Success in the NFL is a counterpart of overcoming adversity.
The Detroit Lions had their fair share in 2012 and their inability to overcome it resulted in a 4-12 record.
It all started in the offseason when the Lions were faced with several off-the-field issues. Four players accounted for seven arrests and there was an alleged sucker punch delivered from wide receiver Titus Young to safety Louis Delmas.
“You know, I can’t say that (the offseason issues) did or didn’t (impact the season),” said guard Rob Sims. “I mean those guys came back, the guys it happened to came back or they got rid of the guys that they didn’t think could help the team. So, I don’t really think that was it. I don’t really think that was an issue. It didn’t help us by any means. We need all the help we can get. We’ve got to watch what we do period, especially this year, our microscope’s going to be zoomed in even just a little bit more. We’ve got to take care of our business.”
Many in the locker room share Sims’ perspective, believing that the off-field issues didn’t have a large impact but that they cannot repeat.
“Every team has its players that make wrong decisions,” said safety Louis Delmas. “Unfortunately for us, this year we had more than the rest of the league did. But I think we just have to focus on not individuals but us as a team and know that the mistakes that we make individually will affect the team.”
The off-the-field issues may have had a larger impact than the players will admit but the obstacle that soon followed had an undeniable effect; the loss of running back Jahvid Best.
Best suffered a concussion in October of 2011 and has not yet been cleared for contact. Many in the organization expected Best to return in 2012 and were caught off guard when he wasn’t cleared for the start of camp.
“This time last year, even going up to a week before training camp, we thought we’d have Jahvid Best,” said head coach Jim Schwartz. “Anybody that saw our OTAs saw the way Jahvid was looking and that was going to be a big part of our offense and we planned for that. A couple days before training camp he didn’t get clearance and we had to go to different plans.”
In addition to Best’s status, one of the biggest training camp stories was the defensive backfield. The group consisted of cornerback Chris Houston, Delmas and a lot of question marks.
“We did work hard to try to keep the team together but it was probably more of a force of circumstance. That had a lot to do with it. It wasn’t like we had money to go get other guys,” said Schwartz. “We lost one corner to free agency (Eric Wright) and we ended up losing another corner over to some bad decisions (Aaron Berry).
“Secondary was an issue and I know you guys all wrote about it all training camp. Can the secondary hold up, can the secondary hold up. I thought the guys battled like crazy today. We have (cornerback) Ron Bartell who has been on the team two weeks, we have (cornerback) Pat Lee, both of those guys were playing for the Raiders and were released. Pat Lee was playing nickel, (safety) Don Carey we released in training camp was one safety and (safety) Tyrell Johnson who had just got to us. Four out of our five guys out there were guys that weren’t with us at the beginning of the season. We didn’t do a good enough job of managing it.”
In addition to the rash of injuries and changes in the secondary, the Lions wide receivers also suffered similar complications.
Receiver Nate Burleson was placed on Injured Reserve after the team’s first contest against the Chicago Bears and wide receiver Titus Young was dismissed from the team due to insubordination before being placed on Injured Reserve himself. Shortly after, Ryan Broyles tore his ACL and also was lost for the season. Pass-catching tight end Brandon Pettigrew also struggled with injuries all season and missed a couple contests.
“I know it (had an impact),” said receiver Calvin Johnson. “When they’re not there you can’t really say what could have happened – it’s tough to put yourself in that situation and guess what might have happened, but at the same time, we definitely could have used those guys – no doubt.”
A season filled with adversity translated into a season filled with losses. Now the Lions will have an offseason to recover and reflect.
The only thing guaranteed in 2013 is more adversity, the Lions need to be equipped to handle it.