but wide receiver is a priority. It’s likely that Caldwell and GM Martin Mayhew had a keener eye on Evans than on Manziel.
Caldwell said last week how impressed he was with Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins at his pro day. Caldwell and Mayhew had dinner with Watkins. Caldwell did not speak specifically about Manziel and Evans on Monday.
“I think all of them did extremely well,” Caldwell said. “I’m not going to get into particulars.”
The workout was televised live by the NFL Network and focused specifically on Manziel, even though Evans is rated a high first-round prospect and probably will be the second receiver drafted after Watkins.
“It was quite an event,” Caldwell said. “A lot of folks had a great interest in what was happening on the field. All the guys did a nice job, just in terms of performance.
“Our job as coaches is to evaluate any and everybody. You just never know these days with free-agency how things might come up somewhere down the line.”
DeSean Jackson: A number of teams have expressed an interest in meeting with Jackson since his release by the Eagles last week, but the Lions are not one of them at this time, Caldwell said.
“We haven’t discussed him,” Caldwell said. “I can say he’s a play-maker – a guy that can get it done. At this point in time, we have not had any discussions. In this business, you never say never.”
Backup QB: Shaun Hill signing with the Rams last week leaves an opening for a veteran with NFL game experience. Dan Orlovsky, who entered the NFL in 2005 as a fifth-round draft pick by the Lions, has been mentioned as a possibility, but Caldwell would not comment on that.
Orlovsky was with the Colts in 2011 – Caldwell’s last season as head coach – and was the starter for the only two games Indy won in a 2-14 season.
Baseball: Caldwell was a four-year starting defensive back at Iowa, but he grew up in Beloit, Wis., a baseball fan and played infield, outfield and pitched.
Beloit is on the state line, dividing Wisconsin and Illinois, which gave baseball fans a choice in rooting interests – Milwaukee Braves, or Chicago Cubs and White Sox.
Caldwell was a Cubs fan, but his favorite player was Willie Mays, then with the San Francisco Giants.
“Back in the day when I was growing up, that (baseball) was a truly summer pastime for everybody,” Caldwell said. “Almost everyone in our community participated -- minor league, Little League, Babe Ruth and then Legion. I had a lot of fun.”
Caldwell noted that he and Tigers Manager Brad Ausmus are leading new teams for the first time. Ausmus played 18 seasons in the majors as a catcher, including three seasons with the Tigers. This is Ausmus’ first season as a manger. Caldwell spent three seasons as head coach of the Colts.
“Brad’s kind of in the same situation that I’m in,” Caldwell said. “He has the opportunity to lead a team that has a lot of promise and high expectations.”