In business, the traditional ways of measuring success are with the broad overall goals: sales, revenue, profit-and-loss. Are sales up or down? Are costs up or down? Is the profit margin higher this quarter compared to last? Compared to the same quarter last year? These are all different ways of asking the same question--the BIG question: whether the company is making money. That’s the bottom line, after all; success for a business is defined by making money, and the traditional metrics of success all focus on that.
However, a business is more complicated than that (and forgive, businessmen out there, if I’m serenading you with the business equivalent of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”). A simple evaluation based on whether the company is currently making money doesn’t provide any insight into whether the company is healthy and growing, whether that growth, if it exists, is sustainable, or if the company will still be profitable a year from now. For that deeper insight, businesses look at more difficult-to-quantify, but possibly more valuable, ‘Key Performance Indicators’. KPIs might be things like new customer retention, talent retention, customer willingness to recommend, etc. If the business has had a tough quarter, that might be the result of broader economic trends or factors—but if new customers are increasingly loving the product and telling all their friends, the core business might be in a great position for growth.
Tomorrow, the Lions open a three-day minicamp. This minicamp will be the first practice with pads, helmets, veterans, rookies, blocking, tackling, lifting, film, and everything else that comes with real, actual football. This will be the first time that the Lions’ staff will get a chance to really evaluate most of the positions—you can’t evaluate the O-line, tight ends, or anyone on the defense when full-speed blocking and tackling aren’t allowed. It will also be the first time that the rookies and veterans will practice and compete for jobs together—not rookies versus rookies, or vets versus vets, but the entire roster starting with a level playing field—in a drastic departure from the prior regime, there will be no depth chart until deep into training camp.
We won’t get to see this First Real Football in detail. There won’t be any TV broadcast we can TiVO and replay. There won’t be any live streaming play-by-play. There probably won’t be any live Tweeting, either (since the Twitter-savviest Detroit sports journalist, Greg Eno, has informed me he won’t be there). And of course, we won't have any of the typical measures of football success to go by--yards, points, wins, or losses. So, we’ll have to wade knee-deep into the stream of quotes, blurbs, blogs, and articles that will flow through our favored information channels in the nights and days following these practices, and hope to catch some fish of truth*.
I’ve identified a few KPIs that Lions observers should watch with interest:
- The WRs vs. the DBs: Calvin “Megatron” Johnson is awesome. He’s completely sweet. This is essentially the only known quantity on the Lions’ roster; we know that Megatron can and will match up against the very best the NFL has to offer—and will produce no matter how awful whoever’s throwing him the ball is. This will allow us to measure what might be this team’s greatest on-paper weakness: the cornerback position. Buchanon and Henry—and, if Henry slides back to safety . . . *gulp* . . . Eric King—lining up across from Megatron will give us a concrete idea of just how bad things will be for us at corner. Will he dominate? Most likely. But the difference between him dominating, and him being completely unstoppable, could also be the difference between shutting down a Bernard Berrien—or not.
- The interior OL vs. the interior DL: Cliff Avril, in a recent interview on Sirius NFL Radio, revealed that with DT Grady Jackson working out lightly at home, fourth-round rookie Sammie Hill has been running with the ones. Hill, a very raw athletic talent, will get invaluable reps against smart, tough veteran center Dominic Raiola, and . . . a couple of other guys. Raiola, of course, will be giving up somewhere between 20 and 40 pounds to the big youngster, but we’ll get a good sense of exactly how raw Hill is by how much of that size advantage Raiola will be able to neutralize with leverage, footwork, and technique. Also, we’ll get a sense of which of the many mountain-sized men the Lions have acquired this offseason will be playing on either side of Raiola. Young veterans Daniel Loper and Stephen Peterman are thought to have the inside track on the left and right guard spots, respectively--but Loper’s 6’-6” frame is probably better suited to tackle, and Peterman has been inconsistent at best throughout his career. The Lions’ leadership is thought to believe that with the shift from a pass-heavy zone blocking scheme to a traditional, run-first, drive blocking scheme, will emphasize Peterman’s strengths and conceal his weaknesses. Also, new OL coach George Yarno was Peterman’s OL coach at LSU, so he may be able to draw out the best in the former third-rounder. Seeing how these two—or others—fare versus the Lions’ iffy, depleted, and very young DT corps will go a long way toward revealing just how much all these OL acquisitions have bolstered the line.
- The voice of the defense: Lions fans everywhere jumped for joy when veteran MLB—and Detroit native, and U-M alum—Larry Foote forced his release from the Super-Bowl-winning Pittsburgh Steelers, and signed with the 0-16 Detroit Lions. It was presumed that he’d be the “thumper” in the middle of the defense that the Lions seemed to have failed to acquire, and was also presumed to be the new veteran leader of the defense. However, rookie S Louis Delmas took that role upon himself in the rookie-only minicamp, rallying his unitmates, and bantering constantly with QB Matt Stafford. It will be interesting to see how these two interact with each other, and the rest of the defense. Will their big-time personalities mesh—like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed in Baltimore, and like Foote and Troy Polamalu did in Pittsburgh? Or, will they clash? This weekend will be the first indication we’ll get which of the new prized cattle is wearing the bell.
- The impact of the linebackers: On a team rated a putrid, horrible, awful, wretched, nasty, rotten, worthless 65 overall in Madden 2010, the Lions still have the 5th-highest-rated linebacking corps. The veteran additions—Foote, and former Spartan Julian Peterson—will join Ernie Sims to form the most athletic and aggressive Lions linebacking corps since the late 80’s /early 90s groups that featured Chris Spielman, Mike Cofer, and others. Moreover, they’ll have the confining, one-gap, stay-at-home, short-zone leashes attached to them by the Tampa 2 defense taken off, and their jobs will be honed down to two things: running upfield, and killing people. Ernie Sims, I suspect, will have a dramatic renaissance in this scheme, living up to his impressive potential. Even though Peterson and Foote have limitations in coverage, their games are both beautifully suited to this new Guntherball scheme as well. Also, look out for Jordon Dizon; Cunningham seems to like him as well, and he should see a lot of time in the nickel packages. Since we know that tackles Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus—and new acquisitions like Jon Jansen and Ephraim Salaam—struggle against speed off the edge, hope for the outside linebackers to be very disruptive. They will not be allowed to actually punish the quarterbacks at this stage of the offseason, but if the news comes back that the linebackers are overwhelming the offensive line, then that is good news indeed.
*”Fish of Truth” is a good name for a band.