Football / Sports

Commentary: Lions coach Caldwell values character in his players

He wants his players to be "a piece of steel wrapped in velvet," and apparently it doesn't hurt if they have put a diamond on someone's finger, too.

Whether it was by design or just a quirk of the way things worked out, the first three picks in Jim Caldwell's first draft as Lions coach were either engaged or already married.

First-round pick Eric Ebron proposed to his long-time girlfriend Thursday morning on top of the Empire State Building, hours before he went No. 10 overall.

Second-round pick Kyle Van Noy is engaged to a former Miss Utah, Marissa Powell. And third-rounder Travis Swanson married his wife, Emily, in March.

The Lions didn't add "relationship status" to their scouting reports this off-season, and a prospect's, well, prospects, matter far less than his playmaking ability.

But Caldwell clearly values character in his players, and that's not a bad thing.

Three years ago, the Lions drafted a group of misfits that quickly gave the organization a black eye.

Four of the five members of their 2011 draft class were arrested, and only two -- Nick Fairley and Mikel Leshoure -- are still with the team. Both Fairley and Leshoure have stayed trouble-free since their arrests the spring after their rookie years, whereas classmate Titus Young has been a cautionary tale to the rest of the league.

No one is suggesting Caldwell is the only reason for the change of direction, and to do so would be wrong.

General manager Martin Mayhew learned a valuable lesson from that draft, which he alluded to last week when he said all draft-day decisions are ultimately his.

"My name gets attached to that guy, which I found that out," Mayhew said. No matter who that guy is, that's the guy I drafted. It's not a guy somebody else drafted."

Mayhew acquiesced to the wishes of coaches when he took Young in the second round against the recommendation of scouts, and the organization has made it a point to find strong locker-room types since Young's antics tore the team apart two seasons ago.

Last year, they signed free agents Reggie Bush and Glover Quin and took high-character players like Ziggy Ansah and Larry Warford in the draft.

This year, their top free-agent additions were Golden Tate and James Ihedigbo, two more community-minded types.

Not every player the Lions drafted this week is engaged or married or close to being a choirboy, and most everyone in the NFL will tell you locker rooms need a few rough-around-the-edge types as long as they're not leaders who steer their teammates the wrong way.

In the fourth round Saturday, the Lions took a flier on Utah State cornerback Nevin Lawson, who was arrested for burglary back in high school when he and an 18-year-old acquaintance were caught on home video breaking into a North Lauderdale, Fla., home.

Lawson said he met with the Lions at February's combine and they did "not (express) too much concern" about the incident.

Asked to explain his involvement Saturday, he said: "It just happened. It was just a bad situation, made a wrong decision, but end of the day that's in the past and I'm looking forward for the future."

Swanson said he was asked by teams in the buildup to the draft, "What's your relationship status?" and that most coaches he met with seemed to appreciate the stability his engagement provided.

"I've never gotten any negative feedback from it," Swanson said. "From all the teams I talked to, they thought it was positive."

The Lions thought so, too, apparently, though they're smart enough to know this year's draft class won't ultimately be judged by the character of its players but the number of championships they win.

(c)2014 Detroit Free Press

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