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Published: Friday, 7/27/2012

Lions ready to move past off-field woes

ASSOCIATED PRESS

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Jim Schwartz was discussing Aaron Berry's departure from the Lions when the Detroit coach tried to describe the situation in football terms.

"Knowing what the stakes were going in, if somebody can make two really bad errors in judgment, bad decisions, in that short period of time, what would they do during a big game?" Schwartz said. "What would they do when the stakes were just as high?"

The Lions terminated Berry's contract Monday, two days after the defensive back's second arrest of the offseason. It was the most recent of several run-ins with law enforcement for the team, and although Schwartz expects to move on, he doesn't necessarily want his players to forget what's happened this summer.

"I think for just about all of our team, when we hit the field [today], that's not going to be on anybody's mind," Schwartz said. "Hopefully it's on everybody's mind for the last six weeks or five weeks, and it will be on everybody's mind when they go out at night and when they make decisions in their personal lives. But when they're in the building here, they're going to be thinking about football."

The Lions made the playoffs last season for the first time in a dozen years and return a dynamic offense led by young stars Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. Their improvement earned Schwartz a contract extension, but there are plenty of questions still.

Berry was arrested twice this offseason in Pennsylvania before being cut. Running back Mikel Leshoure will miss the first two games this season without pay and will have to give up two more game checks for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. Leshoure pleaded guilty to marijuana possession in May after police discovered him with pot in his mouth during a traffic stop in southwestern Michigan. That happened on March 12, less than a month after police in a different Berrien County community said they caught Leshoure with marijuana.

Defensive tackle Nick Fairley was arrested in Alabama on charges of driving under the influence and attempting to elude police in May, his second arrest in his home state in two months. He was also arrested April 3 for allegedly possessing marijuana.

Offensive tackle Johnny Culbreath also had a marijuana-related run-in with law enforcement this offseason. He was eventually released.

Meanwhile, the Lions failed to reach an agreement with defensive end Cliff Avril on a long-term deal. They've retained him with the franchise tag, but practice starts today, and it's not clear what Avril's plans are. Neither he nor his agent responded Thursday to messages seeking comment on when he might show up to camp.

"I really have no expectations," Schwartz said. "We have 89 other guys, and we're going to coach those guys. When he's here, we'll get him up to speed. When he's not, we're not going to spend a lot of time talking about it."

In addition to Leshoure's problems -- which included a torn left Achilles tendon in training camp last year -- the Lions aren't sure what to expect from Jahvid Best, a running back whose career has been slowed by concussion problems.

"There are still some hurdles to deal with to be cleared for contact," Schwartz said. "We just have to wait and see."

Despite all the bad publicity this offseason and the questions facing this team, there are some reasons for excitement in the Motor City. The Lions have made a steady climb since going 0-16 in 2008, and that's the type of improvement that's evident even in training camp.

"If you remember, in '09, we put in claims on probably half a dozen guys at the end of training camp," Schwartz said.

"There were players that other teams were cutting that we were saying, 'These are better than the guys that we have.' I would expect at some point that to change, and players that we would cut, that couldn't make our competition, because we have some good players in place, would be attractive to other teams."



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