ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- It has been a long time, but there's a feeling of hope around the Detroit Lions' practice facility these days.
And it isn't just coming from fans.
"We have high expectations for this year," Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said in a rare media briefing Friday. "We feel like we can compete for our division."
Considering the Lions haven't had a winning season since 2000, that's a bold statement about a division that includes the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers and the NFC North winner Chicago Bears.
Mayhew, though, believes the team turned a corner with four straight wins to end last season, and improved in the draft and free agency.
"My first year in 2009, we had a scattershot approach to free agency, because we had so many holes that we were just looking for any veteran who could come in and compete," he said. "Last year, we had made enough progress that we were able to get a little more specific.
"This season, especially after what we did in the draft, we were focused on improving our linebackers and our secondary, and I think we did that."
With the collective bargaining agreement ratified Thursday afternoon, fans finally got their first looks at three players expected to fill those holes -- cornerback Eric Wright and linebackers Steven Tulloch and Justin Durant.
"He's a good, veteran player that can step right on the field and help us," Schwartz said. "That's what we've done -- we've added more quality football players, and that makes us a better team."
"You do pay a little attention to what the other teams in your division are doing, but mainly you want to build your own strengths and let other teams worry about that," he said. "We're going to take care of ourselves and see where that gets us."
Perhaps the win column?
"We've talked a lot about winning over the years," Mayhew said. "Now it is time to start actually winning."
Notes: Safety Louis Delmas and defensive tackle Andre Fluellen both missed Friday's practice. Delmas had minor surgery to remove a pin from his hand and will sit out a few days to let the wound heal. Fluellen broke his right hand Thursday. Schwartz said he wasn't sure how much time Fluellen would miss. ... Mike Utley, who was paralyzed from the chest down while playing for the Lions, paid his annual visit to training camp. Utley's injury took place 20 years ago -- Nov. 17, 1991.
Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press