2012 was a big disappointment for the Detroit Lions and their fans, but the future is bright. The Lions troubles last season can be attributed to a few things, namely the absence of Jahvid Best, injuries, lack of depth on defense and a poor showing from the defensive line, which was supposed to be the Lions’ strength on defense. This season should turn out entirely different thanks to a solid draft and key offseason additions.
Let’s take a look at what the Lions did this offseason to ensure a successful season in 2013:
The Lions weakest area a season ago was defense, particularly the secondary. To address the secondary concerns the Lions added a proven playmaker in safety Glover Quin and drafted cornerback Darius Slay in the second round, who most fans expect to start this season. Adding talent in the secondary was key, but injuries are a common theme in the NFL, especially with the Lions. To address this issue the Lions added safety Chris Hope, who Jim Schwartz coached in Tennessee to come in and help if Louis Delmas doesn’t play all 16 games as he has yet to do in his career.
Last season the Lions’ drafted three corners in Bill Bentley, Chris Greenwood, and Jonte Green in the third, fifth, and sixth rounds respectively, who should all be in the mix to start opposite of Chris Houston. Even if none of these players start they will provide the Lions with solid depth and should be suitable starters in their second seasons if given the opportunity. Bentley has the perfect size and skill set to play the nickel corner, Green made five starts last season progressing each week and Greenwood has the perfect size and speed to be a shutdown corner if he reaches his potential, which I acknowledge is a big “if”.
The secondary wasn’t the only defensive group that deserve blame for the Lions’ defense. Along the defensive line the Lions released Kyle Vanden Bosch in an attempt to get younger and more athletic while saving salary cap space and Cliff Avril, the team’s most consistent producer at defensive end, left to the Seattle Seahawks via free agency. To replace the ends the Lions drafted the player with the most upside in the draft in defensive end Ziggy Ansah with the fifth overall pick and signed Jason Jones, making for a young yet talented defensive end nucleus that the Lions hope to get more production in not just sacks, but stops against the run. As insurance due to both players lack of experience the Lions signed veteran defensive end/defensive tackle Israel Idonije, who had 7.5 sacks last season for the Bears. Idonije can play inside or outside making him a valuable player that can fill in if the Lions get bit by the injury bug along the defensive line or if Jones or Ansah don’t make an immediate impact.
Return of the run game
Jahvid Best may never play football again, but last season their was a bit more optimism on his return. Unfortunately, his return has yet to happen and the Lions didn’t have a rusher on the roster with his skillset to compensate for Best’s absence. This is one of the biggest contributing factors to the Lions 4-12 performance last season as the Lions had no home run threat out of the backfield, which resulted in many stalled drives. The Lions realize what Best’s skill set does for the offense and picked up the best home run threat in free agency in Reggie Bush, who can catch the ball out of the backfield or run in between the tackles for big gains every time he touches the ball. Bush also adds another dimension in his ability to line up as a receiver which will result in some serious miss matches for defenses.
Next man up
Teams that win on a consistent bases due so, because they have excellent coaches, they draft well, and because they have depth. The Lions’ coaching and draft grades are yet to be determined, but they certainly have a ton of depth which is one of the biggest differences between the 2012 roster and the always changing 2013 roster is depth. In 2012 the Lions were decimated by injuries at wide receiver, tight end, cornerback and safety, even defensive tackle Nick Fairley missed the end of the season to injury.
Martin Meyhew has learned his lesson from last season and has a plan in case injuries become a problem. He drafted tight end Michael Williams in the seventh round to replace Will Heller, who controlled the H-back role, added undrafted tight end Joesph Fauria, who has a really good chance to be an impact player in the NFL, to push Tony Scheffler for a roster spot, and added wide receiver Corey Fuller in the sixth round to develop into a deep ball threat opposite to Calvin Johnson. Given the Lions’ issues at wide receiver a season ago some might think a sixth round pick isn’t enough depth to replace a starting wide receiver, but the Lions also figure to have Patrick Edwards make an impact after spending last season on the practice squad. Those high on Edwards include Nate Burleson who seems to think Edwards will be a 30-40 catch player next season.
It’s impossible to account for certain players being injured in the NFL, but the Lions have done a great job at addressing previous question marks on their roster with a combination of young and proven talent. Hopefully the Lions don’t have to make roster adjustments due to injury next season, but if they have to the talent is there.