ALLEN PARK, MICH. – The Detroit Lions began off-season workouts this week with two key players not at the team’s practice facility for two very different reasons.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford is with his wife, Kelly Stafford, who announced earlier this month that she is battling an acoustic neuroma brain tumor that will require surgery.
“When Kelly kind of posted it on Instagram, and you guys had picked it up and wrote about it, I sent him a text and I recently talked to him about it,” Lions’ centre Graham Glasgow said Tuesday. “It seems like he’s doing well and I think their family’s doing well. It’s just a tough time and I’m trying not to (bother him).”
Also absent is defensive tackle Damon ‘Snacks’ Harrison, who is looking for a new contract despite having two years remaining on his current deal.
“I’m not getting into who’s here and who’s not here,” said Lions linebacker Devon Kennard, who was also a teammate of Harrison when the two played for the New York Giants. “I don’t think it has any affect on anything.”
In truth, the first two weeks of off-season training, which is known as Phase 1, is voluntary. It is limited to players doing strength and conditioning work and for those players needing to rehab.
“At this point and time, you’re really not even allowed to do much,” Glasgow said. “You really can’t even run the drills at this time.”
In Phase 2, which covers three weeks after the NFL Draft, teams can hold on-field workouts with drills and with coaches present, but no contact.
Organized Team Activities get underway in late May with a mandatory three-day minicamp in early June.
Both Stafford and Harrison will be key to the fortunes of the Lions in 2019. With Stafford’s wife facing surgery, the Lions are not saying if or when he will be available for spring workouts.
“It’s really hard to kind of touch upon this situation,” the six-foot-six, 310-pound Glasgow said. “It’s a really tough time for him and his family. Him and Kelly are extremely tough people and this is something that is bigger than football.”
The Lions have a new offensive co-ordinator in Darrell Bevell, but the club seems willing to give Stafford all the time he needs.
However, when minicamp rolls around in June, it is mandatory for players. Stafford might be excused, but the 30-year-old Harrison will be expected to be available, even if there is no new deal.
The Lions acquired Harrison for a fifth-round draft pick in October of last season. Detroit ranked 30th in the NFL against the run before acquiring Harrison, but climbed to 10th overall by the end of the season. Detroit allowed just 925 rushing yards after the trade, which was fourth fewest in the league, and an average of 3.76 yards per carry, which was second lowest against in the league.
Harrison had 30 run stops in 10 games for Detroit, which led the team, and added 3.5 sacks, which was third in the NFL amongst defensive tackles. ProFootballFocus rated him No. 1 against the run.
Along with the release of veteran safety Glover Quin, it’s left the Lions with a bit of a leadership void at this point in the off-season.
“GQ was the glue,” Lions linebacker Jarad Davis said of Quin. “He really helped us out a lot last year. We’re all going to miss him. We loved that guy. That’s someone we’re going to miss.”
But whether a player is absent for whatever reason or has moved on, Glasgow said it’s important to keep moving forward.
“I think that a lot of guys have kind of taken that (leadership) role upon themselves,” the 26-year-old Glasgow said. “It’s just something we’re all taking upon ourselves to make sure we are getting the team better.”
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