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Lions still dealing with distractions from player arrests

The Sports Xchange

Here's the stat that defines the Lions offseason: relevant free agents signed, four; offseason arrests, six.

Like it or not, fair or not, any momentum the Lions might have taken into the offseason from their 10-6 season and first playoff appearance since 1999 was derailed by a steady stream of drug busts and DUIs.

The latest came last Saturday (June 23) when starting right cornerback Aaron Berry was arrested in Harrisburg, Pa. and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol, causing damage to an unattended vehicle and failing to give information to the police.

The rest of the rap sheet looks like this:

--Defensive tackle Nick Fairley: Charged with marijuana possession and DUI in separate incidents April 3 and May 27 in Mobile, Ala.

--Running back Mikel Leshoure: Cited twice for marijuana possession Feb. 18 and March 12 in southwestern Michigan.

--Offensive tackle Johnny Culbreath: Charged Jan. 23 in Orangeburg County, S.C. with marijuana possession.

Leshoure has already been suspended for the first two games of the season and docked an additional two weeks pay. Fairley, whose court date is July 31, is expected to get the same.

The Lions' organization, also likely to face a sizeable fine from the league, is scrambling for answers.

They are limited in what they can do by the collective bargaining agreement, which puts the onus on the league office to dole out punishment in these matters. The Lions could terminate the contracts of these players, particularly the multiple offenders, citing conduct detrimental to the team.

But that seems harsh, especially when you are talking about two young, talented players entering their second seasons, who because of the lockout didn't have the benefit of the league's rookie orientation process.

Fans and media are pushing for general manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz to crack down, to tighten the discipline, but these incidents happened in the offseason, with the players away from the team.

"I think that one thing to keep in mind is, the issues we've had have been almost all young guys, guys that are coming off their rookie years," Schwartz said during OTAs last month. "It's obviously a big concern that the problems have come up more than once for a few guys. We've always had an approach of there's some maturing things that go on, there's some mistakes that guys make that they learn from and things like that.

"But what we have here is a situation that it appears that a couple guys haven't learned, and that is a concern. But they are still young and there's still a lot in front of them and we are hopeful that they can, with a lot of other means at their disposal and our disposal, be able to get this under control and be able to put it behind them."

Think about this, too: If Leshoure's two-game suspension and four-game fine wasn't a deterrent for the likes of Berry, what else could the team do that would be worse, short of releasing them?

"This is not the standard of behavior we expect from any member of our organization," read a statement released by the Lions following Berry's arrest. "We have strongly and repeatedly emphasized the need to be accountable on and off the field, which makes this incident with Aaron all the more disappointing."

Don't think for a minute that this isn't causing Schwartz major grief. He prides himself on being disciplined, on managing and preparing for every situation imaginable. He has intimated that the offending players, particularly Leshoure and Fairley, were down to their last strikes.

"I think what we have here is a case of a few guys tainting the reputations of a lot of others," he said. "We have 90 guys out here working, most of which are doing a very good job and working with a good goal in mind. But the actions of a few have affected the reputations of not just the other guys in the 90, but also the organization as a whole and that's not a good situation.

"I'm a lot of things with this -- concerned, angry, there's a lot of different words. It's disappointing when our story is not about guys like Matt Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew, Tony Scheffler, Jeff Backus, Rob Sims -- and I can keep going on and on. Unfortunately with situations like this, we all take ownership of problems that come to light that affect everybody."

--Mikel Leshoure took the handoff from Matthew Stafford. He made two quick jukes and then burst through the line and sprinted toward the end zone.

There was a roar and his teammates rushed to congratulate him.

Granted, this was the final day of minicamp last week, nobody was wearing pads and there was no hitting. But it was the first time Leshoure carried the ball in a live team drill and that alone was cause for celebration.

"The thing that was most encouraging about it, when the ball went in his hands he didn't think about it," coach Jim Schwartz said. "We ran him left and we ran him right and he was making cuts off defenders. He was making cuts as they appeared. He was a running back. He wasn't doing rehab. He wasn't doing foot patterns. He wasn't controlling the action. He was reacting to the defense.

"That was an important step for him."

It's been a long year for Leshoure. He lost his rookie season to an Achilles tendon injury and he has lost two games and more than $109,000 for this coming season after he was twice arrested for marijuana-related offenses this offseason.

For a brief minute on Thursday, all of that seemed behind him.

"It felt real good," Leshoure said.

As he has throughout the process, Leshoure took full accountability for his transgressions.

"I knew there would be some type of punishment," he said, referencing the suspension and fine that was handed down on June 13. "It was just a matter of time before the commissioner decided what it was.

"I am definitely not happy about it. I would love to be with my team. But I understand the consequences you face when you do wrong. One thing is for certain, though, I have learned from my mistakes and I am still trying to put it in the past."

Leshoure said he didn't know whether he would appeal the suspension or not.

"My immediate reaction was, it's out of my hands and there's nothing I can do about it," he said. "Don't sit around lingering over it. Just put it in the past, keep working and come back ready to play."

Schwartz wasn't surprised by the positive reaction of the team to Leshoure's first carries.

"He's worked extremely hard," Schwartz said. "He's had a long road back and anyone who has been injured will tell you the hardest part about being injured is feeling like you are not part of the team.

"They are all rooting for him. They recognize when a guy has worked hard and what you saw was a reflection of that."

Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.


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