I vaguely remember something that Lions' head coach Jim Schwartz said, following the 2010 season. Schwartz alluded to his team's chemistry, and mentioned continuity as a key ingredient in the Lions' future success.
What an esoteric concept, delivered by the enigmatic, and ever-cerebral Schwartz. How has continuity impacted a Lions team assembled from spare parts, two decent drafts and some castoffs? Has continuity propelled the Lions into a team on the cusp of playoff contention?
Continuity begins at the top
Let's connect the dots. In the 2009 and 2010 seasons, the Lions churned almost 60 percent of their 53-man roster. That's huge, folks. Especially when you consider the fate of those no longer on the team. Very few are making a contribution elsewhere. I call it the "duh" squad.
The identity of the Lions is now that of a promising team on the rise. We can thank the acuity of GM Martin Mayhew, and the sagacious eye of the coaching and scouting staffs. Collectively, they have a real knack for finding players of good character who never seemed to fit in to their former team's plans. The "square peg" brigade.
Finding such players, while avoiding the pratfalls of big name, pricey talent, is an art. Martin Mayhew is now being mentioned in the same breath with K.C. Chiefs' GM, Scott Pioli, who has a Zen-like ability with regards to the acquisition of players who fit.
While change is a constant in the NFL, the days of wholesale roster moves by the Lions is largely a thing of the past. Only upgrades in talent need apply.
Continuity in coaching
There has been only one coaching change of note. The special teams coordinator, Stan Kwan, was replaced by the mercurial Danny Crossman. Crossman is a fiery, no-nonsense leader. He brought the sense of urgency and importance to special teams players who were lacking under Kwan's tenure.
Crossman "sold" the special teams players on the critical importance of their roles. The players responded. Moving forward, Crossman's players know what to expect. That's continuity.
The theme of continuity can be seen throughout the entire coaching staff. All have been retained. There will be no surprises for the players. No bickering. No upheaval.
Continuity is stability.
Continuity is about the players
The days of Lions players who merely show up for a paycheck is over. This point was made by my colleague, Brenda Summers.
Do not underestimate the power of this message. The benching of OLB Julian Peterson had quite an effect upon a depleted defensive back seven. Then, there was a rash of injuries to key starters on both sides of the ball. Who would step up? Who would provide continuity in the face of adversity?
The answer was, everyone.
Guys like Bobby Carpenter, Ashlee Palmer, John Wendling, Prince Miller, Randy Phillips, Amari Spievey, Lawrence Jackson, Drew Stanton and others rushed into action-filling gaps caused by benching and injury. They simply had to make plays.
And they made them, too.
They made enough plays to carry the Lions to a late, four-game winning streak. Now, I am not so naive as to believe that the winning streak will have a carryover effect in 2011, but those players must feel that they are legitimate contenders for a starting role next year—even if it might be with another team.
I do believe that the continuity achieved when role players and practice squad players stepped up and played beyond our expectations, will have a carry-over effect on the 2011 season. Some will call it a change in culture. Schwartz might call it continuity.
Individually, these players have added quality depth—even at positions where there are some glaring weaknesses. They will compete ferociously for starting jobs in 2011.
None would dare merely show up for a paycheck.
Collectively, the players, coaches, scouts and front office have changed the culture, along with the perceived identity, of the Detroit Lions. The Lions have quietly perpetuated this new identity through continuity. The continuity of effort throughout the organization very well might be what Schwartz was suggesting.
Mike Sudds is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Mike is also an analyst and correspondent for DraftTek.com