In 2013, the Detroit Lions passing offence had one main focus: Calvin Johnson. Now, under the direction of new head coach Jim Caldwell, the Lions seek to find balance and take some pressure off the superstar wide receiver.
The Lions once promising 2013 season was derailed by four straight losses to end the season at 7-9. Following the season, head coach Jim Schwartz was fired, Caldwell was hired, and the Lions looked to free agency and the draft to help their franchiser quarterback Matthew Stafford.
In free agency, the Lions signed wide receiver Golden Tate, who led the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks in both receptions and yards last season. Then, the Lions used the 10th overall pick in May's draft to take the top tight end available; North Carolina product Eric Ebron.
Tate will open the season opposite Johnson on the starting offence, replacing the committee of Nate Burelson, Kris Durham and Kevin Ogletree, who all saw time at the position last season. Despite missing seven games with a broken arm, Burelson led the group with 39 catches. Johnson's 84 catches for 1492 yards more than tripled the 490 yards of the next best receiver Durham.
Ebron faces stiffer competition at the tight end spot. Brandon Pettigrew is entering his sixth season with the Lions and will likely hold on to his starting spot, while Joseph Fauria will also hold a spot on the offence after he excelled in the red zone last season; hauling in seven touchdowns.
Where Ebron may benefit, is the lack of depth of the Lions receiving core. Ebron may lineup in a similar spot to that of Jimmy Graham of the Saints, seeing snaps in the slot receiver position. Ebron will have to beat out Ogletree for snaps in that role.
No matter where Ebron lines up, Stafford is glad to new weapons to throw to in the Lions new offensive system.
"Learning a new offence and learning new coaches, just getting to know them on both sides of the football. Learning new teammates. That part of it is fun," Stafford told the team's website in training camp. "It's a challenge, but we're excited about it."
A position of strength for the Lions last year, the team will again look to have their running backs heavily involved in the offence in 2014.
Reggie Bush rushed for 1,006 yards last year and had 506 receiving yards on 54 catches, the second-most on the team. Bush's change-of-pace back Joique Bell rushed for 650 yards and caught 53 passes for 547 yards, second-most on the team. The tandem combined for 15 offensive touchdowns.
If the Lions can reignite the tandem of Bush and Bell on the ground and use their offseason additions to balance their passing attack, the team's offence will be worth fearing in 2014.
Questions at Corner: The Lions were widely expected to use their first-round draft pick on a cornerback after cutting starter Chris Houston, instead the Lions added to their offence with Ebron. Houston was released after undergoing a toe surgery the Lions believed to be career-ending. He has yet to sign with a new team. At corner, second-year player Darius Slay is expected to start on one side, with veteran Rashean Mathis starting on the other. Slay started four games last season as a rookie, after being selected in the second round of the 2013 draft. Mathis, a 12-year NFL veteran, started 13 games for the Lions last season. Bill Bentley, who started five games last season, and free-agent signee Cassius Vaughn could also push for starts.
Last line of defence: Veteran safety Louis Delmas signed with the Miami Dolphins in free agency, breaking up the Lions safety duo, which played together in all 16 games last season. Now, incumbent starter Glover Quin will be paired with free-agent signee James Ihedigo, who started all 16 games with the Ravens last season.
Fairely disappointing: 2011 first-round pick Nick Fairley is slated to open the season on the bench after reporting to training camp overweight and performing poorly in the preseason. Fairley started 15 games in 2013, notching 35 tackles, six sacks and one safety. Veteran defensive tackle C.J. Mosley is set start beside All-Pro Ndamukong Suh on the Lions defensive line.