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Dasher 08-18-09 04:29 AM

Lions searching for fans as they seek to shed the skeletons
Lions searching for fans as they seek to shed the skeletons
By Tom Pedulla, USA TODAY

USA TODAY is writing Letters from Camp from all 32 NFL training camps over the next few weeks. See all the Letters from Camp.

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — The Detroit Lions continue to pay a steep price for last season's historic 0-16 futility.

In what is surely a reflection of both a struggling economy and the tattered state of a franchise that has dropped 23 of its last 24 games, the Lions are taking the unusual step of advertising half-season tickets.

First-year general manager Martin Mayhew is keenly aware of the need to fill seats, but insists that will not influence the quarterback competition between Matthew Stafford, the top pick in the draft, and veteran Daunte Culpepper.

While an announcement that Stafford will start from the beginning of the regular season would almost surely spur lagging ticket sales, Mayhew says of the eventual decision, "It's about football. We're trying to win football games.

"Marketing is obviously very important, but we think if we win football games, that will take care of itself."

Mayhew does not believe there is any proven formula for developing a potential franchise passer such as Stafford.

"You have to be flexible," he says. "Clubs have been very successful playing rookies from Day One and other clubs have been successful with having a guy sit and wait. We're fortunate we have Daunte, so we can be flexible."


• The scene: Nothing exciting. Detroit uses the same facility year-round, so there is not much to report. New coach Jim Schwartz joked that part of a massive turnover should include the weatherman. He moved Monday's practice indoors when told thunderstorms and lightning were minutes away. Sunny skies prevailed.

• Reason to believe: It appears Detroit finally has a capable head coach. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who gave Schwartz his start as a scout for the Cleveland Browns in 1993, calls him "one of the smartest people I've been around." Schwartz built a solid reputation during an eight-year run as Tennessee's defensive coordinator that culminated in the Titans' ranking as the NFL's second-best scoring defense (14.6 points per game) in 2008. This is the only team with the certainty that it has nowhere to go but up.

• Trouble spots: An overall defensive breakdown was responsible for many of Detroit's woes. The Lions finished last in the league in defense each of the last two years. They allowed 517 points, second-highest total in NFL history, en route to their infamous 0-for.

• What's new: Detroit used the offseason to assemble a promising linebacking corps. The Lions added Julian Peterson and Larry Foote to 2006 first-round pick Ernie Sims, one of the team's few draft success stories in recent years. New defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham plans to capitalize on that strength by blitzing frequently. It will be a welcome change for fans who watched previous head coach Rod Marinelli feature a Tampa-2 scheme that made little happen.

• Positional battles: All eyes are on the QB duel between Stafford and Culpepper. Schwartz has emphasized that the heralded rookie will not be awarded the job until he proves he gives the team a better chance to win than Culpepper, a three-time Pro Bowler working to extend his career after a devastating knee injury. A large number of candidates are vying for positions in a defensive secondary that produced one interception in 2008.

• Rookie watch: Detroit has promising rookies beyond the rifle-armed Stafford. Running back Aaron Brown displayed blistering speed while scoring twice when the Lions edged the Atlanta Falcons 27-26 to open the preseason. Louis Delmas, a fan favorite out of Western Michigan, has the tools to develop into a mainstay at safety.

• On the mend: Newly-acquired nose tackle Grady Jackson, 36, who can be a force in the middle when healthy, continues to work his way back from February knee surgery. His return to form is vital because of his ability to stuff the run while occupying multiple offensive linemen.

Lions searching for fans as they seek to shed the skeletons - USATODAY.com

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