Injured rookie receiver Young watches Lions from sidelines

Chris McCosky/ The Detroit News

Allen Park — Can’t imagine what’s going on inside of rookie receiver Titus Young these days, but the phrase all revved up with no place to go comes to mind.

He has to stand aside and watch while the other 11 wide receivers go through position drills. During seven-on-seven and team drills, all he can do pop his head into the huddle, hear the play and then get out of the way.

During special team drills, he is off to the side catching passes with one of the ball boys.

This isn’t at all how Titus Demetrius “TD” Young — as he announced himself to Detroit on draft day — envisioned his first NFL training camp. But then again, he didn’t figure on injuring his right leg on the first day of practice, either.

The Lions aren’t saying much about the injury. Leg stiffness is what they are calling it. Young, a very personable and outgoing guy, isn’t saying much about it either.

“I will talk to you guys when I get back,” he said Saturday. “It should be next week some time.”

He said he wasn’t frustrated. He said it would all be for the best. That’s faith speaking — his spiritual faith and faith in himself.

But you don’t have to be a shrink to feel his anxiety. He wants to show the coaches and his teammates that he was worthy of that second round pick. He wants to show everybody that he is the guy who can fill the void at the third receiver spot, that he is the speedy, field-stretching playmaker that might be able to open some space for Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson and Brandon Pettigrew.

He desperately wants to be the guy making catches and thrilling the fans during these long, hot practice sessions.

Instead, all he can do watch, wait and sign autographs when he’s asked.

Young is not in danger of being cut; let’s be clear about that. But with each passing day, with each missed rep, it starts to feel like the team is moving on without him.

“It’s still way early in camp,” coach Jim Schwartz said, diffusing any undue stress Young might be feeling. “We haven’t even played a preseason game yet. He’s done a very, very good job of staying involved and staying active with things he can do. When he’s out there he just needs to take advantage of his opportunity.

“How far behind is he? That’s really yet to be seen.”

No, he is behind. He was behind before he was injured. The lockout wiped out a rookie mini-camp and OTAs. He did get a crash course in the offense from Burleson and quarterback Matthew Stafford during the team’s voluntary workouts, but that’s grossly insufficient.

The Lions are in a tough spot, too. Because he practiced that first day, they can’t put him on the physically unable to perform list. There is no such thing as a short-term injury list. If they were to put him on the injured list – his injury isn’t believed to be that extensive – he’d have to miss the entire season.

They just have to wait for him to get healthy and get on the field and see how quickly he can make up for lost time.

But something general manager Martin Mayhew said on Friday resonated regarding players like Young and first-round pick, defensive tackle Nick Fairley, who is going to miss all of training camp with a broken foot.

“With the rookies (across the league), you are going to see a lot of those guys not make an immediate impact who would have had the ability to make an immediate impact with an offseason,” he said. “It’s going to be a different year for rookies.”

The more time Young misses, the harder it will be to catch up enough to make the kind of impact the Lions were hoping he’d make this season. That’s partly why the Lions have 11 other receivers in camp and that’s why Mayhew will continue to scour the waiver wires looking to upgrade the position.

As it is now, eight of the 11 receivers (not counting Young) are fighting for what probably will be one roster spot.

The Lions typically keep five receivers, with one of them being return specialist Stefan Logan. Johnson and Burleson are the starters. Young has been penciled in as the third receiver.

That would leave the following players fighting for one spot – veterans Derrick Williams, Rashied Davis and Maurice Stovall, second-year players Tim Toone and Nate Hughes, and rookies Demario Ballard, Marcus Harris and Dominique Barnes.

If the season started tomorrow, Williams would be the third receiver. The former third-round pick is having the best camp of his career. But Davis has value, too, as an elite special teams player. Stovall is 6-foot-5 and has shown well early on. Ballard is raw, but his size (6-foot-6, 220 pounds) and speed (4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash) have raised some eyebrows.

So put yourself in Young’s shoes, having to sit idly by as this competition burns day after day — not necessarily the competition for the roster spot, but the competition to be the third receiver.

It can’t be easy.

“We assume he will get back on the field and be able to make plays,” Schwartz said. “If he does, then he won’t be behind at all.”

If it were only that simple.

Calvin Johnson is NFL’s prime catch

The NFL’s best: A Detroit News series

Tim Twentyman/ The Detroit News

Third of 13-part series ranking the best NFL players at each position.

When Lions coach Jim Schwartz was the defensive coordinator with the Titans in 2008, he had a short week to prepare for a Thanksgiving Day matchup with the Lions.

The Lions hadn’t won a game all season but that didn’t stop Schwartz from staying up late worrying about a solid defensive game plan. He told reporters shortly after taking the Lions head coaching position that it was Lions receiver Calvin Johnson that he was so worried about.

At 6-foot-5, 236 pounds, and boasting 4.3 speed, Johnson is one of the toughest matchups for defensive backs in all of football. As Schwartz can attest, he gives defensive coordinators headaches trying to figure a way to slow him down.

“He’s a young player, but he also has some experience now,” Schwartz said. “He’s learned how to persevere through a lot of things in the NFL, he’s learned how to persevere through double teams; he’s learned how to be successful even when he’s being double teamed. He’s taken a really big jump this year as an inside receiver. Inside breaking routes from the slot, I mean those are run after the catch, those things have been really big for him this year. It’s been difficult for him, but his production wouldn’t reflect how difficult it’s been on him.”

Before the Lions added a few weapons to pair with Johnson, it wasn’t uncommon for him to be double and even triple teamed.

Johnson broke through in 2010, earning his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro nods after compiling 1,120 yards and 12 touchdowns.

The fact that Johnson was productive without franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford for 12 games is even more impressive. Johnson played with three different quarterbacks 2010, having to adjust week-to-week with three very different throwing styles.

“I don’t know how many wide receivers are making the Pro Bowl with three different quarterbacks,” Schwartz said.

The scary thing about Johnson is that he feels he hasn’t even reached his potential yet.

“I’m close, but I haven’t gotten there exactly where I want to be,” he said late last season.

Johnson is one of a number of truly gifted receivers in the NFL today.

Right now, there’s probably the biggest collection of Hall-of-Fame caliber receivers playing in the NFL than there’s even been.

Top 10 receivers

1. Calvin Johnson, Lions: He’s the hardest receiver to match up against since Randy Moss was in his prime. Simply put, he’s a freak. There’s a reason they call him “Megatron.” Take a poll of defensive backs around the league and ask them who the hardest receiver in the NFL to cover is and Johnson’s name will likely come up more than anyone else.

2. Andre Johnson, Texans: If anything, he’s consistent. Johnson has averaged nearly 100 yards per game over his last 54 games. He managed 1,216 yards and eight touchdowns in 13 games in 2010 and that was with the league’s leading rusher (Adrian Foster) as a teammate.

3. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals: No one probably did more with less than Fitzgerald. The quarterback play was abysmal for the Cardinals all season, yet he managed 90 catches for 1,137 yards and six touchdowns. It’s his fourth-straight season with at least 1,000 receiving yards and over that stretch he missed just one game.

4. Roddy White, Falcons: White led the league with 115 receptions, a single-season Falcons record, marking the fourth-straight season he’s recorded at least 1,100 receiving yards. White led the NFL with 73 of his catches resulting in a first down.

5. Reggie Wayne, Colts: With an AFC-best 111 receptions, Wayne became the seventh player in NFL history with three or more 100-catch seasons.Last season was his seventh-straight 1,000 yard season. Even more impressive is the fact that he hasn’t missed a game since 2002, a streak of 129-straight regular season starts.

6. Greg Jennings, Packers: Jennings was clutch for the Packers all season, especially when tight end Jermichael Finley was lost to a knee injury. Jennings had 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns and posted 100-yard-plus games in playoff wins against the Falcons and Bears on way to Super Bowl title.

7. Mike Wallace, Steelers: The fastest receiver in the NFL stormed onto the scene in 2010 with 1,257 yards and 10 touchdowns. There was some debate as to whether he could flourish as a team’s No. 1 option, but those questions have been put to bed for good. Wallace averaged 21.0 yards per catch, and by the end of the season, he demanded safety help over the top.

8. DeSean Jackson, Eagles: Jackson is lightning in a bottle, whether it’s running the go route for quarterback Michael Vick or returning punts. One of the fastest players in the game, Jackson averaged 22.5 yards per-catch last season, the most of any receiver with more than 10 catches.

9. Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs: Bowe paced the NFL with 15 touchdown catches in 2010, the most in a season in Chiefs history. There have been questions about his work ethic, but there’s no question that when he’s healthy, and motivated, he’s a fantasy football player’s dream.

10. Hakeem Nicks, Giants: Nicks missed three games in 2010 but still had 79 catches for 1,052 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first season as the team’s No. 1 option. In only his second season in the league, Nicks has become the go-to guy for Giants quarterback Eli Manning.


Wednesday: Quarterbacks

Thursday : Running backs

Friday : Receivers

Saturday : Tight ends

Monday : Offensive tackles

Tuesday : Guards

Wednesday, June 29: Centers

Thursday, June 30 : Safeties

Friday, July 1 : Cornerbacks

Saturday, July 2 : Outside linebackers

Monday, July 4 : Inside linebackers

Tuesday, July 5 : Defensive ends

Wednesday, July 6 : Defensive tackles

Jerry Green: Hines Ward is Steelers’ latest big catch

Jerry Green

Former News staff writer Jerry Green is one of only four sportswriters to cover every Super Bowl. Read Green’s columns all week from Super Bowl XLV in The Detroit News.

Fort Worth, Texas — The Pittsburgh quarterback dropped back, then fired a cannon shot. Way downfield, the receiver tooled into overdrive, leaped and twisted in flight. The football struck his fingertips and stuck. Without losing a step the receiver stepped onward for a touchdown.

Lynn Swann from Terry Bradshaw, 64 yards — Super Bowl X in Miami’s Orange Bowl.

Again, four years later, the Pittsburgh quarterback dropped back, then fired another cannon shot. Downfield, the receiver ran from the slot, with two defenders attached, hooked, pirouetted and escaped in a gallop downfield.


John Stallworth from Bradshaw, 73 yards — Super Bowl XIV in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl.

Again, now 26 years later, the Pittsburgh quarterback dropped back and fired another shot, this one looping. Along the sideline the receiver caught the football in flight, and kept going for the touchdown.

Hines Ward from Ben Roethlisberger, 43 yards — Super Bowl XL in Detroit’s Ford Field.

Three imperishable Super Bowl flashbacks. Three plays vivid in my memory.

Swann, Stallworth and Ward. They are joined.

“What do they mean to me?” Hines Ward told me with a laugh and a huge smile. “Man, they epitomize what the Steelers wide receivers are.

“It’s a big honor to have my name mentioned with them. Those guys won four Super Bowls. I have the opportunity to win three.”

This was at another media session, in the Steelers’ practice facility here on the campus of Texas Christian University Wednesday morning five days before their Super Bowl XLV matchup with the Packers.

Hines Ward faced a jungle of video cameras and he was prepared for the event.

His own man

Two caps — a Pirates cap and then a Super Bowl XLV cap — for a bit of variety for the photos. They replaced the black Stetson cowboy hat he wore Monday for a press session.

Already Ward has surpassed Swann and Stallworth — both in the Pro Football Hall of Fame — in career catches.

“I don’t try to emulate anybody,” he told the media. “I don’t try to be like any other receiver. When I’m long gone away from this game, when they mention Hines Ward, I just want them to say, ‘He’s a helluva football player.’

“That’s really what I want to be, just a great football player. I don’t get caught up with who catches the ball or whatever. If my opportunity is there, I want to come up big for my teammates . . .

“We’re just a bunch of resilient guys who stood up together — band of brothers, really. We came together and here we are.

“Our third Super Bowl in six years.”

The Pittsburgh Steelers — in the same manner as Green Bay — are ingrained in pro football history and tradition.

“Every time we get to walk into our offices we see six Lombardi trophies,” Ward said. “Expectations are very high in Pittsburgh.

“I remember winning the second Super Bowl and the question the next day was if we were going to win it again next year. Every year we go into training camp, that’s all we preach: the Super Bowl.

“Some teams talk about the Super Bowl. But they’re just pretenders. Every year we have a legitimate chance of making it to the playoffs and we all know that once you make the playoffs and make a run, you get the opportunity to go to the Super Bowl.”

Special talent

The names change. Ward’s fellow receivers change. This season, Mike Wallace actually caught one pass more than Ward. Heath Miller, the tight end, is one of Roethlisberger’s favorite targets. Rookie receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, out of Central Michigan, have been contributors in the postseason.

“There’s only one ball for everybody,” Ward said at TCU.

Sunday, on many plays, it will be Ward against Charles Woodson, who played and starred at Michigan and is one of just two Packers with experience in a Super Bowl. It will be a featured matchup between a receiver and a defender, both bound for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. A Super Bowl XVL subplot.

“I was a big fan of Charles in college,” said Ward, who played at Georgia. “We both made the All-America team. He can play corner, safety, nickel, linebacker, strong safety. He can pick the ball off, make you fumble. He’s a great tackler.

“He’s definitely a special player.”

So is Hines Ward.

Super Bowl XLV

Who: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Green Bay Packers

Kickoff: 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas

TV/radio: Fox (Channel 2 in Detroit)/WXYT

Records: Steelers 14-4; Packers 13-6 Line: Packers by 2 1/2

Super Bowl histories: Eighth game for Steelers (6-1 record); fifth game for Packers (3-1)