After a tumultuous tumble in the standings, a reconstructed Detroit Lions squad hopes to make last year’s nightmare a distant past. This top ten list focuses on new blood needed to spark a renewed Detroit pride. These guys will either make or break the 2014-2015 season:
1. Teryl Austin, Defensive Coordinator
The former Defensive Backs Coach for the Baltimore Ravens has a plethora of young corners he must develop. If he can turn the secondary into an above average unit, there is no telling how good the Lions could be. By far this is their greatest weakness, and with the news of Chris Houston’s release to boot, Austin must be a miracle-worker to keep Aaron Rodgers under 400 passing yards.
2. James Ihedigbo, Safety
For better or likely worse, the Lions have elected to rely on Ihedigbo to be the full-time starter this season. Austin’s familiarity with Ihedigbo from Baltimore led to the front office forgoing to use a draft pick on a safety. Ihedigbo makes it to the number two spot not because of his talent, but because the Lions put so much faith in him at arguably the most valued position on defense.
3. Jim Caldwell, Head Coach
Other than wins, Caldwell will be measured by the success of Matthew Stafford and the overall discipline of his team. The previous quarterback he worked with, Joe Flacco, won a Super Bowl, and we all know his history with Peyton Manning. Caldwell is calm and cool in demeanor and will look to translate a soft confidence in his players. It may seem foolish to have the head coach at number three instead of one, but Caldwell will have little effect on the defense.
4. Joe Lombardi, Offensive Coordinator
So long to the days of Scott Linehan’s all-or-nothing playbook. Former Saints quarterbacks coach Lombardi brings in a highly complex system that, if executed correctly, can finally turn the Lions offense from inconsistent to devastatingly unpredictable.
Remember when the Lions were crushed by the Saints’ offense? Wouldn’t it be nice if that was the Lions?
5. Golden Tate, Wide Receiver
Unlike Nate Burleson, Tate has a clean bill of health and youth to bite. A clear improvement as the team’s number two wide receiver, Tate has nice speed mixed with excellent hands.
6. Eric Ebron, Tight End
If his blocking technique improves drastically by midseason, his impact will rise as the unquestioned starting tight end for the Lions. Currently, his value lies as a massive slot wide receiver who can throw the occasional, but impressive, bump. Ebron joins Calvin Johnson, Kris Durham, Joseph Fauria, Brandon Pettigrew and Michael Williams as a 6-foot-4 or taller red-zone target. Most importantly, he has the speed that will draw safety help up the middle, giving Megatron more room to operate.
7. Kyle Van Noy, Linebacker
Another playmaking linebacker alongside Stephen Tulloch and Deandre Levy should make for mayhem in the middle of the field. While Tulloch is better against the run and Levy excels in pass coverage, Van Noy mixes size and athleticism to be a plus-factor against both.
8. T.J. Jones, Wide Receiver
A young Golden Tate without the extra shake and bake. Jones is a sure handed slot man with decent speed, who could emerge as the Lions number three wide receiver by week one.
9. Nate Freese, Kicker
The next Jason Hanson? Possibly, as Freese has not missed a field goal in over two years. After being victimized by the remains of David Akers, the Lions made the easy choice of drafting a kicker for the first time since 1992. Last season, Freese went 20-for-20 at Boston College with 52 yards as his long.
10. Jim Bob! Cooter, Quarterbacks Coach
Honestly, I have no idea what kind of impact this guy will give, but his position on the team is reason enough to have him on the list. His name is ridiculous and so is his past, but he did work as the Denver Broncos quarterbacks coach last season. Maybe Jim Bob can relay some of Peyton Manning’s secrets to Stafford. Along with Caldwell and Lombardi, the Lions coaching staff has taught to and learned from the elite at quarterback.