After a successful first year as the head coach of the Detroit Lions (11-5 and second place in the NFC North) there are a lot of questions entering the 2015 season for Jim Caldwell and the rest of the team.
While the Lions still have a potent offense led by veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford and his aerial weapons in Calvin Johnson, Jr., and Golden Tate, but there were plenty of key departures that hurt the defense a lot – including defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, as well as running back Reggie Bush.
Graphic via youtube
So how did the Lions fill the gaps through free agency and the NFL Draft in an attempt to improve on 11 wins and hope to overtake the Green Bay Packers for the division title?
Detroit’s first round selection was Duke University’s Laken Tomlinson, a large offensive guard standing at six-foot-three and . He was a consensus All-American in 2014 and won the Anthony J. McKelvin Award as the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Athlete of the Year during his final season with the Blue Devils.
The Lions also drafted Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah in the second round who, despite only being five-foot- nine, he powered through Big Ten defenses for 1,611 yards and 19 touchdowns – including a 225-yard and four touchdown performance against Rutgers.
Detroit would round out their draft picks with Stanford cornerback Alex Carter (third round), Auburn defensive tackle Gabe Wright (fourth round), Rutgers fullback Michael Burton (fifth round), Texas cornerback Quandre Diggs (sixth round) and South Carolina tackle Corey Robinson (seventh round).
The Lions made an attempt to fill up the holes left behind by Fairley and Suh by making a trade for Baltimore’s Haloti Ngata and signing free agent defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker for one year and $1.75 million. In Ngata’s nine seasons with the Ravens, he collected 445 tackles, 25.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, five interceptions and a Super Bowl Championships in the 2012 season.
Walker only started one game for the New Orleans Saints in 2014, but he played in all 16 games – collecting 19 tackles, 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble. Other defensive additions include defensive end Corey Wootton, linebacker Brandon Copeland and cornerback Christopher Owens – all were signed for under $1 million, which is much lower than the salaries they would have paid stars like Suh and Fairley.
The Lions also added some extra depth on the offensive side of the ball, including wide receiver Lance Moore – who saw limited time with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2014 but has 40 career touchdowns between 2007 and 2014.
In addition to the NFL Draft and the free agent market, Detroit also offered 12 undrafted free agents a tryout contract to add to the talent pool for the start of training camp – including South Dakota State running back Zach Zenner and Rutgers linebacker Kevin Snyder.
There wasn’t a lot of movement among Detroit’s coaching staff. The Lions hired Steven Williams as the team’s defensive quality control coach in March – who spent the three previous seasons at Penn State as a strength and conditioning assistant and an offensive/defensive graduate assistant.
Williams took over for the departing offensive line assistant Bobby Johnson who left for the Oakland Raiders’ tight end coaching job. Johnson’s departure was filled by Terry Heffernan, last season’s offensive quality control coach, which led to the hiring of Williams.
None of the teams the Lions faces in the preseason exhibitions this season were in last year’s playoffs, but each made multiple moves of their own to improve.
Detroit starts with a home contest on August 13 against the New York Jets, followed by road trips to visit the Washington Redskins on August 20 and the Jacksonville Jaguars on August 28. The final preseason warmup will be September 3 against the Buffalo Bills – a final test for any of the newly signed Lions to earn their spot on the team’s final 53-man roster.
Graphic via rantsports