2010 NFL Preview, Detroit Lions: Building Blocks Are In Place

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2010 NFL Preview, Detroit Lions: Building Blocks Are In Place

By Sean Yuille, Pride of Detroit

Introduction

For a team that went 2-14 last season, there is a lot of optimism surrounding the Lions. Optimism is nothing new in the summer months for Lions fans, but this feels different. Unlike the Matt Millen/Rod Marinelli years, it actually seems that Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz have a plan that is developing right before our eyes. Every notable move this offseason was made with the intent of upgrading specific positions on the roster, and there's no doubt this team is in a lot better shape right now than they were back in January.

Perhaps much of this hope is based solely on the fact that Mayhew and Schwartz aren't Millen and Marinelli, but there's no doubt that the Lions have some talent on both sides of the ball. Offensively, there are playmakers at all of the major positions, and on defense, the D- line has quite the collection of talent. There are still major concerns as we near the 2010 season, such as a secondary filled with question marks, but the Lions have made some serious strides since last season and should be much better in 2010.

Significant Offseason Additions/Subtractions

The most interesting thing about how the Lions went about adding talent this offseason is the fact that trades played such a big role. Many teams add talent mainly through the draft, whereas others bring in big-name free agents. While there's no doubt the Lions upgraded their roster via both the draft and free agency, trades were just as important, as noted below.

Additions:

QB Shaun Hill (acquired from San Francisco for a seventh-round pick)
RB Jahvid Best (draft pick)
WR Nate Burleson
TE Tony Scheffler (acquired as part of a three-team trade with Philadelphia and Denver; Detroit gave up Ernie Sims)
OG Rob Sims (acquired from Seattle for a fifth-round pick)
DE Kyle Vanden Bosch
DT Corey Williams (acquired from Cleveland for a fifth-round pick)
DT Ndamukong Suh (draft pick)
CB Jonathan Wade
CB Chris Houston (acquired from Atlanta for a sixth-round pick and a conditional seventh-rounder)
CB Dre' Bly
CB Amari Spievey (draft pick)
S C.C. Brown

From these additions, the Lions added nine potential starters, depth at cornerback and a competent backup quarterback. What's even better, the Lions only lost a couple important players from last season, and one of them, Larry Foote, was let go because coaches opted for second-year linebacker DeAndre Levy instead.

Subtractions:

QB Daunte Culpepper (thankfully he is on this list, as he is now in a league much more suited for his talent - the UFL)
TE Casey FitzSimmons (retired due to injury)
DE Dewayne White (released)
DT Grady Jackson (released)
LB Larry Foote
LB Ernie Sims (traded)
CB Phillip Buchanon (released)

Offense

Although the Lions' offense struggled mightily at times last year, all of the pieces are in place for a breakout season in 2010.

In the backfield, Matthew Stafford is healthy again and is in his second season in the NFL. Expectations are high for the former No. 1 overall pick, especially with the weapons he now has around him. Jahvid Best, for example, is a big-play running back who can be used in many different ways. Expect to see him lining up behind Stafford, next to Stafford in the shotgun and even in the slot, as Lions coaches will want to do whatever they can to get him the ball. He is expected to be a playmaker and will complement Kevin Smith, who is ahead of schedule in his recovery from an ACL injury.

At wide receiver and tight end, Stafford will be able to look down the field and see the likes of Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler. Depth is a little iffy at receiver once you get past Johnson and Burleson, but Scott Linehan is expected to utilize two-tight end sets quite a bit in 2010.

The offensive line, which has been blamed for the Lions' lack of success for years, finally seems to be coming together with the addition of Rob Sims. He and Jeff Backus are locked in as the starters on the left side, just as Dominic Raiola is locked in as a starter at center. On the right side, the Lions will get guard Stephen Peterman back from an injury that ended his 2009 season early, and there is currently a battle between Jon Jansen and Gosder Cherilus for the starting job at right tackle.

Defense

While the offense has a ton of weapons, the defense has many question marks once you get past the defensive line. By adding Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams early on in the offseason, the Lions immediately upgraded their D-line. This unit of players got even better when Ndamukong Suh was drafted with the second overall pick of the draft. Put those three new faces together with Cliff Avril and suddenly the Lions' defensive line has the potential to be extremely good. On paper, there's no doubt that it's one of the more talented defensive lines in the league, although that obviously doesn't guarantee that they will be successful.

Last year, linebacker was the Lions' strongest unit on defense because of the amount of experience between Larry Foote, Ernie Sims and Julian Peterson. This year? Not so much. Foote is gone, with the Lions choosing DeAndre Levy as the starter at middle linebacker instead of the aging veteran. Sims is also gone, and his replacement will likely be Zack Follett, the second-year fan favorite from Cal. Follett was a master of big hits on special teams a year ago, but this year the coaches expect him to be ready to step into the starting lineup. Peterson is the lone returning starter and will be the Lions' only veteran linebacker who is starting.

The defensive backfield is just one big question mark. It was without a doubt the Lions' weakest group of players a year ago, and as a result most of the cornerbacks from last year are no longer on the roster. Martin Mayhew went into the offseason with the intent of overhauling the position, and he did just that by trading for Chris Houston, signing Jonathan Wade and Dre' Bly and drafting Amari Spievey. Two of those players will hopefully step it up and show they are good enough to start, but no matter who ends up in the starting lineup, there's little doubt that this is once again the Lions' weakest group of players.

At safety, there's Louis Delmas and everybody else. The Lions have spent much of the offseason trying to find a player good enough to start alongside Delmas, but so far that search hasn't left them satisfied enough to be content with what they've got. They reportedly are still searching for a starting-caliber safety, indicating that their confidence in Ko Simpson, Marquand Manuel and C.C. Brown isn't very high. Either way, at least the Lions have Delmas, who is extremely talented when he is healthy.

Special Teams

The Lions' kicker (Jason Hanson), punter (Nick Harris) and long snapper (Don Muhlbach) have not changed for many years, and that is once again the case as we head into the homestretch of the 2010 offseason.

Detroit did make a change with their special teams coach, however. Stan Kwan, who drew the ire of Lions fans for many years, finally was fired, and Detroit hired ex-Panthers special teams coach Danny Crossman to replace him. Along with hiring Crossman, the Lions have also signed players like Dante Wesley, Ashlee Palmer, Landon Johnson and most recently Isaiah Ekejiuba, who are expected to contribute to a much improved kick/punt coverage unit in 2010.

Coaching

Aside from firing Kwan and hiring Crossman, the only other change is at defensive line coach, where Kris Kocurek took over for Bob Karmelowicz, who retired before sadly passing away in May. Other than that, the Lions' coaching staff is the same as it was last year, which is a nice departure from the last decade or so of constant shuffling, especially at offensive and defensive coordinator.

As if there weren't enough signs of why the last decade has been so bad for the Lions, consider this: From 2001-09, the Lions had at least one different coordinator every single year. Only now, with both Scott Linehan and Gunther Cunningham set to return as the offensive and defensive coordinator, respectively, can the Lions say they've had the same two coordinators for two consecutive years. The last time they had that kind of continuity was back in 1999, when the duo of Sylvester Croom and Larry Peccatiello was returning for its fourth straight year.

On top of the newfound continuity, the Lions are being led by Jim Schwartz, who is absolutely adored by fans. It's not often that a coach with a career record of 2-14 has this kind of support, but fans are behind him for sure. Unlike past head coaches who had support before eventually bottoming out, Schwartz just seems to get it. He's a man of the people, loves rock ‘n roll and is even on Twitter. Oh yeah, and he's a pretty good coach too, as he really does seem to have this franchise moving in the right direction.

Conclusion/Prediction for 2010

While there's no doubt the Lions will be better in 2010, the debate between fans is just how much better they will actually be. Some believe that a record of at least 8-8, something that hasn't been achieved since 1999, is not out of the question. Every year there is a team or two that comes out of nowhere to surprise people, and many fans truly believe the Lions can be that team if everybody stays healthy, the offense plays to its potential and the defense improves quite a bit.

Realistically, a record of 6-10 is probably more likely for the Lions in 2010. Injuries are bound to happen, and although the offense should be significantly better, I'm not sold on the defense just yet. An improved defensive line will undoubtedly make the defense better as a whole, but the secondary still scares me quite a bit. The Lions' pass defense was absolutely atrocious last year, and while they can't get much worse, that's not exactly saying much.

The best-case scenario for the Lions is a record of around 9-7. It would be their first record of .500 or better in a decade and would put them in the hunt for the playoffs. To say the least, Jim Schwartz would probably be voted governor of Michigan if he is able to pull off that great of a season. On the other hand, the worst-case scenario for the Lions is 3-13 or 4-12. Basically, it would be anything that is only a slight improvement from last year. If injuries riddle the roster like in 2009 and the defense doesn't improve very much, then another top-five draft pick is possible.

Meeting in the middle of those two scenarios, my prediction for the Lions is for them to go 6-10 in 2010. There will be moments of greatness where everything clicks, but I'm sure there will be just as many moments of frustration that come along with a young quarterback or an average secondary. Even so, 6-10 would be a big improvement over 0-16 and 2-14, and you can bet it would get the Kool Aid flowing even more than usual as fans look ahead to 2011. Hopefully by then Lions fans will be able to predict a playoff run and not run the risk of being called crazy.

Previous NFL previews

32. St. Louis Rams NFL preview

31. Buffalo Bills NFL preview

30. Tampa Bay Bucs NFL preview

29. Cleveland Browns NFL preview

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