Calvin Johnson's retirement leaves a huge void for the Lions
ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) Calvin Johnson's retirement leaves a huge void for the Detroit Lions.
Detroit will face defenses for the first time in a decade without one of its players drawing double coverage on almost every snap.
Johnson walked away from the Lions and the league in March, announcing his retirement at the age of 30. The move rekindled memories of Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders cutting his career short with the same franchise.
As great as Johnson was though, the Lions were not very successful even with the spectacular wide receiver in the lineup. They were 7-9 last season, finishing below .500 for the seventh time in his nine-year career.
If Detroit can't protect quarterback Matthew Stafford better and fails to run the ball effectively, whether Johnson suited up for another season will likely be a moot point.
Stafford has been sacked 89 times the past two years, ranking among NFL leaders. The Lions averaged a league-low 83.4 yards rushing per game last season.
''That is on us,'' guard Larry Warford said. ''We learned a lot from that and we've got to share that knowledge with the new guys.''
Detroit's rookie general manager Bob Quinn, who worked his way up in the New England Patriots' front office, tried to address a glaring need by drafting offensive tackle Taylor Decker in the first round, center Graham Glasgow in the third and guard Joe Dahl in the fifth round.
''All three of them are great players and I could see each of them playing key roles for us this year,'' Warford said.
Here are some other things to watch as the Lions enter training camp:
THE REPLACEMENTS: Detroit signed wide receiver Marvin Jones to a five-year, $40 million contract just days after Johnson announced his retirement. Jones will be the team's No. 2 option in the passing game behind Golden Tate. Jones set career highs with 65 receptions and 816 yards receiving last year in his third season with the Cincinnati Bengals. The Lions also hope one of the veterans they signed – Jeremy Kerley, Andre Roberts and Andre Caldwell – can become their No. 3 receiver. Detroit will also count on a pair of younger players, Corey Fuller and TJ Jones, becoming relatively prominent players after having limited roles.
NEW BOSS IN TOWN: Quinn has subtly reshaped Detroit's roster, making a commitment to bolstering both lines and choosing not to make too big of a splash in free agency. Team owner Martha Firestone Ford shook up the franchise last season, firing a pair of longtime executives, team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew. She gave Quinn his first chance to lead an NFL front office, banking on him bringing some of what he learned from one of the league's top teams to the Motor City. Quinn was the Patriots' director of pro scouting for the previous four seasons after serving as assistant director of pro personnel for two years in his 16-year career with the franchise.
COACHING CONTINUITY: Quinn could have fired Jim Caldwell and hired a new coach and staff, but allowed him to return with an 18-14 mark in two seasons with one loss in the playoffs. The Lions also retained offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, who replaced the fired Joe Lombardi midway through last season, and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, a head coaching candidate after last season. ''That makes things operate a little bit more smoothly,'' Caldwell said.
HOT HAND: Stafford, drafted No. 1 overall by Detroit in 2009, is coming off the best stretch of his career. He threw 19 TDs and just two interceptions over the last eight games, six of which Detroit won after a 1-7 start. ''If we'd have had a couple more games, I think we'd have kept it heading even farther in the right direction,'' Cooter said. ''But hopefully, we're going to pick up right where we left off.''
LEANING ON LEVY: The Lions are welcoming back linebacker DeAndre Levy, one of their top players when healthy. He played only one game last season, shortly after signing a four-year extension, because of a hip injury that led to season-ending surgery. Levy was a second-team, All-Pro player in 2014 thanks a mix of physical ability and a mental edge. ''Levy takes off so fast on his reads,'' Caldwell said. ''Jim Bob asked the question, `Does he know what play's coming?' … It's really uncanny.''
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