Lions showing progress on all fronts

Although criticized as a team weakness, the offensive line and defensive secondary in Detroit has shown considerable promise in each of the team's two exhibition outings. More insight, including notes and quotes.

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

  • Offensive coordinator Mike Martz is optimistic RB Kevin Jones will return from his foot injury for the regular-season opener Sept. 9 at Oakland. "I think we're all optimistic about that," Martz said. "I think Kevin is, too. We'll see. It doesn't mean he is. He's making good progress, and we're all anxious to have him back."
  • RB Kevin Jones sought some unusual therapy for his foot in the offseason. Maybe three times a week, he would drive about an hour, go down into an Asian man's basement and undergo heat acupuncture. "It's not conventional or traditional," Jones said with a laugh. "I just was willing to try kind of like anything because I was, you know, hurting. ... That's one of the reasons why my recovery is speeding up so good."
  • Is there a leader in the backup QB battle between J.T. O'Sullivan and Dan Orlovsky? "Oh, I'm not concerned about that in the least," Martz said. "They're both playing so good, I could care less about it. We don't have to make that decision for a long time. I'm not even worried about it. I don't even think about that, to be honest with you."
  • WR Calvin Johnson has pleased Mike Martz to date.
    "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."
  • Defensive coordinator Joe Barry is encouraging competition. "The depth chart that we have posted in the locker room, it's on paper," Barry said. "I printed it off my computer. It can be changed. It can be altered. It's not carved in stone. It's not carved in wood. So every day is an audition. Every day is a job interview. ... Nothing motivates a player more than the guy that's behind him. ... I don't want guys to get comfortable in their roles. It's all about competition, and that's definitely what we're in right now."
  • Commissioner Roger Goodell visited Lions headquarters and praised the direction of the organization. He also praised defensive line coach Joe Cullen for turning around his life after two arrests last year -- one for driving in the nude, one for drunken driving. Coach Rod Marinelli explained why he stuck by Cullen: "I just knew it was the right thing to do. I knew it. You have to try to do right. To everybody else it may look wrong. I don't care. In my heart, I felt that was the right thing to do. I make my decision and I move on; got cotton in my ears and go forward. He's doing great, he really is doing good, he really is and boy that's a great feeling when you can see a man change his life. The game of football is important to him, and he's changed his life."
  • QUOTE TO NOTE: "Oh, it feels good to play against the best. They won it last year, and I want to see what they got." -- LB Ernie Sims, on playing the Super Bowl champion Colts in Indianapolis in the Lions' third exhibition.

  • Lions Report Top Stories