Young players look to meet Lions’ lofty expectations

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Jim Caldwell has frequently discussed the importance of winning championships since the Lions hired him in January 2014.

The coach’s confident mindset has permeated the entire locker room. When minicamp ended in June, quarterback Matthew Stafford said the only goal he could share was the desire to win a Super Bowl. And when the rookies reported for training camp Tuesday, first-round pick Laken Tomlinson said the Lions have a shot to contend for a title.

“It’s very possible that we could go to the Super Bowl this year, and we’re going to do everything that we can to get there,” the offensive guard from Duke said.

Tomlinson isn’t the first rookie to project greatness for the Lions and surely won’t be the last, but he and second-year receiver Andrew Peacock — among the young players joining the rookies this week — said they’re embracing the heightened expectations for one of the NFL’s least successful franchises.

“As a team, we’re definitely expecting to go all the way,” Peacock said. “We’ve got a great team. We’ve got a lot of young talent, got a lot of old vets that really control that locker room. And even Coach Caldwell, he’s done an amazing job in transforming this team into what he wants. We definitely feel that we will definitely go a long way this year.”

For the Lions to go far in 2015, they’ll have to build off an 11-5 season from 2014 in which they made the playoffs but finished one game behind the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North. The Lions haven’t won a division title since 1993 when it was the NFC Central.

Yet, Caldwell has raised the level of hope within the team, and along with those expectations comes the understanding that hard work will be necessary from the start of training camp next Monday until the season ends.

“We say it a lot, and I’m sure every team in the league says it a lot,” Peacock said about wanting to win a Super Bowl. “But it’s about the work that we’re going to put in that’s going to set us apart from every team.”

Lions veteran players have tried to set a high bar for the team, too.

"Being around the veterans that I was around, they don’t want nothing but a Super Bowl," second-year cornerback Nevin Lawson said.

While Peacock and Lawson were around for all of last year, Tomlinson has yet to go through his first training camp, but his experience with the Lions so far has made him confident in the team. He also said he likes to make goals that challenge him. Advancing to the Super Bowl is one challenge the Lions have yet to meet.

And while he has a positive outlook on the team, Tomlinson isn’t making any grandiose projections about himself.

“Be the best player I can be,” he said of his personal goals. “Go out there and dominate every play.”

The 28th overall pick, Tomlinson spent the past few weeks in Durham, North Carolina, working with his former coaches from Duke, hoping to improve his technique and overall fitness. He likely will be the starting left guard Week 1, but after playing primarily with the second unit during the offseason practices, Tomlinson understands he’ll have to earn his playing time in training camp.

“If the coaches want me to start, I’m going to start, but I’m going to practice like I’m a starter and I’m going to go out there and do everything the coaches ask me to do,” he said.