Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Lions Preseason Hyperbole…

OK, so I'm the biggest optimist about the Lions and their chances every year. I'm even optimistic in retrospective each year as I assess what I saw on the field – usually after another loss. For example, the last couple of years, while the Lions have struggled to 2-14, 3-13, and 5-11 seasons, I've seen a) the difference between winning and losing is as close as a single play / player, b) the Lions could be significantly better if they didn't get hit by so many injuries, and c) With only a little luck, the Lions could have had records of 10-6 each of those years. Now I know that that is extreme optimism, and I realize that the team was pretty bad. The talent they had was extremely low level, and upgrades have been sorely needed. But I think I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Let me explain…

In 2000, we were all fooled as they came within a Paul Edinger field goal of making the playoffs. What we failed to see was an old, slow team that was living on some incredibly lucky bounces. The Lions led the NFL in turnover margin that season, and it was the single biggest reason they were 9-7. They were no where near being a Super Bowl team, which is what all of us want.

Over the next two dreadful years, we saw what happens when a team is torn apart. It was very difficult to see progress, because so many players had to be replaced. Each year, going into the off-season, there was no real hope for even getting to be a .500 team the following year. There was some hope, as the drafts looked pretty good on paper, but the players were young, and there were far too many injuries to keep up with.

Last year, I started to see the method behind the madness. Again, there was a good draft, and a good free agent signing. As the season progressed, the injuries again crippled the team, but it became very apparent that there were only a few specific holes left that needed to be filled. At the end of last season, I made a list of what I thought needed to happen for the Lions to emerge this year as a top flight team. And they have not only hit every point on that list, they exceeded it.

I was calling for a few players heads at the end of last season. Bill Schroeder, Barrett Green, and Mikhael Ricks were my prime candidates for different reasons. I wanted to see new starters at CB, WLB, RG, LG, WR and TE for those reasons. If we were miracle workers, and we were able to land a fast RB, a young DE, and an upgrade at SS, the team would be SOLID.

Through free agency before the draft, we filled some of those holes spectacularly – LG Damien Woody, WR Tai Streets, and CB Fernando Bryant were all huge upgrades and fantastic signings. Later, we plucked TE Stephen Alexander and SS Brock Marion to further upgrade. Alexander makes me a bit nervous with his injury history, but he's an upgrade, and I still like Casey Fitzsimmons for long term.

In the minicamps, it was revealed that WLB Dirty Davis has bulked up and not lost any speed, making him a candidate to start at a LB spot. DE Kalimba Edwards was also finally recovered from the hernia surgery of last year, and looks potentially very good at the DE spot. So prior to the draft, we were nearly settled at every need position I had picked out, with only one OG spot to fill. We had even addressed some of the "nice to upgrade" positions. Not a bad offseason already heading into the draft.

Then in the draft, we truly hit the jackpot. Roy Williams was either the #1 or 2 WR in the draft depending on who you talked to. RB Kevin Jones was a candidate to be drafted in the #6 spot after the bowl games, and we were lucky to get him. Then we grabbed LB Teddy Lehman in the 2nd, and it was like hitting the lottery. Three elite starting type players in the draft is amazing.

So after all the dust has settled, we significantly upgraded the skill positions, had a huge upgrade at guard, had some pleasant surprises at LB and DE, upgraded SS and CB. The only position of note that hasn't been filled is RG. We signed Dave Loverne, but he may not be quite the answer. But as has been shown on several other web sites, there are plenty of capable guys still out there as free agents that could easily fill that hole.

So this leads to my optimism, albeit cautious. I can easily see this group winning 10+ games this year. The only obstacle in the way is the learning curve for KJ, RW, and CRog (effectively a rookie after only playing 5 games last year). The number of wins will be directly related to how fast the kids learn the offense. If it's slow, we might be in for a roller-coaster season with 8 wins. If they learn fast, the 4 horsemen (Harrington, Jones, Williams, Rogers) could win 10 or more and be terrorizing the league for years to come.

I hope they learn fast…

No comments: