Thus, they look toward training camp with a new motto. Detroit is "The Land of Opportunity." The meaning to the phrase is that Schwartz and Mayhew have instilled a new philosophy, which they are calling "no starters, no depth chart." The theory is that nothing is set in stone and anyone can win a job in training camp (though I'm guessing Calvin Johnson is quite safe as the starting WR1).
"You know, there's a saying, 'The NFL stands for not-for-long' and that doesn't matter if you're 16-0 or 0-16," said Schwartz. "I think the players recognize that. The players know that the league provides us with the tools to be able to turn things around; not only do we have salary cap money, we have opportunity for players to play to prove themselves, to maybe showcase themselves."Obviously, there's nowhere to go but up, but Lions fans should be pretty optimistic about the direction of the team.
The Lions have added a potential franchise quarterback in first-round pick Matthew Stafford. He's got the aforementioned "MegaTron" and a trio of newcomers at wide receiver -- Bryant Johnson, Ronald Curry and Dennis Northcutt. Kevin Smith showed what he could do in his rookie season behind a pretty bad offensive line and the Lions have added a solid backup in Maurice Morris. Brandon Pettigrew is a potential star at tight end, whom the Lions also selected in the first round of the draft.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Lions traded for Julian Peterson and Anthony Henry, in addition to signing Eric King, Larry Foote and Phillip Buchanon. With Schwartz being a defensive-minded coach and his decision to bring in the venerable Gunther Cunningham as a defensive coordinator, the defense should have a renewed intensity -- which will be increased by the healthy in-camp competition.
"They've brought in a whole lot of new faces on both sides of the ball," said linebacker Ernie Sims in May. "You've got a lot of defensive linemen and some new DBs. They're just trying to make it real competitive and I've got no problem with that – I've got no problem competing. They made it so we can push each other so we're going to keep coming out here and working hard."With the influx of talent, a renewed attitude, and a new regime at the helm, there are certainly reasons to be excited for the future in Motor City. For 2009, though, they probably better realize they are taking baby-steps. The Bears, Vikings and Packers all look to be improved, and the NFC North could very well be one of the strongest divisions in football. It's likely the Lions will be much better and still finish last.
Of course, we know how quickly turnarounds can happen in the NFL these days -- as the Dolphins and Falcons reiterated in 2008. With that in mind, it's only fitting that a place where the team didn't win a solitary game last season can be dubbed "The Land of Opportunity" and be taken seriously.
I'm not laughing. The Lions are headed in the right direction. It's about time.