Detroit Lions: 10 Things We've Learned This Offseason
There are 10 things that became obvious to all regarding the Detroit Lions so far this offseason.
Offseason, as defined by the Oxford dictionary, is “a time of year when a particular activity, typically a sport, is not engaged in.”
That definition is as dated as Chris Berman’s catch phrases and wardrobe selections. Chris, do everybody a favor and lose the button-down collars and loud ties—spice up the closet, my man.
The marketing genius known as the NFL has re-defined offseason and has transformed it from a period of insignificance to a vital component of the 12-month football life cycle.
From the Super Bowl Champion being crowned to free agency and the draft, organized team activities (OTAs), training camp, preseason games and finally the regular season kickoff leading us back to the Super Bowl, there is no end to the NFL spectacle.
Our country’s infatuation with the NFL has spawned satellite radio and cable channels that discuss the league 24 hours a day, along with websites dedicated to the sport with limitless information that can keep even the most ardent football junkie occupied for days.
The Lions are merely a cog in the NFL wheel that continues to roll over any other sport that stands in its way.
Accordingly, here are the 10 biggest epiphanies from the Detroit Lions offseason thus far…
2011 Draft Class Has Issues
Dave Reginek/Getty Images
The class of 2011 had red flags coming out of college and all have had an offseason to forget.
Nick Fairley, Johnny Culbreath and Mikel Leshoure were all busted for marijuana related incidents. Culbreath does not concern me as much, but first- and second-round picks getting pinched makes you wonder where the priorities are.
Fans must realize illegal substances are now commonplace and part of the NFL landscape, but if you’re still appalled by the rampant use of drugs by professional athletes, Marsha Brady thinks you’re “groovy.”
If you’re going to use, be smart about it. Get some lackey to get your dubage and stay at home to get your fix. At least Leshoure had somebody else driving, but slamming the potpourri/grass blend does not qualify him for valedictorian either.
Titus Young has different issues, and they stem from his ego.
This article by Michael Sudds sheds some light on the issues that continue to dog the talented WR.
Kellen Moore said as much during mini-camp. When asked multiple times about playing again with Titus Young, the coach's son who is well-versed in coach-speak said, "He's a funny, funny guy."
Read the tea leaves there and tell me what he really thinks of Young.
Nate Burleson said conflict is ever-present in a professional locker room. Maybe so, but punching teammates in the weight room is different than a spat on the field.
The absence of Young at this week’s OTAs is not just random chance; there is a message being sent by the coaching staff that those outside of the inner circle will probably never be privy to.
Let’s hope the punishments for the Class of 2011 going forward are limited to infractions on the field.
Check Yo Self Before You Wreck Yo Self
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
OK, so it’s not as dire as Ice Cube educated the youth of the nineties, but far too many people were unduly quick to come down on the draft weekend selection of Martin Mayhew.
Looking at many of the grades immediately following the draft, you would have thought the Lions brass had used a dartboard for their second- and fifth-round picks.
With disregard for any of these young players never even stepping foot onto the practice field in Allen Park, the selections of Ryan Broyles and Tahir Whitehead were given failing grades.
Fittingly, both these players have turned heads so far in their early NFL careers.
Broyles sat out of rookie mini-camp, but surprisingly was a participant in OTAs this week, working in individual drills including a four-cone change of direction drill, which shows the rehab is progressing nicely.
Jim Schwartz has not put a timetable on when Broyles should be at full speed, but he has carried himself as a professional working with Stafford and Linehan and shows a humble maturity that seems to be lacking in his direct competition, Titus Young.
Young has been described as a diva for years, but it was always brushed under the rug amongst fans. Perhaps inside the team meeting rooms, the problem is worse than many know.
Whitehead has been on the field and has impressed coaches with his explosiveness and by picking up the defensive scheme quickly. Linebackers coach Matt Burke called him “one of the smartest rookies he’s ever been around.”
Let’s let these kids prove they were unworthy picks before being categorized as such without an NFL snap under their belts.
Schwartz Is Not a Big Talker
Leon Halip/Getty Images
If you’re looking for somebody to give you a little look behind the Honolulu Blue curtain, Jim Schwartz is probably not your guy.
He continues to minimize the information released to the public regarding his football team in a fashion very similar to his former boss, Bill Belichick.
He has steered clear of discussions regarding his players’ relations with Mary Jane, the Titus Young vs. Louis Delmas incident and any other nugget that could cast an unwanted shadow on the team.
Hell, he won’t even talk about his own pending contract that is set to expire after this upcoming season.
I, for one, have no problem with his tactics.
If he wants to keep everything in house, fine by me. Why are we privy to everything that goes on behind closed doors?
Just because you want something, doesn’t necessarily mean you get it. That’s parenting 101.
In Jim Schwartz’s world, loose lips sink ships and this offseason made it more obvious.
"9" Is a Safe Role Model for Kids
Leon Halip/Getty Images
Charles Barkley famously stated that athletes are not role models, but that doesn’t mean they have to be mutually exclusive.
Matthew Stafford has all the traits you could ask for in a starting quarterback. Big arm, smart, tough and a touch of swagger. All Super Bowl quarterbacks are great leaders and most are elite talents—Stafford is both.
But beyond the field, Stafford has shown he is a guy you can safely let your kids admire.
Recently, at a charity event for UofM Mott Children’s Hospital, Stafford bid $15K to win a Monday Night Football package for the Lions v. Bears game at Soldier Field—an auction item he had originally donated.
After sitting with patient Faith Falzone and her brother Will, the Lions captain was moved by their story and won the trip to Chicago for his new found friends.
A small monetary gesture to somebody like Stafford, but to those kids, it meant the world, and their reactions said it all.
"As he won the package he turned to Will and said, there you go buddy, you go to Chicago, and take your family," Bell wrote. "The look on my son's face, I will never forget. His chin began to quiver, he was about to cry. He quickly jumped up and gave Matt a hug, and thanked him over and over again." (NFL.com)
That's the kind of stuff that makes me root for a guy like Stafford.
But it’s not a one-time thing with him; he’s just a down-to-earth guy who has ingratiated himself into the Motor City effortlessly in just a few short years.
Having more than enough scratch to escape to a compound on several acres, Stafford chooses to reside in a modest condo and forsake the amenities he can easily afford, while strolling downtown Royal Oak with an Old English “D” lid just like any other twenty-something in Metro Detroit.
You can safely purchase a No. 9 jersey for your child, knowing full well he will not disappoint you as a player, but more importantly, as a man.
Megatron Is a Team Player
Leon Halip/Getty Images
Another superstar’s jersey you can confidently slip over your child’s head without worry is “81.”
I had asked the question prior to Calvin Johnson signing the largest wide receiver contract in NFL history and C.J. has shown everybody he is a team player.
Calvin could have easily told the Lions to pay him his $20-plus million for this season and test the free-agent market next year or force the Lions to pay even more by franchising him..
Isn’t that what all professional athletes want? To be able to pick where they live and who they play for? Nobody should have faulted Calvin if he decided to not forgo the luxury he has earned with his five years of service to Mr. Ford and his franchise.
But we all know Calvin passed on nearly $80 million over three years and signed a 7-year, $132 million deal.
But there was no glitzy TV special about where Megatron was going to "take his talents." You did not see him demanding selfish rewards as he sat on the cusp of a financial windfall few could ever hope for.
He wasn’t doing sit ups in his driveway like Terrell Owens and he didn't change his last name to Ocho Uno like the former Chad Johnson.
Rather, Calvin quietly negotiated a cap-friendly contract extension from home in Atlanta alongside his ever present mother, and when the deal was done, he jumped a plane and sheepishly received his congratulations while answering questions from the media with "we" instead of "me."
It's amazing the difference in perspective and character one simple letter can make, but coming from the man known affectionately as Megatron, the distinction was made obvious.
Calvin Johnson showed everyone who cares about this franchise that he is a team player.
Mikel Leshoure Will Be the X-Factor
Leon Halip/Getty Images
After producing a top-five offensive campaign in 2011, the Lions have brought back all the starters from last season, but the X-factor for the 2012 season will be Mikel Leshoure.
Everybody is waiting with baited breath to see how the second-year pro, without a profession tote of the rock, will recover from his Achilles injury suffered during last year’s training camp.
If he’s fully recovered, he’ll most likely be the bell cow for Detroit, having the size to be effective between the tackles and enough speed to get outside. If not, it will be another committee backfield.
But the wait may be longer than expected as Leshoure was busted for hippie lettuce not once, but twice this offseason.
Roger Goodell could drop the hammer on Leshoure and give him a four-game suspension or simply slap the roach clip out of his hand and waggle his finger, offering a reprieve to the organization.
With the injury history of Jahvid Best and Kevin Smith, a healthy Leshoure could be the biggest addition this team makes in the offseason. It remains to be seen how many games Leshoure will be allowed to play.
Stephen Tulloch Is Part of Long-Term Plan
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Back in March, Stephen Tulloch was talking like a man on his way out the door.
Speaking with SiriusXM radio, Tulloch made the following statement:
I let my agent really handle that stuff, but obviously, the Lions do want me back, and I would love to come back, but at this point in my career, things have to be right.
My family and my situation going on, I just want to continue to play football and get what I deserve, and that’s what it boils down to. And hopefully, things can work out there. If not, I know another team will step in there and do what’s right and move forward to win some ballgames.
The Lions were preparing for the worst and courting middle linebacker David Hawthorne. They actually had him on a plane heading to Detroit when the deal with Tulloch was finally struck.
No different than a young couple looking to spice things up at the club with a wandering eye and/or hand, both the Lions and Tulloch realized they were both better off staying together and ultimately the two sides agreed to a five-year deal worth $25.5 million.
Jim Schwartz’s emotional comments at the press conference revealed how valued Tulloch is to the head coach, and having stability in the middle of the defense was extremely high on the Lions’ wish list.
If the Lions continue to win, a big part of their success will be Stephen Tulloch.
Football Is Still a Business
Leon Halip/Getty Images
You knew this time was coming and with the first winning season in several years, the time had come to jump the ticket prices.
The Lions had done a nice job in minimizing the revolution by not increasing ticket costs for the last five years, and they actually cut prices three times in that span.
In relation to the rest of the league, Lion ticket prices have been a bargain. In 2011, the average season ticket price was $66.71, which was 28th lowest in the league. Tickets in 2012 will jump to $72.04, a modest eight percent increase.
At the end of the day, the Detroit Lions are a business and just like most things, you get what you pay for.
If Detroit keeps winning, there will be little backlash from the fans over a couple extra bucks.
Lions Getting National Love
It wasn’t too long ago the Lions were an afterthought nationally. Terry Bradshaw, Marshall Faulk or any other talking head would mention the team from Detroit with a head shake or a snicker and move on to more important topics.
But not now—those days are behind the franchise.
This offseason, the NFL awarded the Lions five nationally televised games, the most allowed by the league. Additionally, the national media recognized the 2011 performances of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson as AP Comeback Player of the Year and NFL.com Fantasy Player of the Year, respectively.
Beyond that, Megatron was voted the Madden13 coverboy and will also be featured in the intro for Sunday Night Football on NBC.
Not bad for a team that was rumored to have the Thanksgiving Day game pulled from them just a couple years prior because the nation had no interest in watching a game at Ford Field.
People love a winner and it became obvious this offseason as the NFL has thrust their Detroit brand into the national spotlight.
Aaron Berry Is a Starter
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
This one I did not see coming.
After an awful performance against the Saints in the playoffs and Jim Schwartz identifying the need to make plays and create turnovers instead of knocking down passes, I thought for sure Berry’s days were numbered.
Apparently the defensive secondary is more like Office Space, and it wasn’t that Berry couldn’t catch the ball, it was that he was not challenged enough.
Aaron Berry has just received a promotion.
Tim Twentyman put the icing on the cake for me as he tweeted this beauty.
Tim Twentyman @ttwentyman
Cunningham on Berry: "This guy can play. He's one of the finest cover guys I've seen in a long time."
What!?!? There are two ways I can go with this.
One, Eric Wright is headed to the Hall of Fame because he kept Berry out of the starting lineup. Two, Chris Houston is way overrated or will soon be part of the best tandem of cornerbacks in the league.
Yes, Gunther is giving everybody some feel good coach speak, but that’s a bit much.
Berry is heading into his third year and although he wilted in the playoffs, he has shown flashes that he could project to a quality starting cornerback—but I'll need to see it on Sundays before I believe it.
Enjoy the holiday weekend, and Hawaiian Shirt Friday!