It's a familiar mantra in the NFL this time of year, "Hope Springs Eternal" in training camp. But for Lions fans who have "Been there, done that" I'm going to provide you with five tangible reasons why the Lions will be much better than last year's 4-12 mark. In fact, I believe this year's team has an opportunity to go 10-6 and win a playoff game. And below you will find the top five reasons for fan optimism heading into the 2013 season.
1. Ndamukong Suh With very few bright spots in 2012, GM Martin Mayhew called Suh one of the only players who made a noticeable improvement on defense at the end of last year. But that is just the beginning of the new and improved Suh. As he enters his 4th season in Detroit, the 307 LB defensive tackle has taken a much more proactive leadership role on a team that has been hampered by a lack of character. Suh is even mounting a campaign to become a captain this year - something players on both sides of the locker room welcome from a guy with so much talent, who can truly be a difference maker.
2. Nick Fairley The fact that he has Suh next to him is reason enough to believe Fairley will continue to ascend toward his full potential. But it was an off season commitment to work harder and maximize his effort to meet his ability that has Jim Schwartz singing the defensive tackle's praises calling him "Very impressive" for reporting in great shape.
3. Reggie Bush After the hurry up and wait nature of the Jahvid Best drama, it's just a breath of fresh air for the Lions to finally have a legitimate threat to not only run the ball, but catch it out of the backfield. But I would be remiss if I didn't include Joique Bell and Mikel Leshoure in the conversation. Between the three of them, Scott Linehan has a wealth of weapons and options (consider the two back set) that will force opposing defenses to respect Detroit's ground attack, rather than just double up and Calvin.
4. Chris Houston As if going up against Calvin Johnson in practice isn't enough to make anyone better, the 7th year cornerback out of Arkansas was the only player in the Lions defensive backfield to start more than 6 games last year - which means he didn't get much help. This year that all figures to change for Houston who will have, in addition to a presumably healthier Bill Bentley, the addition of veteran safety Glover Quin and a developing talent in Darius Slay to help him out. Of course forcing turnovers is always the key, but with younger, faster defensive ends - he should be able to surpass the 5 picks he had in 2011 - instead of the paltry team leading two interceptions he finished with last season.
5. Riley Reiff As frustrating as it may have been last April when the front office used its first round pick on an offensive tackle - because it wasn't a pressing need - it is now. After playing in all 16 games in his 2012 rookie season, Reiff will fill the void at left tackle after Jeff Backus retired. He not only looks just like him, but he appears steady and talented enough to slide right in and do one of the single most important jobs on the field and that is protect the Lions $76 million dollar man who is just 2,903 yards shy of breaking Bobby Layne's franchise passing mark.