Can you smell it in the air? Take a deep inhale, you should be able to feel it in your lungs. Ahhh, its in you system now….it’s time for football season, well at least preseason. Almost instantaneously the next thought are the looming questions for your team to be successfull. Let’s explore the top 5 Questions the Detroit Lions have headed into camp.
1. How will the defensive line fair with the loss of Ndamukong Suh?
The #2 overall defense from last season is returning 8 of 11 starters, but the most noticiable missing piece is Ndamukong Suh. There was always a question as to whether he was the true leader in the locker room, but rarely a question on the affect he had on the field. Let’s get it out there now, Suh is irresplaceable regarding his individual impact, but the overall team success can be repeated. Suh’s replacement Haloti Ngata has big shoes to fill, but he can hold his own being a 5-time Pro Bowler and 2-time All-Pro DT. The line is built around a blend of experience, youth and potential. Free Agent Tyrunn Walker will garnish some attention as well, but the key to the success will be the ability for edge rusher Ziggy Ansah to take the next step while other defensive linemen Jason Jones, Devin Taylor, Caraun Reid, Larry Webster and Darryl Tapp look to complete the core group.
One player to watch out for is Gabe Wright, he might end up on the practice squad, but if he shows enough promise they may not be able to hide him there this season. The defensive line will show success this year when they realize they are much stronger as a unit than any one individual. They will take a small drop off in production, but the potential for the future is surprisingly higher without Suh.
2. Will Matthew Stafford reach his potential this season?
The Lions success this season falls solely on the shoulders and arm of Matthew Stafford. The former #1 Draft pick has put up record number of stats for yards and TDs and even lead the team to the playoff twice under two different coaches, but that’s not enough. Jim Caldwell and and Offensive Coordinator Joel Lombardi are attempting to evolve Stafford into a more well rounded QB and not just the gunslinger he’s been pegged to be. Last year he showed great promise being much more efficient throwing a career low 12 interceptions and reaching above the 60% completion mark for the second time in his career. His leadership will be needed to take this offense and team to the next level. The stories circling around a private session with his WR core in Atlanta are very similar to what top tier QBs do to get better. Winning the first playoff game since 1993 could be well within reach this year if Stafford’s progress continues to trend upward.
3. Will the young offensive line be able to block well enough to run and pass?
The elder statesman, Dominic Raolia has be relieved of his duties and we now have a full changing of the guard on the offensive line. The bulk of the offensive linemen on the Lions roster were draft picks who they have groomed and developed, well the Lions let the Denver Broncos groom Manny Ramirez. This young core of players have more playing experience than most players their age. Given the experience of Rieff, Warford and Waddle bringing along Travis Swanson and eventually Laken Tomlinson this unit should be good at worst. The flexibility of the players to play multiple positions is a huge benefit should the injury bug bite them. The sky’s the limit, because this unit could fall down on every play and the Lions will average more than the 3.6 yards per attempt they averaged last season.
4. Will this be the breakout year for the receiving core as a unit?
The Lions have been known as a passing team for at least the last five years, particially because of the lack of a true rushing attack and having to pass due to the scoreboard. The majority of that passing game was attributed to Calvin Johnson, but last year fans got a taste of what life was like with a real receiving core or at least a viable second option. Golden Tate proved the Lions were wise to sign him as a free agent last offseason, but when matched opposite of Megatron teams have to play them a little more honest. The improvement of Jeremy Ross as a receiver, the addition of Lance Moore and the potential of oft-injured Ryan Broyles, Corey Fuller and T.J. Jones gives the Lions at the minimum, options. Let’s not overlook a much more focused Eric Ebron and Brandon Pettigrew who is primarily a run blocker, but has proven to catch the ball on occasion. Lastly all of the running backs who appear to have a shot at making the roster have good hands, so the screen game will be a major factor in the offensive scheme. The variations are diverse and could lead to 4-5 receivers with 30 plus receptions this season.
5. Can Coach Caldwell continue to improve this football team?
Coach Caldwell is the calming force in the midst of the storm; a throwback to coaches of past who controls the culture of the orginization and makes no excuses for falling short of that goal. It would be very easy for Jim Caldwell to use the built in excuse that most fans have that they will not be as successful due to the lost of Suh, but instead his expectation is above most.
My anticipation is that we can put together a team that’s better than last year’s team. That’s the goal and we have to get that done.
It has been a lineage of losing surrounding this franchise for generations and most won’t feel its over until they at least reach the Super Bowl. Given their schedule and youth it may not happen this year, but expect the progress their leader has laid before them that getting better is the standard.