How I Prepare is a season-long series about what specific Detroit Lions players do each week to get ready for Sundays.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Coaches preach clichéd buzz words like effort and hustle all the time when they talk publicly about players.
When Jeremy Ross watches special-teams coverage units, though, the Detroit Lions returner/receiver is looking for exactly those sometimes-empty platitudes. Seeing hustle and effort -- or the lack of it -- tells him everything he might need to know when he’s preparing for an opponent.
It is a big part of what he looks for when he anticipates being able to have lanes to run through. On special teams, hustle and effort are legitimate characteristics.
“Do they run hard? Do they hustle? What’s their backside looking like? When they are running frontside, do they hustle on the backside,” Ross said. “That’s good for me to know, like these guys don’t hustle on the backside, maybe there’s a cutback lane if it’s not open over here.
“I look at certain guys -- who are their bell cows on that side, who really hustles? -- so I know who to really look out for and know where they are on the field. See who is blocking them on our team.”
He’s also watching what teams like to crash returns down because it might give him an opportunity to have his blockers shape a return a certain way or a chance to bounce the return outside. He never goes into a return planning on getting to the outside -- he wants to follow blocking -- but if it happens, it happens.
Ross watches these films -- along with tape on defenses to include his receiver work -- Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays during the week. Along with what his special-teams coaches put together, he’ll often pull up the film at home in short spurts to try to get a feel for what he might see Sunday.
While he’s doing that, his special-teams coaches are taking care of feeding him information on opposing kickers and punters: Where they like to put the ball, how far they usually kick, what the hangtime usually is and where a kick or punt is likely to go if it is mis-hit.
All this information is valuable to Ross as he preps his returns each week -- information he stores in his brain as a visual and audible learner for Sundays. When he steps on the field before a kick or punt return, he’ll often move through his mental recall to find something he might need to remember on a particular attempt.
Once the ball is kicked, everything is instinct, but he’s hoping those final thoughts settle in to combine with his instincts into smart returning decisions.
“You don’t really think too much because you do all the thinking during the week and it eventually becomes instinct, you know,” Ross said. “What to expect and where to hit certain things. You kind of get the gist like, 'OK, this is where I want to be,' and once you’re there, things may change based on what you see.”
Ross’ routine is pretty simple. He watches film of Sunday’s game on Mondays and then hunkers in Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and maybe a little peek Sunday morning. He said he splits his film watching about 50-50 between his special-teams and receiving duties during the week because of his role in each. As he studies coverages for his returns, he focuses on individual defensive backs for his receiver work.
“We have a point of attack tape that shows each DB individually,” Ross said. “Every time the ball, the run came that person’s way so you get to see how a person reacts when a ball is thrown their way, how many times they were targeted and how many times a pass was completed on them.
“Looking at how they are with runs -- do they come up, what type of tacklers they are, do they come off blocks? Just basically studying your players every week.”
Ross lifts weights with his teammates Mondays and Thursdays, typically doing squats and lower body Mondays and varying upper-body lifts of dumbbell bench press, dumbbell incline press and floor presses on both days.
Ross is a meticulous trainer during the offseason with his workout regimen, pilates and diet, so he just does what he needs to in order to remain fresh during the season. That includes 90-minute massages on Mondays and Thursdays and two chiropractic appointments per week at varying times.
Unlike a lot of his teammates, Ross takes Tuesdays completely off from football. No workout. No film watching. While some teammates use Friday nights and Saturdays to decompress, Ross picks Tuesdays.
“Just relaxing,” Ross said. “Just let the day off, let my body chill, let my mind chill.”
He does this so he is fresh for Wednesdays, the typical start of an NFL work week.