This summer, as part of looking ahead to the 2012 NFL season, we're going in-depth to analyze the Detroit Lions' roster. In August, we'll embark on in-depth previews of each position. This week, we're telling you about the players who must remain consistent in 2012 after their outstanding 2011 seasons.
It's easy to single out players who must improve their games. Harder, though. is figuring out who needs to remain steady. In 2011, plenty of Detroit Lions enjoyed career years, but what does 2012 have in store? If the Lions are to have repeat success, several key contributors will need to duplicate their performances from last season. Here's five examples:
1. Matthew Stafford, Quarterback: Stafford finally turned a corner in the biggest way last year. He stayed healthy, played well and even set personal records in the process passing for over 5,000 yards. He tossed 41 touchdowns to only 16 interceptions, and looked the part of a confident, strong leader. While Stafford bounced back nicely and became the quarterback the Lions knew he was, this doesn't change the fact that he needs to match these results next season. If there's one player that fans want to see consistency out of, it's Stafford. Admittedly, people still remain gun shy about his prior injuries and inconsistencies. If Stafford follows up his breakout comeback campaign in 2011 with a solid 2012, the Lions will be in the playoffs once more and lingering concerns will dissipate.
2. Titus Young, Wide Receiver: Young, only a rookie, burst onto the scene last year and quickly became Stafford's favorite target other than Calvin Johnson. He contributed plenty of clutch catches to the tune of 607 yards receiving and 6 touchdowns. This season, if Young is able to avoid the dreaded "sophomore slump" and contribute even more, the Lions' offense will remain scarier. In addition to Nate Burleson, Detroit added Ryan Broyles, so there's defiantly reinforcements available outside Johnson. Young's continued development is critical, especially in light of his offseason fight with Louis Delmas. If he keeps his head in the game, he can become an elite pass catcher.
3. Chris Houston, Cornerback: Last season, Houston's solid play and ball hawking abilities ignited Detroit's defense, as he produced five interceptions and scored two important defensive touchdowns. This coming season, the Lions' backfield will be experiencing a bit of change, given the loss of the solid Eric Wright. Houston may have to anchor the Lions' cornerback unit, as it could be even younger heading into the season with many rookies set to contribute. As Houston continues to evolve as a player, the the Lions will continue to reap the rewards.
4. Stephen Tulloch, Linebacker: The good news here is that Tulloch's middle name throughout his career has been "consistent." Though his 111 tackles in 2011 fell far below the 160 he enjoyed in 2010, Tulloch's rock solid play in the middle was perhaps the biggest stabilizing factor for the Lions' evolving young defense, and if it continues, the unit should take even more steps forward. In a six year career, Tulloch has never missed a game and has been a usual force for every defense he's been on. Now that he's signed a new deal and has returned to the fold, fans should expect more of the same from Tulloch in 2012. That's good news considering the big impact he's already made in Detroit.
5. Tony Scheffler, Tight End: Throughout the first two games of last season, Scheffler was hot, contributing two important touchdowns and helping Detroit's offense by adding another diverse weapon. Though his production tailed off a bit, Scheffler found the end zone three more times the rest of the season, and was an excellent complement to Brandon Pettigrew. In 2012, Scheffler may be the biggest x-factor for Detroit's offense. Given defenses' propensity to key on Johnson, Young and Burleson and the potential for the Lions' running game to get going, there could be plenty of open field over the middle for the tight ends. Scheffler following his 2011 performance up with a similar one in 2012 could help the Lions' offense explode even more.
When the 2012 season gets underway, make sure to watch the statistics of these five players. Chances are, if they stay consistent, the Lions will also continue with their winning ways.
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