Lions coach Jim Caldwell helps strengthen team's bond

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Bagshot, England — Darryl Tapp and George Johnson led the defensive line onto the field for drills Thursday. As the veterans shouted various comments in a British accent, the chorus of defensive linemen repeatedly shouted, "D-line," and tackle Nick Fairley animatedly danced his way toward the center of the field.

The chemistry on this Lions team has been evident during a 5-2 start, and general manager Martin Mayhew is among those who credit coach Jim Caldwell for the improved bond.

"He's been phenomenal at dealing with the players," Mayhew said Thursday. "I think at managing the players, the discipline of the players, the way he handles that, I think he's been outstanding. I think he's been excellent."

Under Caldwell, the Lions have played better, as Mayhew said, and cut down on the errors that cost them the past five seasons under Jim Schwartz. Through seven games, for example, the Lions have nine turnovers. They had 34 last year.

But to see the improved chemistry, look no further than the defense, which ranks first in the NFL in yards (290.3) and second in points (15). The success is largely due to several players having career years.

"I think one thing that this team realizes more so than some past teams is that we're going to go as far as our players take us," Mayhew said.

"Our players understand it's their team. They're in charge. There's no magic formula or scheme. There's no magic trade that I'm going to do that's all of a sudden bring some guy in and then we'll start winning. It's about how far our players can take us, and I think they understand it."

The empowerment of the players is something they've said comes from Caldwell.

Since he was hired in January, players have boasted about how he talks to them like men and listens. Lions president Tom Lewand, in fact, said the Caldwell the players see is the same one he interviewed.

"He's exactly what I hoped and expected he would be during the interview process, if not better," Lewand said.

From bringing in a sleep doctor multiple times to approving the addition of a pingpong table and an Xbox One in the player lounge, Caldwell has done whatever necessary to ensure the players will be at their best on Sundays.

"I don't think you can win and win consistently unless you have (chemistry), unless you have camaraderie, unless you have great morale, unless you have great energy and the chemistry between offense, defense, special teams all working together," Caldwell said. "I think it's key."

From a schematic standpoint, Mayhew said he's been pleased with offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, as well as the other assistants.

But a more thorough evaluation will wait until the end of the year.

And as much as the staff has helped, the players are ultimately the ones who decide the outcome.

"I think our guys enjoy each other, enjoy playing together," Mayhew said. "They enjoy the process a lot more, and I think that's a big reason — when you talk about the chemistry being better — I think that's a big part of it."

Lions vs. Falcons

Kickoff: 9:30 a.m. Sunday, Wembley Stadium, London

TV/radio: Fox/97.1

Records: Lions 5-2, Falcons 2-5

Line: Lions by 4

Series: Lions lead 23-12 (Atlanta 31-18, Dec. 22, 2012)