ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- I can't decide if Zack Follett is an amazing story or simply a poster child for a team with too many personnel holes.
We know Follett was a 2009 seventh-round draft choice who couldn't make the Detroit Lions' undermanned roster out of training camp last year. He returned via the practice squad, worked his way onto the active roster as a special-teams player, created a popular cult blog that featured him jumping into a lion cage, among other stunts, and the next thing you know, coaches were penciling him in as a likely starter for the 2010 season.
Did someone see something through the kamikaze kick coverage and close encounters with real lions? Or is Follett working with the first team because the Lions just don't have enough good players? Here's what I can tell you: After spending three days with the Lions last week, all indications are that Follett is well on his way to locking down the position.
"If we hadn't seen any signs," coach Jim Schwartz said, "he wouldn't be in the position that he is. He's done nothing to disappoint us there. He's still got a long way to go and all of those clichés. But the signs are there."
We can reasonably debate the importance of an outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme, especially on a team with a defensive line that has the potential of the Lions'. And you can't fill every position with a proven player. Follett has received a fortuitous opportunity, and if his play proves half as entertaining as his life off the field, Follett could be the NFC North's next larger-than-life character.
"The thing about me," Follett said, "is that I'm just a football player. I'm not anything when you talk about size or whatever. They put me on the field, and I'm going to try to make plays."
You can peruse Follett's blog, known the "Pain Train," as well as his wild Twitter feed, on your own time. Suffice it to say, the man has some creativity and plenty of personality. (Don't believe me? Be sure to check out the homemade video of Follett shopping in the feminine hygiene aisle with his helmet on. Gave me an idea for our next NFC North blog video, coming sometime.)
But to Schwartz's relief, Follett leaves his quirks on the other side of the white line.
"There's not many times you're going to use the word Zack Follett and mature in the same sentence," Schwartz said. "But on the field, we're getting that. He's all business when he gets on the field."
And the amazing thing is that Follett's poor showing in training camp last summer left him on 48-hour career support. That's right. When he returned to the practice squad, coaches told him he had two days to prove he belonged in the NFL.
"I thought about it and figured I was blessed to be in this situation," he said. "I would still have a job that pays me $3,000 a week in a depression, and so I just came out and went to work. Every practice was my game, because I didn't play on Sunday. I tried to work harder than anyone else. That showed what I was about to the coaches, and overnight I changed who I was as a player."
Exactly what that on-field identity is remains to be seen. I tried to curtail any dramatic conclusions while watching practice this week, so in Follett's case, I just tried to get a sense if he knew what he was doing. You can tell when a player doesn't know where to go, or if coaches are pulling him aside to correct a mistake. I didn't see much, if any, of that. As far as I could tell, Follett belonged in his spot. And that's no joke.