Under Gilmer, the laxity of mental discipline was evident in the many and costly penalties the team suffered. Under Schmidt, it appeared briefly that the same thing would hold this season. In that surprising loss to Denver, Alex Karras was thrown out of the game for kicking a Denver player and Wayne Walker drew an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty when he threw the football at the Denver quarterback.
Schmidt reacted by taking an even tighter hold on the reins. The club responded by beating Buffalo the next time out. Schmidt found a real bright spot in that game in the running of two rookie backs—Nick Eddy of Notre Dame and Mel Farr of UCLA, both of whom were in the College All-Star camp when Detroit played Denver. Eddy scored a touchdown on a long punt return the first time he touched the ball as a pro, and Farr, the fourth time he got his hands on the ball, scored on a 38-yard pass from Milt Plum. Unfortunately, Eddy was hurt later and will be out for six weeks.
Significantly for the future, Eddy and Farr were the first glamour rookies signed by the Lions since the NFL-AFL fight began. The attrition that had resulted from the Lions' refusal to contend for players is the principal reason for their present ineptitude.
It will take several years of signing top draft choices to remedy the lacks of recent seasons. The Lion offensive line is spotty, with John Gordy at guard the only player of All-Pro quality. Charley Bradshaw, who retired from the Pittsburgh Steelers and was lured back into action by Detroit, helps at one tackle, but overall, the Lions still need more help here. If Daryl Sanders can be brought back from retirement, too, he will give the team another good tackle and improve the blocking.
The running, with Eddy and Farr teaming with the experienced Amos Marsh, should emerge from the doldrums of the past few years. If Sweetan is as good a quarterback and thrower as Schmidt thinks he is, Detroit's passing should open the paths for the ground game as well.
Milt Plum, who has been a long time in the league and most of that time in the wings, gives the club experience, but it is Sweetan who must come through.
"I will decide on my quarterback just before the season," says Schmidt, who, during his playing days, was no fan of the quiet, unassuming Plum. But Plum had an excellent training camp and Schmidt may eventually go to him as No. 1 despite the fact he is not a fiery type. Sweetan is a strong leader, without Plum's technical capabilities.
"I don't understand the word leadership," Plum says. "Are you not a leader because you don't yell and scream and hoot and holler? I'm an individual. I've got my own ways. This team still thinks back too much to the days of Bobby Layne."
The Lion defense has shown cracks in recent years, but that may be a result of the poor morale on the club. Certainly the players, although approaching pro football middle age, are still formidable. Karras and Roger Brown are two of the best tackles in the NFL, and Darris McCord and Larry Hand are respected ends. The linebackers—Ernie Clark, Mike Lucci and Wayne Walker—have missed Schmidt since his retirement, but they remain strong.
The secondary, once the best in football, has sagged. Dick LeBeau, the right corner back, is All-Pro, but the other three fall short of his ability, and Schmidt, correctly, has said he needs help here.