If the Detroit Lions organization wants to take a step forward, it needs its youngest and most talented stars not to take a step back.
Easier said than done.
2009 was the year of the youth movement for Detroit as numerous draft picks either lived up to or far exceeded expectations. With a lauded 2010 Draft, the Lions look to be moving up from the cellar of the NFL.
But, looks can be deceiving.
The Detroit Lions' biggest fear isn't injury, lackluster effort, poor play, bad calls, or a tough schedule. The Lions' biggest fear is the dreadful disease nicknamed the sophomore slump, where a promising young player falls off the map thanks to a plateau of talent or opponents devising game plans against the young stars.
Matthew Stafford Doesn't Have to Worry about a Slump:
As it stands, Stafford can't really slump. He was bad in 2009, really bad. His lackluster numbers draw comparisons to poor rookie seasons of Aikman and Peyton Manning. In reality, it was more comparable to the horrible rookie year Jamarcus Russell.
Stafford was given tools in this past off-season he did not enjoy in 2009, nor in his time in Georgia. In college, Stafford had receivers, but not one the caliber of Calvin Johnson, and he never had a tight end able to stretch the field like Tony Scheffler.
What Stafford did have at Georgia was a running back like Jahvid Best. Knowshon Moreno had the speed and versatility of Best and will be used in much the same way in an offense Stafford is now comfortable with.
It isn't "now or never" for Stafford, but the excuses will be less numerous for the young quarterback.
Brandon Pettigrew More Concerned with Limp than Slump:
It is no secret that a large group of Lions fans wanted Michael Oher instead of Pettigrew with the second first round pick in 2009. A movie and a handful of book deals later, that opinion hasn't changed.
High profile drops and a season ending injury did nothing to endear Pettgrew to the fan base, but, again, popular consensus doesn't quite equal reality in that regard, as experts quickly pointed out that his numbers were beginning to mimic the rookie numbers of top tight ends like Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates.
If it weren't for those drops...
Pettigrew needs to spend this off season working on his chemistry and his concentration, but first he needs to get healthy. The Lions are not going to push his rehab with talented tight ends like Scheffler and Will Heller on the roster, and Pettigrew could see the PUP list for longer than fans expect.
Still, the longer he has to sit, and the slower he starts, the more the pressure will mount as fans continue to scream that "Pettibust" is another wasted Lions draft pick.
Writing on the Wall for a DeAndre Levy Slump:
Temper the enthusiasm when it comes to the Lions sophomore linebacker.
The Lions have been wrong with rookie linebackers before: Ernie Sims, Boss Bailey, and Teddy Lehman, just to name a few of the more recent.
Levy was good in ten starts for Detroit in 2009, but he was hardly perfect, and he wasn't being counted upon as the team's yearlong starting middle linebacker. The team took a leap of faith in letting Larry Foote walk.
Levy allowed 12 broken tackles last year according to Football Outsiders and was the fourth least efficient tackler in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus.
With very little linebacker depth, the Lions desperately need Levy to improve those poor tackling numbers and not decline in 2010.
The Rest of the Rookies Just As Important:
Will Louis Delmas go from rookie of the year oversight to proving those voters right in the long run? The Lions counted on Delmas last year and need him to be a leader in the future.
Will Zack Follett become more than just a heavy hitting special teams player or will he falter with added responsibility?
Will the rookie "disappointments" (Aaron Brown and Derrick Williams) prove they belong or miss the roster altogether?
If the Lions suffer even one sophomore slump, it will be a disastrous step in the wrong direction for a team who most people agree did so well in the off season. Multiple slumps will leave fans questioning the legitimacy of the rookie campaigns as well as the competency of the front office (nothing new there).
If the Lions' sophomores, along with the rookies and veterans, can stay healthy and put it all together, .500 isn't out of the realm of possibility. But a perfect effort from such a flawed team might be too much to hope for.
So hope for this: that for once, the young players on a Detroit Lions team improve and find themselves on the cusp of stardom rather than stagnate and on the roster bubble.
Michael Schottey operates Blue And Silver Pride and is a Detroit Lions featured columnist for Bleacher Report . He also serves as a team correspondent for DraftTek.com and is a guest blogger for Mlive's Highlight Reel . Check out his Podcasts and add him on Twitter .
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