In what is widely considered a make-or-break year, the Detroit Lions' leadership is expressing relatively wild optimism about their 2013 team.
Speaking Tuesday with local reporters, general manager Martin Mayhew said: "It's safe to say this is the biggest, most athletic and fastest team we've had." Those sentiments from the relatively reserved Mayhew come five days after coach Jim Schwartz said: "I'm the most confident I have been in four years here as the head coach."
Schwartz acknowledged that all 32 teams are optimistic at the start of training camp but added: "I think the things that are different about us is that we have reasons to be optimistic. We have tangible reasons to be optimistic. Some of the players we have gotten back from injury, some of the players we have added, some of the lessons we have learned have made us a better club, team, and individuals as a result of all that."
So what's going on here? To me, there are two separate issues to discuss. First, should Mayhew and Schwartz be this optimistic about the team they have put together? Second, should they be saying so?
On the former, my sense is that they are right. On paper, this is the biggest, fastest and most athletic team the Lions have had in a while. Mayhew revamped the defensive line to feature all, long-armed pass rushers who can move. At 6-feet, rookie Darius Slay is the biggest cornerback the Lions have had in a while. Meanwhile, the Lions' reconstructed offensive line will be bigger at left tackle, right tackle and right guard this season.
As Schwartz noted, the Lions have gotten receivers Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles back from injury. The same is true, for now, of safety Louis Delmas. Linebacker Stephen Tulloch is said to be free of the knee pain that plagued him last season. And most everyone would agree that free-agent acquisitions Reggie Bush and Glover Quin are upgrades over their predecessors. Finally, the Lions lived a valuable lesson about complacency and distractions during their 4-12 crash last season.
So I can't dispute the big-picture assessments we've heard. But why are Mayhew and Schwartz both telling anyone who will listen? Neither are particularly prone to public pronouncements.
If I had to guess, I would say it is a carryover from the Lions' internal mindset. Half of being a good is believing you are a good. If the coach and general manager were telling people that they "hoped" to be good or "think" they will good, it would imply a level of hesitation. Win-or-else situations aren't the time for hedging. They are the time for confidence and certainty. There can't be an alternative.