With training camp right around the corner, the Detroit Lions are saying the right things and staying out of trouble with the law.
It has been a healthy, productive and successful off-season for the Lions, but will that translate to wins on the field come Sept. 8? Several Lions must continue the success of previous seasons, improve on past failures, and make an impact with their new team. Over the next two days I will outline six players that will need to have solid seasons for the Lions to contend in the NFC in 2013.
First the offense.
Just enter the name “Matthew Stafford” into Google and you’ll be immediately flooded with articles placing him below average (16th) by ESPN’s Ron Jaworski, studies on his mechanics, and that he has become THE leader of the Detroit Lions. Therefore, no list of important Lions is ever complete without including Matt on the list.
Stafford divides the fan base. Half think he is doing a good job, can do better, and is knocking on the door of NFL elite status. Others think he is a bum, a bust, and belongs in the Lions’ quarterbacking Hall of Shame with the likes of Scott Mitchell and Joey Harrington. I am on the “he’s good” side. I know his mechanics are an issue, but you can’t argue with oh so close, back-to-back 5,000-yard seasons.
Seeing his touchdown totals cut in half (from 41 in 2011 to 20 in 2012) is a concern, but it will be interesting to see how he responds after a breakout 2011 year and disappointing 2012 season. Consider this the tie-breaker season for Staff, and I have a feeling he’ll be sharp once again.
Jeff Backus was a staple of the Lions’ offensive line for more than a decade. Though he often frustrated fans with false starts or holding calls, it’s par for the course of an o-lineman: when things are going well, they are anonymous, but when they are having their number blared over the PA system by the referee, they’re lousy. Stepping into Backus’ large shoes is Riley Reiff.
Reiff has bulked up for his third year in the league. The second-year player is one of three new starters along the line, but he is perhaps the most important as he will be blocking Stafford’s blindside at left tackle. Riley should add some speed and strength that Backus had been losing through his last few years, which were often played through injuries.
Reggie Bush has been saying all the right things this off-season since signing with Detroit in March, including that there is no excuse for the Lions to not have the league’s top offense. His teammates have also been saying the right things about him as well. Nate Burleson described watching Bush as “a live version of a Madden video game.”
There is some concern that Bush will not be able to stand up to being an every-down back, but in today’s NFL there is no “every-down” back. Even Adrian Peterson is removed from time to time. The days of Barry Sanders playing almost every down is long gone.
With as bad as the Lions’ running game was last season, Mikel Leshoure didn’t have a bad year from an individual standpoint. He should provide a nice contrast in Detroit’s running game and require less passing attempts from Stafford. If Leshoure’s health fails, the Lions have several promising candidates to replace him, including Joique Bell, Theo Riddick and others.
One intangible that Bush brings to the table is his ability to channel the Lions offense of early 2011. They were 5-0 with Jahvid Best offering the same running and receiving threat out of the backfield that Bush will bring. Without Best, the Lions went 5-7 (including the postseason) and 4-12 last year.
Come back tomorrow as we look at the other three players who must succeed in 2013 for the Lions to have success. We’ll look at a pair of defensive players and an important special teams player replacing a legend.