For the Detroit Lions, the 2008-09 season was historical, but for all the wrong reasons. They became the first team to go 0-16, and did not look good in doing so. The offense couldn't move the ball, the defense couldn't create turnovers or wrap-up tackles. This season, however, is a season for change.
With lots of new faces from the coaching staff and players, and we can't forget about those new uniforms. This is a new season, and the 0-16 season is behind us. With a season of change ahead of us, I have 10 predictions or things to watch for this upcoming season.
One of the biggest changes of the upcoming season, is the new coaching staff, headlined by the arrival of new head coach, Jim Schwartz. Schwartz added some well known coaches to his staff, such as Scott Linehan and Gunther Cunningham.
Linehan was the offensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings when Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss were a dynamic duo in their prime. Most recently, however, he is known for his time in St. Louis, where he was the head coach of the Rams.
His time in St. Louis wasn't so successful, but none the less, he is still a great offensive mind, and will improve the Detroit offense. Look for Calvin Johnson to have his best season yet, regardless of who the quarterback is, the Lions will be a dual threat on the ground and through the air this season.
With the addition of Gunther Cunningham as the defensive coordinator, the Lions defense is sure to be more aggressive in 2009-10. Already this preseason, the defense has proved they will blitz and create a pass rush, which was something they could not do last season. Look for better tackling for the upcoming season as well. Too many missed tackles last season, created offensive opportunities for their opponent.
Lack of a pass rush also resulted in lack of turnovers. Cunningham also proved that he has no tolerance for poor tackling and lack of effort. He is the kind of coach this defense needs, in a sense that he will light a fire under his players.
He is not scared to call a player out when they make a mistake, but he is also right there to acknowledge them when they earn it. Look for a much more improved, and aggressive defense from the Detroit Lions this season.
We can't forget about Matthew Stafford, the first overall pick in this year's draft. It is still up in the air on who will start on opening day, however, I will say by week six, Stafford will be the full time starter.
Stafford has made some mistakes this preseason, but they were "rookie mistakes," like holding on the ball too long, or staring down receivers. He has proved though, that he can shake off a bad interception against Atlanta, and come right back down on his next possession, and lead the Lions down the field, and fire the ball in there for a touchdown. He is confident, not over-confident though, and he loves the game.
He has a true passion he carries with him week in and week out, and his desire to win and be successful makes him have a tremendous work ethic. By week six Matthew Stafford will be the starting quarterback for the Detroit Lions, and the face of the franchise.
Calvin Johnson has been one of the best receivers in the game since entering the league. However, he hasn't had that "breakout" year quite yet. This season, under Linehan's offense, he will emerge as the top receiver in the game, and make his first Pro Bowl. He is a deep threat each and every play, and is always in the back of the mind of his opponent.
When Johnson is in the game, the passing offense doesn't only improve, but so does the running game. He is too good to leave alone, he requires so much attention, that he opens up holes for the ground game. He has great size and speed, which makes him almost impossible to over throw, and had more touchdowns than any other receiver last season.
Calvin Johnson will have his breakout year, and become the best receiver in the league, no question.
Look for a more powerful, and more successful running game this season due to the improvement of the offensive line. On of the biggest weaknesses last season, was the run blocking, and pass protection. It all starts up front with the o-line, and this season, they are much improved.
The addition of Jon Jansen alone is a big improvement. It was a signing that went unnoticed, but Jansen has been one of the best in the business since entering the league. Coming from the University of Michigan, many local Lions fans were excited to see the addition of Jansen.
Also look for Gosder Cherilus to have a breakout season. He had a solid preseason, and really showed signs of promise last season. He has a mean streak in him when he is on the field, and needs to be careful at times. He has been known to commit some penalties, but if he can cut down on his mental mistakes, he has the ability to anchor that line.
Two of the biggest off-season moves, involved the linebacker position. The additions of Larry Foote, and Julius Peterson were huge for this defense. Peterson has been a solid Pro Bowl linebacker since entering the league after playing his college ball at Michigan State.
Foote, also a local product, from the University of Michigan, has been a solid starting linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers the past several seasons. Both have veteran leadership to guide this young linebacking core, and will be a vital part of the success in the Detroit Lions defense. Look for a fast and improved linebacking unit, due to the addition of Foote and Peterson.
Last season, the Detroit Lions secondary was among the worst in the NFL. They could not create turnovers, and they could not cover their man well. Last season, every quarterback had success moving the ball on the Detroit defense. I do see an improvement this season, but not a big one. The trade involving Jon Kitna to acquire Anthony Henry was a good trade, however.
I do not believe Henry is a dominant corner, but he is an improvement. With the pass rush created by the blitz, I believe the Lions secondary will have more success this season, but will still have room for improvement next year.
One of my favorite draft picks this year, was the addition of Louis Delmas. He's a hard hitting safety out of Western Michigan, and he brings toughness to the Detroit secondary. He's physical, fast, and does not shy away from contact.
He fits perfectly with Gunther Cunningham's aggressive defense, and look for him to have a very productive rookie season, and could possibly be defensive rookie of the year. I know it seems like a stretch, but he will get a lot of playing time, and he has the raw talent to lead the secondary, and jump in and have instant success.
Remember when the Dallas Cowboys went and traded Herschel Walker to Minnesota and in return got all of those draft picks? Dallas went on to build a championship team with those picks, getting Emmit Smith to go along with Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin.
This past season, the Lions made a similar move, trading Roy Williams for draft picks, freeing up cash, and adding a first round pick. With that extra first round pick, the Lions added Brandon Pettigrew, tight end from Oklahoma State.
Many people were shocked Pettigrew was still there at pick 20, and was just too good for the Lions to pass up. This draft is a draft that could build a championship team, with the addition of Stafford, and Pettigrew, the offense should be rolling for years to come.
Now for the big prediction. Even though the Lions appear to be much improved, we still have to be realistic. This is a rebuilding team, and with that being said, there will not be any playoffs this year. However, they will not go winless again.
I predict a 6-10 season. This is a weak division where anything can happen, but I believe a six win season will be a realistic expectation for the 2009-10 Detroit Lions. Not great, but it's a big improvement from a year ago, and a starting foundation for a solid football team.