The 2012 season started well enough by Detroit Lions standards. Their record was just 4-4, but they had won three out of four games heading into their Nov. 11 bout against the Minnesota Vikings. Then disaster: The Lions lost 34-24 to kick off an eight-game losing streak filled with the sort of agonizing losses that have come to define the Lions in recent years.
Calvin Johnson was the team's silver lining. He set an NFL record with 1,964 yards receiving, breaking the previous mark set by Jerry Rice. He also caught just five touchdown passes despite his gaudy yardage, which served as a sober reminder of the Lions' offensive inefficiency. Detroit ranked 27th in the NFL at 17.6 yards per point. By contrast, the league leading New England Patriots needed just 12.7 yards per point last season.
The Lions seem to have the talent to be playoff contenders, but discipline issues and a pervasive losing culture have seemingly kept the team down. If they get their minds right, however, Detroit could be back in the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.
The Lions experienced plenty of attrition following the 2012 season but were able to make up for most of their losses through free agency. In some areas, they arguably upgraded.
On offense, the losses of Kevin Smith and Jahvid Best at running back should be more than offset by the addition of Reggie Bush from Miami. Bush could form a powerful thunder-and-lightning combo with Mikel Leshoure. At wide receiver, Titus Young's departure could be an addition by subtraction, given his toxic presence in the locker room and well-documented off-field trouble.
On defense, the Lions made an intriguing swap at defensive end, losing Cliff Avril, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Lawrence Jackson, but adding Jason Jones and prized rookie Ezekiel Ansah. The Lions dumped a lot of experience and production, but Jones has been stalwart throughout his career and Ansah has the potential to be a game changer. The Lions also bolstered their secondary, stealing safety Glover Quin from the Houston Texans and selecting rookie corner Darius Slay in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft to complement Louis Delmas and the re-signed Chris Houston.
The Lions failed to address a glaring weakness on the offensive line. Starting left tackle Jeff Backus retired in the offseason, and instead of signing a proven replacement the team moved Riley Reiff over from the right side. Reiff has yet to prove he is reliable pass blocker, and journeyman Corey Hilliard and former fourth-round pick Jason Fox don't necessarily inspire much confidence at right tackle. The Lions could be very susceptible to edge rushers in 2013.
Training camp location and schedule
The Lions moved into their 460,000 square foot Allen Park Training Facility in 2002 and have spent training camp in Allen Park ever since. The town itself has its own unique quirks. Allen Park happens to be the home of the world's largest tire and the 2009 World Series of Bowling.
Rookies will begin camp on July 22, with veterans expected to arrive four days later. The Lions did not announce their full 2013 training camp schedule, but they did reveal the dates when fans can attend open practices. All times are Eastern. Via Lions blog Pride of Detroit:
- Monday, July 29 - 9:15 a.m.
- Tuesday, July 30 - 9:15 a.m.
- Thursday, Aug. 1 - 9:15 a.m.
- Friday, Aug. 2 - 9:15 a.m.
- Saturday, Aug. 3 - 3 p.m.
- Sunday, Aug. 4 - 9:15 a.m.
- Tuesday, Aug. 6 - 9:15 a.m.
- Wednesday, Aug. 7 - 9:15 a.m.
Admission to practice is free; simply show up when gates open 30 minutes before practice if you happen to be in the area. The Lions' official site has more rules and stipulations.
Right tackle - Gosder Cherilus would have cost the Lions a lot of money to keep, but he at least would have given them some peace of mind at right tackle. Now the Lions will look to Corey Hilliard or Jason Fox to man the position, neither of whom have much starting experience. Hilliard has started five games in his career playing for four different teams in six seasons, while Fox has appeared in five games total since being drafted by the Lions in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL Draft. It's hard to tell who has the leg up in the competition at the moment, but there's a chance that whoever wins the job will struggle.
Right guard - Rookie Larry Warford could be asked to make an immediate impact at right guard. He will have to beat out the likes of Dylan Gandy, Rodney Austin and Bill Nagy, but the fact that Warford took first-team reps during offseason practices bodes well for his starting chances. Whether he'll be effective in his first year in the NFL remains to be seen, however.
Cornerback - Chris Houston will almost assuredly start at left cornerback, but who his partner will be on the right side is still unclear. There are several potential competitors for the spot, but most likely the battle will come down to veteran Ron Bartell and rookie Darius Slay. Bartell has eight NFL seasons and a good frame to his credit, but he can't match Slay's athleticism. The rookie out of Mississippi State was the fastest defensive back at the 2013 NFL Combine.