There’s a lot of talk about the Detroit Lions this off season. I guess a remarkably terrible season and a complete organization overhaul will do that to a team. While we’ve heard so much about the supposedly great class of rookies and the improved linebacker unit, there are a few storylines that have remained mostly under the radar.
With training camp opening this week and preseason right around the corner, I give you my three under the radar storylines for the Detroit Lions 2009 season.
1. Rookie Head Coach Jim Schwartz
Many have been singing praises for Jim Schwartz since his appointment as the new Lion’s head coach, even though they haven’t played a single game.
Sure, his Tennessee Titan’s defense gave up just over 14 points per game, good for second best in the NFL in 2008. He’s also received accolades for his "no depth chart" policy. But as everyone who knows football is aware, great coordinators don’t always make great or even decent coaches.
Just ask Lions new defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham. After four successful seasons as Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator from 1995-1998, Cunningham was promoted to head coach following the resignation of Marty Schottenheimer.
Following two mediocre seasons at the helm, Cunningham was fired and hasn’t held a head coaching position since.
Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan had a similar fate. Following successful stretches as an offensive coordinator with the Minnesota Vikings and Miami Dolphins, Linehan was given the top job for the St. Louis Rams.
After an 11-25 record in just over two years (2006-2008) Linehan was fired.
Jim Schwartz marks the third time since 2000 the Lions have chosen a first-time head coach to lead the team. The first two, Marty Mornhinweg and Rod Marinelli, went a combined 15-65 in five years.
We know Jim Schwartz can run a defense, but whether or not he can translate that into success as the Lion’s head coach, will be something to watch carefully this season.
2. Image Building
Following the NFL’s first 0-16 season, the Lions will be looking to add a hint of credibility to their woebegone franchise.
Making trades and drafting well are only two of the ways to build a successful franchise. The third is free agency, and while the Lions have many goals this year, one of them must be to make it a more appealing place for potential free agents.
While money does talk for most NFL players, the Lion’s history and management have scared off high-quality free agents for years. A winning season is unlikely, but making earnest progress will entice better players to come and be a part of an upstart organization.
The time is now for the Lions to begin their turnaround. Matt Millen, the rightful scapegoat for many (not all) of the Lion’s problems over most of the last decade, is gone. If the Lions don’t show signs of progress this year, who will there be to blame it on?
A respectable coaching staff and the departure of Millen are a start, but it’s crucial for the Lions to show the league that there can be a successful football team in Detroit.
3. Daunte Circa 2004 or Daunte's Inferno?
While the spotlight is on first overall pick Matthew Stafford this summer, the Lion’s other quarterback will be just as, if not more important this year.
The great debate in Detroit is whether or not Matthew Stafford should start from Week One and all eyes will be on him this preseason to see if he is ready. Meanwhile, five years removed from his 4,700-yard, 39 touchdown season in 2004, Daunte Culpepper will be entering training camp in his best shape in years.
Stafford is getting all the face time, but what I think is more important in the short term, is whether or not Culpepper can hold on to the starting job and give Stafford time to develop his game further.
With the spotlight on Stafford this offseason, it will be interesting to see what Culpepper can do. If he can have a good season behind center for the Lions, it will be the best scenario for the Lions in the long run.
I'm looking forward to finding out whether Daunte can turn around or if he will completely flame out. Either way, it makes for good entertainment.