Friday, July 30, 2010

Training Camp Begins Today (The Hard Stuff Tomorrow)

As I write this, the Detroit Lions will begin to make preparations for the upcoming 2010 season. Training camp springs optimism for Lions' diaspora. So far all is well in Allen Park with the one exception: Ndamokung Suh, the No. 2 overall pick in April's draft has yet to sign a contract, and thus, cannot attend camp. Don't expect that to last long; I wouldn't be surprised if he's on the field before the end of the weekend.

I can't help but be excited. Even though a majority of fans expect another losing season, I think we're witnessing the making of what could finally be a great football product. Matt Millen is gone, and everyone from General Manager Martin Mayhew to Coach Jim Schwartz to Matthew Stafford, and on down to the 80th man on the roster is on the same page. While we're still a year or two from adding all the ingredients, I think we're on the verge of something special.

No one should assume that just because everyone's on the same page that the playoffs (and a Super Bowl victory) are just around the corner. It's not a guarantee but it helps. Matt Millen drafted Joey Harrington over Marty Mornhinweg's objections in 2002, and that ended badly. Mike Martz differed in philosophy with Rod Marinelli. Steve Mariucci was an overrated Head Coach. It was always "their fault," never Millen's.

Last year I predicted Detroit would go 3-13 before the season began. I usually don't make a prediction until the last preseason game because I don't know what the 53-man roster will look like until then. Between now and the next six weeks, we'll see twenty seven players get cut, seven of which will be signed to the practice squad for future development or some other utility.

The Lions finished 2-14. Like most prognosticators, the information you have at hand changes on a week-to-week basis in the NFL. Injuries are ubiquitous, some players just don't play up to expectations. When the Lions won against the Washington Redskins, snapping their 19-game losing streak, my expectations changed. I thought for sure they'd lose their first six games before their bye-week and then the winning would follow.

As it turned out, the Redskins were in disarray, allowing Detroit to take advantage and put out a victory, 19-14. At one point, I thought it was feasible for the Lions to go 6-10. But a loss to St. Louis, and blowing a 17-0 lead against the Seattle Seahawks made it unlikely they'd win more than three.

It was clear after last year, the three biggest concerns for the Lions were the defensive line, secondary, and the interior offensive line (specifically the Left Guard position). I didn't think the Running Back spot was as questionable, since Kevin Smith would most likely return to the team by the start of 2010. The Lions addressed the defensive line in the offseason by drafting Suh, and signing veteran Defensive Tackle Corey Williams and Defensive End Kyle Vanden Bosch.

They then traded their 2nd round pick to move back into the 1st Round and took RB Jahvid Best at No. 30. In the offseason, they added Tight End Tony Scheffler out of Denver by trading Ernie Sims to Philadelphia. I'm guessing the Lions thought Sims just wasn't that good, or was only good in a Tampa Two system. They also signed free agent LG Rob Sims out of Seattle. While questions remain on the defense, the offense seems to be solid at every position. I hope.

With Matthew Stafford expected to make the leap this year (even though I think he'll fall short of a Pro Bowl or the playoffs), the offense will be the reason this team wins more games this year. The biggest question marks for the defense are 1) Who will start at weakside Linebacker? 2) Who will be starting in the secondary, besides Free Safety Louis Delmas?

Can't wait for September.

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