ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A year ago, things were a bit different with the Detroit Lions. The team was losing. People weren’t happy. The Lions looked like a team headed toward the bottom of the NFL.
“Last year it was kind of like position groups with their position groups,” left guard Rob Sims said. “That’s, any time you’re losing, that’s what it looks like. Stick to your guns, never pointing fingers, but maybe we didn’t associate with everybody like we should've.”
Now you look in the Detroit locker room today and players are, for the most part, happy. Position groups intermingle. The team appears to genuinely get along.
You have a wide receiver, Kevin Ogletree, rooming with a defensive back, Louis Delmas. You have players congregating at events outside of the Lions facility. There’s a different attitude around the team now, and if you think that doesn’t have something to do with their play -- and that the play doesn't have something to do with their attitude -- you’d be wrong.
There’s a chemistry within this Detroit team now, a comfort with one another that has helped on Sundays.
“The real change came in the offseason, when everyone got back here,” backup quarterback Shaun Hill said. “You could tell there was a different mentality around. The leaders were really stepping up and came in with a new focus.
“There’s a lot of things. One was just attention to detail in the offseason program and everybody came with the intentions of working hard and then, aside from that, there was kind of a high priority put on coming together and being a cohesive team, just coming together and being a better team.”
This new mentality began in April, when Detroit returned for its organized team activities and started to slowly prepare for this season. In those first few days, the returning Lions were able to sense that something was changing.
Some of it might have had to do with the changes in the on-field personnel -- Reggie Bush and others were brought in -- and some of it had to do with understanding what happened in 2012, from players who were distractions to chemistry that did not exist.
“Overall demeanor,” safety Don Carey said. “You could tell everyone still had that 4-12 season in the back of their head and we didn’t want that to happen again. So guys worked really hard this offseason, and you could see it from the first time they stepped on the field.”
Then there is the maturity. The free agents the Lions brought in were veterans of either multiple teams or multiple years in the league. Bush, Rashean Mathis and C.J. Mosley all are good presences in the locker room. And the players who were there before all grew up a bit, both in knowing their roles and in understanding what it takes to be a pro.
“There was a lot said about guys not being a distraction and getting into trouble,” Hill said. “And to this point, we’ve held up that end of it. I think that would fall into the maturity category.”
So when you look at the Lions, at 6-3 and leading the NFC North, understand that for all the talent on the outside, it starts inside their locker room, where there is a greater sense of comfort than there was 12 months ago.