A fresh start. That's what the Lions wanted as they opened training camp one year after suffering the NFL's first 0-16 season.
And when they took the field for the first time at team headquarters, they did look a lot different -- in style and in substance. The players wore new practice uniforms -- with the team's new font for their numbers, with names on the back this time. Not only was the coaching staff new, led by Jim Schwartz, 40 of the players were new. So exactly half of the 80-man roster had nothing to do with last year's debacle.
"Last year was horrible," linebacker Ernie Sims said. "To get back on this field and prove ourselves all over again, it feels real good. We can put last year behind us. With new coaches, new faces, new teammates, you've got a whole new beginning."
The Lions have a whole lot of work to do, though.
General manager Martin Mayhew said he was happy with three areas in particular.
|The Lions still have weaknesses -- and GM Martin Mayhew (above) is working the phones to get the issue corrected. (AP Photo)|
He said he liked each of the running backs but Kevin Smith in particular, saying Smith could fit any system and had an uncommon competitive spirit.
Mayhew declined to discuss the negatives in detail, saying: "There's some areas of concern. I don't want to call anybody out. There's guys out there working hard trying to make our team. We'll make adjustments as we feel necessary."
But asked what questions he wanted answered in camp, Mayhew said: "I want to see where we are as a football team and how we gel. We have a lot of new players, and I want to see how our offensive line comes together, how our defensive line comes together, how our defense plays as a unit. It's one thing to add individual pieces. But how do those pieces fit?"
Mayhew and Schwartz have talked about building from the inside out, but the lines appear to be the Lions' weakness, especially the defensive line. The Lions' defense ranked last in average yards and points allowed each of the past two years.
Mayhew has been busy the past seven months, with several signings, waiver claims and trades. He expects to continue being active.
"We're talking to a lot of players, a lot of agents, a lot of clubs about trades," Mayhew said. "We're trying to upgrade our roster all the time."
- Veteran offensive tackle Ephraim Salaam, rookie defensive tackle Sammie Hill and rookie wide receiver D.J. Boldin failed the conditioning test -- a 300-yard shuttle run. They were held out of the first practice. "What's disappointing the most about it is that, when they left here, they ran the conditioning test and they passed," coach Jim Schwartz said. "And then they go away for a month, and then they come back and whatever it is -- nerves, not working when they're gone, whatever it is -- they don't pass."
- The training staff tested all of the players' bench press and vertical jump. Schwartz said second-year defensive tackle Landon Cohen did a "superhuman" 50 reps of 225 pounds in the bench press. Overall, he said: "Our upper body strength has continued to improve. We sort of stayed the same on our lower body, but that's a hard thing to continue to improve, the numbers that we were making."
- Wide receiver Bryant Johnson started camp on the sidelines because of injuries suffered in a golf cart accident in early July. "No orthopedic issues at all with it," coach Jim Schwartz said. "It was superficial wounds, a lot of road-rash kind of things, and he's not ready to practice. He still has some open wounds and things like that. We're going to take our time. It may be a little while with him, but we'll get him back as quick as we can. He's healing fine, but it is an issue."
- Defensive tackle Grady Jackson remains sidelined after missing the entire off-season program because of a knee problem. But Schwartz said Jackson, listed at 345 pounds, had lost weight and the Lions were encouraged by his progress. "We knew when we signed him it was going to be a little bit of a process," Schwartz said. "He was behind a little bit, but he's really made up some ground. I've actually been pleased, even though he's not out there practicing."
- Schwartz feels a sense of urgency, though. "I'm a very, very impatient person," Schwartz said. "I don't do well with, 'Hey, go get 'em next year. We'll do better some other time.' There's an urgency. My urgency comes from, 'Hey, let's do better today than we did yesterday.' It's short-term urgency. It doesn't change the fact that it's urgent. I'm the guy that when they go to the amusement park, I want to get on all the rides right away. I'm not going to take my time and meander around the park and maybe hit all those rides. I'm running from ride to ride to do it. That's just my personality."
- Schwartz has made many public appearances since being hired in January and has made a point to understand the frustration of fans who have seen years of losing. But he knows goodwill isn't enough. "We're going to be judged on wins and losses," he said. "We're not going to be judged on community relations."
- In a team meeting, Schwartz put up some vacation photos of his family. Then he put up some photos from Deadspin, showing Stafford on vacation with some bikini-clad women. The room roared.
- QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're 0-0." -- C Dominic Raiola, on starting training camp the year after suffering the NFL's first 0-16 season.