The Detroit Lions: Two Steps Forward and More

Ron TefftContributor IJanuary 4, 2010

DETROIT - JANUARY 03:  Head coach Jim Schwartz of the Detroit Lions points out something from the sideline while playing the Chicago Bears on January 3, 2010 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. Chicago won the game 23-37.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Two By Two

Two wins could be two steps that were not taken by the Detroit Lions last year.

Gunther Cunningham and Scott Linnehan, two coordinators that made strides with young underdeveloped players.

Matthew Stafford and Louis Delmas two young high quality starters. Two players making a difference in the talent and performance level of their respective squads.

Two wins do not seem significant unless compared to zero wins. But in the Detroit Lions case comparison to the futility of a year ago is the measuring stick in place. Jim Schwartz is not happy with two wins. The Lion players are not happy with two wins. The Lion's fans are not happy with two wins.

There are more players that Jim Schwartz and the coaching staff are happy with than there were when they were hired. The Lion players feel better about the increased number of skilled players that are on their team now. The Lion's fans should feel that the quality of coaches and players compared to last year are signs of improvement.

Change of Approach

Martin Mayhew is the only M & M in the Detroit Lions franchise that has done anything successfully. He managed to select a coach that created an atmosphere where players had to perform to play. What a concept, that is what they are paid to do. Together they selected a coaching staff that shared the same philosophy.

Mayhew and the coaching staff then went through the roster with a fine toothed comb and removed those whose talent or attitude did not fit. They did not just dismiss them as former GM's had done but used some of them to improve the roster by addition with subtraction by trade for players and draft picks.

Building a foundation

Mayhew, his management, and coaching staff then sought players who had experienced winning in the NFL. Larry Foote, Julian Peterson, and Grady Jackson to name a few. Not all of these players performed as expected, but a number helped change the work ethic on the team. Together they drafted five rookies who started and others who earned significant playing time due to their hard work and ability. The Lions have not had that many players make significant contributions in the last four drafts combined.

The Future

With the condition of the team when Mayhew and Schwartz took it over, it is hard to gauge how many steps forward the team has taken this year. Long suffering fans would question if any had been made. Consider these observations when looking to the future.

How many coaches in Detroit have been willing to bench players based on poor performance.  When has management sent the message to the players that they would continue to seek better players, replacement players if they did not perform.

Can the Lions be as effective or more effective in improving the talent level on their team as they were last year. Some say they cannot expect that good of draft again. Why not? In regards to finding free agent talent, they had some success last year but they definitely can do better than they did last year.

Finally, it is important to realize that there was a huge turnover with new staff and player personnel. Team chemistry takes time. A rookie quarterback learning the speed of a new level and trying through multiple injuries to himself and his teammates extends that time. How many steps taken forward will be determined by what the management, coaches, and players do between now and training camp.

With that in mind the improvement from this season is ongoing and maybe in its most important phase.