Lions' Cooter focused on improvement, not scheme

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Jim Bob Cooter

Allen Park – With Matt Patricia at the helm, everyone understands the Detroit Lions’ defense is in the midst of a schematic overall. But what about the team’s offense? Coordinator Jim Bob Cooter is still figuring out how significant the changes will be.  

During this portion of the offseason, when NFL teams are conducting their OTAs, it’s often known as an installation period. That’s where the foundation of the schemes is established and built upon leading to the regular season.

But for Cooter, he’s not ready to put parameters on his offensive scheme. As far as he’s concerned, this time of year is about individual improvement and trial and error. It’s a time where he’s gaining a better understanding of the new people around him, whether it’s coaches or players, and establishing how to put those pieces in the best positions to succeed, before building the scheme around that.

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I think it’s too early to project what sort of scheme is going to look like, who’s going to play where, who’s getting this rep or that rep,” Cooter said on Tuesday. “Yeah, we work on plays. Sometimes those plays look great, sometimes those plays don’t look so great and you might adjust something for a different personnel. You might have a different guy that you haven’t had around here in the past. They see things a different way, they may project a little bit better into a different football player.”

While it was far from perfect, it’s fair to say the Lions had a good offense last season.

Detroit finished 13th in yardage, and seventh in scoring, averaging 25.6 points per game. The passing attack was particularly potent, with quarterback Matthew Stafford having one of the best seasons of his career and receivers Marvin Jones and Golden Tate both topping 1,000 yards.

Marvin Jones Jr.

Those are some of the reasons Cooter and much of the team’s offensive staff kept their jobs despite the offseason coaching change.

But on the flip side, the ground game continued to struggle. The Lions finished last in the league in rushing, both yards per carry and game, which led short-yardage issues, especially on third down. That explains why Cooter will have a new offensive line coach, Jeff Davidson, starting this season.

So changes are certainly coming, even if the details remain close to the vest until the season rolls around.

“You’re always trying to look at the previous year and try to improve and get better,” Cooter said. “I’m sure we’ll change plenty and I’m sure there will be a lot where you guys will look out and see some similarities. We’re going to try to get better. I think we’ve identified a couple ways we think we can do that. Obviously, I’m not going to tell you anything about that.”

The Lions are conducting their second of three OTAs this week. Between this and the third, the team will sandwich in a mandatory, three-day minicamp next week, all leading up to a six-week summer break for the players prior to the start of training camp.

While the practices are limited, and largely voluntary, this is an important time for coaching staff to get to know the roster and work on fundamentals. But Cooter also likes to use this period of the offseason, when he doesn’t have to focus on game planning for a specific opponent, for personal film study sessions, both self-scouting and getting a better understanding of league trends.

“I’m studying a million things, trying for these little one percent improvements here, there and everywhere,” he said. “It could be something obvious to you guys, to the fan at home, or it could be something that’s totally not obvious, but it may have a big impact at a certain moment.”

As an example, Cooter said he said he might have always had a receiver run a specific route 12 yards, but had heard other teams would run the same route at a 14-yard depth, and after studying two hours of tape on the route, determined 14 yards was actually better.

“There’s no shortage of tape to study,” Cooter said. “Every play is its own little experiment. You know? What happened on that play? Did it work or did it not work and why? The more we can figure that out, hopefully the better position we can put our players in.”

Improvements, especially to the running game, could thrust Detroit’s offense to the league’s upper echelon.