Detroit Lions: Catching up before training camp

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The Lions didn’t get it done last season.

The Detroit Lions start regular season play in less than two months from today. Training camp is set to begin a few short weeks, on Monday, July 28.

For this year’s team, the start of the season can’t come soon enough because Detroit’s offseason began all the way back on December 29.

Last season doesn’t bring up many pleasant feelings considering the way it ended for Detroit. The Lions started out a promising 6-3, yet couldn’t finish any games down the stretch. They lost six of their last seven games, finishing with a 7-9 record.

Another season on the wrong side of the playoff picture,  something that didn’t sit well with anybody in the organization.

A lot has changed since that season-ending day in December, it served as a catalyst of change for the Lions. Let’s review what has changed this offseason thus far as a result of yet another subpar season.

Out with Schwartz, in with Caldwell:

There was little to think positively about after last season, or the last two seasons for that matter. Or even four out of Schwartz’s five years as Detroit’s coach. It was the same story year in and year out. The offense is loaded with talent, but the team is set back by mental mistakes and discipline issues, both on and off the field.

These kinds of setbacks took too much of a toll, so the Lions organization decided it was time for immediate change.

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Jim Schwartz was fired the day after last year’s season-ending loss at Minnesota. Simply put, Schwartz did not win enough games as the Lions’ coach, despite the fact that he often fielded talented teams.

However, talent doesn’t directly translate into wins without sound coaching as Detroit fans have learned from Schwartz’s teams.

The Lions posted a lousy 29-51 record under his tenure, making one playoff appearance in 2012.

However, the postseason appearance did give the organization its first taste of success in some time. It was Detroit’s first playoff appearance since 1999.

Suddenly, the organization decided it would settle for nothing less than more of that same success.

Failure is no longer to be tolerated in Detroit, and Schwartz learned that the hard way.  This organization has only won one playoff game since since 1957. Enough is enough.

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This is why Jim Caldwell was hired on January 14. Caldwell has experience as a quarterback coach, offensive coordinator and head coach in the league.

He has coached in three different Super Bowls in his career: first in 2007, where he was the quarterbacks coach for the Indianapolis Colts, the 2010 edition where he lost as head coach of the Colts, and most recently, in 2013, where he was offensive coordinator for the champion Baltimore Ravens.

The Lions have found a proven, battle-tested winner in Caldwell, but will his success coaching alongside Peyton Manning in Indianapolis translate over to Matt Stafford and the Lions? That remains to be seen, but if he’s earned the endorsement of Manning, than he has to be doing something right.

Later in January, Detroit also added Joe Lombardi as offensive coordinator and Teryl Austin as defensive coordinator to round out the coaching staff.

Subtle, yet crucial, roster changes:

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With free agency looming, the Lions took measure to free up cap space by releasing two fan-favorite veterans, one from each side of the ball. Safety Louis Delmas, whose promising young career was continually hampered by injuries, was released on the same day as wide receiver Nate Burleson.

The Lions made their biggest free agency splash with the signing of former Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate on March 12, who they inked to a five-year deal.

The Notre Dame product is fresh of a Super Bowl victory with Seattle and figures to operate from the slot for Detroit, serving as Burleson’s replacement.

Detroit made other minor improvements to the roster. Notably, they added safety James Ihedigbo, defensive end Darryl Tapp, and fullback Jed Collins in free agency.

They also re-signed running back Joique Bell and tight end Brandon Pettigrew to longer deals in March. You can see all of the team’s offseason transactions here.

The draft, followed a long wait

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The Lions  in the draft, and opted to go with yet another receiving target  in the draft. They chose tight end Eric Ebron even though most fans desired defensive help. Detroit, sticking to their best player available strategy, was apparently very high on the athletic Ebron.

Detroit addressed the defensive corps by adding BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy in the second round.

It’s a bold strategy to draft a tight end with a first-round pick, considering Detroit already has two capable ones on the roster. And even bolder still, as they signed a wide receiver in free agency. But when you imagine Ebron opposite Megatron, and throw Tate and Bush into the mix, one can only think of the potential of such an offense.

After the draft, not much else has happened that can be considered exciting. The rookies signed their contracts, OTAs came and went, and a few minicamps were held.

This dull period of the offseason has NFL fans eagerly anticipating September and the return of the king of sports in America.

The wait is almost over, but the offseason has one final step before the preseason begins: training camp. The beginning of the end for the offseason. The Lions come together on July 27 in Allen Park. The first practice begins the following day, and I’m sure this year’s team can’t wait.