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BAGSHOT, England – Most of the NFL teams that have arrived early and spent a week practicing in England have praised the local facilities and the team-bonding environment of being overseas.
The Detroit Lions and coach Jim Caldwell, however, are really, really loving their home away from home.
"A lot of our guys will be sad to leave because it's been a great setting," Caldwell said Friday, the last day of practice in southwest London before the team relocates to the capital.
"Ordinarily, a lot of these guys are married and have families. They would be at home with their families in the evening," Caldwell said. "But this particular setting provided an opportunity for those guys to kind of maybe get to know your teammates a little better. This has fostered a bit more cohesion."
The Lions (5-2) will play the Atlanta Falcons (2-5) on Sunday at Wembley Stadium, the home of England's national soccer team, in the second of three regular-season NFL games in London this year.
To prepare for the game, the Lions arrived Tuesday and have spent three days practicing at Pennyhill Park, the training ground of England's national rugby team. Players and the coach have praised the accommodations, the weight rooms, and even the sauna and hot tub.
Being far from home and cooped up in a posh hotel is akin to, or better than, being at training camp, something Caldwell sees as a big plus despite the long trip to England to play the "host" Falcons at Wembley.
"Some of these guys have not been to one (training camp), other than, obviously, when we work at our facility. You're not away from things like you are here," Caldwell said. "And so it has a unique feel to it, and I think we benefited from the camaraderie."
Safety James Ihedigbo was one of the many to take advantage of the surroundings at Pennyhill Park, which also has its own golf course.
"Being able to use the spas, it's similar to back home with the ice tubs, and different saunas to rejuvenate your body," he said. "As well the camaraderie, having this time away and really just enjoy being around each other. That definitely benefits us. That's going to help us down the road, in terms of the brotherhood that we have."
And practice has been good, too, according to the first-year Lions coach.
"Our guys have been able to focus. Our last two days of practice have been really sharp, so we go into the third one today, and hopefully that will be equally sharp," Caldwell said.
The Lions will enter Sunday's game with the league's best defense, but wide receiver Calvin Johnson is still a doubt to play on the other side.
Johnson aggravated his right ankle injury in a loss to Buffalo on Oct. 5 and missed the following wins at Minnesota and over the New Orleans Saints.
"He did work yesterday, and I thought he did a pretty good job," Caldwell said. "We'll see where he is today."