By now we've put the 2012 season in the rear-view mirror, so it's time to start thinking about the offseason and the upcoming 2013 NFL season.
Never too early, right?
The Detroit Lions have a lot of work to do.
The team took a precipitous tumble from 2011 to 2012 and face an offseason of questions. There are a ton of storylines worth following, but there are five things that I'll be watching more closely than anything else.
Here they are.
1. Can they stay out of trouble and out of jail?
Let's just get this pink elephant out of the room first.
Last season, the Lions were in the news far too often for far too many of the wrong reasons.
That has to stop.
Clearly, at the end of the day we can't say for sure how much the offseason shenanigans hurt the team, if at all.
However, it certainly took the focus off the football and onto the locker room, the chemistry and everything else.
Does it really matter? Arguable. Certainly, this team remains undisciplined on the field and anything like last winter's nonsense just makes them look the same off the field.
It's almost impossible for anyone in the Lions organization—or any organization—to control a bunch of adults with huge wads of cash. Preaching leadership is all well and good, but it ends at the locker room door. Some of the guys might reach out for advice, but once they're out the door, they're out the door.
This will be under a microscope, and one arrest is all it will take to make people forget the rest of these storylines.
2. Will the Lions change their draft evaluation process?
Add this as an addendum to question No. 1.
There is clearly something off about how the staff looks at their draft prospects. Certainly, they've seen red flags from guys like Titus Young and Ndamukong Suh and shrugged it off.
Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't.
If you miss often enough in the draft, your team will suffer.
We don't need to just focus on character, by the way. There were serious concerns about Jahvid Best's health when he came out of Cal, especially since he had just suffered a huge concussion.
It was a calculated risk that he wouldn't get another serious one—one big concussion does not automatically lead to another—and one that didn't pan out. Again, by itself not a huge deal, but a disappointing miss. Added to stuff like Young and a few other areas and it's an issue.
I'm curious to hear notes coming out of Detroit once the draft process really kicks off and see if things really might change at all.
3. Is Titus Young really coming back?
It's sort of unfathomable that after Young melted down toward the end of last year, that they would consider bringing him back.
The coaches were sick of him, the players were sick of him—how can he return again?
Jim Schwartz left the door open, though. I don't know if it was desperation because Ryan Broyles was hurt again and Nate Burleson is old, or the worry that they invested a high pick in him and don't want to bail. This is directly tied to the first two storylines, though, and I am curious to see where this goes, if anywhere.
I think it'd be a tremendous mistake to take him back, and that you could never control him since you showed him he was valuable enough to overlook his actions.
4. What are they going to do with Matt Stafford?
Stafford is a very, very good quarterback, we'll just get that out of the way.
But this season he looked off the entire time. Not only did his sidearm delivery get even more sidearmed, but he stopped planting his foot and driving the ball, he ditched the pocket way too soon and far too often, and just generally looked bad at times.
What went wrong? What can be done to fix it? Was this past year just a huge aberration?
Stafford hasn't been in the league that long, nor healthy consistently enough, to have a ton of history to pick through for an answer.
Wherever that answer is—and whatever—is likely the key to getting the team back on top.
5. How are they going to fix the secondary?
Chris Houston is a decent defensive back. Louis Delmas, when healthy, is a good safety.
This is a division which will throw on you, and the same can be said for much of the NFC in general.
The Lions need to fix the secondary. This year, instead of yet another wide receiver early, it would be wise to see if they can grab a top-shelf corner or safety prospect. I'll be at the Senior Bowl next week, and for the Lions, this is a need I will be looking closely at prospects to fill.
The Lions should be as well, and should be willing to go for the best player possible.
Other storylines worth noting:
We'll be talking about these angles a lot this offseason as well.
- How can they improve the offensive line?
- What do they need to do in the backfield?
- How necessary is a top-shelf running back for the Lions offense?
- Can Suh and Nick Fairley take it to the next level?
- Can Schwartz control this team on the field?
- Will Jahvid Best come back? Should he?
- Who will the team get to help Calvin Johnson?
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