5 Detroit Lions Who Must Quickly Emerge as True Leaders
Last season, the Detroit Lions couldn't stay out of the headlines for their immature on-field antics. For a young team learning to win, growing pains like last year's are expected.
However, this offseason has been a nightmare plagued with DUIs, marijuana possession charges and a scuffle resulting in practice suspension.
The Lions have not only shown severe signs of immaturity, but have also made it a label of the team. There have been six arrests with Mikel Leshoure, Nick Fairley, Aaron Berry and Johnny Culbreath being the guilty parties. The Lions also had to deal with the on-field altercation between Titus Young and Louis Delmas which resulted in Young's banishment from the team's offseason workouts for about a week.
Matthew Stafford, Dominic Railoa and Kyle Vanden Bosch will resume their roles as team captains, but there are five other Lions who must assert themselves as leaders. These five can help spark a true turnaround with this team's character identity.
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Louis Delmas has been viewed as a leader of the Lions because of his high energy on the field. However, injury-plagued years at free safety have slowed down his production and growth as a player, which certainly negates his role as a leader.
Delmas' durability has been a concern his whole career. In 2010, Delmas played 15 games with a nagging groin injury at far less than 100 percent all season.
On Thanksgiving last year, Delmas suffered a knee injury against Green Bay. Delmas missed the last five regular season games, resulting in regression for the Lions' pass defense. Opposing offenses took advantage of Delmas' absence and shredded Detroit's secondary.
Delmas is an elite talent, but has yet to consistently show it. Missed tackles and poor pursuit angles to the ball carrier continue to be an issue in Delmas' game. The Lions' safety also hasn't recorded an interception since his rookie season.
The secondary—and maybe even the entire defense—goes as Delmas goes. As the anointed leader of the defense, Delmas must stay healthy, consistently produce in the defensive backfield and help lead this young Lions secondary.
After next season, Delmas will enter free agency. The coaching staff loves Delmas and his energy, but he must perform to his full potential to solidify himself as a leader of this team.
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Calvin Johnson has always been a soft-spoken player who lets his performance do the talking. With different circumstances in the Lions' locker room, Johnson might be forced to take on a different role.
With Titus Young going through early growing pains in the NFL, plus rookie Ryan Broyles looking to learn how to succeed at the pro level, there is no better example to learn from than —arguably—the best receiver in all of football. Nate Burleson has done a good job of mentoring the Lions' young receivers, and it's time for Megatron to help his teammates grow and learn.
Johnson expanded his game in essentially every aspect last season. Johnson became a better blocker, route runner and learned to play in the slot. The final step in Megatron's evolution is his role as a leader in the Lions' offense.
Martin Mayhew made it clear he wants Johnson around for the long haul after an eight-year $132-million extension. With the young weapons in the Lions' offense still maturing, Johnson will lead by example, as well as vocally.
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Ndamukong Suh says he wants to be a leader of the Lions' defense. Assuming a growth like this did occur for the Lions, Suh's improvement of play and actions on the field could spark the mental turnaround of the entire team.
Since his rookie year dominance and penalty-heavy sophomore season, Suh is arguably the most documented player on Detroit's roster. Suh's aggressive and nasty nature has rubbed off on this team since his rookie season. If any player can influence a culture change, it's Ndamukong Suh.
Nick Fairley has been under a microscope of self-inflicted scrutiny after marijuana possession charges and a DUI case. Fairley has made more noise off the field than on after missing significant time last year from a foot injury. Suh can take his first step into a leadership role by assisting Fairley on and off the field next season.
Suh makes an impact on the game even without getting to the quarterback. Suh continues to face double and triple teams from offensive linemen, creating one-on-one match ups for the Lions' defensive ends. This young Lions defensive team needs a leader to step up and take charge, and Suh is the prime player for that role.
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After an overhaul in the linebacking corps last season, Stephen Tulloch and the rest of the linebackers had to learn how to play with one another. Playing on a one-year contract last year, Tulloch also was putting his talent on full display in search of a long-term deal.
After inking a five-year deal with the Lions in March, it's time for Tulloch to stand out as a leader of this defense.
Since his days in Tennessee, Tulloch has been one of the more complete 4-3 middle linebackers in the NFL. Tulloch recorded 160 tackles in his final season as a Titan, and didn't skip a beat when he joined the Lions. Tulloch accounted for 111 tackles, three fumble recoveries, and two interceptions in his first season with Detroit.
As the the quarterback of the defense, a leadership role is basically inherited by middle linebackers. Jim Schwartz and Tulloch already have a great relationship from Tennessee, making his transition to Detroit that much easier.
On a defense with plenty of injury issues, Tulloch has been an iron man his whole career, never missing a single game. With Tulloch growing into a leadership role, it's vital for him to continue his healthy streak. Expect an increase in production and a more vocal Tulloch next season in Detroit.
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Jim Schwartz earned his contract extension this offseason after taking on the impossible. Schwartz has transformed this franchise from an 0-16 mockery to a playoff-bound team. It's been a rough road to success for Schwartz, and it's only getting tougher.
With the Lions' off-field issues becoming a problem, it's time for Schwartz and the Detroit coaching staff to get the players in check. Young building blocks like Mikel Leshoure, Nick Fairley and Aaron Berry are a big part of the Lions' rebuilding process. If these players are continuously getting in trouble, Schwartz must assert his authority as coach to keep his players in line.
The Lions also accounted for 119 penalties last season, showing major signs of immaturity. Most noted was their Week 13 loss against New Orleans where penalties cost them a victory. Brandon Pettigrew, Stefan Logan and Titus Young were all flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct at crucial moments during the game.
Schwartz hasn't set a great example himself after the infamous handshake fiasco with Jim Harbaugh. Some even viewed Schwartz's episode with Dez Bryant as sophomoric. His actions and attitude may come as a reflection of his team. Schwartz is the perfect man for the Lions, and one of the premiere coaches in the NFL, but he must rid himself of the label of a "jerk" and channel his energy in the right direction.