James Ihedigbo was on the field for the Detroit Lions’ offseason training activities Wednesday. The secondary could face even greater challenges this season now that pass rushers Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley have signed elsewhere.
This offseason, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end George Johnson has been engrossed in film study. It isn’t film from last season, when he had six sacks with the Detroit Lions, or even clips from other defensive ends around the NFL. Johnson has his DVR set for something entirely different than football. He watches dog shows. It may be the most unusual off-the-field interest for any player currently in the NFL. Johnson, who is entering his sixth NFL season and first with Tampa Bay, loves competing on the dog show circuit. He is involved in a local kennel club near his home in Florida and he spends time in the offseason watching dog shows such as the Westminster Kennel Club and other videos online to pick up some tips. Johnson has two American bullies — like a pit bull, he says, but with more density. His girl, Pepper, has competed in and won several shows and his voice speeds up when talking about her accomplishments. Mambo is a boy and will start competing this summer. Johnson has high hopes for Mambo, and people at the kennel club have begun asking when Mambo will compete. The dogs are judged on how they walk and present themselves and hold their posture during the line-up. Training is involved and Johnson spends 15, perhaps 20 minutes a day on routines and other training with Pepper and Mambo. “ It’s basically a beauty pageant, they look to see how graceful the dog is,” Johnson told Yahoo Sports. “ It’s walking the dog around but the walking around is not as simple as people think. You have to walk around in a certain way, stay in a certain position. When they stack-up, they have to look a certain way like they are at attention. You have to train him from a pup.” In honor of #NationalPuppyDay here is my 2 furry friends http://pic.twitter.com/ha59X0a8an — George Johnson (@GeoJohns92) March 24, 2015 He loves it and says it is tremendous stress relief during the NFL season. He has always had a love for dogs and his growth into this sport followed a natural path from pet owner to professional showman. As a junior in college at Rutgers, Johnson began the process of getting to know the ins and outs of competing with a dog. He got involved in local groups and a kennel club, practicing certain aspects to ready a dog for a show. In college he couldn’t afford the upkeep and resources to compete, a commitment he couldn’t make until he made the NFL. But even in college he would attend meetings and practice so that someday he could compete. Back then he worked with his dog, an American pit bull named Lupe, on weight-pulling. That’s when a harness is attached to the dog. Lupe would pull weight “like the Iditarod,” Johnson said. At the kennel club Johnson stood out a bit — “seemed like everyone there was petite” — but he was determined to fit in. And he consistently attended classes at the club and took advantage of any opportunity to work with Lupe. He took the time to listen and learn from others who had been in the field for decades. Here he was, an All-Big East selection and an upperclassmen in college, trying to blend into this genteel and slightly snooty sport. “ I was big and tall, sometimes my dog was out of control and theirs were very well handled. I did it for fun and for my dog, it was something for him to do,” Johnson said. “ Some people, when they get into it, it is about their name and stuff like that. But for me and my dog, it was fun. I just wanted to learn. “ I went to my first show with Lupe and he was completely over-matched. I thought to myself ‘This might not be the best fit for us.’ I was in college, didn’t have the resources to keep up with it.” Lupe may not have been cut out for shows but now he lives with a trainer in Florida, where he is used for demonstrations when visitors come to a kennel club near Johnson’s hometown. Johnson is back at it with with Pepper and Mambo, and he sees them both growing and developing.
Less than a week after the NFL draft, the newest Detroit Lions suited up to take part in the team’s three-day rookie mini-camp. All 28 draft picks, undrafted rookie free agents and first-year players attended, including first-round pick Laken Tomlinson and second-rounder Ameer Abdullah, who have yet to sign contracts. Detroit also invited 31 potential rookies to try out for a spot in the team. ”It went good today,” fourth-round pick Gabe Wright said after Friday’s practice session.