The Detroit Lions opened their first mandatory mini-camp on Tuesday, signaling that the 2009 season is approaching. The anticipation from fans may be comparable to their tempered expectations but still, there is a sense of change in the air.
After becoming the first team to complete a 16-game regular season without a victory, changes were a must. In fact, major modification seemed to be a prerequisite for the removal of the stench lingering from last year. The remaining Lions are attempting to put the past behind them, while the new members of the team – coaching staff included – aren't trying to remind them.
"Yeah, we haven't talked about last year, quite honestly. We've moved on past that," said new head coach Jim Schwartz. Schwartz has been a source of change himself, ushering in new philosophies and personnel, the latter of which may have a great impact on changing the team's mentality.
"It probably makes it a little bit easier when there are new faces," said Schwartz. "Guys coming from different teams that have experienced different things. We have one guy coming off a Super Bowl win."
Schwartz is referring to recently acquired Larry Foote, who was a cap causality from the Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Foote, a Detroit native, is expected to win the starting middle linebacker position for a unit that will look vastly different from a season ago. If Foote does indeed anchor the middle, he figures to be flanked by Julian Peterson and Ernie Sims.
Schwartz believes the addition of Peterson, who is expected to start on the strong side, will give the Lions some firepower on defense.
"Anytime you can add a Pro Bowl player that fits the philosophy of what we want to do - I'm talking about Julian Peterson," said Schwartz. "We want to be multi-dimensional on defense; we want size on defense. He gives you both of those.
"He's experienced; he's a proven Pro Bowl player, multi-dimensional, he can rush the passer, he can drop in coverage. He looks like what we want him to look like."
The linebacker corps is a microcosm of the changes that have been made and the ones still being made for the team.
This offseason has been witness to a top-to-bottom re-evaluation of the team and – although the picture may be clearer now – the process is ongoing.
Stud receiver Calvin Johnson is an emerging threat, and a carry-over from last year's 0-16 roster.
"You can't make every change overnight," said Schwartz. "Pro Bowl players don't grow on trees…lot of things have changed over the last three or four months, but I like where we are right now. We still have a lot of work to do. There's probably a player that's not on our team right now, that we either pick off the waiver wire or that we sign late in camp, maybe even a trade that will probably help us win a game sometime this year. So the roster is not finished and the roster won't be finished Game 1.
"When you make this team, it's not a 16-week scholarship."
Winning a game will be the Lions immediate focus after joining an exclusive club last season.
The Lions became the seventh NFL team to finish an entire regular season with no victories, joining the 1942 Lions (09-11), the 1943 Chicago Cardinals (0-10), the 1944 Chicago Cardinals (0-10), the 1960 Dallas Cowboys (0-11-1), the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14) and the 1982 Baltimore Colts (0-8-1).
In each of the above scenarios, change was the catalyst that ignited progress, but progress was not swift. With teams averaging a win total of 2.4 following a winless season, history is telling a disappointing tale for the Lions in 2009.
With everything that is different about the 2009 Lions – players, coaches, management, schemes, logo, etc… - more of the same could be in store for the upcoming season. Unless, of course, the Lions defy the odds and change history.