MIKE O'HARA

O'Hara: Jim Schwartz 'humbled' by the impact of last season

Posted Jul 25, 2013

There are no absolutes, but going into Friday’s first training camp practice, the roster is as settled as in any of Schwartz's five seasons as head coach

In the space of about 20 minutes in his annual day-before-training camp press conference, coach Jim Schwartz said what Lions fans would hope to hear about having high expectations for the upcoming season.

Jim SchwartzHead coach Jim Schwartz

But there were also words about being humbled by last season's swoon into last place in the NFC North that would have been hard to envision coming from Schwartz.

They were opposite ends of the emotional and practical spectrum. If I'd been asked before the start of Thursday's press conference which one I'd be least likely to hear from Schwartz, "humble" would have won by a long shot.

That should not be taken as a condemnation of Schwartz. It isn't like he was exposing a crater in his self-confidence to lead a football team. He's never been short of personal resolve and faith.

It's more a revelation of what losing can do to a team and its head coach, when a season like 2012 lurches out of control and never gets back on track.

From a 10-6 record and wild card playoff berth in 2011 to 4-12 in 2012 and a season-ending eight-game losing streak is a power dive to oblivion that is unmatched in recent Lions' history.

Even the historic 0-16 record in 2008 had a feeling of more of the same as opposed to last year's failure to match preseason optimism.

Based on the players the Lions added in the offseason, and their renewed purpose to recover from last year's wayward descent to the bottom of the NFC North, Schwartz has substantial reasons for optimism.

"I think we're as excited as we've ever been here," Schwartz said early in Thursday's presser. "We're as confident as we've ever been. We had an outstanding spring. I think that set us up to potentially have an outstanding training camp. I like the psyche of the team.

"We're very confident in the pieces we put in place, the pieces we have returning. We're looking forward to an outstanding year. First, an outstanding training camp. I don't want to get too far ahead."

Schwartz is right about that. The Lions have been guilty over the years of looking down the road and stumbling over the issues that are in front of them. The mantra for this year should be to focus on the step they're about to take and never get caught looking ahead.

There are no absolutes, but going into Friday's first training camp practice, the roster is as settled as in any of Schwartz's five seasons as head coach.

The offense will ride on Matthew Stafford's arm, but the addition of Reggie Bush helps overall balance, not just the running game. The return of Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles from the injured list should provide complementary receiving threats to go with Calvin Johnson.

On defense, the talent level has been upgraded in the secondary. Based on what's been added against what was lost in free agency and cuts, I don't see the defensive line being as big a question mark as some others might. Time, and performance, will prove who's right on that one.

The safest bet regarding any unit is that coverage on special teams will be better than last year.

The biggest uncertainties are offensive line and linebacker. Both are in different stages of development, including for depth.

Beyond any physical rebuilding, there's a psychological component that cannot be understated. That's an area that needed healing and rebuilding. The Lions were beaten down by the end of last season, as much by their own misdeeds on and off the field as any punishment inflicted by their opponents.

Whether it was surprising to hear Schwartz say it or not, humbling is a good way to describe the impact of last season.

"I think we all learned a lot of lessons last year, for sure," Schwartz said. "I'd agree with that term – sure. I think it was humbling for me personally. I think it was humbling for the team – individuals, and also for the entire team.

"We had made the playoffs for the first time in a decade. There was a different dynamic coming into the next year than for than from the previous year.

"I think that's fair to say."