There has been a different buzz than a year ago at the Detroit Lions' headquarters, and that's a good thing.
That's what we learned as the Lions closed out mandatory minicamp last week. When the full squad reconvenes for training camp in late July, the Lions will begin their second season under head coach Dan Campbell and his staff with expectations, not hope.
Linebacker Alex Anzalone, beginning his second season with the Lions after four with the New Orleans Saints, put it this way:
"The honeymoon phase is over."
Interpret that to mean the emphasis is on winning, not just a rebuilding project.
Among the other things we learned include the following: Quarterback Jared Goff is operating like he is the man in charge of the offense – which he is – and his focus is on being ready to go opening day; Goff is as eager as anyone for rookie wide receiver Jameson Williams to get healthy because of what he can add to an offense that's already well stocked with talent; and the Lions are building a defensive line almost from the same blue print they used to build one of the NFL's top offensive lines.
We start with the vibe:
As an outsider looking in, practices seemed crisper and more spirited than a year ago in Campbell's first season as head coach. That would be expected, just from the benefit of having a year's experience in the schemes.
As an insider and team captain, Anzalone and other veterans like him can feel the change in rhythm in every heartbeat of their team. That also comes with experience.
Anzalone noticed a difference on the day he reported back to begin the offseason program.
"It starts with Dan and all the others coaches," Anzalone said. "The best words I can put to it is that there's a different sense of urgency in the building. That's the first thing I noticed when I got here.
"The honeymoon phase is over. The urgency is there. We have to win now. That's what we get paid to do, and that's what we have to do."
Fast start: Goff feels urgency, and it's self-generated. He wants the offense to be ready to go on opening day. He showed that when asked in his media session if he could use the early games of the season to develop the offense.
"No," he said. "We can't wait. The league is too good. You have to be ready Week 1. That's what this time is for. Mistakes are made in this period."
There are good reasons for Goff to want to get started quickly. The Lions have talent at every position on offense – tight end, wide receiver and running back – and the offensive line should provide options to run or pass whenever the Lions want to.
"We're kind of in that work phase now," Goff said. "The exciting part is, we do have the talent. I feel confident in myself. Up front, we're loaded."
Waiting for Williams: The Lions traded up to draft Williams 12th overall, despite knowing his debut could be delayed because of a knee injury sustained while playing for Alabama in the national championship game mid-January.
"A special talent," Goff said. "What jumps off the screen is his ability to make people miss with the ball in his hands. Obviously, his speed is second to none. He's a weapon for sure when he's ready to go.
"I'm going to want him out there as soon as he's ready to go."
View behind-the-scenes photos from 2022 Detroit Lions Media Day on Monday, June 6, 2022.
Building the trench: Building the defensive line is a work in progress, and nowhere near the level of the offensive line. The Lions have used the draft heavily on both units.
Three of the five starters on the offensive line were drafted in the first round. Four defensive linemen have been drafted in the first three rounds in the last two years.
If the young linemen mature together, the Lions could have a powerful force on the defensive line. Of course, that has to be proven on the field over time.
"I think that's the idea," Campbell said. "That's what you want. You want this young core to continue to grow. Develop. We're looking back this year, next year, the year after, and these guys are a terror in the league. They're a defensive line nobody wants to face.
"They do have talent. They're also relentless. They're smart, and they're hard working.
"That's the idea Brad (GM Brand Holmes) and I had the entire time."