No one can blame Lions fans for being pessimists. The fair weather fans are long gone, and only the die-hards – with all their scars and heartbreak – remain. Therefore, it is not surprising that so many fans expect the team to be terrible again this year. Heck, I’m one of them.
There are glimmers of hope, however. Detroit coaches continue to rave about the rapid development of first overall pick Matthew Stafford. Most recently, Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan claimed that coaching Stafford did not seem like coaching a rookie. If Stafford continues to show maturity, leadership and talent, he may be starting under center sooner rather than later.
I’ve been following Lions football closely since the 1980’s, and I cannot remember a Detroit QB being this highly touted before he’s taken one regular season snap. There were hopes and expectations behind Andre Ware, Rodney Peete, Charlie Batch, and Joey Harrington, but I don’t remember them generating the kind of good vibes that Stafford has. Or, to put it another way, I do remember them generating tremendous amounts of criticism from the get-go.
So far it’s been all good for Stafford. No one is anointing him the second coming of Joe Montana (although I’ve heard the name “Elway” tossed around), and it is far too early to pass judgment, but Stafford has not yet given fans a reason to be cynical about his future. That, my friends, is progress.
The next two selections of the ’09 draft class are also getting high marks from the coaching staff. Safety Louis Delmas and Tight End Brandon Pettigrew have already locked down starting jobs, though it must be said that the competition at those positions is tragically weak. Nonetheless, they have both impressed coaches and stand to be key pieces of the Detroit roster.
After four top ten picks, Matt Millen finally got a world class receiver on the roster in Calvin Johnson. The Lions have been waiting for a playmaker like this since Barry Sanders retired. Johnson is the real deal, and fans finally can replace the mantra “give it to Barry!” with “throw it to Calvin!”
Wide receiver Derrick Williams was a standout return man from Penn State. Although his utility as a wide receiver has yet to be seen, he should instantly upgrade the return units. The Lions have not had a legitimate return threat since Eddie Drummond’s breakout year, and most die-hard fans can remember the magic that Mel Gray brought to the position. Williams should be able to light a fire on special teams and give the Lions a huge boost in that area.
My good friend Clint Schaefer also had another excellent suggestion for how Derrick Williams can help the team – or at least the fans. If he were to wear the #11 jersey, it would be a huge boon to all the fans who still have Roy Williams jerseys in their closets. Just a thought.
So do Lions fans finally have reason to hope for a good season this year? Certainly. The team is better, and some longtime holes have been filled. They have a good chance of winning 5-7 games, and if they manage to exceed expectations for the first time in 20 years, they could even vie for a playoff spot.
Could they also go 0-16 again? Probably not, but it’s possible. They are in what promises to be a very tough division with a lot of untested players and a rookie head coach. Even though they have improved their depth in many areas, they are also just a few crucial injuries away from oblivion (just like most NFL teams).
Detroit fans are used to expecting the worst from their Lions. But for those fans who have stuck it out over the last decade, hope springs eternal. It has to.