Rebuilding Detroit: Lions Onto Something

The last two years haven't been easy, but the team's hard work is coming to fruition.

Saying that they've done less with more couldn't be more accurate. Or more of an understatement, for that matter.

Shrouded behind the late December post-season runs of those they aim to become, the Detroit Lions have managed to notch three consecutive wins, including two on the road and two against playoff contenders. Although the final tally (the team could end the year 6-10 with a win on Sunday) might not be aesthetically pleasing, it speaks more to the club's progress and, most importantly, future.

They have one of those in Detroit, and it's bright.

The Lions have won this year without their starting quarterback, the defensive presence of Kyle Vanden Bosch, their perpetual placekicker, either of the top two running backs, all the while playing musical chairs in the secondary. They've managed to build a system that extracts success from cast-offs and otherwise unheralded athletes, grooming quantifiable depth that is shielded by a myriad of talent.

Basically, they're building an NFL team in Detroit. Finally.

Linebacker Bobby Carpenter, who was dispatched from Dallas and couldn't crack the rosters of Miami or St. Louis, led the team in tackles in Sunday's win over the Dolphins. He didn't even start the game. Nathan Vasher, considered a washed-up cornerback two years ago, picked off a pass and later body-slammed Miami running back Ronnie Brown to help preserve victory.

Neither player was employed at the start of the season.

Now they're just a couple of the many names that have helped fuel Detroit's end-of-season revival series; a testament to the work and scheme developed and catered to by coach Jim Schwartz, coordinators Gunther Cunningham and Scott Linehan, and the masterful eye of GM Martin Mayhew.

Yes, masterful.

The chemistry between Detroit's front office and the team's coaches is particularly noteworthy, a seamless formula of working parts that has spun success from what appeared to be a destitute situation.

They've managed to take a pitiable past and injury-riddled campaign and create something worthwhile.

Chef Ramsay couldn't do more with less.

"The way you get guys up to speed is having consistent coaching," explained Schwartz. "Having an idea of what you want to do in your scheme, having good teaching techniques, and also having a plan and sort of sticking with it."

GM Martin Mayhew has been behind Detroit's acquisitions. The coaching staff has been behind the result.
AP Photo

"That makes it easier to plug guys in."

That might seem like a foreign concept around here.

Under former GM Matt Millen, the franchise wasted roster spots on blown draft picks and lemon free-agent acquisitions. And, under the multiple coaching changes, never appeared to establish any scheme. As Millen's pokes and prods turned into desperate risks and frantic prayers, the transient, ambiguous roster fed an incessant identity crisis. One that was defined only by failure.

The hard work of the last two years has finally restored what was left in disarray. The Lions made key acquisitions via the available channels entering 2010, and that roster proliferation continued throughout the season. Rather than each change resulting in haphazard placement and awkward faux pas, they've only added to a refreshing symmetry.

While a rather successful upheaval has been evident all season, the development of this franchise has been more defined in the past three weeks. Whatever they're doing, it appears to be working.

Although they remain a work-in-progress, the Detroit Lions finally have the most important part figured out: who they are.

Notebook (from TheSportsXchange):

  • Center Dominic Raiola probably will be fined by the league and absolutely will be fined by the team for making an obscene statement to a heckling fan as he walked off the field Sunday at Sun Life Stadium.

    "Anytime that you're a player and a coach, coming in and out of the stadium is sometimes a difficult thing," coach Jim Schwartz said. "People pay their money for tickets, and they can say about anything they want -- and you'd be surprised at some of the things that are said to you going in and coming out and on the sideline. But that's what fans do, and as coaches and as players we need to keep our composure."

    Raiola was fined $7,500 in 2008 for making an obscene gesture at fans at Ford Field.

  • The Lions offense put up 27 points against a Dolphins defense that hadn't allowed more than 17 in six weeks, and Detroit did so with a four-fingered, backup quarterback. Shaun Hill played with a broken knuckle on his right index finger.

    "There are not many teams that have had three-plus starts by three different quarterbacks going into a year and kept the production up," Schwartz said. "Like I said, that was a really good defense we played (Sunday), and we still managed to (prevail despite) some matchups that we weren't winning, particularly early in that game."

  • Did the Lions catch another break? With the Vikings-Eagles game postponed until Tuesday, the Vikings will have just four days to prepare for the Lions. Schwartz doesn't see it that way.

    "I think both teams are familiar with each other. If anything, you can argue that it would favor them a little bit because we would have less time to prepare for their quarterback situation, whatever it is. We really won't know as we move on until much later in the week. ... Whether Brett Favre plays or not, whether it's (Joe) Webb, Patrick Ramsey -- all those things are question marks, and I think, from a preparation standpoint, in a strange sort of way it may actually favor them. But from a physical standpoint, it should favor us."

  • OLB Landon Johnson's season is likely over. He suffered a concussion Sunday, and given that he has endured several concussions throughout his career, the Lions aren't likely to rush him back for the season finale. Bobby Carpenter, who led the team with nine tackles against the Dolphins, will get the start.
  • FS Louis Delmas (concussion) is expected to return to practice this week and play in the finale. He finally passed the final battery of tests Sunday.
  • WR Calvin Johnson (ankle) is also expected to play. His ankle has been tender for two weeks, and he missed a lot of practice time last week. He left at the start of the fourth quarter in Miami, but the tests came back negative, and he wants to finish the season.
  • LT Jeff Backus played one of his best games of the season. He was matched up with OLB Cameron Wake, the NFL sack leader, most of the game and he did not allow a sack.
  • CB Chris Houston could play this week. His shoulder popped out of the joint for the second time this season Sunday. He didn't miss time after the first one, and coach Jim Schwartz said Monday that he is hopeful Houston would be ready for Sunday.

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