My scouting mentor Lionel Vital, who is the college scouting director with the Dallas Cowboys, once told me, "If you have a quarterback, you have a chance." And boy, is he right.
Everything in Detroit in 2021 begins and ends with the play of QB Jared Goff.
When it comes to three players who must shine in training camp, Goff is the headliner.
Coming in from a fractured situation in Los Angeles with the Rams, Goff must find a way to get the Lions off to a quick start - - and from the first snap at training camp.
Expectations could not be higher for Goff, who once upon a time was one of the hottest up-and-coming signal-callers in the league.
The expectations are not only high because of what Goff has done in the past with the Rams, but also because of the shoes he is filling in Detroit, with the departure of longtime Lions QB Matthew Stafford.
As the years have gone by, we have all seen more and more emphasis placed on the QB position.
We have also seen how even one errant day at minicamp -- like the one that Miami QB Tua Tagovailoa recently had -- can send social media and the fans buzzing.
With that said, it is critically important Goff somehow finds a way to assert himself early on. If he waivers whatsoever, it will surely send shockwaves right down the roster.
Hopes are high in Detroit, but make no mistake about it, everyone is cautiously optimistic.
Goff's confidence will constantly be evaluated, as onlookers will be taking a look at how many interceptions he throws in camp, how his deep passes look, how he performs during red-zone drills and of course, the synergy between him and his receivers. These were all question marks for Goff, coming off his 2020 performance with the Rams.
With all eyes mostly on Goff, there will also be strong interest in how the linebackers are performing, especially Jahlani Tavai and 2021 fourth-round draft choice Derrick Barnes.
There is no question that the 28th-ranked run defense must find a way to improve.
As the run defense went, so did the team, giving up an average of 134.9 yards per game on the ground and leading to a 5-11 finish a season ago.
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On the contrary, the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers ranked first in the league against the run, giving up only 82.7 yards per game on the ground. So, there is a distinct correlation between this stat and winning and losing.
Tavai and Barnes are key, if improvement is to take place.
Just as it is important that Goff looks like the Goff of old, it is equally important for Tavai and Barnes to lay the proverbial leather on ball-carriers.
Morale is a funny thing, as it is also fragile. For an organization accustomed to losing, it does not take long for everyone to start saying, "Here we go again," or adversely, to feel a certain spark of optimism that everyone starts feeding off of.
Tavai must show an improved ability to take on and shed blocks, if Detroit has any hopes of stopping ball-carriers more often at or behind the line of scrimmage, instead of letting them get upfield.
Barnes could prove early on to be a draft-day steal, but at the same time, he must show off a physical brand of football and a high degree of athleticism -- both of which could be absolutely transformational to the culture in Detroit.
Barnes is going to need to raise his level of play early on, if there is even to be a glimmer of hope that things can be different when it comes to stopping the run this season.
Outside of helping to plug the holes in the run defense, Tavai and Barnes need to find a way to actually get to the QB and improve on Detroit's sack total.
The Lions hope that Barnes' 10.5 collegiate sacks translates to the NFL level.
Tavai has logged two career sacks, but a new scheme could spell improved numbers on that front, as well.
No matter how you look at it, Goff, Tavai and Barnes are three instrumental players, and they must have an immediate impact at training camp, if the Lions are going to be contenders this season.
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