The excitement surrounding the Detroit Lions centers on their offensive skill. The cynicism surrounding the Detroit Lions centers on their offensive line and defense.
But the offensive line and defense have shown progress through two exhibition games.
The line has allowed only two sacks, despite 75 pass attempts. That is encouraging, considering Jon Kitna was sacked 63 times last season, more than any other quarterback in the NFL.
"Our pass protection continues to be good," coach Rod Marinelli said. "That's improving, and we will continue working in that area."
The Lions have also been able to run the ball a little better after finishing last in the NFL in rushing last season.
"We would like to continue to get better in the running game," offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. "We need to kind of jell a little bit up front with the back and get on the same page with what we're doing.
"The timing of the running game and the back seeing it, that just takes a lot of work, and we've been doing a lot of that out here in the mornings, running the ball a great deal."
It seems to be working.
"It's just everybody being able to come together -- them knowing where we're going to be at, us knowing what they're doing," running back T.J. Duckett said. "The more we play together, the better we'll understand each other."
The first-team defense has not allowed a touchdown, and the first- and second-teamers forced three turnovers in the first half of a 23-20 victory over Cleveland.
On paper, the Lions' defense didn't improve in the offseason. The Lions traded cornerback Dre' Bly. He didn't fit their system, but he was still their best playmaker.
They also traded defensive end James Hall, while signing free agent Dewayne White, with whom the coaching staff was familiar from their days together in Tampa Bay.
Defensive coordinator Joe Barry came from Tampa Bay with a strong background in the "Tampa Two" system, and the hope was that his teaching would help the Lions play smarter and faster.
The Lions still seem thin at cornerback. Keith Smith is pushing Stanley Wilson for the starting job and the Lions like what they have in their safeties. Daniel Bullocks, taking over a starting spot in his second season, is progressing. Idrees Bashir has been solid, and rookie Gerald Alexander is starting to show something.
The linebackers need to make more plays, but Ernie Sims seems poised to follow up on his rookie performance with another strong season. The defensive line has been banged up. But White (groin), Shaun Rogers (knee) and Kalimba Edwards (ankle) are expected back soon.
Barry hopes that while the Lions' offense excites people, the defense will surprise people.
"We're going to keep plugging along," Barry said. "We're going to do what we do. I'm not going to sit here and make a bunch of bold predictions. There's one thing that we stress, and it's to play hard, play fast, be prepared and to finish. Those are the only four things that I consistently talk about with our group.
"Don't say a bunch of stuff that you can't back up. Just say those four things. If we can do those four things, I think we'll be pretty successful."
Notes and Quotes
"He's done a good job," Martz said. "He's pretty close right now. For a guy with all the information swimming around in his head, he's really on top of everything. I'm kind of amazed at him, really. Every day he just amazes you. He just does. He's pretty special."