Continuity should mean improvements for Lions

The Lions will look to build off of last season’s progress and take another step towards achieving the team’s ultimate goal – winning a Super Bowl. That journey – which has winning a playoff game as the next logical milestone – will be complicated by an offseason that saw the team arguably lose more on-the-field assets than it gained. The team's continuity needs to be the reason for progress.

When the Detroit Lions fired former head coach Jim Schwartz after the 2013 season, they sent a message that they believed the team has the talent to be one of the league’s better groups but has underachieved

They also showed that winning – and winning now – will be the only metric of success.

Jim Caldwell came in as the new head coach and took the reins last year, helping the team reach 11 wins and return to the postseason.

Although Caldwell’s first season can be considered a step forward, it was still short of the team’s goals of advancing in the playoffs and challenging for a championship.

Growing pains can be expected when introducing players to a new system as coaches attempt to adapt to their player’s skillsets.

“I think you get a better idea of the players’ strengths and weaknesses (in year two),” said offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. “So, you can craft game plans and calls around those better.”

It’s not just learning how to optimize skills from an Xs-and-Os perspective, the coaches also have a baseline for most players to measure progress from. At this point in the year, they can evaluate how strong of an offseason a player had when comparing their conditioning versus the year before.

Heading into 2015, it seems that most players continue to be effective in their preparation of the year.

“One of the things that you can measure it by is what they look like physically when they come back since it’s a long hiatus,” said Caldwell. “The guys have come back in better shape. That’s not all across the board, every guy, but the majority of them. I think that’s kind of part of their makeup anyway. They did so last summer between our spring and the summer. They did so during the season in terms of their efforts and they’re making certain that they got themselves in great shape and we hope that continues.”

The area where the Lions figure to net the most gains due to the continuity of the coaching staff is on offense. The Lions staggered to a poor offensive output in 2014, where they flashed moments of brilliance but largely sputtered to an underwhelming campaign.

Now, with a year of familiarity under its belt, the offense will have no excuses if it don’t leap forward.

“Certainly with the older guys, you know, when they break the huddle there’s less stress that they’re going to line up incorrectly at this time of year,” said Lombardi. “Last year, when they were first learning it, things were going a little slower, so the tempo’s better, it’s more crisp. Guys know where to go and I think a lot of the second-level thinking that happens when you’re running routes and stuff is coming more natural for these guys. It’s been a lot smoother.”

The difference maker needs to be quarterback Matthew Stafford, who is the lynchpin to making the offense come together.

As Stafford’s grasp of the offense gets stronger, his ability to dissect a defense by taking advantage of matchups and opportunities improves.

“It also puts him in position where he can anticipate what he’s going to see according to formations, actions, things of that nature,” said Caldwell. “I think once you get accustomed to being able to have an idea of what you might get, I think it helps you in terms of your proficiency. He can anticipate a little bit more, he can get isolations where, obviously, sometimes by using his eyes the proper way. So, there are a lot of little nuances I think that he’s really starting to develop.”

With some losses on defense, the Lions need their offense to step forward and take some of the burden off of the team's defenders. The Lions have invested into the offensive side of the ball, adding some players who could make a difference. However, the biggest addition to the Lions' offense – and team – this offseason is continuity.

Now the pressure is on to translate that to progress.

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