- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions haven’t even reached training camp yet and already, their biggest offensive player is insisting on one difference from the team’s offense of the past.
The Lions are going to be more intelligent this season when they go for big plays.
“Not to say that we weren’t smart [before],” wide receiver Calvin Johnson said. “I guess, we [are] just picking and choosing our times, maybe when we go deep or when we can take a chance.”
Detroit showed that during the first day of mandatory minicamp Tuesday, when Johnson caught a touchdown pass of over 50 yards from Matthew Stafford over two defenders. Plays like that have been somewhat commonplace with the Lions during the careers of Stafford and Johnson, but sometimes they were forced in years past.
That led to turnovers, lost possessions and what appeared to be a reliance on the top receiver in the NFL to make play after play. Now, with an offense under new coordinator Joe Lombardi, Johnson seems to think they will be just as aggressive, but in different spots.
“We’re going after guys,” Johnson said. “That’s one thing we’ve always done here, but we’re definitely going to be more smart about choosing our times.”
Much of the Lions being smarter with the chances they take and the conversions they make will have to do with the increased maturity of Stafford and the trust he has with Lombardi.
No matter what the coaches call and what the other players do, how smart the Lions end up being will fall on the development and understanding of Stafford with the offense. So far, he appears to be grasping it.
“I think you’ll see as Matt continues to grow and really becomes what he will become in this league is that when he has his shot, he takes it and when he doesn’t, he checks it down or moves on to another guy,” quarterback Dan Orlovsky said. “That’s when a quarterback really moves to the next level, is when he gets the total respect and trust from his coordinator that when he’s calling a shot, I’m calling it for a touchdown and if it is not there, we’ll move on and we’ll call it again.
“That is getting to a comfort level with Matt and Joe.”
This could be part of the explanation of why the Lions' offense took a bit longer to develop than the team’s new defense. Beyond a terminology switch, there needed to be a trust and comfort level between Stafford and Lombardi, even during practices that are just preparation for the fall. To help with this, Lombardi had Lions players -- from linemen to skill positions -- watch old films of the New Orleans Saints to see where they would fit in with their new roles.
As they became more familiar with each other that grew, and the past two weeks the development has shown. Of course, the level of aggression Detroit will show during the season will depend on the week, the opponent and who is available on the offense.
For instance, the Lions are not likely to be as aggressive if Johnson or Stafford or even Reggie Bush were not on the field as they would be if those three were available.
That the offense appears to have found a comfort level could lead Lions coach Jim Caldwell to have some defensive concerns, but he’d rather see his offensive and defensive units alternating being good instead of having it all favor one side.
“That’s what it’s been doing, and that’s a good sign,” Caldwell said. “Rather than one side completely dominating the other.
“Obviously, then you feel that you’re in trouble.”
As long as Detroit’s offense and defense keep having those good days – or good weeks, even – then the Lions feel like they won’t be in trouble at all. And that will allow them to be as aggressive as they want all over the field.