A light mist greeted my arrival to Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and it continued as I made my way to the Lions' sparkling facility in nearby Allen Park. Would the Lions be practicing inside or outside, I wondered?
Second-year head coach
"Matt's in a completely different place this year," Schwartz said. "Last year, he was splitting reps, our top three receivers weren't practicing with him [due to injury], he was trying to earn a starting position, he was trying to learn the offense, he was going through his very first NFL training camp, and all of the things that go with that. Now, he's been through it. We've cleared his plate. Now, he's concentrating on football and not looking over his shoulder."
Stafford and top receiver
"We haven't played any games yet, but not having to come in and learn a new offense and new teammates has given us a step forward," Stafford said. "[In] your first training camp, you don't know where to go, where to be."
Stafford knows now. And the Lions' offense will be better for it.
2. The Lions are building an aggressive front four that, if successful, will take pressure off the rest of the defense. That's precisely why the Lions drafted
One of the more interesting conversations I've ever had with a coach was with Schwartz two years ago while he was the Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator. At the time Schwartz explained how his defense, including Vanden Bosch, would try and funnel the action toward the middle of the defense and, specifically, toward
In Detroit, Schwartz and Vanden Bosch will attempt to mimic that mayhem and force opposing offenses toward Williams and Suh, who agreed to a contract Tuesday.
"Ideally, we shrink the field," Vanden Bosch said. "We send everything back inside to our tackles and linebackers."
Said Schwartz: "The philosophy brought here from Tennessee was, if you're strong up front, if you can rush with four, you don't have to blitz as much to put pressure on the quarterback. If you're good on the defensive line, you may not have to spin that safety into the box to get an eight-man front to stop the run. It all works together. If you're building a good defense, it doesn't hurt to start up front."
In an NFC North where every offense passed more than ran, the pressure that the Lions' front four creates will have a direct impact on wins and losses.
3. Optimism for improvement from last year's 2-14 season is strong both inside the locker room and out. My first taste of it came when I landed in Detroit and the Dollar Rental car agent -- a man named Bill -- hit me with a prediction for the 2010 season.
"The guys on [97.1 FM] say seven wins," Bill said of the Lions' flagship station. "I think that's about right."
Once I arrived to the Lions practice facility, the good vibes continued.
"It's the next day, the next play, the next practice, and making sure you're ready for all of it," Stafford said. "They play the games for a reason. Everybody's at 0-0 right now. Come the first Sunday, go out there and prove it and see what you can do."
Much of that vibe stems from Schwartz, who is focusing more on the process of improvement rather than expectations.
"Coaches and players are very immediate -- it's 'You need to worry about today,'" Schwartz said. "Have a good workout, get a good night's sleep, eat well at breakfast. What happens is, you do that over a long period of time, and you get better. It's the body of work. This league is about being consistent."
If opponents roll extra coverage to Johnson this season,
"And it's not just the receivers," Burleson said. "It's the running backs and tight ends, too. That's a really good sign. The more weapons you have, the more chances you have to win the battle."
Expect Burleson to find quick comfort in the Lions offense. Two of his three seasons in Minnesota were spent with
"His ability to make a play as a receiver on a screen pass and not just gain three or four yards but be able to go the distance," Schwartz said. "We've seen how that can affect a football team.
Along with Suh, who agreed to a five-year deal that includes $40 million guaranteed, the Lions have two rookies who will make an immediate impact on Detroit's fortunes. Even though Suh played in a more read-and-react defense at Nebraska, his strength and quickness should make his transition to the pros easier.
"He's such a good athlete that he adjusted quickly," Schwartz said.
Stafford, sitting in front of his locker and tossing his cleats into the upper shelf of his stall like a basketball player shooting jump shots. The first shoe swished perfectly into the shelf. The second one did the same. Stafford turned around and gave the briefest of smiles, his competitive juices satisfied for the moment.
A couple of us in the Lions media room ordered from Jimmy John's World's Greatest Gourmet Sandwiches. Ten minutes after we placed the order, the delivery man walked in with my BLT sub. What service! Two minutes later, that sub was history. I loved every bite. Washed it down with a Diet Pepsi and hit the road to Berea, Ohio for Browns camp.
2. As Stafford continues his maturation, expect him to lean on tight ends
3. How many more kicks does 40-year-old
4. The Lions have a backup guard named