Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 3, 2011

Dennis Chase: Can Lions build on momentum?

By DENNIS CHASE
dchase@record-eagle.com

---- — Just when long-suffering Detroit Lions fans had reason to cheer, the season ended.

No merciful conclusion to a campaign this time. The Lions actually finished with a modest four-game winning streak that had to have diehard fans wanting more.

Granted, two of those four wins came against teams that lost quarterbacks to injuries — Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Minnesota's Brett Favre — but a win's a win. And the Lions didn't have their quarterback, Matt Stafford, either.

The season-ending streak should give the players a psychological boost heading into the off-season. Workouts should be a little more fun, knowing there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel.

This will be interesting off-season for Detroit. The Lions still have issues on defense — and they could use a few more parts on offense.

Keeping Stafford healthy, though, will be priority No. 1. The franchise quarterback has only played about 25 percent of the team's games in his first two years. The Lions need him on the field, although reserve Shaun Hill came on strong after a shaky start.

But Stafford, and his big arm, represent the future.

If GM Martin Mayhew can duplicate last year's off-season, the Lions will be an intriguing team to watch in 2011. Mayhew did well in free agency in 2010 with receiver Nate Burleson and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch. He did even better in trades, landing Hill, guard Rob Sims, tight end Tony Scheffler, defensive tackle Corey Williams, defensive end Lawrence Jackson and defensive back Chris Houston. He had a second productive draft, too. Ndamukong Suh gave the defense a personality — and a Pro Bowl tackle. Amari Spievey worked his way into the starting lineup at safety. Halfback Jahvid Best proved versatile even though he played through injury most of the season.

A month ago, the Lions were looking at drafting near the top of the first round again. Now, after four straight wins to close at 6-10, they'll draft 13th.

What positions the Lions look to address will depend on they fare in free agency. Detroit needs to upgrade at linebacker and at cornerback. The Lions could also use a third wide receiver.

LSU's Patrick Peterson is considered the best cornerback available, but he'll be gone by the time the Lions pick, unless they trade up. Nebraska's Prince Amukamara is considered the next best cover corner. The two linebackers grabbing the most attention now are Texas A&M's Von Miller and UCLA's Akeem Ayers. Of course, all this could change after the combine and individual workouts.

If the best defensive talent is taken early, could the Lions turn to offense and take another receiver like Alabama's Julio Jones?

It will be an interesting four months with free agency and the draft — provided, of course, there is no lockout after the labor agreement ends.

The Lions have some momentum going. Now the question is: Can they keep it going in the off-season?