Free Agency Put Pieces in Place

With the 2010 season officially wrapped up, Lions’ Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan’s focus has shifted to free agency and the NFL Draft.

Last year in particular, free agency brought in several key players to fill holes across the board, and Linehan was especially aggressive in getting wide receiver Nate Burleson to come to Detroit.

“Nate was a legitimate No. 2 receiver early in his career in Minnesota and then at Seattle,” said Linehan. “And I had a background with him.”

Having previous experience with one another in Minnesota, Linehan knew exactly how Burleson would fit in their offensive scheme.

Then in April, the Lions acquired tight end Tony Scheffler via trade, another player Linehan knew would “fit and fill needs right away” on the offensive side of the ball.

“Tony was a surprise because we had no idea that we had the opportunity to add somebody with those kind of receiving skills at the tight end position,” he said.

“Martin (Mayhew) continuing to bring in players that have fit our system is going to be the key.”

For Linehan, free agency is about filling needs with players that have identified roles as opposed to just finding a talented player who may not necessarily fit the system in place.

“We knew exactly how we were going to use those two players and that’s when, as an organization, you’re on the same page,” said Linehan. “Some places I’ve seen have signed players that are good players, but don’t really fit the system. This wasn’t true in the case of Burleson and Scheffler — those guys fit what we’re doing.”

Head Coach Jim Schwartz shares in that philosophy of addressing needs with players that have talent, but more importantly fit their scheme.

“The approach that we’ve taken with free agency and also the approach we’ve taken with the draft and everything else has been to a large extent letting it come to us rather than us trying to force it,” said Schwartz.

“The good decisions that we’ve made have been: ‘Okay, that player’s there.’ We didn’t go in last year saying, ‘We need to go get the best defensive end.’ It was a situation where Vanden Bosch fit exactly what we were looking for, he was available, we were able to get it done. Nate Burleson was done, fit, everything else.”

Players like Burleson and Scheffler were brought to Detroit because they fit into the system and were a big part of the offensive success that Detroit had last season. Both created more opportunities in the passing game and improved the offense as a whole.

“We definitely made ourselves better. We’re a young offense, we have a lot of pieces in place that we’re counting on,” said Linehan.

“I feel good with the direction that we’ve taken — we know exactly who we are right now. We legitimately have a lot to be excited about from an improvement standpoint, both with the physical ability of our players and their ability to go out and execute game plan.”

Moving forward, Schwartz, Linehan and the rest of the coaching staff will take the same approach as they have in the past in finding the right players to fit their needs.

“We traded for Chris Houston, but we didn’t go sign a free agent corner,” said Schwartz. “It wasn’t that we didn’t recognize a need for one, it was that there really wasn’t one there that fit No. 1, our job descriptions, and No. 2, the criteria for how much we were going to pay and stuff like that.

“When you say, ‘What is the plan this offseason?’ and stuff like that, I think the plan is just to keep improving the team and not to say, ‘Well, we have to get an offensive lineman; a quarterback; a defensive lineman.’ What you do is you just say, ‘That opportunity is there. That player’s there.’ Then you go ahead and take advantage of that opportunity.”

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