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Minicamp analysis: Caldwell talks of Lions winning, not improving

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ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Quarterbacks are typically the most scrutinized players in the NFL, but Detroit Lions head coach Jim Caldwell had no interest in talking about exactly what Matthew Stafford needs to do to improve for the Lions to take a step forward offensively in 2015.

For the Lions to be the team Caldwell envisions, everyone has to take strides.

“We’re more interested in winning,” Caldwell said. “Winning does not necessarily mean that you score 50 points a game. We’re more interested in winning games, so sometimes that requires an offense to take care of the ball and not give it away but you be very, very effective.

“It has nothing to do with really scoring in that particular sense. We can play defense, you understand? We’ve got a good defensive team and when you do that you have to play complementary football.

“I know a lot of people that like to kind of point and say, ‘Well, Matthew’s got to do this.’ Matthew just has to do his job, right? Plain and simple.”

With OTAs and minicamp done, it’s still hard to project how good the Lions will be in 2014.

The offensive line, the team’s worst unit last year, is younger and more athletic, but it’s also inexperienced.

The defensive tackles have some experience with Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker, but can that duo and the others replace the production lost with Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and C.J. Mosley leaving?

Those remain the two biggest uncertainties with the team, but there are plenty of reasons for optimism elsewhere as the Lions try to improve on last year’s 11-5 finish.

Rookie Ameer Abdullah appears to be the agile, one-cut back who can be more effective than Reggie Bush last year, and tight end Eric Ebron looks more comfortable and could blossom into a good third weapon.

The linebacker corps is deep with both talent and experience after Tahir Whitehead played last season. In addition to likely starters DeAndre Levy, Stephen Tulloch and Whitehead, 2014 second-round pick Kyle Van Noy could provide a pass-rushing boost.

The Lions’ secondary has excellent chemistry and plenty of options to play nickel, a weak spot last year. Josh Wilson is the most likely option due to experience, but rookies Alex Carter and Quandre Diggs and second-year man Nevin Lawson could play there, too.

Free safety Glover Quin became a star last year, cornerback Darius Slay is ascending and, despite being 31 and 34 respectively, strong safety James Ihedigbo and cornerback Rashean Mathis have looked good in practice.

With so many strengths, much of the pressure will be on Stafford to take a step forward in his seventh NFL season. He completed only 60.3 percent of his passes last season, but another year in offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi’s scheme could provide more comfort.

Stafford had good practices and mediocre ones throughout the offseason, so he will have to be precise in training camp.

“Obviously, you want to be explosive and efficient at the same time, and the way this league is if you throw for a lot of yards and a lot of touchdowns it’s usually a successful season,” Stafford said of his goals.

“I’m just going to continue to try getting better, make sure that we’re not turning the ball over and making big plays.”


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