December 30, 2012 at 1:00 am

Chris McCosky

Chris McCosky's Four Downs: Lions face potential enormous roster upheaval

First down

And now we begin what promises to be as turbulent an offseason this franchise has endured since probably the transformative 2009-2010 offseasons.

There are 24 unrestricted free agents, including starters Cliff Avril, Gosder Cherilus, Louis Delmas, Justin Durant, Chris Houston, Jacob Lacey, DeAndre Levy and Corey Williams, as well as key reserves Will Heller, Sammie Hill and Lawrence Jackson.

Kicker Jason Hanson and left tackle Jeff Backus will be contemplating retirement.

The Lions also have to make decisions on several restricted free agents, as well — Willie Young, Jason Fox, Joique Bell, Don Carey, Ricardo Silva and Amari Spievey.

Most of the upheaval is likely to come on the defensive end, where the line might have to be fortified and the secondary rebuilt. Also, the Lions most likely won't be able to retain both Durant and Levy — one or the other. Travis Lewis or Tahir Whitehead would then have to be ready to step into a starting role.

On offense, decisions on Backus and Cherilus could lead to a rebuilt offensive line — Riley Reiff, Jason Fox and Bill Nagy are all candidates to start next season. The receiving corps will also need to be restocked.

But before that happens, there's going to be some turnover on the coaching staff.

Jim Schwartz and coordinators Scott Linehan and Gunther Cunningham are expected to be back. Schwartz is under contract through 2015 — though that alone wouldn't preclude his firing — and both coordinators are under contract through next season.

Neither Schwartz nor general manager Martin Mayhew would comment about their futures Sunday.

Special teams coordinator Danny Crossman, who withstood some heat earlier in the season, is still on shaky ground but is also expected to return.

Several position coaches could be out, however, including receivers coach Shawn Jefferson, running backs coach Sam Gash, tight ends coach Tim Lappano and linebackers coach Matt Burke.

Second down

There was plenty of support throughout the postgame locker room for Schwartz and the coaching staff.

"I think he does a great job," defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. "I think at some point, it's on the players themselves to be responsible and to put the team first. I think a lot of that just falls on individual players."

Vanden Bosch, who would not discuss his own future, took it a step further.

"I think he's a great head coach," he said. "I don't think there's a better one in the league, personally. Again, it's not just about the head coach or one person. This season was a disappointment to everybody in the locker room. Nearly everybody could have done something better, played better. I think that's where guys' minds should be.

"My opinion, he's a really good mixture of being a smart coach and being an emotional coach. I think this year for whatever reason, as a group we didn't respond the way we needed to."

Left guard Rob Sims said changes are inevitable, saying nobody expects a pat on the back after a 4-12 season. But he thinks Schwartz should stay.

"I think he's a very good coach; I think he's an improving coach," he said. "I think once in a while you'll hit a bump in the road. That's the way you've got to look at it. If you go back and look at all the things that happened this season, it just seems like not many times did it go our way.

"And the reason I call him a good coach is because for all that kind of stuff we could have shut it down a long time ago. But everybody was still hanging in here fighting and trying to get this done."

Third down

Jason Hanson, who on Sunday set the franchise record of 134 points this season and became the NFL's all-time leader with his 188th field goal of 40-plus yards, seems truly on the fence about coming back for a 22nd season.

"Honestly, I don't know," he said. "I had no idea I would play 21 years. It will be a definite year to evaluate. I will pray a lot. God's been good to me to keep me this long."

He said the key will be how motivated he is and how much he will need to work in the offseason to stay on top of his craft.

"There's no free ride here," he said. "The first 21 years make no difference if I don't prepare for 22, if it happens. So I will take a very serious, hard look at myself and talk with my family and pray and hopefully be led to know what to do.

"If I come back, it'll be full go. If I don't, it won't be because of the season or anything here but simply because I don't think I am going to prepare enough to be the best I can be."

Left tackle Jeff Backus said last week that he hadn't even begun to think about his future and wouldn't until the season was over and he had a chance to talk to his family. He was not available after the game.

Fourth down

Finally, somebody got it right regarding the often misused notion of accountability.

Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch, in an interview with NFL Network's Albert Breer, said the burden of accountability is on the players more so than it is on the coaches.

"The problem here has to do with players, and learning how to handle success," Tulloch said. "It's one thing to get there, but just because it's the same team doesn't mean you'll get there again. It's up to us as leaders to enforce things.

"Coach puts us in good position, in a position to win. The only thing I could say, the players need to be more accountable and disciplined."


Tulloch, as he has said locally, believes all the offseason malfeasance with Aaron Berry, Mikel Leshoure and Nick Fairley, had a negative carryover affect.

"I think discipline is the biggest issue, that kind of selfishness, it hurts the team," he told Breer. "We've had guys hurt the team through their actions, and it lingered. We had Aaron Berry here, we were really counting on him, he gets dismissed, and now you need someone to fill in. And I think we've had changes in the secondary 13 times in 16 weeks because of that.

"It's hard to get chemistry when guys are hurting the team like that and you feel like you can't count on them. I try to put my finger on whether there's a bigger problem, but I get lost trying to pinpoint what it is. We need more accountability. Hopefully we can weed that out this offseason."

Twitter: @cmccosky

Louis Delmas waves to fans after taking off his jersey and giving it away after Sunday's game, possibly his last as a Lion. / Elizabeth Conley/Detroit News
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