Can the Lions improve for 2009?
Look at it this way; if the Lions win just one game in 2009, it will be an improvement. The reality is that the team has hit rock bottom and there is literally no where to go but up.
So what can Lion fans realistically expect in 2009?
Despite a solid offseason, the Lions still look to be the weakest team in a division that is shaping up to be very competitive; another fourth place finish is almost certain.
That is not to say that the Lions will not be competitive. In fact, the Lions could win as many as eight games in 2009 if there is consistent play from the offensive line and the quarterback position. That hypothesis comes from the talent that the Lions have at the skill positions.
The biggest strength that the Lions have is at wide receiver, and the offseason acquisitions of Bryant Johnson and Ronald Curry gives the team better potency at that position.
Johnson and Curry are big and talented and should help relieve the pressure of double teams on Calvin Johnson, who is coming off a big year.
Even though Bryant Johnson and Ronald Curry have exceptional skills, they both were rather inconsistent with their former teams, however; the two talented receivers are still an upgrade over what the Lions had in 2008 and should provide an advantage over smaller cornerbacks.
The Lions should get decent production from the running back position in 2009 from Kevin Smith and Maurice Morris.
Smith is coming off a solid rookie year and should progress into a viable threat out of the backfield. Smith is also a good receiver coming out of the backfield, catching 39 balls last year.
Smith’s receiving abilities will translate into a safety valve for the quarterback in pressure situations.
Maurice Morris, a free agent from Seattle, is a very capable back up and should see significant action in 2009. Morris will be a good change of pace back and will be called upon to spell Smith.
The quarterback position at this point is still up in the air. Will the Lions roll with veteran Dante Culpepper or will they hand the reigns over to their No. 1 draft pick, Matthew Stafford?
Logic dictates that the Lions will start Culpepper over the rookie, but with a short leash.
Culpepper does give the Lions their best chance at winning games in 2009 because he has big time experience, but didn’t Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons prove that rookie quarterbacks can have an immediate impact?
Look for Culpepper to start on opening day, but if the Lions get off to another slow start, big-armed Stafford will definitely take over.
If the offensive line does not perform better then it did last year then it will not matter who is under center.
The offensive line is the foundation of any offense and it is the very reason why the Lions ranked a very disappointing 30th in total offense last year.
The Lions' offensive line was exceptionally bad at protecting the QB, allowing 52 sacks last year, second only to San Francisco, who allowed 55.
What is most perplexing is that the Lions did little to rectify their offensive line woes during the offseason and analysts were baffled when the Lions waited to take an offensive lineman until the seventh round of this year’s draft.
On top of that, very little was done through free agency, thus it can be concluded that the Lions offensive line will continue to struggle in 2009.
Defensively, the Lions are improved over last year, but the defensive line is a real question mark.
The Lions were the worst defensive team in the league last year and the stats tell the story as they were ranked dead last against the run.
The Lions signed DT Grady Jackson from Atlanta and his presence should provide decent run stoppage, but Jackson will be surrounded by young and unproven talent along the defensive line.
The Lions made some good moves in upgrading the linebacker corps, signing pro bowler Julian Peterson and former Steeler Larry Foote to join Ernie Sims. This trio of linebackers is the strength of the defense heading into 2009 and has real potential to be considered an “elite unit”.
The secondary was vulnerable against the pass last year and again could be in for a long season in 2009.
The Lions acquired Phillip Buchanon from Tampa via free agency and Anthony Henry in a trade with Dallas.
Both players were full time starters with their respective clubs last year but it remains to be seen how much of an impact either will have in 2009.
Lois Delmas, the Lions second round pick, will via for playing time and has potential to be an impact starter.
The Lions are better then last year and they will win more games in 2009, but the team still has glaring weaknesses, especially on the offensive and defensive fronts.
If the Stafford era begins sooner than later, the offense will be very inconsistent and Lions fans can expect another long season, simply due to the fact that it is extremely rare for rookie quarterbacks to find consistent success.
At absolute best, the Lions are a .500 club in 2009 but even that projection might be a bit of a stretch.
There is reason to be optimistic about the near future; there is some serious talent in the Motor City.
Rome was not built in a day and the same can be said about the Lions' progression into a contender.