NFL PREVIEW: DETROIT LIONS
June 28, 2012INDIANA SPORTS PAGE
NFL PREVIEW: BY KELCI BAKER EIHSS SPORTS
Last year: 10-6, 2nd in NFC North, lost wild-card game
There's only one person not returning of the 22 starters from a team that earned the franchise's first playoff berth since 1999 and produced the best offensive season in its history. Can this solid team continue to improve? There were several players the Lions made sure they retained. Wide out Calvin Johnson, defensive end Cliff Avril, linebacker Stephen Tulloch, left tackle Jeff Backus and backup quarterback Shaun HIll are among those players they made sure to keep. There is little salary-cap space to fill a roster with so many holes, especially in the secondary. Cornerback Jacob Lacey and underachieving defensive end Everette Brown were their only free agent additions. Even with the draft, no immediate starters seem to have come from the lineup. General manager Martin Mayhew and Coach Jim Schwartz believe they have the materials to get to the NFC title game and beyond this coming season. Throwing for 5,038 years and 41 touchdowns in 2011 was quarterback Matthew Stafford who gives them hope. A diverse lineup of receivers and a veteran offensive line also give Lions fans optimism. Their last ditch hope is a good and healthy defense.
Scott Linehan uses a pro and one-back style for this offensive. Even though he had to deal with two years of questions about his durability and toughness, Stafford has proven himself a star. With Nate Burleson, Titus Young and versatile tight ends Tony Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew, defenses tilt toward Johnson at their own risk. There was no running game to speak of for the Lions last season. Jahvid Bests’ delay with a concussion and Mikel Leshoure tore his Achilles tendon slowed the running game dramatically. Both were out for the season and it's unsure if either of them will be making a 2012 return. Best wasn’t cleared for contact until June. Leshoure was involved in two marijuana-related arrests and could possibly be suspended.
Gunther Cunningham's 4-3 style caused this group to generate seven defensive touchdowns, 41 sacks and 17 forced fumbles. When the team is healthy, they create mayhem, becoming the catalyst for everything that happens for them. When the Lions put eight players through there, they create relentless pressure and cover holes in the secondary. The problem is, when the line is off, everything is off and they become ineffective to the point of collapsing. In his sophomore season Ndamukong Suh's production fell off dramatically for a defensive tackle. His tackles were cut in half, his sacks went from double digits to four, and his personal-foul penalties were higher than his sacks. Arrested on marijuana charges and facing suspension is defensive tackle Nick Fairley. They need two impact players and vying for that role is Aaron Berry, Lacey and three rookies who all want the cornerback job.
Special teams under coordinator Danny Crossman was an area of concern last season, especially at return coverage. They used their draft to restock. Hoping to provide speed and intensity to the special teams is Ronnell Lewis from Oklahoma, Tahir Whitehead from Temple and Chris Greenwood from Albion. Veteran Jason Hanson is set at kicker while the punting job will be fought for by veteran Ben Graham who uses an Aussie-style approach and second-year player Ryan Donahue. Battling to keep his spot is Stefan Logan. Titus Young and rookie Ryan Broyles will look for playing time.
This kind of continuity in their coaching staff hasn't been seen since the days of Wayne Fontes. This is the fourth consecutive season they'll have the same head coach, coordinators, position coaches as well as the schemes, systems and styles that come with them. The Lions have matched talent to the system and Schwartz continues to improve himself as a strategist and in-game adjuster.
2012 Draft Recap
The Detroit Lions had 8 picks for the draft and OT Riley Reiff of Iowa was the best of them. He's as close to a sure thing as this draft had to offer. Even though it may take a year, but once he gets settled, he should maintain his starting position for a good decade.
T Riley Reiff. Iowa
First round. 23rd pick overall.
WR Ryan Broyles. Oklahoma
Second round. 54th pick overall.
They were overwhelmed by his production and are confident his surgically repaired knee won't be a major problem for the season. He's being compared as a faster version of Wes Welker
CB Dwight (Bill) Bentley. Louisiana-Lafayette
Third round. 85th pick overall.
He's both smooth and aggressive and he resembles Aaron Berry in terms of play. He'll probably be the starting right corner at the beginning of the season
DE Ronnell Lewis. Oklahoma
Fourth round. 125th pick overall.
He earned the nickname 'Hammer' at Oklahoma for the havoc he can and will cause on special teams for the Lions
OLD Tahir Whitehead. Temple
Fifth round. 138th pick overall.
He plays with a lot of speed and good coverage and because of that the Lions will use him as a 4-3 outside linebacker
CB Chris Greenwood. Albion
Fifth round. 138th pick overall.
He is the first player to be drafted from the Michigan Independent Athletic Association since 1967.
CB Jonte Green. New Mexico State
Sixth round. 196th pick overall.
With his 4.4 speed the Lions also like him for his aggression
OLB Travis Lewis. Oklahoma
Seventh round. 223rd pick overall.
For four consecutive years he led his team in tackles
LIONS 2012 SCHEDULE
After 10 straight losing seasons, the Detroit Lions made the big jump to 10-6 last season. That was good enough for a trip to the playoffs, but they were not good enough to advance past the Saints in the first round.
Detroit fans have plenty of reason to feel that this upward trend will continue. They have young talent all over the field, and the combo of Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson alone is good enough to keep them competitive.
If they are going to improve on that 10-6 record from a year ago, it will not be easy. Check out their schedule.
Week 2 9/16: Detroit Lions at San Francisco 49ers 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC
Week 3 9/23: Detroit Lions at Tennessee Titans 1:00 p.m. ET, Fox
Week 4 9/30: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions 1:00 p.m. ET, Fox
Week 5: BYE
Week 6 10/14: Detroit Lions at Philadelphia Eagles 1:00 p.m. ET, Fox
Week 7 10/22: Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Week 8 10/28: Seattle Seahawks at Detroit Lions 1:00 p.m. ET, Fox
Week 9 11/4: Detroit Lions at Jacksonville Jaguars 1:00 p.m. ET, Fox
Week 10 11/11: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings 1:00 p.m. ET, Fox
Week 11 11/18: Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions 1:00 p.m. ET, Fox
Week 12 11/22: Houston Texans at Detroit Lions 12:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Week 13 12/2: Indianapolis Colts at Detroit Lions 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS
Week 14 12/9: Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC
Week 15 12/16: Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals 4:05 p.m. ET, Fox
Week 16 12/22: Detroit Lions at Atlanta Falcons 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Week 17: Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions 1:00 p.m. ET, Fox
DETROIT LIONS ROSTER