Detroit Lions' 5 Biggest Question Marks Ahead of Training Camp
The Detroit Lions made a lot of smart moves this offseason that should set them up for success, but there are a few questions lingering around this team as it marches toward training camp.
And, for your pleasure, I've ranked them by importance to improving the win-loss record from 7-9, because everything is better in ranking form.
So click through to see what you should be worrying about as we impatiently wait for football to start.
5. Will Head Coach Jim Caldwell's Approach Give This Team Small-Level Focus?
The theme of the Lions' second-half collapse was turnovers. They became so ubiquitous that there was a feeling that anytime Detroit had possession and a lead, the Lions would give away the ball. And, more often than not, Matthew Stafford would overthrow a receiver, the ball would hit a defensive back in the chest and the surprised defender would scurry off for the game-changing score.
The saddest part? You're not even sure which game I'm referring to since it happened so often.
There are certainly technique fixes and better reads the Lions can use to lower the second-worst giveaway total (34) from last year, but the most important aspect is relatively simple.
Detroit lacked what I call small-level focus last year. The players had a general idea of what they needed to do but would all too often not finish the action with the type of concentration demanded in professional football.
Perhaps it was because the Jim Schwartz style didn't require it. That can't be the case for new head coach Jim Caldwell if this team is going to succeed.
4. Who Is the Starting Right Tackle?
Focus wasn't a problem, however, along the offensive line.
The big men tasked with protecting the franchise quarterback never lost sight of that goal, allowing just 23 sacks all season. Only Peyton Manning endured less punishment, so you would think the line would be a calming presence in a sea of transition.
And you would be wrong.
Corey Hilliard was beat out by Jason Fox for the starting right-tackle gig last training camp but soon took Fox's spot due to injuries. After the same reality knocked Hilliard out of the lineup, Waddle stepped in and asserted himself as the starter.
Waddle, of course, was an undrafted free agent who delightfully surprised fans and posted an impressive 7.9 PFF grade. Considering Hilliard only mustered a -1.5, it would appear that Waddle would have the leg up. Not so, according to ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein, as the two have been splitting reps with the first team.
That trend is likely to continue until late in the preseason. Each guy will get a shot to prove his mettle, and when it's time for fine-tuning, presumably the coaching staff will want to build some consistency along the line.
3. Can the Pass-Rushers Find the Quarterback?
While the offensive line was keeping the quarterback upright, its defensive counterpart was unfortunately following suit. Despite the star-studded lineup, the Lions managed a meager 33 sacks.
That's unacceptable for a defensive line with three recent first-round picks. And it's probably that line of thinking that convinced Caldwell and the front office to give defensive coordinator Teryl Austin a shot.
Austin favors an attacking, aggressive style that will immediately crank up the number of blitzes called. He will also move guys around and give the offense different looks so that they won't know who is coming from where, and who is sitting back in coverage.
The hope is that will help put the talent on the roster in a position to bring down the quarterback.
Ziggy Ansah and Kyle Van Noy should be the most immediate beneficiaries. Their blend of size and athleticism would give offensive coordinators nightmares on their own. Now that they'll be constantly moving around, they'll be much tougher to contain.
Considering how well this defense did a year ago in terms of yardage and points, this defense can take a huge step forward if they can kill a few more drives with sacks.
2. Can the Cornerbacks Hold Up?
If there is professional football in Detroit, there will be questions concerning the cornerbacks. It's unavoidable.
This year is no different. And, in an effort to give the entire fanbase a coronary, the Lions released their No. 1 cornerback last month.
Darius Slay has been the hot name in every report from Allen Park, giving hope that the second-year second-rounder can capitalize on his potential. The new physical defense will set him up to excel by letting him use his size to knock receivers off their route.
Rashean Mathis will presumably hold down the other side. The aging veteran was Detroit's best corner last season by a solid margin but will be 34 when the season kicks off. There's a reason Father Time is undefeated.
Bill Bentley will likely take care of the nickel duties with rookie Nevin Lawson and Cassius Vaughn duking it out for the fourth spot. Bentley gave a few glimpses of his potential last year, but consistency will be key.
There isn't a single cornerback on the roster who fans can point to and say with certainty that he'll be capable. The defensive scheme will hopefully reduce the reliance on the secondary by shortening the amount of coverage time, but there's nowhere to hide in the NFL.
1. Will Matthew Stafford Put It All Together?
This isn't a make-or-break season for Matthew Stafford. Even if he looks atrocious this year, he'll at least get another season based on his potential and past performance.
But it's not a throwaway season either. The roster is well stocked with talent on both sides of the ball. The front office brought in a new coaching staff because it wasn't content to simply contend for the playoffs.
I've broken down the selection of the quarterback-centric coaching staff, so I won't belabor the point here. The summary is all of the offensive coaches were hired with an eye toward how each coach could help Stafford realize his immense potential.
And the same is true with the rest of the offseason. The selection of tight end Eric Ebron and signing of Golden Tate gave him the receiving weapons the Lions sorely needed outside of Calvin Johnson.
The engine that drives this team is the quarterback. It's true for a lot of teams, but none more so than Detroit. When they were riding high and leading the division, it was because Stafford was limiting turnovers while putting up points. When they crashed and burned, it was because Stafford was imploding.
We've seen Stafford string together tremendous stretches of play. Now, just like Bill Bentley, he needs to do it consistently in order to lead this team back to the playoffs and beyond.
Brandon Alisoglu is a Detroit Lions featured columnist who has written about the Lions on multiple sites. He also co-hosts a Lions-centric podcast, Lions Central Radio. Yell at him on Twitter about how wrong he is @BrandonAlisoglu.
All stats, grades and positional rankings are courtesy of Pro Football Focus and require a subscription.
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