Detroit's Great Expectations
Coming off an abysmal 4-12 season, the Detroit Lions will be plagued by something that hasn’t realistically been associated with the organization in a while: Expectations.
Jim Schwartz, the fifth-year coach for the Lions who's partially responsible for resurrecting the franchise from the car crash that was the Matt Millen era, leads a formidable Detroit team into the teeth of the NFC North. Only three players remain from the 2008 0-16 season: A clear indication that the overhaul is complete.
There are no excuses. There are only expectations.
The Lions' brass has done everything to prove that 2012 was an anomaly. Detroit has been active in free agency, addressing needs at various positions. They cushioned the blow of 2008 first-rounder Gosder Cherilus leaving to block for Andrew Luck and the retirement of iron man Jeff Backus by resigning OL Jason Fox.
Legendary kicker Jason Hanson retired after 21 years of service. They responded by signing veteran kicker David Akers and famed viral trick shot kicker Harvard Rugland. They’ve re-signed Louis Delmas, Chris Houston and Amari Spievey, as well as added safety Glover Quin to their young, capable secondary.
Holes on the defensive line remain after losing Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril, and despite Calvin Johnson’s record-breaking season a year ago, the wide receiver corps is thin after Ryan Broyles’ ACL tear, Titus Young’s alienation of his colleagues and Nate Burleson’s array of injuries.
The signing of wide receivers Devin Thomas and Kris Durham help, as does the acquisition of running back Reggie Bush, the Lions' biggest backfield threat since Barry Sanders. Things usually fall into place after the NFL Draft roller coaster. It'd be nice to see them may a play for Dwight Freeney to add to that ferocious defensive line.
Other than Megatron and occasionally Ndamukong Suh, the Lions lack that consistent playmaker. With picks in all seven rounds, including the sixth pick overall, Detroit may have a chance to choose the best defensive back in the draft, Alabama’s Dee Milliner, or Central Michigan’s impact offensive tackle Eric Fisher as a replacement for the retired Jeff Backus.
The Lions’ player personnel department historically has drafted based on potential over production, a trend that also makes BYU defensive end Ziggy Ansah an attractive first round pick to add to a talented, youthful defensive line. Each of these picks would fill a need.
Their mobility in free agency combined with the tumult of change throughout the division create the perfect cocktail of opportunity. The Lions are expected to shed the chains of mediocrity and play for something more than a pat on the back.
2013 will reveal whether the underachieving 2012 Lions were a result of major systematic problems, inferior coaching or overhyped personnel. As Detroit continue to build its roster before the opener, they are inevitably becoming burdened with glorious purpose.
If they don’t meet expectations this year, it may be time to overhaul the overhaul.