From the coaching staff to the abundance of new players, the 2009 Detroit Lions will be completely revamped.
Lion coaches will bring a playbook full of new schemes and a fresh set of players will unveil the team’s new look. Specific plays will not be known until the regular season starts, though the Lions coaches have given a glimpse of what’s to come.
New Lions Head Coach Jim Schwartz was the Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator for the last eight years, during his coaching career he’s studied under great football minds like Bill Belichick and Jeff Fisher.
Schwartz is known as a smart coach that uses unorthodox methods known to football; he brings a different strategic and statistic approach to his game plan. Schwartz learned from current coaching legend Bill Belichick, who had some very flattering comments about Schwartz after his appointment as Lions head coach.
"He's smarter than I am," Belichick said. "He's one of the smartest people I've ever been around. He's one of those guys who can be working on 10 different things at the same time and if you gave him another one, it wouldn't faze him.
"He's a multitask guy who is very bright. He can be there at five in the morning and still be there at midnight, still full of energy."
Schwartz does seem like a bright guy, his first order of business proved this by selecting highly-qualified coordinators in Scott Linehan and Gunther Cunningham.
Linehan was the former head coach of the St. Louis Rams and his appointment as Lion’s offensive coordinator brings instant credibility to the team.
He is known as an offensive genius who gets the best out of his players like Daunte Culpepper a two-time Pro Bowler under his direction with Minnesota. Culpepper averaged over 4,000 yards and accumulated 82 passing touchdowns in his three previous years with Linehan.
Linehan adapts his system to fit around his players, until previous coordinator Mike Martz. He likes a run first offense that is capable of big strikes.
His big strikes will surely be coming from top NFL receiver Calvin Johnson, the pride of the Lion’s attack.
When Linehan was asked if the Lion’s would be known as a power rushing team, he responded with, “I would say that’s a good way of describing what we are all about in the run game, but we have different schemes though that can utilize the abilities of our players.”
Schwartz and Linehan have added several new players including new receivers Bryant Johnson, Ronald Curry, and rookie Derrick Williams. Newcomers Maurice Morris and rookie Aaron Brown add different options to the running backs.
The opposite side of the ball is no different with an intelligent, defensive mind as coordinator. Cunningham also has a previous relationship to Schwartz and son-in-law is not correct, Lions fans.
Cunningham coached under Schwartz during his time in Tennessee. Schwartz added another capable person to run the defense. Cunningham was a former head coach and the 2008 defensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs before arriving in Detroit.
Under his guidance, the Chiefs were one of the worst defensive teams in the league, though it’s not entirely his fault. He was obligated to run a Tampa-two defense forced upon him by then head coach Herm Edwards and the Chiefs had the youngest defense in the league.
Cunningham prefers veterans, but was duty-bound to build a defense around a profound number of younger players.
Cunningham is an aggressive play-caller who may blitz more than any 4-3 defensive coordinator in the NFC, when given the chance to implement his approach on defense. He’ll enthusiastically dispose of the Tampa-two defense from Detroit’s playbook and add bigger, stronger players in a more versatile scheme.
The Tampa-two defense emphasizes smaller, quicker players; which directing conflicts with the new schemes Schwartz and Cunningham look to put in place.
The defensive tackles brought in under Schwartz were Grady Jackson, generously weighted at 345lbs and Sammie Lee Hill a 330lbs raw talent added in the draft. Both Jackson and Hill are monsters compared to the 300lb and under club, utilized by former coach Marnelli and staff.
Look for Detroit to increase blitzing and man-to-man coverage with less zone coverage.
Cunningham plans on using Julian Peterson as a main rusher, even converting him to a down lineman in certain circumstances. He expects better play from linebacker Ernie Sims, letting him play with his eyes and hitting the ball faster, instead of “bluffing” directions in the former Tampa-two.
Another change for the 2009 Lions is explained by Cunningham, ”I have a scheme where there’s only three linemen and three linebackers, five DBs—we call it quarter and a lot of coaches don’t let you get it on the field.”
Three defensive backs Phillip Buchanon, Anthony Henry and Eric King will be the beneficiaries of the quarter package.
This defensive transformation will not likely bear full effect until 2010 or 2011, when Detroit can get the perfect fits at each position.
The 2009 Lions will need time to adapt to the new schemes and to get the right personnel in place. Detroit has added great minds that will ensure a more stable, winning mindset which will benefit the team in the upcoming seasons.