After a horrid 0-16 season made the Lions the laughing-stock of the league, Matt Millen and Rod Marinelli were sent packing, and Jim Schwartz was brought in to right the ship.
This is arguably a job that can’t be corrected in one season, and probably not even two or three, but if anyone can get Detroit going in the right direction, it’ll be a defensive-minded coach who will run the ball and keep his quarterback protected.
At least, that’s the hope.
The Lions have made strides by adding quality players to compete at several lacking positions, including receiver and linebacker.
While their roster certainly offers more buzz than 2008′s did, is there already room for optimism, or will Lions fans be gearing up for another run at a winless season?
5. Can Calvin Johnson Do It Again?
Johnson broke out in his second season, hauling in 78 catches for over 1,300 yards and 12 scores, despite playing for a winless ball club.
But don’t blame him for that.
Johnson did all he could to keep Detroit’s ineffective offense in games, while watching his defense blow any leads they could conjure up.
While that isn’t certain to change in 2009, the one thing Johnson won’t be worrying about is getting the ball.
Both Matthew Stafford and Daunte Culpepper have big, strong arms, and have the ability to go deep and get the ball to Johnson.
True, Johnson cracking 1,300 yards and grabbing another 12+ scores might not mean a division title or the playoffs in 2009, but at this point, Detroit will have to take it’s bright spots where it can get them.
Congratulations, Matt Millen, this one worked out for everyone.
4. Can Kevin Smith Be a True Feature Back?
If the carries are there, and the passing game holds up it’s end, Smith should easily crack 1,000 yards, and could even aim for 10+ scores.
His solid play and ability to be effective at both running and catching the ball made Rudi Johnson obsolete in 2008, and will likely render all other rushers as after-thoughts in 2009.
Smith isn’t a burner, but he combines great vision with solid speed, and elite between-the-tackles running.
The big question is if the off-season acquisitions and addition of Brandon Pettigrew on the line will shore up his blocking enough to help him make that extra step.
3. Is Jim Schwartz “The Guy” For the Job?
His 10 seasons in Tennessee lead us to believe, yes, yes he is.
Schwartz may be picking up the pieces in one of the most dysfunctional NFL cities we’ve seen in some time, but if teams like New Orleans and Atlanta can overcome trying times and embarrassing lawsuits to make the playoffs, then greener pastures could be on their way for the Lions.
Schwartz has assembled a patch-work defensive line-up of former studs, such as Julian Peterson and Larry Foote, and could easily coach Detroit into a competitive team in his first season.
It will take time to get the right players for his system, but with years of experience with Tennessee, there’s enough evidence in playoff appearances, defensive stars, and NFL ranks that suggest he indeed is the man for the job.
2. Matthew Stafford vs. Daunte Culpepper
While the jury is still out on Daunte Culpepper, fans and experts alike are eager to see what Matthews Stafford has in store for both Detroit’s future, as well as present success.
Culpepper. while wildly inconsistent at times, developed a solid connection with star receiver Calvin Johnson, and proved in spurts that he’s still a serviceable quarterback.
It’s clear that his knee injuries from his past hinder his mobility and confidence, and at least up until late last season, he still hadn’t shown the league he was the same passer he was three or four years ago.
It’s very possible that it’s time to label him a “washed-up” veteran, but if Detroit can save Stafford’s body from a brutal beating in his first year, while stealing solid games from the aging Culpepper-then why not?
However, if you ask players around the league, including future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, they’ll say it’s best to just “throw them into the action”, in regards to Stafford.
The argument can truly be made either way, and despite rumors that Stafford has a good chance of being the starter on day one, it’s sure to be a heated battle throughout pre-season.
In the end, Stafford is a near-lock to be starting around mid-season.
1. When Will They Get That First “W”?
Despite the new regime, solid draft, and key additions on both sides of the ball, it still looks like quite the uphill climb for Detroit.
It’s not enough to just make progress in a growing division like the NFC North. The Lions, despite their best efforts, watched as the Vikings, Packers, and Bears all widened the gap between the cellar dwellers, furthering the notion that regardless of their record in 2009, Detroit will inevitably find themselves at the bottom of the division.
Don’t believe it? Well, on paper at least, the schedule to start the season is, well, brutal.
Detroit opens the season on the road against a New Orleans Saints offense that can score on anybody, along with a defense that is regarded as “much improved”.
They then go home to face the Vikings and Redskins, and then have road games at Chicago and Green Bay sandwiching a match-up against the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
Their sigh of relief? Their bye week in week seven.
Their first realistic chance at victory comes the next week against a woeful St. Louis team that, after a overhaul of it’s own, probably is on even ground with them.
Can Detroit fans handle an 0-6 start? Well, they may have to.