NFL Summer Reset: Detroit Lions must convert potential into production

By Frank Cooney, The Sports Xchange
Detroit Lions head coach Jim Caldwell watches the action against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis on December 13, 2015. St. Louis defeated Detroit 21-14. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI
Detroit Lions head coach Jim Caldwell watches the action against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis on December 13, 2015. St. Louis defeated Detroit 21-14. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

In his third season as head coach of the Detroit Lions, Jim Caldwell will welcome 16 returning starters when full training camp begins July 28 for a team that was 7-9 last year, third in the NFC North.

The key for Caldwell this year is to turn potential into production. There seems to be a lot of the former at most positions but the proof is in the doing.


The Lions have renewed confidence in quarterback Matthew Stafford, who rebounded from a 1-7 start last season with an excellent second half. It won't be easy for Stafford with the loss of wide receiver sensation Calvin Johnson to retirement.

The Lions did sign free-agent wide receiver Marvin Jones (Cincinnati, $40 million, five years, $8 million signing bonus and $20 million guaranteed) who will pair up with Golden Tate as the team's pass-catching tandem.


However, the offensive line must improve for Stafford and Co. to be effective. Last season, the Lions gave up 44 sacks, worst in the league. So it was no surprise when Detroit drafted, 6-foot-7, 310-pound Ohio State tackle Taylor Decker with the No. 16 overall pick. The expectation is he will displace left tackle Riley Reiff, who could move to the right side.

At center, Travis Swanson, Graham Glasgow and Gabe Ickard will vie for the starting job.

In a free-agent signing that might go unnoticed, the Lions picked up Johnson Bademosi (Cleveland Browns, $4.5 million, two years, $2 million signing bonus, $2.9 million guaranteed). Listed as a cornerback, Bademosi is considered by many to be the best special teams player in the league. In that regard he will offset the loss of safety/special teamer Isa Abdul-Quddus to the Miami Dolphins (UFA, $12.75 million, three years).

Here is a closer look at the newcomers and key players and how they should factor into the Lions' 2016 team:



Detroit Lions Training Facility, Allen Park, MI, 7/23, 7/28

2015 RECORD: 7-9



COACH: Jim Caldwell

3rd season with Lions

18-15 overall; postseason 0-1

6th season as NFL head coach

46-39 overall; 2-3 postseason


16; 8 offense, 8 defense, kicker, punter

OFFSEASON STANDOUT: Wide receiver Martin Jones.

--The Lions signed Jones to a five-year, $40 million deal in March, and based on the offseason practices, it looks like Jones could be worth the price. Jones is exceptionally fluid in everything he does, and it looked like he and quarterback Matthew Stafford quickly developed chemistry. The new receiver might not be as good as the retired Calvin Johnson, but expect him to be featured prominently this season.


The draft -- A closer look at the Lions' picks (10):

--Round 1/16 -- Taylor Decker, T, 6-7, 310, Ohio State

The Lions need help at right tackle, and with Riley Reiff going into the final year of his rookie deal, they could soon need help at left tackle. Decker was the fourth-best tackle in the draft, but the Lions see the value in adding a stud run blocker that happened to be a captain last year and a national champion the year before.


--Round 2/46 -- A'Shawn Robinson, DT, 6-4, 307, Alabama

Considered a first-round prospect by most analysts, the Lions were thrilled to see Robinson fall to them. He has the length they desire at the position and should help stop the run, potentially developing as the long-term replacement for Haloti Ngata.

--Round 3/95 -- Graham Glasgow, C, 6-6, 307, Michigan

Glasgow is a tall center, but the Lions think that's an asset to his game. He'll compete with Travis Swanson after the 2014 third-round pick struggled as a starter last season.

--Round 4/111 -- Miles Killebrew, SS, 6-2, 217, Southern Utah

Their top two strong safeties from last season are gone, and even though the Lions added Rafael Bush and Tavon Wilson, they'd like to groom a hard hitter to play next to Glover Quin.

--Round 5/151 -- Joe Dahl, G/T, 6-4, 304, Washington State

With experience at guard and tackle, Dahl should provide depth for what was a weak line last season.

--Round 5/169 -- Antwione Williams, LB, 6-3, 245, Georgia Southern

Williams said he played every linebacker spot in college, and the Lions will hope he's in the mix on the strong side.


--Round 6/191 -- Jake Rudock, QB, 6-3, 207, Michigan

With Dan Orlovsky as the top backup, the Lions wanted to bring in some competition and paired Rudock with his college center.

--Round 6/202 -- Anthony Zettel, DE, 6-4, 277, Penn State

A native of northern Michigan, Zettel will transition to end for the Lions, who are looking for run stuffers on the edge.

--Round 6/210 -- Jimmy Landes, LS, 6-1, 240, Baylor

This was a shocker with Don Muhlbach playing well and re-signing this offseason, but Landes could be the long-term upgrade for a team looking to improve its special teams.

--Round 7/236 -- Dwayne Washington, RB, 6-2, 226, Washington

A big running back with impressive speed, Washington wasn't overly impressive in college, but the tools are there to be an NFL back. He just has to prove himself quickly at a relatively deep position for the Lions.


--CB Johnson Bademosi: He'll be a special teams ace with potential to contribute as a press corner.

--LB Jon Bostic: Didn't play much for the Patriots last year, but could contribute as a backup in the middle.


--S Rafael Bush: Injuries led him out of New Orleans, but he should start at strong safety if healthy.

--WR Andre Caldwell: Veteran joined the team after the draft and will compete at kick returner.

--DE Wallace Gilberry: He's the veteran of the end group and should play a lot as the No. 3 edge option.

--WR Marvin Jones: He'll be the No. 1 or 2 receiver this year; long and lean to replace Calvin Johnson.

--WR Jeremy Kerley: The slot option will compete for No. 3 job and punt-return chances.

--TE Matthew Mulligan: Brought in to provide some extra blocking among the tight ends.

--RB Stevan Ridley: A power option in the backfield whose spot isn't guaranteed because he's not a receiver.

--WR Andre Roberts: Let go by Washington; could compete for playing time in revamped receiver corps.

--G Geoff Schwartz: Veteran will have to earn job as backup guard to stay with team, but Lions lack experience up front.

--CB Darrin Walls: Outside corner who has to impress in a group with younger talent, but experience helps.

--S Tavon Wilson: Safety will likely be a special teams player only, but might have untapped potential on defense.


KEY LOSS: WR Calvin Johnson, retired.

-- Johnson announced his retirement from the NFL in March after nine seasons. His 11,619 receiving yards rank third in a player's first nine seasons, trailing only Torry Holt (11,864) and Jerry Rice (11,776). In 2012 he set the record for most yards receiving in a season, 1,964.


--S/ST Isa Abdul-Quddus (16/8), RB Joique Bell (13/5), DT Jermelle Cudjo (7/0), S James Ihedigbo (15/8), DE Jason Jones (15/15), LB Travis Lewis (15/4), CB Rashean Mathis (7/7), WR Lance Moore (14/8), TE Bear Pascoe (3/0), G/C Manny Ramirez (16/7), DE Darryl Tapp (16/1), LB Stephen Tulloch (16/16), DE C.J. Wilson (8/0), CB Josh Wilson (8/4), DE Corey Wootton (0/0)*

Total games played/started lost: 185/99

*Number in parentheses is games played/games started in 2015

-- Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and, is in his sixth decade covering football and 26th year on the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. TSX's network of NFL insiders provided information for this report.


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