Burning questions – play-calling, offensive and defensive schemes, player personnel decisions and other issues that are likely to be addressed at Friday’s press conference by Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin:
Q. Play-calling: It isn’t the most important issue facing the offense, but it gets a lot of attention because of there is so much focus on it. How can Caldwell be expected to answer that question?
A. There are only three logical answers: either Caldwell or Lombardi will do it, or a decision hasn’t been made yet. I’d expect Caldwell to say that he’s still working it out.
Caldwell called plays in his three seasons as head coach of the Colts, and the last two seasons in Baltimore.
In New Orleans, Lombardi was the quarterbacks coach the last five years but did not call plays. From his standpoint, it’s logical that he’d ask to call plays when he interviewed to become offensive coordinator of the Lions.
Q. Get off the fence. How will that be decided?
A. I don’t think Caldwell will announce a decision Friday, but ultimately, expect Lombardi to call plays. In fact, the decision might not be known until the first preseason game, when we see Lombardi calling plays from the sideline.
Q. Staff additions: Caldwell has not hired a quarterbacks coach. What will happen there?
A. Todd Downing, who was with the Lions the last five years, moved on to Buffalo with Jim Schwartz and will coach the Bills’ quarterbacks. Caldwell and Lombardi both have coached quarterbacks. They might prefer to go through the first year without adding a position coach for quarterbacks, especially if
Q. What will Lombardi say about what kind of offense he wants to run?
A. It should be a combination of what was run by the Colts when Caldwell was with Indy and what Lombardi brings with him from New Orleans. Look for the Lions to be predominantly a one-back, three-receiver team with an emphasis on playing fast and smart.
With his arm, Stafford should thrive in this offense.
Q. One more thing about the offense. QB Shaun Hill is a free agent. Will he be back?
A. Interesting choices here, by Hill and the Lions. Hill is a great resource for Stafford and for the offense. He’s smart, a true pro, and his teammates think they can win with him if anything happens to Stafford.
However, Scott Linehan was hired to call plays in Dallas after being fired by the Lions. Linehan was instrumental in the Lions getting Hill in a trade in 2010, and he might push for the Cowboys to sign him. It all depends on where Hill feels most comfortable, and which team wants him more.
Q. The offense rests – for now. What is the emphasis for Austin and the defense?
A. All he has to do is say the word “blitz” once, and it will give fans hope that the Lions will be more aggressive.
The strength of the defense is in the front four, and the Lions got 25.5 of their 33 sacks from the linemen. Middle linebacker
Schwartz dispatched defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham to the press box last season and took over play-calling. The Lions were not an attacking defense. They sat back in many key situations and got burned for completions that led to game-changing scores -- third-and-nine against Pittsburgh, third-and-11 against the Eagles, third-and-15 against the Ravens, fourth-and-seven against the Giants.
I’d expect Austin to say he likes to blitz and play man coverage behind it.
Q. Are the Lions’ young cornerbacks really equipped to play more man coverage?
A. If they’re coached to play man coverage and the defensive call requires it, they play it. And if they can’t, get somebody who can.
Q. Personnel – how much will Caldwell and the coordinators get into that?
A. Caldwell has been on the job a little more than three weeks. That’s not enough time to make a thorough review of the roster, but it is enough to have an understanding of who fits into his systems, and which areas in general need to be improved.
In terms of the defense, the best scouting report Caldwell would have gotten was preparing to play the Lions in Game 14. The Ravens didn’t score a touchdown but won, 18-16, with six field goals.
The big play in that game was a pass completion on third-and-15 that set up the game-winning field goal.
The Lions’ can’t forget how it helped wreck their season, and Caldwell surely remembers it, too.