The Detroit Lions, like all NFL teams, are fired up about their chances right now.
Jim Schwartz said there's a difference in Detroit.
"We have tangible reasons to be optimistic," the fifth-year coach said on the eve of his team's first practice Friday.
The Lions are facing more pressure than usual to win because the pieces seem to be in place to have success after last year's once-promising season closed with an eight-game losing streak and a 4-12 record.
Schwartz said he fully expects the Lions to bounce back with Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh leading the way on a team counting on some newcomers and returning players coming off injuries.
"I'm the most confident I've been in four years here as the head coach," said Schwartz, who seems to be entering a win-or-else season with a 22-42 career record. "We're confident in our players, we're confident in our system. I like where this team is, and we're looking forward to having a good training camp."
The Lions made a lot of moves in the offseason, quickly signing running back Reggie Bush to replace Jahvid Best, who was released last week, and safety Glover Quinn to address a glaring need in the secondary.
"A lot of people talk about Reggie Bush, and he's going to be an impact player for us," Schwartz said. "I think the one we're equally excited about, that's flown below the radar, is Glover Quin."
Detroit drafted defensive end Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah at No. 5 overall, took cornerback Darius Slay in the second round and offensive guard Larry Warford in the third to headline a rookie class that is expected to do more than stand and watch from the sideline.
"They weren't drafted to find their way or redshirt or things like that," Schwartz said. "They were drafted with very specific purpose in mind."
Lions veterans reported to team headquarters on Thursday for a physical and a conditioning test. Schwartz expected positive results, including from banged-up players such as safety Louis Delmas, who he doesn't anticipate putting on the physically unable to perform list.
"There might be some guys that might be short-term PUP, but unlike in some other past years, I don't anticipate anyone being a long-term PUP where we are waiting for weeks," Schwartz said.
The Lions were waiting for years — 11, in fact — to make the playoffs before breaking through with a 10-win season in 2011.
They weren't able to build off that accomplishment and celebrate a year ago. Several players were arrested during the offseason and one, Titus Young, punched a teammate, Louis Delmas, when he wasn't looking in one of the receiver's decisions that led to his release.
The Lions didn't come out of this offseason unblemished — linebacker Ronnell Lewis and safety Amari Spievey had brushes with the law — but overall they had fewer off-the-field problems.
Schwartz said it was more of a "distraction free" offseason.
"The players have been able to focus more on football over the last six months, and that's been beneficial for them," he said.
The Lions will have some closely contested competitions at some positions, especially at right guard and tackle, to replace Stephen Peterman, who was cut, and Gosder Cherilus, who wasn't re-signed. They took one player out of the mix, releasing guard Bill Nagy. Detroit acquired Nagy off waivers Aug. 16, 2002, from the Dallas Cowboys and put on injured reserve later that month.
Perhaps the No. 1 reason Schwartz expects a lot from this season's team is he can envision the defensive line being more like it was in 2011, and less like the lackluster unit the Lions had last season. Suh will lead the deep unit which includes defensive tackles Nick Fairley and C.J. Mosley along with defensive ends Ansah, Jason Jones, Israel Idonije and Willie Young.
"I think we have the potential to be just as effective, if not more," he said.
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