Stafford sees Lions' marijuana troubles as correctable

By By Dave Birkett

Detroit Free Press (MCT)

Published: Monday, April 16 2012 4:20 p.m. MDT

Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz at the start of off-season workouts Monday addressed his team's recent spate of marijuana-related arrests. His message: Your personal behavior can't interfere with what we're out to accomplish as a team.

"(He said) just we've come so far, we don't want anything to hold us back. And I think everybody knows that," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "We're a mature team. Some of the guys that were having troubles off the field were younger guys, but they'll figure it out, and we'll be there to help them along."

Three different Lions have been cited for possession of marijuana since the end of last season.

Offensive tackle Johnny Culbreath paid a fine after he was arrested at a South Carolina hotel in January; running back Mikel Leshoure was ticketed twice after traffic stops in February and March; and defensive tackle Nick Fairley was arrested near his home in Mobile, Ala., earlier this month. Leshoure pleaded not guilty to his second possession charge, while Fairley is awaiting arraignment.

Stafford said none of those players spoke about their legal troubles at the team meeting Monday.

"It was quick," he said. "Like I said, these guys, they're young guys, but they're grown men. They understand what they need to do to do what they can to correct it and not let it happen again. Everybody makes mistakes; this is life and just got to make sure their head's in the right place, move forward and just get ready for the team."

Lions receiver Nate Burleson said in an NFL Network appearance last week that he intends to talk to some players about their off-field behavior, and Stafford indicated he could do the same.

"It'll come up at some time," he said. "But these guys are mature enough to understand what's going on and what they need to do better to help us out."

Coming off a 10-6 season and wild-card loss to the New Orleans Saints, the Lions are trying to string together their first back-to-back playoff appearances since 1994-95.

They return 21 of 22 starters, though defensive end Cliff Avril is not taking part in the voluntary workouts while he tries to negotiate a long-term deal that would free him of the franchise tag.

"I think what's nice for us is we're building. We're not starting from scratch," Stafford said. "We have the same offensive and defensive coordinator for the last three years. Special teams is very similar for the last couple years. Guys are, mentally, not straining to try and figure out the playbook or try and figure out where they're supposed to be on certain plays. This is fine-tuning and adding to what we've already done."

The NFL has shortened its off-season program under terms of the new collective bargaining agreement.

Teams are allowed nine consecutive weeks of formal workouts, though only strength and conditioning training is permitted during the first two weeks, and footballs can't be used except for quarterbacks throwing to uncovered receivers.

The Lions have workouts scheduled Tuesday, Thursday and Friday this week, with a boxing/alternative workout planned for Wednesday.

"We're moving in the right direction and got to keep it that way," Stafford said. "That's the main thing is we've built momentum over the last couple years, we've just got to keep running with it and keep doing the right things and understand what got us here, and that's guys putting their nose to the ground and working hard. I don't see there being too much of a change in that at all."

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