TRAVERSE CITY — For the second year, Traverse City West and Central Michigan University alumnus Darren Keyton will be in training camp with the Detroit Lions, vying for a spot on the team’s improved offensive line that was among the league’s best last season.
He’ll wear No. 62 — the same jersey he wore last year when he saw action in all four preseason contests for the Lions before being among the team’s final cuts.
The Record-Eagle chatted with Keyton this week while he was training in Arizona.
RE: How did you spend last season after being one of the Lions’ final cuts?
DK: “Working out and training, but as well enjoying my first fall off in a long time. Going out hunting for my first time as well as going ice fishing with Will and Roy Reed.”
RE: You grew up a Lions fans as a kid. How much were you hoping the Lions would call you back this year rather than another team?
DK: “I was hoping to go back to Detroit because it was the team I always watch. As well, I made some friends there that I still talk to.”
RE: How much does having gone through training camp give you a better idea of what to expect, and how much will it increase your chances of sticking this time?
DK: “Having gone through training camp once already helps me more understand how things work in the NFL and what I need to improve on to be have a chance at sticking with them. Also it is very nice that I get to head down April 7 and begin learning the new playbook, get back into playing and hanging out with the guys.”
RE: What did you learn in last year’s training camp that will serve you well this time around?
DK: “With the coaching change there will be different plays that I will need to learn, but since they kept the offensive line coach it is going to be great for me that I know the terminology and understand what I need to be seeing at center.”
RE: What is it like trying to block Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley one-on-one?
DK: “They are both great players and it is tough to block them, but going against them is only going to make you a better player.”
RE: Have you been able to keep up with former CMU teammate and lineman Eric Fisher in Kansas City? Has he given you any advice on transitioning to the NFL?
DK: “We talk a lot, but we both tend to not talk about football just because we do it so much its nice to get away from it.”
RE: Did the team give you any indications of what they wanted to see out of you when they re-signed you?
DK: “Not really. When I talked to (offensive line) coach (Jeremiah Washburn) we talked about playing a little more guard possibly, but in the end I just need to show progress and that I have been working hard since last season.”
RE: Fortunately for you, the offensive line coaches are the same, but what do you think of the coaching changes in the organization?
DK: “It’s just a part of the business and you understand why the change was made.”
RE: Is it very difficult staying in game-ready shape working out on your own instead of at team training facilities? What did you go through in order to keep yourself in shape?
DK: “It’s really tough to stay in game shape without going through the constant beating that your body takes. But working out is working out no matter where you train at, as long as you push yourself everyday. And, of course, most offensive lineman don’t like running, so that’s the hardest part is running and staying in great condition.”
RE: Is it better this way, or having to sit through the draft last year and wait?
DK: “This is way better. The draft tends to be stressful. You are told you can be drafted in this round that round and in all reality you never know what’s true, unless you’re a top two round pick.”
RE: What are you at right now?
DK: “I am currently training in Arizona for two weeks, maybe more, with Scott Peters, who played in the NFL as a lineman.”
RE: Of course it’s early and the draft isn’t until May, but how do you feel about your chances of making the team? The Lions re-signed Dominic Raiola for one year, but backup center Dylan Gandy is a free agent. Guard Leroy Harris could also be a salary-cap casualty.
DK: “I feel very good. This whole process is like playing a round of golf. It doesn’t matter what anybody else does in golf and you can’t control what other people do in golf. I just have to focus on me and make improvements from day to day and and keep playing hard.”