ALLEN PARK -- It’s been months since the Detroit Lions have had to prepare for a regular season game but that time has finally arrived.
This Sunday, the Lions will open the regular season by hosting the St. Louis Rams, a game rich with story lines.
For starters, you have Matthew Stafford squaring off against Sam Bradford – the top choices in the 2009 and 2010 drafts, respectively. Also, Lions head coach Jim Schwartz will be facing off against Rams head coach Jeff Fischer for the first time -- Schwartz spent nearly a decade as defensive coordinator under Fischer in Tennessee. Lastly, the Rams secondary will include rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who the Lions passed over in the draft and is good friends with a player the Lions ended up drafting: rookie cornerback Bill Bentley.
And, without preconceived thought, none of it matters once the ball is kicked off and the season is underway.
“It’s the Lions vs. the Rams,” said head coach Jim Schwartz.
As much as that might be a coach’s cliché, it’s absolutely true.
The Lions aren’t having any water-cooler conversations about any of that. They’ve begun preparing for the Rams, sans any strategies involving media-driven story lines.
“We’ve been working on the Rams for five days now, six days now,” said Schwartz. “Even before that with some of our quality control coaches. We didn’t put it in front of the team until Friday but when we put the last game to bed we left them with an exposure to the Rams so (we) put that in their mind and today was a good head start on the Rams.”
With a difficult schedule looming and what is sure to be a tight NFC playoff race, the Lions are wise to keep their attention on football.
This group of players is hungry to win and is not going to rest on the laurels of last year’s playoff berth.
“We have a new team, we have a lot of new faces,” said wide receiver Nate Burleson. “Our receiver coach Shawn Jefferson said it best. Regardless of what we did last year, it’s on paper right now so we can’t take stats into a game with us. Most of the teams are going to look at us as a team on the rise and they are going to come and attack us and we have to be ready to battle week in and week out.”
The Lions want to get healthy for the Rams – they had full participation in practice on Monday save for Chris Houston and Louis Delmas – and play a good game while carrying that consistency and momentum forward.
“Just staying healthy and playing consistent,” said Burleson. “We stay healthy, we have some of the best talent in the league on this team. Consistency, I think that’s probably the biggest thing we are going to harp on as players the whole year. Just making sure we do the things right. Not only on Sundays but leading up to game day. If we can have great practices, most likely that’ll transfer on to the game.”
As the outside world discusses story lines and exchange predictions, the Lions are busy working. They have one focus – to win – and refuse to jeopardize their efforts .
“(We) worked hard. I think, in my opinion, this is the hardest we’ve worked since I’ve been here,” said Burleson. “I think a lot of guys are motivated for different reasons. Maybe they want to be successful individually, as a team we want to be better than we were last year and we want to prove that we weren’t a one hit wonder. We also want to grab hold of that momentum again. It can easily slip away and we can lose everything we worked to build. We have to come out hot and try to get that same type of feeling we had last year where we are stepping on the field as confident as last year.”
It’s a new season filled with intrigue and excitement but as fans get caught up in the hype, the team is focusing on the task at hand -- to ensure those fans have reason to cheer.