By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – The Detroit Lions already passed their season’s win total from 2012, and much of the team’s relative success so far can be attributed to the roster’s considerable talent.
Credit must also go to the adding of some veteran players – running back Reggie Bush, cornerback Rashean Mathis, safety Glover Quin, defensive ends Jason Jones (now out for season with injury) and Israel Idonije and David Akers – and subtracting of others who diluted their contributions with off-field issues.
More than just improving the on-field performance, the changes have positively affected the locker room. That aspect is what quiet superstar wide receiver Calvin Johnson cites as a reason this season will not be just another year in which the Lions start off well but ultimately miss the playoffs.
“We have a new team this year,” Johnson said. “We have better chemistry than we’ve had before, better leadership than we had before, so it’s a new year. I expect better things.”
In addition to bringing in a slew of low-key, well-spoken, professionally mannered veterans this off-season, the Lions also purged from the locker room most of the players who brought trouble off the field in 2012.
“We had some big-time distractions last year that kind of threw us off our game,” linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. “We have guys here that buy into the system, guys here that are locked in for long-term, that understand that we’re building something here and it’s about the team. There’s no individuals in this locker room, and there’s no off-the-field distractions, which is a plus.”
In the seven months between 2011 and 2012 seasons, there were seven arrests of Lions players. In addition to all that, wide receiver Titus Young stirred up issues in practice and during games, all of which led to considerable controversy. Young is no longer with the Lions, and neither are two of the four who got arrested in the off-season that led up to 2012.
In the off-season between the 2012 and 2013 seasons, there were two arrests of Lions players. Neither made the final cut.
Often players discount how disruptive off-field distractions are to a team, but Tulloch did not hold back.
“They’re huge,” Tulloch said. “They’re huge. A lot of people say they’re not, but really, when you know something’s going on in your team, you’re trying to put it behind you, but the media, or you see it on TV, or you hear about it everywhere you go, it brings the team down. I think the organization did a good job clearing that out, just weeding that stuff out and bringing people of character and people that want to get better and want to win, and that’s the difference between this year and last year.
“We had it in 2011 and then we kind of fell off track last year with that,” Tulloch continued. “I think Coach did a good job putting us back in that same state of mind as just keep working and buy into what’s going on and everything will work out and so far it has. I think we’ve bounced back from a lot of difficult changes, and we’re heading the right direction.”
Helping lead the team down that path are a whole host of new veterans, including Reggie Bush, Rashean Mathis, Glover Quin, Jason Jones, Israel Idonije and David Akers. Just those additions have 50 years of experience between them.
Besides their knowledge and years in the NFL, those veterans also bring mindsets from other franchises. The Lions have recorded just three years with double-digit wins in the last 20 seasons. Detroit missed the players 12 of the last 13 seasons. The Lions had some talented and tenured players already, but shaking up the mindset for a team that has lost so much so often seems to have been a solid move.
“The organization did a good job doing their homework and bringing in veteran guys, guys of character, guys that help this locker room,” Tulloch said. “Guys that have been other places and understand how to conduct themselves as professionals and put in the work, and as veterans, you get younger guys, they gravitate to guys that work hard and put in the work.”
As the Lion approach Sunday’s home game with the Dallas Cowboys, they realize what is at stake. The team will try to head to its bye week with a winning record instead of an even one, a win to forget instead of a loss to forget. Whatever happens though, perspective and focus will help them continue to push through the season.
“No matter what happens the week before, we move on together as team, we correct our mistakes and we try to win the next one,” Tulloch said. “I think that’s the difference between the years past. Guys understand that you’ve got to correct your mistakes, you’ve got to move forward, don’t look behind and come in to work every day and put in the work. That’s what we’ve built here.”