Martin Mayhew (left), Jim Schwartz (center), and team president, Tom Lewand, (right) have a lot to smile about this season.
It's been years since the Detroit Lions have accomplished anything relevant and as a result they've persisted as the NFL's longest running joke. Sure they had Barry Sanders for awhile but that journey was short lived and the Lions soon regress back to a laughable state. Matt Millen compounded the issue with a public love affair with wide receivers but that was then and this is now.
Since Martin Mayhew has taken over as general manager the team has been on an steady upward swing. His first move of trading Roy Williams to the Cowboys for their 1st, 3rd and 6th round choices reflects the type of business savy moves he's capable of making. Mayhew has stockpiled talent at every possible position, and has adopted a draft philosophy based on best available player, rather than for need.
Despite better management and the Lions rising stock of talent, they've struggled with injuries, especially with their franchise quarterback Matt Stafford. Stafford suffered several shoulder injuries during the past few seasons, and has yet to play a full season in the NFL. Additionally, the Lions starting running back, Jahvid Best, struggled in his inaugural season due to turf toe.
So what did Mayhew do? He drafted a bruser in Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure to off set some of the injury concerns with Best. But in an unfortunate turn of events, Leshoure tore his hamstring during training camp and has been placed on the season ending injured reserve. Though frustrating, Mayhew didn't hesitate and brought in Jerome Harrison and shored up the Lions running game despite the injury bug.
Additionally, Mayhew drafted first round pick Nick Fairley who should team up with Ndamukong Suh to form one of the youngest and meanest interior defensive lines in the league. Then there is Titus Young, the burning fast second round wideout from Boise St. He doesn't have great size, but he's been compared to DeSean Jackson in terms of game breaking ability. It will take him time to adjust to NFL game speed, but once he does he could provide a dangerous threat opposite Megatron.
Once the lockout ended and the free agent floodgates opened, many fans hoped the Lions would chase the elite corners in Jonathan Joseph and Nnamdi Asomugha but ultimately neither chose Detriot as their new home. Instead Mayhew picked up Eric Wright, a solid corner on a one-year deal, while also resigning Chris Houston which fosters a respectable tandem of corners for the coming season.
As for the linebackers, after Julian Peterson failed as a reclamation project, the Lions brought in Stephen Tulloch from the Titans, and after finishing with 159 tackles last year, he should be able to slot into the middle linebacking spot for the Lions without missing a beat. Justin Durant was also signed, and he will play an outside backer role in the 4-3 scheme. He had 98 tackles with the Jaguars in 2009, and should be able to provide some veteran leadership to a young defense.
So where do all of these moving parts leave the Lions this season? Well the Lions won their final four games of the 2010 season, and went unbeaten this pre-season, so the pieces seem to be gelling fairly well for Mayhew and company. Stafford staying healthy is the biggest concern for the Lions, but if he does, it just might be a playoff season in Detroit.
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