ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- When former California standout Jahvid Best flipped over an Oregon State defender in November, Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz flipped over the running back. Schwartz wanted to see more.
Though he doesn't follow college football closely, Schwartz sought out more information and highlights. The more he saw of Best, the more enamored he became. Eventually, Schwartz had a DVD filled with the best of Best.
"Every running back has a highlight reel -- some a play or two, some 10 plays," Schwartz said Sunday in between Lions practices. "But there was nothing like that steady stream of highlights that [Best] put on tape."
What Best could do was just what the Lions lacked. Last season, Detroit ranked second in the NFL on runs of 4-plus yards, but they ranked dead last on runs of 20-plus yards. So Schwartz headed into the draft knowing the Lions would land defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, but praying they could find a way to get Best.
Schwartz sweated out most of the first round, tried to finagle his way back into it later on, and eventually traded up to the 30th overall pick. The Lions were able to use that pick to draft Best, who had fallen in the draft because of the concussion concerns some teams had about him.
Just like that, the Lions had the player Schwartz had been studying since November, the type of home run hitter that Tennessee got when it drafted Chris Johnson when Schwartz was the Titans' defensive coordinator, and the most dynamic running back in Detroit since Barry Sanders.
"He filled a spot on our team that we were lacking," Schwartz said.
From his days as a defensive coordinator, Schwartz knew defenses could always take one offensive weapon out of a game. The problem came when there were two.
Now Schwartz believes the Lions have two weapons -- Best and wide receiver Calvin Johnson -- to go along with the improvements they've made at tight end with Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler and at wide receiver with Nate Burleson and Bryant Johnson.
Schwartz's man-crush on Best has not subsided. He is enamored with how Best catches the ball, not just out of the backfield, but 30 yards downfield. He is fully aware of the 8.1 yards per carry Best averaged in his sophomore season and his 7.3 career average at California. And he raves about Best's speed, which enabled him to run a faster 40-yard dash at the combine than the Bills' C.J. Spiller (the ninth overall pick) and win the California Interscholastic Federation 100-meter state championship as a high school senior.
"When you're the fastest person in California, there's a lot of countries you could be representing in the Olympics," Schwartz said.
Now Best is representing the Lions. The Lions hope -- and think -- they've won gold.
Other observations from Lions camp:
They still have a ways to go, especially on defense, but the Lions have assembled some building blocks that recent Detroit teams have not had. Pettigrew, Suh, Best, Calvin Johnson, quarterback Matthew Stafford and safety Louis Delmas are players who lead Detroit back to respectability and the postseason, where the Lions have not appeared since 1999.
At this time last year, Stafford was competing for a starting job with Daunte Culpepper; this season the starting quarterback reps are all his. Last training camp, Calvin Johnson, Bryant Johnson and Pettigrew did not get to work with Stafford because of injuries; this summer they're all working together. Last summer, Stafford didn't know the names of many in the organization; now he's the face of the franchise. Stafford is far more comfortable and should produce at a higher level because of it.
Anyone looking for the Lions' weakness needs to look at their defensive backs. Last season, the Lions ranked last in the NFL in pass defense. Detroit's secondary still has more questions than talent, and the only player the Lions know will be starting is Delmas, who has a passion for football to match his talent. The Lions' cornerbacks could be Chris Houston, 33-year-old Dre' Bly and third-round pick Amari Spievey. This Lions secondary could be the weakest in the league.
On the other hand, Detroit's defensive line will be improved. How could it not be with Suh, former Brown and Packer Corey Williams and former Titan Kyle Vanden Bosch, whom the Lions believe will return to the type of player he was when he was a standout in Tennessee for Schwartz.
This year's Mr. Irrelevant, Weber State wide receiver Tim Toone, has a legitimate chance to make the Lions' roster and be the team's punt returner.
For the first time in years, there's a real sense within the Lions' organization that the arrow is pointing up.
Adam Schefter is an ESPN NFL Insider.