ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Well then. My first day at Detroit Lions training camp started with news of safety Louis Delmas' knee surgery, continued through what surely wasn't the team's sharpest practice of camp and ended with tailback Kevin Smith leaving a team drill after appearing to bruise his right quadriceps.
Smith's injury does not appear serious, although it did provide a reminder of how close the Lions are to an emergency in their backfield. (Jahvid Best remains on the PUP list and Mikel Leshoure has missed most of training camp because of a hamstring injury.) And even though coach Jim Schwartz huddled the team at mid-practice, presumably after one too many false starts and overthrown balls, I can't get too worked up about one sloppy practice in the context of a three-week training camp.
If you made a list of the Lions' five most important players, Delmas would probably be on it. The Lions defense ranked among the NFL's worst in the five games Delmas missed after spraining his right knee last season, and he is as important as an energy lifter as he is on the field. For him to face a health situation once again, rather than contributing to the on-field development of what the Lions hope is a more consistent pass defense in 2012, is a scary proposition.
"It doesn't do any good to have him back if he's not the same kind of player," Schwartz said. "And that's the whole idea of why we did what we did, to get him back for practices and get him healthy on the field. Because he does mean a lot to us, not just from his play, but his personality, his leadership, and all those things."
With Delmas sidelined, the Lions used veterans Erik Coleman and Amari Spievey as their first-team safeties Wednesday. Coleman and Spievey had been competing for the job opposite Delmas, and the Lions have veterans Sean Jones and John Wendling in reserve.
But I think we can all agree that Delmas adds a level of attitude that the Lions wouldn't otherwise have. He runs full speed, sacrifices his body in contact situations and never stops talking on the field.
Go back and look at what Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers told us about his team's defensive changes this summer. Rodgers lauded the energy added by a group of rookies and newly signed veterans, suggesting it would make the Packers a better overall team. It might sound silly, but energy and attitude are real things that are contagious and highly valued by football people. Delmas is that guy for the Lions.
"You hope those guys will pick up the slack," middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. "But Lou is a heck of a player. I enjoy watching him play and fly around. I love his attitude on the field. You can't replace that. Hopefully he can get back soon."
A few months from now, we could very well look back at this moment and view it as a small delay in progress for the Lions defense. This is a team deep enough to handle some short-term injuries. But there are a few players on this roster whose absence brings heightened concern, and Louis Delmas is one of them.