Go ahead. No really, it’s probably getting hard to breath under that brown paper bag over your head. Finally, for Lions fans everywhere, we can all take in the fresh air of a new era. We can put down our ‘Fire Millen’ signs and not put down that one fan who still decked out in Honolulu blue and black face paint with foam claws while sitting through failed first-round receiver after failed first-round receiver. Everyone of us can kick this to the curb:
Take off the old, put on the new. In the year 2011, things are different. I dare not say we are rebuilding because many believe we have been rebuilding since we last won a championship in 1957 (a 59-14 beating of the Cleveland Browns). Since 1958 though, we have won a grand total of one playoff game and haven’t tasted postseason play since 1999.
2011 I believe is different though, not simply because ESPN is talking, even buzzing about the team or that season ticket sales have gone way up. Rather the organization itself from the owners down to the players are beginning to take on characteristics of a winning culture like they never have before.
“We are a much more complete team this year than we were last year,” said vice chairman Bill Ford Jr. “The team has really come together and there aren’t a lot of holes.”
Lions with not a lot of holes? Hmm… that’s like saying Ray Lewis with not a lot of passion or the Dallas Cowboys with not a lot of drama.
For real though, the Lions front office has done extensive surgery on a team that is only three years removed from making forgettable history by going 0-16. Here is a breakdown of why 2011 is not the 53rd consecutive rebuilding year as much as it is an opportunity to notch many W’s in Detroit:
- Recovery is in good progress since Hurricane Millen swept through the Motor City three years ago.
- We did not draft a wide receiver in the first round! Instead, with the 13th pick we nabbed defensive tackle Nick Fairley (6’ 4”, 290 lbs.) out of Auburn who should bolster an already potent defensive line. Him along with DT Ndamukong Suh (AP Defensive Rookie of the Year), defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (3-time Pro Bowl selection) and DE Cliff Avril (8.5 sacks last year) will strike fear in any QB before a single snap.
- We have more than just a great D-line. Lions General Manager Martin Mayhew made a splash in free agency by signing Tennessee linebacker Stephen Tulloch. The 5’ 11” 240 pound Tulloch was second in the NFL in tackles with 160 last season and has played under head coach Jim Schwartz when Schwartz was still defensive coordinator for the Titans= good chemistry. Also, stud LB DeAndre Levy who had two game-winning interceptions last year is back at 100 percent after groin surgery and will most likely be moved to right linebacker (his position in college)= good chemistry.
- Safety Louis Delmas who was on the NFL All-Rookie Team in 2009 and had a solid performance in the shoddy backfield last year returns to lead a secondary in need of major help. Mayhew got it in the form of cornerback Chris Houston who resigned with the team after reviving his career last year and the return of second year CB Aaron Berry who left last year in the season opener due to a shoulder injury after a promising start. Mayhew also signed 5th year pro CB Eric Wright from Cleveland. Wright has a solid grasp of many defensive coverages and has totaled nine picks in his young career. Although there were no blockbuster signings in the secondary, the free agents we did add plus the depth will provide chances for players with no name to make a name.
- Matthew Stafford , pray he stays healthy.
- Stafford says he is “100 percent healthy”.
- Calvin Johnson(77 catches, 1,120 yards, 12 TD) leads a very strong receiving corps that only got better with the drafting of second round pick Titus Young out of Smurf Turf. The 5’ 11” Young is a deep ball threat that will extend defenses leaving Megatron Johnson free to ravage both open green and short, hopeless corners. Slot receiver Nate Burleson who turns 30 on August 19 says he has never felt better after having minor elbow surgery in June. Don’t forget tight end Brandon Pettigrew too who averaged over 10 yards a catch last season.
- Running back Jahvid Best out of California is the lightning quick turn-on-a-dime speedster who is returning from a nasty case of the turf toe, while second round draft pick RB Mikel Leshoure out of Illinois is the thunderous 6’ 0” 230 lb. bruising back. Like one smart broadcaster said of Leshoure, “You see, you have to wrap him up, you’re not just gonna hit him off his feet”… welcome to the team!
- After 19 years with the same club, kicking extraordinaire Jason Hanson is back and is the seventh leading scorer all-time with 1,890 points.
- Defensive Coordinator Gunther Cunningham and his 40 plus years of coaching experience will be salivating at all the looks, schemes and rotations he could utilize with the defensive front.
- CONTROVERSY: LT Jeff Backus. Mr. Ol’ reliable has never missed a game since being drafted by Detroit in 2001 and let us hope his performance will keep Matthew Stafford from not missing a game. What do you think?!
So, 2011 brings the players, with more shuffling of the deck to come during the frenzied free agency, but it also brings the story lines.
- Monday Night Football October 10th against da Bears!
- Everyone in Motown is buzzing about a ‘no one-seen-that-coming’ four game winning streak to end the season last year. That puts the Lions in good company. Only the Super bowl Champion Green Bay Packers and the Lions have a four game winning streak going into this upcoming season.
- People love nicknames right?! Unless it’s something your grandma used to call you at least. Well, grandmas or no grandmas the D-Line has been dubbed the ‘Silver Crush’. Should sell some shirts at least.
- People who are a Lions fan know what I’m saying when I talk about that little hope at the beginning of every season that “this just might be the year”…this just might be the year.
- People are buying into the slogan ‘Restore the Roar’. I can dig it J
- People want to see Suh who is part man, part beast, shred offenses and see how many awards and QB heads he can bag.
- Everyone just wants to see a win and if I’m not being too greedy a winning streak and with the words of Bosch we might have that hope.
“I definitely can see why people have that confidence in us and I can see guys walking around this building with a swagger,” said Vanden Bosch. “(They are some of the) same guys that were here in the beginning of last year that didn’t necessarily have that swagger. We have a lot of confidence in ourselves and we have high expectations in ourselves.”
Confidence, expectations and swagger are refreshing words this organization has not heard in years. Reason as to why I am starting to feel this same swagger as Vanden Bosch has.
I’m not saying we are a 12-4 or even 10-6 football team. We Lions fans would rejoice for an 8-8 season. The first preseason game is already just a week and a half away and the window for sharp analysis and critique isn’t much. In that time however, you can be sure that the Lions are done settling and just going through the motions.
“We’ve got to go out there and prove it,” Stafford said. “I’ve got no problem, no question in my mind that guys on this team are going to work hard enough. We’ve got enough good leaders and veteran players on our team that we’re going to do okay.”
Ahhhh, fresh air at last!