Slowly But Surely, Lions Making Progress

Additions in the off-season have put Detroit on the map -- a place they couldn't locate under Matt Millen. Notes and more inside ...

Progress is measured differently for the Lions. When you are trying rise from the rubble left by former president Matt Millen's regime, a certain number of wins or making the playoffs aren't necessarily the indicators of success.

Start with this: Is there a blueprint? Is there a definitive, creditable rebuilding plan in place? And for once the answer is yes. President Tom Lewand, general manager Martin Mayhew and head coach Jim Schwartz, if nothing else, are executing a plan.

In their second year they have already built an offensive foundation. They drafted quarterback Matthew Stafford and tight end Brandon Pettigrew last year. Those two, joining receiver Calvin Johnson, gave the Lions a starting point.

The goal over the summer was to build onto that foundation, to add play-makers in order to give Stafford more options and to discourage opposing defenses from loading up on Johnson. To that end they drafted tailback Jahvid Best out of Cal, signed free agent receiver Nate Burleson and traded for tight end Tony Scheffler.

The Lions also solidified a long-time sore spot on the offensive line by trading for veteran left guard Rob Sims.

The first building block seems to be in place. The Lions are going to score points. Whether or not they win games will be determined by how quickly the next rebuilding phase comes along -- the defense.

The Lions expended a lot of resources this summer toward building an NFL-level defensive line. They signed defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, drafted defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh with the second overall pick, traded for veteran tackle Corey Williams and aligned them with holdover Cliff Avril.

It's a respectable unit, one that gets off the ball and attacks. Teams in the preseason were deploying no-huddle tactics, screens and other short-hitting pass routes to neutralize the force of the Lions' front four.

Unfortunately, one unit does not a complete defense make. And the back seven remains in a state of disrepair.

The Lions have one proven linebacker -- 32-year-old Julian Peterson. The other outside linebacker is first-year starter Zach Follett, who at this time last year was released and playing on the practice squad.

Middle linebacker DeAndre Levy is the leader of the defense, but he has been hobbled by injuries -- first a back and now a groin.

As for the secondary, the Lions upgraded slightly at cornerback with Chris Houston and Jonathan Wade, and Louis Delmas is a potential Pro Bowl player at safety. But Delmas has been slowed by a groin injury.

Schwartz said that the identity of this team would be forged during training camp. If that's so, then this looks like a team that has to score 35 points a game to have a chance to win.

COACHING: Jim Schwartz, 2nd year, 2nd with Lions (2-14).

REMEMBERING: 2009 record: 2-14 (last in NFC North).

Notebook:

  • The Lions may not win a lot of games this season, but they should be fun to watch -- kind of like those old, swashbuckling Oakland Raiders teams.

    With quarterback Matthew Stafford and a bunch of diverse offensive weapons (not the least of which is receiver Calvin Johnson), they are going to light up some scoreboards. Rookie tailback Jahvid Best should give the Lions a speedy game-breaker in the backfield they've lacked since Barry Sanders.

    And there is an edge to the defense, as well. With Kyle Vanden Bosch and rookie Ndamukong Suh, the Lions will wreak some havoc on quarterbacks this season. The problem, though, is that if the linemen aren't throwing quarterbacks around, the rest of the defense won't be stopping anybody.

    The Lions' back seven on defense might be as bad as it gets.

    So buckle up ... could be a lot of 42-35 games.

  • DT Ndamukong Suh got some of the Browns riled up after he performed this trio of moves on quarterback Jake Delhomme -- he face-masked him, horse-collared him and then threw him to the ground. The Browns petitioned the league to get Suh fined or suspended. Suh wasn't in the mood to apologize: "It's not my job to worry about whether I hit a guy too hard or not. I can't change the way I play. If I do, then I am doing a disservice to my teammates."
  • Rookie safety Randy Phillips has enough on his plate trying to win a roster spot. The last thing he needed was some former university booster throwing his name around. Phillips was among the former University of Miami players that former booster Nevin Shapiro said he was "close to." Shapiro, who is facing prison time for allegedly running a Ponzi scheme, said he is writing a "tell-all" book, exposing the dark side of the Miami football program. "I have no idea what you all are talking about," Phillips said. When he was asked if he knew Shapiro, he said, "Nah, I don't even know what you are talking about. I am in Detroit. I don't even know what's going on down there. I am so focused on trying to make this team. I haven't even talked to nobody down there."
  • It had been a while since safety Louis Delmas played in an actual game, and to say he was a bit excited is an understatement. Delmas, in his exuberance during pre-game introductions before the third exhibition game (his first), knocked down three young kids in the welcoming line as he ran onto the field. "I felt bad, but they'll be all right," he said. The kids popped right up and were fine. "Any kid that I hit, I apologize and if they want me to sign something, I'll sign something," he said. "I'll even give them a hug."
  • Coach Jim Schwartz has run out of ways to describe the impact of DE Kyle Vanden Bosch. At first he pulled out a Denny Green-ism: "He is who we thought he was." Then, he amended that to, "He is a brand name. You know what you are getting. There is a consistency with him. You don't have to worry about what the product is going to be like because it's a brand name. He has been a big part, not only of what we want to do, but how we go about doing it."
  • BY THE NUMBERS: 0 -- The number of players drafted by former president Matt Millen from 2002-2005 that remain on the roster. Meanwhile, there are five players drafted in the last two years by GM Martin Mayhew that will start for the Lions this season.
  • QUOTE TO NOTE: "The guys that have been here are tired of losing. Guys were looking for something to turn it around anything. The new guys wanted to do what they could to help the team and the guys that have been here, they were willing to do anything to turn it around. I try to push tempo and I try to get the team excited in practice, but it hasn't been hard. It's not pulling teeth. The guys here are excited about changing the culture. They want to give Detroit what it deserves in a football team." -- DE Kyle Vanden Bosch.

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