“We’re free! We’re free!” shouted Rashied Davis, as twenty-six new and returning Lions veterans rushed onto the field, donning their helmets as thousands of Lions fans cheered them on. Released from the locker room by the ratified CBA, the new NFL League Year began with a roar. The Grandmaster suggested a horn:
“I’ve never been in the army or anything else, but when the cavalry comes, you feel good,” Schwartz said. “If we could have had a horn blowing, that would have been good, put somebody on horseback and bring them out. We needed it. It added so many to our lines, just stretching.”
For the first time yesterday, all of the 2011 Lions fit to play were out on the field in full pads, practicing without limitations, restrictions, or artifice. As I write this, Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith are signing the new 10-year collective bargaining agreement with pomp and circumstance normally reserved for Israel-Palestine peace treaties. Season tickets went out, including to a friend of mine (who supplied the above glamour shot). All is finally officially right with the Detroit Lions’ world.
Now, to work.
Martin Mayhew held a rare press conference at this morning’s practice. Clearly, the kid gloves have come off:
"I think we're at a point now where we expect to challenge for our division, and that's what most good teams expect to do," he said before Friday's practice. "We're at that point."
"We're here to win football games. We're here to be productive. There's no need to talk about it. It's time to stop talking about winning, and it's time to start winning."
Sorry, Martin, I’m going to keep talking about it. Let’s assess the shopping Mr. Mayhew did, starting from our original Old Mother Hubbard needs list:
An impact two-way defensive end to rotate soon, and develop for 2012.
An athletic, pass-rushing OLB to rotate soon, and develop for 2012.
[Bobby Carpenter/Doug Hogue]
A field-stretching #2 WR.
A power back to complement Jahvid Best.
A credible backup middle linebacker.
[Levy, Durant, Tulloch]
An athletic, pass-rushing OLB ready to start right away.
An athletic cover corner, ready to take over one side in 2012.
If Chris Houston leaves, a complete two-way corner, ready to start right away.
- A left tackle who can be groomed to replace Jeff Backus.
- A center who will be ready to rotate at guard soon, and compete at center for 2012.
I had to fudge the linebackers around a bit; DeAndre Levy, Stephen Tulloch, and Justin Durant will likely be your starting linebackers, all three have the ability to play inside or outside as needed. Bobby Carpenter can rotate right away, and Doug Hogue can develop for 2012 (while likely seeing some mopup duty this year, too). Assuming Titus Young will be “a field stretching #2 WR” is looking like a shaky assumption, considering he still hasn’t even practiced yet, and rookie wideouts rarely produce right away. The only other stretch here is classifying Eric Wright as “an athletic cover corner,” but he has the tools and immediately upgrades the position. Between Wright, Alphonso Smith, Nathan Vasher, and Aaron Berry, the #2-#5 corners should be much better this year than last, across the board.
I remind everyone that half of all top draft picks bust out, and a similar number of free agents fail to live up to their billing. Several of these line items are sure to uncross themselves as the year goes on. But for right now, the larder is well stocked; the Lions are ready for autumn—when the growing season ends, and football season begins.