The first half of the Detroit Lions' season hasn't gone the way many had
envisioned or hoped. The losses mounted as the injuries piled and now the
approaching bye week must be a welcomed sight.
The bye week won't erase the Lions 1-6 record; however, it offers a fresh start to a team trying to change a losing culture. If the Lions had entered the season as Super Bowl contenders this record would be an outrage, but they didn't. They entered the season as a young team, who hadn't won more than six games since 2000, trying to learn new systems on both sides of the ball. With that said, many people are still disappointed and are embracing the bye, including head coach Rod Marinelli.
"I couldn't think wins and losses, but I really believed we'd be a little bit better than where we are in terms of wins and losses -- I was counting on that," Marinelli said in a Booth Newspapers report. "I'm very positive and upbeat on those types of things and I think we're better. We've got to play better and, hopefully, this bye week will help us and freshen us up a little bit and then get ready to go on to the second half of the season."
The opportunity to "freshen up" couldn't have come at a better time for the Lions, who have lost 23 player games to injury so far this season. Some key players have returned to practice and others are expected back soon.
"Injury wise I think we're fine," said Marinelli after Wednesday's practice. "We should be getting a few guys back this week. (Tackle Rex) Tucker, (Guard Ross) Verba was running around a lot today; (linebacker) Teddy (Lehman) was running around good today. We got a lot of running in, just a lot of teaching. We're trying to get a lot of corrections and move forward."
When the Lions do move forward with their season they are expected to have some key players back in the lineup. Lehman, possibly the most missed, is one of them.
Said Marinelli on Lehman: "Yeah he's been out working out good today and so we're getting him ready to go and Monday we're going to be able to get ourselves in full pads. All these guys should be fairly healthy and we should start to be able to get some good quality work in. (Teddy) needs to get into pads; he hasn't been in them in so long."
Lehman's return will do more than aid a defense that is currently ranked 25 in the league; it will also help a special team's unit that is struggling. The more healthy linebackers playing means the less snaps certain players have to play, which keeps them fresh for special teams.
"One thing I'm really excited about is it's really going to upgrade our kicking (coverage) too," said Marinelli. "We have fresher guys, more guys in to our kicking game and these guys won't have to take quite as many snaps. (Linebacker) Alex (Lewis) back up and you get Teddy (Lehman) in the rotation and (linebacker) Paris (Lenon), (linebacker) Boss (Bailey) and Ernie (Sims). That part I'm really excited about."
The season may have gotten off to a horrid start; however, it is not over. The playoffs are likely out of reach, but a strong finish could do wonders for the team's future. The bye week will give them the opportunity to fix some of their problems and help them get healthy -– both of which will be essential if they hope to finish strong.
Marinelli experienced a similar situation when he became the defensive line coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1996.
It was head coach Tony Dungy's first year with the team, a team that hadn't had a winning season in 14 years. As Dungy installed the "Tampa two" defensive system (the same one Marinelli is installing in Detroit), the defense struggled. The team lost their first five games and was 1-6 at one point in time (sound familiar?). By the time Week 10 came, the Buccaneers were 1-8 and all seemed hopeless. However, the Buccaneers went on to win five of their last seven games and won 10 games the following season. Actually, they made it to 2003 before they suffered through another losing season, winning one Super Bowl during that time.