Resilience is the mark of any good team, and if the Detroit Lions are to rebound from a 4-12 record in 2012, they’ll have to show more than a little of it.
In 2011, the Lions broke free of mediocrity with a 10-6 record and a playoff berth—a welcomed change for a team that hadn’t sniffed the postseason since going 9-7 in 2000. What followed was proof that in the NFL, things can get out of hand all too quickly.
Detroit struggled to maintain any momentum last season, starting 4-4 before dropping each of its last eight contests. And just like that, memories of progress in the 2011 season were nothing more than ancient history.
But many of the Lions’ shortcomings last season weren’t a result of long-term issues. It may seem cliché, but any team can win on any given Sunday. Unfortunately for the Lions, they just weren’t that team on enough occasions to stay close in the NFC North.
Jim Schwartz, who many believed would carve out a long and successful career in Detroit following the team’s 2011 success, found himself on the hot seat following last season’s disappointments. Detroit may not have been open about replacing the 47-year-old, but his job certainly wasn’t guaranteed entering this offseason.
But despite a bevy of disciplinary issues, Schwartz has done a tremendous job in turning around a team that went winless in 2008. For a fanbase desperate for a winning team, Schwartz was reason enough to be hopeful.
Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson are pretty good additions to that list as well.
After battling shoulder issues throughout his formative years, Stafford pieced together a tremendous 2011 season and entered the 2012 campaign with lofty expectations. While he didn’t meet those expectations, the signal-caller isn’t wholly to blame for the team’s disappointment last year. Much of Detroit’s struggles can be traced back to a mediocre running game and sloppy play on both defense and special teams.
This offseason, general manager Martin Mayhew went to work on fixing some of those issues, starting with adding a missing piece to the running game and shoring up a pass rush that ranked 20th in the league with just 34 sacks.
Mayhew’s biggest offseason acquisition came in the form of a running back who can fill the void many believed Jahvid Best would have locked down prior to his concussion issues. In adding Reggie Bush on a four-year deal, the Lions now have an electric rusher who can create yards after the catch and give defenses a reason to put an extra safety in the box.
Detroit wasn’t without a pair of talented runners in Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell, but with Bush in the fold, its offense now boasts a complement of versatile backs capable of augmenting an already impressive passing attack.
And considering the team’s recent history of off-field issues in the offseason, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Mayhew and Schwartz teamed up to make the most of their opportunities. With a few strong selections at the top of the draft, the Lions added some tremendous talent with the potential to make an immediate impact in 2013.
With offensive tackles Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson already off the board by the fifth selection, Detroit opted for BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah—a coveted pass-rusher who, although extremely raw, has the potential to be an elite player in the NFL.
Ansah and free-agent addition Jason Jones fill the void left by Avril, but there was still a matter of shoring up a secondary all too often exploited in 2012.
While the Lions fielded the league’s No. 14 passing defense in 2012, they also afforded opposing passers an average rating of 91.7 (24th) and notched just 11 interceptions (tied for 23rd). With a 2013 schedule featuring Robert Griffin III, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco and Eli Manning (among others), there was no denying Detroit’s need for an infusion of young talent in its defensive backfield.
Detroit’s offseason didn’t end at the draft, though. In the following slideshow, we’ll take a closer look at some of the team’s offseason dealings and also break down a few positions to keep an eye on as the season draws near.