ALLEN PARK - On the field, Detroit's defense is slightly ahead of the team's offense. It's a training camp tradition across the league. But when it comes to the advancements of the roster, especially with a massive rebuilding, consider Matt Stafford and company ready to decorate the interior.
While the front office seriously upgraded the defensive line with three new starters this offseason, the other priority was the Phase 2 construction of the offense.
The initial phase began when the Lions drafted quarterback Matthew Stafford with the No. 1 overall pick, then used another first-round selection on tight end Brandon Pettigrew.
This offseason, the second stanza began with:
- Targeted veteran receiver Nate Burleson on the opening day of free agency. Detroit required a speedster at receiver to alleviate pressure and coverage from No. 1 receiver Calvin Johnson.
- Traded for tight end Tony Scheffler. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has made his career with tight ends, and Detroit needed another formidable, versatile talent to go along with Pettigrew. Scheffler embodied everything the Lions were looking for, and they acquired him for a relatively unproductive linebacker (Ernie Sims).
- Drafted a big-play running back in first-rounder Jahvid Best. Best is the team's top third-down option, and should really be explosive on screen plays and as a security outlet for Stafford. He's known for his homerun ability, something Detroit lacked last year.
Now this Lions training camp will be about putting all those pieces together to develop a winning identity for a team that simply hasn't had one the last few years. A franchise that went from the West Coast offense to Mike Martz's vertical passing game under its last two head coaches now is trying to build around a smart, tough young quarterback with a big arm.
"Honestly, we held (Stafford) back a little last year," coach Jim Schwartz said after the first training camp practice Saturday. "We didn't have the pieces that we have now. But he was ready to take on a lot more than we gave him. You saw him today. He was at the line calling plays, changing plays. That's real important."
And don't think for a moment that just because the head coach is a former defensive coordinator, he won't be willing to rely on his offense -- and Linehan's expanded playbook -- to get the Lions back on track initially.
"However it comes, our formula for winning games is to do what we do best," Schwartz said. "I'm not going to say, 'Hey, we're gonna slug it out and we're gonna beat our head against a wall.' It may come from opening it up. We may have to win a game, 10-7, or we may have to win a game, 28-27.
"Whatever it takes and however our team's structured is how to go. But that's a large part about what we're doing here in training camp is establishing that identity, finding out what that identity's going to be."
Clearly, though, that identity will be shaped by the progress Stafford makes from his rookie season, both in the locker room and under center, where he fully expects to have more freedom to call it like he sees it.
"Yeah, I think so," Stafford said. "In OTAs and mini-camp I was given the chance to check in-and-out of plays a lot more. I think Coach Linehan is getting a more comfortable with me, and I'm getting more comfortable with him and his system. The better we can get on the same page, the better this offense is going to be.
"I don't know if (the new offense) was tailored to me as much as to some of the new guys we have. We have (added) some guys that can do some things, as well as the guys we're bringing back from last year. That's what we're really building our offense around. It's my job to get them the ball, but these guys can do special things and get open in certain ways, and that's what we're trying to do is find their strengths and use them."
The TheSportsXchange and Nate Caminata combined to write this report