Jim Caldwell covered a lot of topics during his session at the NFC coaches breakfast Wednesday morning at the league's owners meetings in Boca Raton, Florida.
It's the first time the Detroit Lions coach has spoken to the media since the day after the final game of the 2015 season. Much has changed since. General manager Bob Quinn was hired, and he retianed Caldwell. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin interviewed for more head coaching jobs but didn't get any of them.
Here are a few takeaways from Caldwell's comments:
1. Swanson is not safe at center: The Lions have been clear about trying to upgrade their offensive line and have issues at tackle and at center. Quinn and Caldwell have both said Riley Reiff is the team's starting left tackle for now. Travis Swanson's status doesn't appear as certain. Asked if he's comfortable with Swanson at center, Caldwell said "sure, if he proves it, you know. Yeah. He's got to play and he's got to play well and got to play consistent." Consistency was an issue for the 2014 third-round pick last season. Also, when Caldwell was initially asked about Swanson and who could compete with him, he immediately mentioned Gabe Ikard. Ikard has bounced around the league since going undrafted in 2014 but could be the player to push Swanson during the spring. He was one of the better college centers in the country at Oklahoma.
2. Caldwell believes in Abdullah: Running back Ameer Abdullah struggled with fumbles as a rookie. At a couple of points, Caldwell benched him. The coach believes he'll improve in his second season, though, because of what Abdullah did at Nebraska as he progressed through his four seasons and how he got better throughout last season.
"He had some peaks and valleys," Caldwell said. "But obviously I think he's going to be OK."
3. Open competition at strong safety: The Lions signed Tavon Wilson and Rafael Bush to somewhat similar contracts during free agency. They are both going to get a shot to win a job next to Glover Quin. Bush is a player who can do a bit of everything -- Caldwell said he can play deep and in the box -- and Wilson believes he'll have a chance to make a run at the spot. If the Lions choose to go after a rookie at the position, he could end up pushing Bush and Wilson for playing time as well.
4. Ex-head coaches on hand help: One of the themes of Caldwell's offseason hiring process was bringing in staffers with head coaching experience. Tight ends coach Al Golden was the head coach at Temple and Virginia -- and was a tight end at Penn State when Caldwell was there. Randy Edsall, whose role is undefined, was the head coach at Connecticut and Maryland -- and was influential in getting Quinn started with the New England Patriots. Ron Prince, who was a head coach at Kansas State, remains on staff.
"One of the things that you learn very, very quickly is once you've been a head coach, you understand how important the role is of an assistant coach and how important it is for you to do your job right," Caldwell said. "And that's the other thing, too. That perspective and being able to share thoughts and ideas, from that vantage point, I think is healthy."
5. Caldwell learning from Quinn: Caldwell had always paid attention to the Patriots from afar -- and from up close when he continually faced New England at Indianapolis. Unlike college football, Caldwell could never just swing by Foxborough, Massachusetts, to learn from Bill Belichick. So Quinn's hiring has given him a chance to receive insight on how New England operates. So far, Caldwell said, working with Quinn has gone smoothly.
"I'm an inquisitive person by nature and always wanted to see how they did things, why they did things, all that kind of stuff," Caldwell said. "So now I have an opportunity to get some first-hand information, so yeah, that's been fun. It's been refreshing."