After being eliminated from playoff contention last week with a loss in Cincinnati, lots of question marks are circling around this Detroit Lions football team.
While the disappointment of not making the playoffs still permeates around Allen Park, veteran safety Glover Quin stood at his locker Wednesday and told media members why he thinks this team is closer to getting over the hump than some people might think.
"I think we're really close," Quin said. "We have a lot of playmakers on this team offensively and defensively. We have some guys that can do some really good things. It's just putting it all together and performing consistently for 16 games."
But the obvious follow-up question to that response is how do they go about doing that?
"Growth. Maturity. Experience," Quin said. "A lot of those things.
"A lot of times you play the game and coaches can coach you in the meeting room and on the field and at practice and all those things, but a lot of times, when you play in the game, it's experience and understanding is what gets you over the hump.
"Sometimes you're out there and guys do things that you just wonder, 'Man, what are they doing? I know the coach hasn't told him to do that.' But when you get into the game, sometimes you handle situations wrong. Sometimes you handle a fit wrong. Sometimes you make a bad read. Maturity, growth, experience. All those things catapult you to winning close games."
In that light, the Lions have a fairly young roster. They began the year as the 13th youngest roster in the league, and have gotten a lot of big contributions from rookie and second-year players, probably more than they expected.
First and second-year players like A'Shawn Robinson, Anthony Zettel, Jeremiah Ledbetter, Jarrad Davis, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and more recently Teez Tabor are playing key roles on defense.
Taylor Decker, Graham Glasgow, Kenny Golladay and more recently Tion Green and Joe Dahl are playing significant roles on offense.
Rookie Jamal Agnew is the leading punt returner in the NFL.
"That's going to help us in the future," Quin said of so many first and second-year players gaining experience. "All the young guys – Teez (Tabor), Jamal (Agnew), Quandre (Diggs), Jarrad (Davis), Jalen (Reeves-Maybin) – all these young guys playing around here is going to pay off because they're going to get those game reps and it's going to help them."
The key to Detroit getting over the hump is having enough guys understand what it takes to win. Quin thinks that knowledge is only gained through experience.
"I think we have a good team," Quin said. "I think we've got some good pieces. These guys are going to mature in the offseason and come back and we're going to have enough guys that are in key spots and key roles that understand how to win those games and some of those close games turn in your favor."
Rookie cornerback Teez Tabor has seen his reps jump significantly the last three weeks to 44, 44 and 39 vs. Cincinnati, Chicago and Tampa Bay, respectively.
The rookie second-round pick started the year as a healthy scratch, worked his way into the lineup playing 11-to-17 reps in the middle of the year, and is now playing a significant role in Teryl Austin's defense as an outside cornerback, nickel and extra defender in the dime.
"We wanted to develop him," Austin said of Tabor Thursday. " I think guys develop at their own pace. It's really not our plan, we just put them through the things we think will help them accelerate his development, and then once he's ready we try to get him on the field."
Tabor's played well in his extended role, which is certainly a good sign for a rookie.
But where has Austin seen the biggest growth from Tabor from Week 1 to Week 17?
"I think the one thing we always talked about, he's got really good ball skills and he's long," Austin said. "But he's really, really sharp. Like really smart. Really a smart guy. Gets football, and so that's one of the things as he's able to -- as we've been accelerating him, he's been able to handle a couple different positions. And I think that speaks to how well he's able to absorb information and then be able to use it in the heat of battle."
That certainly bodes well for the type of player the Lions are expecting Tabor to be next season.
"He's gotten a little bit better in terms of what he's done, and learning how to prepare and how he handles going into next season," Austin said. "We won't know, we'll just see. Normally with most teams, or most guys, they make a big jump between their first and second year. I mean, we can't predict it, but you hope that's what happens."
LARGER GOALS IN MIND
Head coach Jim Caldwell has led the Lions to two playoff appearances in the last four years, and the Lions were in the playoff conversation up until a Week 16 loss in Cincinnati this season.
Before his arrival, the Lions had missed the playoffs in 13 of their previous 14 seasons.
But even Caldwell admitted Thursday that simply making the playoffs or being in the playoff conversation was never his goal when he signed on in Detroit before the 2014 season.
"I think, my job when I came here was not playoff talk," he said. "My job when I came here was to win it all. That's what every coach is in it to do. And anything short of that is unacceptable, plain and simple.
"So, you keep trying to work at it, and try to get at that point to get it done. But there's only one happy team at the end of the year, and that's it in this league. Like I mentioned before, there are no bowl games. So, we just got to keep getting better."
Is there a reasonable time frame for a head coach to accomplish that feat?
"Yesterday is not soon enough in our league," Caldwell said. "I mean, whether it's one year or -- my first year I went, so how many does it take? It depends. But the job, the object is to get it done and you better get it done as quickly as you can. That's the key in our league."