Quinn’s fingerprints are all over the young Lions

Safety Miles Killebrew is one of many players drafted by Detroit general manager Bob Quinn already in his two years with the Lions.

The Detroit Lions have played 19 games under general manager Bob Quinn. That’s not very much time to build a team in your own image, but somehow Quinn has managed to do it.

It’s too early to tell how high the Lions can climb this season, but one thing is for sure: these are not the Same Old Lions.

The offense is primed to be a high-scoring group, especially if the team can follow through on a stated commitment to the running game. Quinn has made several moves to shore up the line and make the offense hum.

The O-Line has been remade. Quinn signed free agent guard T.J. Lang, brought in left tackle Greg Robinson, as well as right tackle Rick Wagner, guard Zac Kerin, guard Joe Dahl, and tackle Emmett Cleary for depth. Ameer Abudullah, a back that predates Quinn’s arrival, should benefit from the beefier front group. This past Monday against the Giants, for the first time in nearly a decade the Lions racked up more yards on the ground than they did in the air.

Fans aren’t used to seeing the Lions ram the ball at the opposing defense on the ground. It’s been a long time since a Detroit team played this style of football. Even when Barry Sanders was doing his legendary things in the Honolulu Blue, the Lions often ran misdirections and opened the field to give him room. This Lion running game is designed to wear down the defense and give the opponent something to think about so Matthew Stafford can be even more lethal. So far, through two games this season, that philosophy looks promising.

Stafford has a few new targets thanks to Quinn’s eye, which was honed while he spent several years as a scout and player personnel exec under Bill Belichick in New England. One of Quinn’s first moves as GM was to sign free agent receiver Marvin Jones Jr., who hauled in 930 yards of catches last season and has become a favorite deep ball partner with Stafford. This year, Quinn added draft pick Kevin Golladay, who caught two TD passes in the opener in acrobatic fashion, looking a lot more like OBJ than OBJ has recently. He also lured tight end Darren Fells from professional European basketball, giving the team athletic depth at that position.

Quinn also drafted offensive tackle Taylor Decker in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, as his first selection with the Lions. Decker impressed in his rookie season but surgery on a damaged shoulder has ruled him out for at least the first few months in 2017. Regardless, Decker has a bright future at the most important position on the line: left tackle (or the protection spot for Stafford).

And that’s just the offensive side of the ball. The Detroit defense has so many new players that they should probably wear name tags in team meetings.

Half of the Detroit D-Line are Quinn draft picks: end Anthony Zettel and tackle A’Shawn Robinson. Both have learned the NFL quicker than most young players and their solid play has helped free Ziggy Ansah to inflict damage on the quarterback.

The best example of Quinn’s eagle eye might be the case of Miles Killebrew, a safety that the Detroit GM plucked out of obscure Southern Utah in the 2016 NFL Draft. Killebrew has yet to start a game in the defensive backfield, but he makes his presence known: he had one interception in his rookie season and in week one this year he returned an interception for a touchdown. It may not be long before the Lions will have to find more playing time for young Mr. Killebrew, a fourth round pick that came out of nowhere.

Killebrew was a deep dive steal, but Jarrad Davis was Quinn’s first round marquee selection in the ’17 NFL Draft. In his college career with the Florida Gators, Davis was considered a talented linebacker but he missed playing time with several injuries. Some NFL teams shied away from Davis because of it, but Quinn pounced when he was available at #21. In two games thus far, Davis has looked great, showing off his speed and strength. A concussion suffered on Monday against the Giants might keep him on the sidelines for a game, but his future is very bright.

One of the hallmarks of the Patriots run of success has been their ability to take players from other teams and incorporate them into the system. Quinn learned that lesson well while he was winning four Super Bowl rings in their front office. This offseason he signed free agent linebacker Paul Worrilow from the Falcons and last season he welcomed safety Tavon Wilson, who has blossomed as a starter and already has one pick in 2017.

Almost every player on the defensive side’s second unit is a Quinn guy: Killebrew, defensive backs Teez Tabor and DJ Hayden, free safety Charles Washington, linebackers Steve Longa and Jalen Reeves-Maybin, and linemen Jeremiah Ledbetter and Jeremiah Valoaga are all Quinn draft picks. Four of them are rookies.

Speaking of rookies, Jamal Agnew is one, and he was named the NFL’s Special Teams Player of the Week today on the strength of his exciting 88-yard punt return for a touchdown on Monday. That score by Agnew, a fifth-round pick out of San Diego, was the dagger that finished off the Giants. Quinn isn’t afraid of young players, in fact he seems to relish in having them on his roster. Given the youth he has on both sides of the football the Lions might see a core group of players jell in coming years.

Quinn deserves credit for another decision too. He had the wisdom to sign Stafford to football’s most expensive contract before this season. The move was largely criticized by followers of the team, but ultimately Quinn will be proven right. If the team is going to compete they won’t be able to do it by changing quarterbacks. Plus, Stafford has proven that he’s a team leader and the best player they’ve had behind center since Bobby Layne. If Quinn is going to finally get a playoff win for this troubled franchise, Stafford is the man to get them there.

Before I end this tribute to Mr. Quinn, I’d be remiss if I didn’t congratulate the person who brought him to the Lions. Octogenarian Martha Ford took control of the team in March of 2014, succeeding her late husband as owner of the team. After a successful season in Jim Caldwell’s first year on the sidelines, the Lions got off to a miserable 1-7 start in 2015. Ford took action, firing the team president and the general manager. It was an unusual display of decisiveness for a Lions owner. She hired Rob Wood as team president soon after and Wood shepherded Quinn to Detroit the following spring.

With Quinn making the football decisions, the Lions have gotten better quickly. Most importantly they seem to be smarter. For the Lions that’s a welcome change.

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