Detroit Lions

Lions NFL Team Column
By Scot Acocks
2010 NFL Draft Review
2011 NFL Draft Review

6 September 2011

Detroit Lions' Pre-Season Roster Report

The Story: The new NFL darlings after going 0-16 just three years ago, the Detroit Lions are now a favorite of many people around the league to grab a wild card playoff spot this fall. There are some big "ifs" that need to pan out in the team's favor if they are going to make a run for a 10-win season, but there is no doubt in anybody's mind that the Lions have enough talent on the roster to make things happen sooner or later. The question is simply "when?".
It is realistic to think that this team will finally put together at least an 8-8 season and push the Packers, Bears, and Vikings for the NFC North Division Championship. I think the players and coaches would be disappointed if they don't win 10.
Key Additions: LB Stephen Tulloch, LB Justin Durant (Jaguars), CB Eric Wright (Browns), WR Rashied Davis (Bears), WR Maurice Stovall (Tampa Bay), DT Nick Fairley (Auburn), RB Mikel Leshoure (Illinois), WR Titus Young (Boise St), RB Jerome Harrison (Browns), Ian Johnson (Vikings)

Key Losses: LB Jordan Dizon (cut), WR Bryant Johnson (cut)
Projected Depth Chart for Week One (*Denotes pro-bowl candidate)
Quarterbacks: Matt Stafford, Shaun Hill, Drew Stanton - Stafford has spent the majority of his first two seasons on the injured list but has shown a lot of skill when healthy. In the three games he did start last season he threw six TD's to only one INT and maintained a 91.3 QB rating. Hill played very well down the stretch, passing for 2,686 yards and 16 TD's in 11 games last season. Stanton recently resigned as a free agent and returns as the third man on the depth chart. He helped engineer two wins over the Bucs and Packers last season when Hill went down with injury too.

Analysis: A lot of quality depth as the team still managed to get nearly 4,000 yards through the air with three different starters. Stafford's untapped potential as the starter has a lot of fans excited.
Grade: B

Running Backs: Jahvid Best, Maurice Morris, Jerome Harrison, Ian Johnson, Jerome Felton (FB) - Best is an explosive playmaker that may have been hindered a lot with turf toe during his rookie campaign. The Lions will use him in a variety of ways in order to try to get him in the open field more often. Morris played very well towards the end of the season and scored five TD's. Rookie Mikel Leshoure would have brought size (6'0" 227 lbs) and good hands to the team. He reportedly never lost a fumble in 424 career carries for the Fighting Illini. However, he is already out for the season and we won't know what he is capable of until next year. This will open up opportunities for guys like Harrison and Johnson to contribute.

Analysis: Enough talent and play-making ability here to keep opposing defense's somewhat honest and take pressure off the passing game. This unit also has the potential to improve over the course of the season but until they prove themselves more worthy and produce more TD's they will be considered average as a group.
Grade C

Wide Receiver: *Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Titus Young, Rashied Davis, Maurice Stovall, Stefan Logan (KR), Derrick Williams - Johnson is one of the best players in the entire NFL, drawing lots of double-team coverage. A 16 TD season is not out of reach for him. Burleson is a great second option with long arms and good hands and Young will have the opportunity to be the main slot receiver. Stovall and Davis both are proven special teams players and one or the other might emerge as a viable third or fourth option at the position. Logan is an X-factor with big play ability but he is not really a quality receiver. He's better suited for special teams and gimmick plays. Williams hasn't lived up to expectations thus far but he may get one more chance this season.

Analysis: Johnson alone makes the unit dangerous and the team has made every attempt at improving the depth the last two years. If Young and Davis can really contribute things could become scary for opposing pass defenses. However, without CJ this would not even be an average crop of NFL receivers.
Grade: B-

Tight End: *Brandon Pettigrew, Tony Scheffler, Will Heller - Pettigrew has pro-bowl potential and size (6'5" 265 lbs) that makes him a big red-zone threat. Scheffler is as good of a backup as you can ask for and he could also grab 50 receptions this season. Heller is a hell of a blocker but is limited athletically.

Analysis: Pettigrew combines with Johnson to give the Lions over 500 lbs of big play receiving potential! Barring injury this should develop into one of the NFL's best groups.
Grade: B

Offensive line: Jeff Backus (LT), Rob Sims (LG) Dominic Raiola (C), Stephen Peterman (RG), Gosder Cherilus (RT), Corey Hilliard (T/G), Jason Fox (T), Dylan Gandy (G/C) - Sims was a solid addition last year and he should have the left guard job nailed down for a while. Backus and Raiola are leaders but both are entering their 11th season. Cherilus and Peterman are emerging as a quality combo on the right side.

Analysis: An underrated group that excels in pass protection. They only allowed 27 sacks and the team averaged four yards per carry in 2010. Depth is average at best. I expect the organization to invest some draft picks here in the near future.
Grade: C+

Defensive Line: Kyle Vanden Bosch (E), *Ndamukong Suh (T), Corey Williams (T), Cliff Avril (E), Lawrence Jackson (E), Sammie Hill (T), Nick Fairley (T), Andre Fluellen (T), Willie Young (E) - This is where things get real interesting. Vanden Bosch was a nice addition to the team both on the field and in the locker room last season. There is no doubt that he is a team leader and mentor to the younger players. Suh put together one of the greatest rookie campaigns ever while becoming the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year. Just like CJ, Suh is a game-changer that will attract a lot of double and triple-teams. Williams had a few bad moments involving untimely penalties but he is a big, active player that will be hard to replace at the moment. Avril produced 8.5 sacks while sharing time at the position. Jackson came alive and produced six sacks from a backup role last season. The former first round pick out of USC was seemingly miscast in Seattle and may have now found a home in Detroit. Hill and rookie Fairley, who is currently out with a foot injury, will provide some assistance off the bench on a frequent basis at tackle. That will keep the interior of the line fresh throughout games.

Analysis: There is so much depth and talent here, especially up the middle, that the coaches, administrators, and fans have to be excited. This unit went from the worst to possibly the best D-line in football within a three year span and if they come together they could single-handedly keep the team competitive in every game this year.
Grade: A-

Linebackers: DeAndre Levy (O/M), Stephen Tulloch (O/M), Justin Durant (O), Bobby Carpenter (O), Ashlee Palmer (O/M), Doug Hogue/Caleb Campbell (O) - Levy is a star on the rise if he can stay healthy and should benefit from the addition of Tulloch. Both guys are big hitters and should fill out two of the spots. Tulloch had 169 tackles for the Titans last season, which was twice as many as any Lion had in 2010. Durant has averaged 68 tackles a season in four years for the Jaguars but has never stayed healthy for an entire season. He will challenge Carpenter for a starting job. Palmer is a versatile backup that started four games last year. Hogue and Campbell will battle for a spot on special teams.

Analysis: Now that the organization has seemingly got its D-line on track it has now turned its attention to the linebackers. The addition of Tulloch and Durant at least gives the team some young veterans with lots of starting experience. This group could be very productive considering the talent on the line in front of them.
Grade: C+

Defensive Backs: Chris Houston (CB), Louis Delmas (FS), Amari Spievey (CB/S), Eric Wright (CB) Erik Coleman (SS), Alphonso Smith (CB), Nathan Vasher (CB), Aaron Berry (CB), John Wendling (SS) - Houston resigned after becoming a free agent and is the team's top corner. Delmas is a vicious defender that led the team in tackles (84). Spievey played well when called upon as a rookie and should continue to improve but it's hard to tell yet if he can play corner in the NFL or if he is better-suited to play safety. It appears he will get another shot at playing both. Newcomer Coleman will compete with Spievey at strong safety. Smith, Wright, and Berry will all compete at the other corner. Vasher is strictly backup material where he has a lot of value.

Analysis: This unit still needs time to develop and they are two players away from being a solid group. Lucky for them they may get a lot of help from the D-line. As the team's sack numbers go up so will the turnovers on the back end.
Grade: C-

Special Teams: Dave Rayner (K), *Nick Harris (P) - This appears to be the end of the line for Jason Hanson, "the greatest Lion ever". His leg will be missed but Rayner was good enough last season to get resigned by the team. Harris is a reliable punter that will help get the team out of trouble when needed. Hopefully he won't be needed that much. The roster is filled with good coverage players, such as Wendling, Campbell, and Davis.

Analysis: Who really cares? Let's just see the offense light up the scoreboard and the defense rack up some sacks!
Grade: B-

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23 July 2011

Free Agent Prospectus for the Detroit Lions

Well it looks as if the players, owners, and league officials are closing in on finalizing a new Collective Bargaining Agreement so the regular season appears to be safe for the moment. Before anybody puts on any pads and hits the field on Sundays this fall there is something else that needs to get taken care of first, being free agency.

As soon as the deal is completed and free agency begins there may only be a week or two for players to work out new deals with teams in this new CBA era. It doesn't seem like much time, and I suspect there will be a lot of guys still on the market when training camps begin rolling, but you can bet that everybody will be scrambling to get the deals done ASAP.

The Detroit Lions, who are everybody's "team on the rise" this year, have done a great job drafting, signing, and trading for players that have truly made a difference over the last few years. There are still plenty of holes that need to be filled though before they make a run for the playoffs. While I don't expect them to make a huge splash in the free agent market we will at least see some key moves made to bring in players that can challenge for playing time and assist in shoring up any issues along the depth chart.
Free Agent Priorities (the guys they should resign before courting somebody else)

Free Agent Wish List (the guys that fans would love to see in Detroit this year but probably never will)

Free Agent Possibilities (or guys that the team would consider making offers to but probably won't be able to acquire)

Free Agent Targets (the cheaper free agents that are more likely to be seriously considered by the Lions)

2 May 2011

2011 NFL Draft Recap: Post Draft Honeymoon

The Lions continue to raise expectations for themselves as they engineered another great draft that should aid in their attempt to rise out of the NFL's cellar. Even though the need for a cornerback did not get addressed, the Lions left New York city with a group of guys that should, for the most part, contribute in some form or another to the team immediately. Of course, that is all subject to the on-going labor dispute between the players and the league that could potentially wipe-out the entire season altogether.

Round One, Pick 13: DT Nick Fairley, 6'3" 298 lbs. Auburn - This pick made many analysts say "wow!". Even though Fairley only had one good season in college, it was a season that very few players can put together.

He (Fairley) consistently demonstrated the ability to destroy blocking schemes and wreak havoc on SEC quarterbacks, especially when it mattered the most. He always showed up during critical moments against the biggest opponents. It may take a year for him to get his NFL legs under him but if he puts his time in the weight and film rooms, he could eventually put up Warren Sapp-type numbers as he reminds me a lot of the former Buccaneer great in terms of natural ability and the way he approaches the game.
There is no doubt that the combination of Fairley and Ndamukong Suh, last year's second overall pick and Defensive Rookie of the Year, is one that will be closely monitored by other NFL teams. Detroit has now went from having one of the worst D-lines of all-time to potentially having the best unit in the entire league in just a two year span.

Round Two, Pick 44: WR Titus Young, 5'11" 174 lbs. Boise St - Young may be on the smaller side but he is an emotional player that brings a lot of big-play potential to the table. He may never be a true starter but he should develop into a great third or fourth option in the passing game while also earning a lot of his paychecks returning kicks. Detroit is determined to improve its depth at receiver and add speed to the team so this pick makes perfect sense. If Young was blessed with a bigger frame he could have easily been a first round pick. Ideally, he will be ready to fill the slot position when the team goes to three and four-wide sets when the upcoming season opens.

Round Two, Pick 57: RB Mikel Leshoure, 5'11" 227 lbs. Illinois - With Leshoure the Lions get a well-rounded running back with great size that does not make many mistakes. He is a willing blocker, an able pass-catcher, and he can move the pile. The most impressive thing about him though may be the fact that he never fumbled the ball in college. Couple that with his 22 TD's in 2010 and it is hard not to get excited. Detroit now has a nice stable of young backs to feed the ball to in order to take pressure off the passing game and defense. Moving up to get him was an interesting and unexpected move that could pay off very quickly.

Round Five, Pick 157: LB Douglas Hogue, 6'2" 235 lbs. Syracuse - A very raw talent that flies all-over the field but lacks good technique, Hogue could become a special teams star. With some hard work and dedication he could develop into solid contributor on defense but nothing should realistically be expected of him there for another year or two.

Round Seven, Pick 209: OT Johnny Culbreath, 6'5" 320 lbs. South Carolina St - At this point this is strictly a developmental project with intriguing characteristics. Culbreath did not participate at the combine but worked out for the Lions in Detroit and apparently performed very well. I love the fact that the organization worked hard and did its homework in order to dig up a diamond in the rough.

Overall Draft Grade: A- The organization stuck to their board and took the guys that they perceived to have the best value instead of reaching to find bandages for weak spots on the roster, which is the way you should draft players. With a few solid drafts under their belt, Jim Schwartz and Martin Mayhew may just have this team on the right track for long-term succes.

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7 April 2011

Bold Predictions for the Detroit Lions

The Lions were hot at the end of the season and there were many positive things to take out of a the 2010, despite suffering another losing record. For one thing, the team threw for over 4,000 yards while starting three different guys at quarterback and Jahvid Best looks to be the biggest play-maker the team has had at running back since Barry Sanders. Also, Ndamukong Suh proved to be more than worthy of the second overall pick as he was Defensive Rookie of the Year.

After suffering his second season-ending shoulder injury in as many years, QB Matt Stafford will be looking to make a name for himself in the NFL. He's got some valuable pieces around him to get the job done as long as he stays healthy. The trade the team made for backup QB Shaun Hill last year appeared to be a genius maneuver as he led the way most of the season when Stafford went down. Big things will be expected of the passing game in 2011.

Round One, Pick 13: DE Aldon Smith, Missouri - I've been racking my mind with this pick for weeks. It has been one of the hardest in the entire draft to predict. Many fans are calling for an offensive lineman, but it is questionable whether any of them are really good enough to take here. Besides, the Lions only gave up 27 sacks in 2010, which was sixth best in the league. Smith would be a solid pick as Kyle Vanden Bosch, despite his solid play, is approaching retirement and Cliff Avril remains a free agent at this time. If there is one thing I know about Head Coach Jim Schwartz and General Manager Martin Mayhew, who played corner for the Redskins and Bucs, it is that they will continue to make the defensive line a top priority. Therefore, CB Prince Amukamara is the organization's top choice here as the team has a need in the secondary. With only five total picks in the draft however, the Lions do not have enough power to move up in order to get him. Smith would be a nice consolation prize.

Alert: If WR Julio Jones is still available here it would not surprise me one bit to see him become a Lion as there are very few prospects in the draft that are better than him. The Lions do have a huge need for a third receiver in the rotation.

Round Two, Pick 44: OL Orlando Franklin, Miami (FL) - Solid run-blocker has experience at both left guard and left tackle. He should provide immediate depth on the line and eventually develop into a competent starter somewhere.

Round Three, Pick 75: CB Kendric Burney, UNC - Prototypical corner that is recognized by coaches as having a great personality on and off the field. He could immediately help in nickel and dime packages, as well as on special teams.  

Round Four, Pick 107: OL Stefen Wisniewski, Penn St - The Lions are definitely looking to build "an O-line of the future" and Wisniewski could eventually develop into a starter and replace Dominic Raiola at center.

Round Five, Pick 154: RB Stevan Ridley, LSU - Should be able to use his power to secure a role as a backup and may just turn out to be a solid player.

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9 March 2011

A Post-Combine Look at the Prospects

Another phase of the evaluation process for NFL prospects is now in the books with the combine coming to a close last week. Hands have been shook, weights have been lifted, forty times have been posted, and once again we are faced with more questions than we have answers. That is why I personally do not put as much stock in the combine as many fans or scouts might, although I do understand the purpose and value of having these guys work out.

For the most part it just adds fuel to the fire and draft boards will change again after pro-days and private workouts are completed.
Do not expect to see another mock draft from me for another month. There is just too much else going on in the sports world to waste any time making assumtions that these forty times and skill-drills will determine who the best football players are coming out of college. Until April rolls around let's just try to focus on some of the prospects that the Lions will most likely be faced with drafting in the first two rounds of this year's draft.

Round One:

Round Two

CB Aaron Williams, 6'0" 204 lbs. Texas - Nice size and athletic ability. Williams would be a nice addition to the competition at corner.

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5 January 2011

Detroit Lions: 2010 Final Report Card

After watching their team beat the Minnesota Vikings 20-13 in the final week of NFL action, Detroit Lions' fans are getting the feeling that this is going to be a very fun off-season. Some enthusiastic fans have even begun looking towards 2011 as "the year", as in the year in which the team breaks out of a decade of futility and earns a winning a record. It's been a long time coming and the fans have been patient. At least now the team has really given the city a reason to be optimistic.

With the week 17 win, the team capped off a four game win streak to end the 2010 season with a 6-10 record. The last time the Lions ripped off a four game win streak gas was less than $2.00 per gallon and there was some guy named Sanders at running back. Couple the streak with the fact that the Lions stayed competitive through the majority of their schedule and lost some extremely close games to some very good teams, including a controversial season-opening loss at Chicago and an overtime loss at home to the Jets, and it's easy to become optimistic.

The win streak alone is note-worthy but one of the truly impressive things about it is the quality of the wins in that span. Two of the them came on the road and three of them came against teams were still fighting to make the playoffs. Needless to say, this young team from Mo-Town did a lot of growing up this past year. Ending the season on such a positive note bodes well for the franchise's immediate future.

Do not be surprised if some pre-season publications pick the Lions to grab a wild card or even compete for a division title in 2011. Before the season started I had the Lions pegged as a six win team. They did not let me down and I expect them to continue improving. With some key contributors coming back from injury next year and a few new additions through the draft this team could be hard to bet against.

Before we jump into the 2011 off-season, however, let us take one final look back at the Detroit Lions 2010 roster and see how each position graded out. There were some very dramatic turn-arounds from 2009 in some very specific areas on the team. All of it is a testament to the quality of talent the Jim Schwartz-Martin Mayhew regime have brought in, especially through the draft.

Quaterbacks: C+ Both Matt Stafford and backup Shaun Hill missed significant time due to injuries but both guys played well enough to provide hope for next year. Hill, who was brought in through a trade with San Francisco, finished the season with 10 starts, 2686 yards, and 16 TD's. Stafford threw six TD's and only one INT in his three starts. Third-stringer Drew Stanton helped the team to a couple wins late in the season as well but did not produce much statistically. At this point there does not appear to be any immediate need to make any major changes at QB this off-season. As a team the Lions threw for 4001 yards and 26 TD's, which is quite impressive considering they started three different passers throughout the season.

Running Back: D Rookie Jahvid Best had over 1,000 total yards of offense and made some big plays to help spark the team to a couple late wins. At the very least Best, who caught 58 passes, looks like an explosive option as a receiver out of the backfield. He needs to stay healthier in order to contribute more to the running game. Veterans Maurice Morris and Kevin Smith both averaged nearly four yards per carry. Morris also topped 100 rushing yards in Tampa. Injuries were a problem overall and nobody would be surprised to see the team add another running back to the mix somewhere in 2011.

Wide Receiver: B- With 1120 receiving yards and 12 TD's in 15 games Calvin Johnson has established himself as a bona fide bad ass. He will be demanding a new contract at some point and the organization would be silly to consider toying with him as he is the type of player that demands double and triple teams. Number two receiver Nate Burleson (6 TD's) played well but he too was sidelined a lot with injuries. After those two guys the quality of talent quickly drops off here. Neither Bryant Johnson or Derrick Williams have done anything to secure a future with this club. I for one would not be surprised to see three or four new faces backing up the starters next season.

Tight End: B Second year player Brandon Pettigrew stepped up and improved his game in his sophomore season. If he continues to work hard he could find himself in the Pro-bowl someday. His 71 catches for 722 yards and four TD's were the best stats from a Lions TE since as far back as any current Lion fan can remember. Backup Tony Scheffler was brought in to provide some help and responded with 45 catches. That puts him among the team's leaders at the position in the last 20 years as well. This duo could continue to develop into one of the best in the league.

Offensive Line: C- This unit only gave up 27 sacks this season but they lacked any kind of reliable push in the running game. As a result the team ranked 24th in the league in rushing. Needless to say, that number needs to improve. New left guard Rob Sims was not flashy but seemed to fit in alright between left tackle Jeff Backus and center Dominic Raiola. Right tackle Gosder Cherilus finished the season on IR while right guard Stephen Peterman started every game. Backus and Raiola have been the leaders of this unit for several years now but both are in their 30's. I am willing to bet that the organization is devising plans to improve the overall play of the guys up front. That could include using their top pick in the draft.

Defensive Line: B+ The D-line faced a major change this past year and came out looking like one of the best in the entire league. Rookie Ndamukong Suh is the difference-maker that everybody envisioned him to be when he was selected second overall in last April's draft. His 66 tackles and 10 sacks were worthy of him being named a starter in the Pro-bowl and there is no doubt in anybody's mind that he is worthy of the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year award.  Suh also had one forced fumble, an INT, and a fumble recovery for a TD. Veteran end Kyle Vanden Bosch only managed to nab four sacks but he did have four tackles for a loss, forced two fumbles, and provided quality leadership for the younger players on the line. Third year end Cliff Avril contributed 8.5 sacks while Lawrence Jackson, acquired in an early season trade with Seattle, got six. Tackle Corey Williams committed way too many penalties at critical times but he played well enough down the stretch. Tackle Sammie Lee Hill finished with 2.5 sacks and five tackles for a loss. Those are impressive numbers for the team's top backup behind Suh and Williams. This group should be primed for a big season in 2011 and a 50-sack season is not out of the question.

Linebackers: C- Middle linebacker DeAndre Levy missed five of the first six games due to injury but stormed back in the second half of the season to finish third on the team in tackles (72). Levy also had two INT's, one of which he returned for a TD to seal a win in Miami. Strong side 'backer Julian Peterson, an 11 year vet, was second in tackles (83) and first in tackles for a loss (7) but he made some critical mistakes that a player with his experience should not be making (see Jets game). I expect him to be replaced by a younger player in 2011. Zach Follett started five of the first six games on the weak side but suffered a severe spinal injury and it is still unclear what his future holds. Ashlee Palmer filled in admirably on the inside when Levy went down and then finished the season on the weak side. He is only 24 years old and will probably get a shot at being a starter next season. However, I expect the coaching staff to push for lots of competition at both outside spots this off-season and one or two more guys will most likely be added to the mix.

Defensive Backs: C Finishing 16th in the league in pass defense was another step in the right direction for the Lions in 2010. They were dead last in 2009. Safety Louis Delmas led the team in tackles for the second year in a row and also contributed a couple of sacks. Cornerback Alphonso Smith led the team with five INT's despite missing the last four games due to injury. Both Delmas and Smith are second year players. The other corner, Chris Houston, led the team with 12 passes defensed after coming over from Atlanta in a trade. He is 26 years old. Rookie safety Amari Spievey, who was originally drafted as a corner, was forced into a starting role halfway through the season and responded well, averaging 5.2 tackles per game and nabbing two INT's in that span. He looks to have a bright future as a Lion. Overall, this group is extremely young and they should continue to grow together while taking advantage of a stout pass rush.

Special Teams: B+ Kick returner Stefan Logan was outstanding. He accumulated 1800 total return yards and tied a team record with a 105 yard return against St. Louis. The team managed to give up over 2000 return yards themselves, which often left the defense in some compromising situations that they could not afford. If the 2011 draft immediately brings one thing in it should be more special teams-type players to make tackles on kick coverage. Veteran kicker Jason Hanson was 12-14 on field goals before being placed on the I.R. His replacement, Dave Rayner, played well too. Overall, the Lions were tied for 12th in the league in kicking points. Punter Nic Harris was solid, helping the team to a fifth place finish in the league in punting.

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9 November 2010

Lions Mid-Season Report

The Lions are 2-6 at the halfway point of the 2010 season. There is still an outside shot that the team could win the division or grab a wildcard playoff spot if they can win six of their final eight games and put together an 8-8 record. Yes, it is a long shot but stranger things have happened.

This Detroit Lions team is not the same team that has been the laughing stock of the National Football League over the last few seasons. In fact, many of the teams they have faced already this season should be feeling lucky to have escaped with a victory, especially the Bears, who watched Calvin Johnson get robbed of a game-winning touchdown by the refs in week one. Three of their other five losses were by a field goal or less. Believe it or not, this team is not far from turning things around completely and taking over as top dog, or cat, in the NFC North Division.
Grades by position:

Quarterbacks: C- The biggest problem at QB has been durability. Starter Matt Stafford was lost for five games with a separated shoulder. Backup Shaun Hill came in and played very well, completing 61.1% of his passes and throwing nine TD's. Hill then broke his arm and has been out for the last few weeks. Stafford then came back and helped the team beat the Redskins, throwing for four TD's, and then looked good against the Jets before injuring his right shoulder again. His status is uncertain at this time and he is listed as questionable. Third-stringer Drew Stanton may have to fill in until either Hill or Stafford can return.

Running Backs: D- The Lions currently rank 30th in rushing. The only thing keeping this group from being a complete failure is the play of rookie Jahvid Best. He has four rushing TD's and 41 receptions but has had trouble getting things going in the running game. He has also had some turf toe issues. Kevin Smith has shown some flashes but again has been plagued by injuries and inconsistency. This unit could use another talented body as well as some help from the O-line. There should be some decent mid-round talent available in the 2011 draft to provide some help in the backfield next season.
Wide Receivers: C+ Calvin Johnson has been unstoppable at times while racking up 551 yards and eight TD's in the first half of the season. Without him this unit would be in serious trouble though. After missing a couple games with an injury Nate Burleson has come on to catch 24 receptions and three TD's over the last four games as opposing secondaries key in on CJ. His production will need to continue at that pace for this unit to be productive because nobody else has emerged as a real threat. Bryant Johnson is the third leading receiver with only nine total catches. I believe the second, third, and fourth rounds will provide the team with an opportunity to draft another quality receiver this spring.
Tight Ends: B Second-year player Brandon Pettigrew has been real good (38 rec, 3 TD's) and he has shown signs of being a big-time player. Backup Tony Scheffler has been very productive as well (28 rec, 1 TD). With an improved running game to help take the pressure off the QB's this duo could turn out to be one of the best in the league.

Offensive Line: D+ The guys up front have not been completely horrible but they have not provided anything to brag about either. They have given up 24 sacks and have not provided a solid push up front for the running game. Couple all that with the fact that starting left tackle Jeff Backus is 33 years old and starting center Dominic Raiola is 31 and you will find a unit that is primed and ready for an injection of talent through the draft. Anthony Costonzo of Boston College, Nate Solder of Colorado, and Derrick Sherrod of Mississippi State all could be worthy of a first round pick in 2011. Do not be surprised to see one of them in a Lions' jersey next year.
Defensive Line: B+ This remains one of the most improved units in the entire league. Last year they were a joke and now this year they are becoming something that keep opposing QB's awake at night.

Rookie DT Ndamukong Suh is everything that the team hoped he could be, compiling 6.5 sacks, one INT, and a fumble recovery for a TD. He will be the anchor of the defense for a long time coming. Fellow tackle Corey Williams, who came in on a trade with Cleveland, has been decent as well (25 tkls, 1 INT). Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril each have four sacks from the end positions. Backups Sammie Hill, Turk McBride, and Lawrence Jackson have provided decent depth and could play bigger roles in the future.
Linebackers: C- Injuries have been an issue here too. Jordan Dizon (knee) was lost before the season started and Zack Follet (neck) may never return after going down in week six. Middle linebacker DeAndre Levy missed most of the first six games (ankle). His return could not come at a better time as the defense needs his hard hitting and energetic play. Veteran Julian Peterson is second on the team in tackles (44) but may have cost the team a loss with an untimely late hit on LaDanian Tomlinson on the Jets' final drive in the fourth quarter last Sunday. That's not something you would expect from a guy who is suppose to be a leader. Second-year man Ashlee Palmer is third on the team in tackles (38) and has played well off the bench in the middle or on the weak side while filling in for injured starters.

Defensive Backs: C The Lions currently rank 22nd in pass defense but the secondary is very young they are beginning to show signs of being a cohesive unit. Safety Louis Delmas is an animal and leads the team in tackles (53) and he also has two sacks. His lack of INT's is indicative of the fact that teams do not throw his way. Cornerback Alphonso Smith, who just turned 24, is tied for second in the league in INT's with five. Chris Houston continues to improve at the other corner spot and has one INT on the season. Strong safety has been riddled with injuries but a couple players, including rookie Amari Spievey, have shown some ability to compete and provide some hope for the future.

Special Teams: B Stefan Logan has been a nice surprise while becoming the NFC's Special Teams Player of the Month in October. He is averaging almost 30 yards per kick return with one TD and over 13 yards per punt return. Jason Hanson and Nic Harris have been as steady and reliable as usual handling field goals and punting duties. The coverage units have been solid while displaying some good form tackling in the open field and not allowing any big returns.

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1 November 2010

Lions Face a Purrfect Opportunity

Hot off a bye week the Detroit Lions picked up the pace a little bit and nabbed win number two on the 2010 season. After winning one game and losing five by a total of 32 points while starting quarterback Matthew Stafford was out with a separated shoulder, the team continued to work hard during their week off and came well-prepared to go to work on Sunday against the Redskins. The result was a dominant performance by Calvin Johnson (9 rec, 101 yds, 3 TD's) and Ndamukong Suh (5 tkls, 2 sacks, 1 FR, 1 TD).

It is worth noting that they beat Washington last year as well, while compiling a 2-14 record.

As a fan it was fun to watch and there is no reason to believe that we will not see more of the same sometime soon. This is exactly how the coaching staff had it drawn up and the team executed. Do not be surprised if this team gets hot and rips off a bunch of wins in the second half of the season. In fact, I would call it a disappointment if they did not win at least six.

Having said all that, the team faces a big challenge as the New York Jets come to town this week. After being thumped 9-0 by Green Bay last week Rex Ryan and company will be looking to rebound against the Lions. It could be just what the doctor ordered for them but the Lions will be looking to put together their first back to back set of wins since 2007 while playing spoiler of the Jets super expectations this year.

The Detroit defense needs to corral the Jets running game and the offense need to continue getting the ball into Calvin Johnson's hands. If they can do those two things, then other opportunities will open up all over the place.

This is a great opportunity for the Lions to make a statement that they indeed are an improved team. They appear to be hungry, willing, and able to get after opposing teams. If they keep it up the Lions will have a good chance to win every week.

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21 September 2010

Still Believing

With two hard-fought games in the bag and the team sporting an 0-2 record to show for their efforts, there is a large part of the Detroit Lions' fan base, as well as the rest of the football community, that is not surprised by the outcome. Despite that acceptance of mediocrity as the norm there a strong belief that this team could just as easily be 2-0 and in fact should at least be 1-1.

During the week one matchup in Chicago the Lions dinked and dunked their way through most of the game and kept themselves in it with their defense, which had a huge four-down goalline stand in the second half, and their new offensive weapon in Jahvid Best, who had two touchdowns. With 31 seconds left in the game, Calvin Johnson out-jumped defender Zach Bowman for what looked like a TD. Of course, we have all seen it by now and we all know how that turned out.

The worst thing to come out of that game, however, was not the enforcement of a horrible NFL rule definition, but it was the loss of second-year quarterback Matt Stafford to a separated throwing shoulder after he suffered a hard sack in the second quarter. The fact that it happened as he was attempting another short-yardage screen pass only acts as salt in the wound as the offense really did not do much to challenge the Bear's defense. Shaun Hill came in and played admirably but was anything but spectacular. In the end, the Lions got out-played by the Bear's defense and the league's suits and ties who define how the game is decided.

In week two against the Philadelphia Eagles, Hill and Best both helped the Lions jump out to a 17-7 lead in the first half. After then falling behind 35-17 late in the game, the offense woke up to the tune of Best and Calvin Johnson both scoring TD's and the team converting a two-point conversion to close within three points of the Eagles. It was all a little too late though and the team could not get it done once again. The defense simply gave up too many big plays to quarterback Michael Vick and running back LeSean McCoy and we all saw too many chances for interceptions go right through the hands of defensive backs.

With a trip to Minnesota coming up this week the team will be looking to jump start their season with a huge road win. The Vikings are also 0-2, which leaves Detroit in a position to sit above them in the division rankings. If I were to put money on this game I would bet on Detroit beating the 10.5 spread and I would not be surprised to see them win it outright.

This team is young, this team is hungry, and now this team is getting pissed off. As far as I can see it is only a matter of time before head coach Jim Schwartz gets this ship sailing into the win column.

2011 Draft Watch: The team lost its starting quarterback in their first half of play this season and only rushed for 20 yards total. That is unacceptable and will rarely help lead a team to wins. If the team wants to continue developing on offense it needs to add talent along its front wall of blockers, especially considering its two best linemen, being left tackle Jeff Backus and center Dominic Raiola, are both over 30. Boston College's Anthony Costonzo seems to be on everybody's short list of first round caliber blockers. He appears to have all the makings of a sturdy left tackle prospect. Texas Christians' Marcus Cannon is a behemoth prospect that could be a powerful tackle but may be more suited to play guard. Either way, he could improve the overall push up front and assist the offense in picking up those tough yards, like the fourth and one the Lions did not convert on Sunday against the Eagles.

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5 September 2010

Week One Pregame Analysis and Depth Chart

My Fearless Prediction: The Lions will roar in week one at Soldier Field.

I am starting off the 2010 NFL season by making the prophetic assumption that the Detroit Lions will in fact start 1-0. While the Lions have a sense of hope and optimism surrounding the team, the Chicago Bears, who are Detroit's first opponent, seem to have a huge question  mark hanging over their heads as to which direction they are heading.

To break the game down simply, it will be a battle between the two young passers in Detroit's Matt Stafford and Chicago's Jay Cutler. Stafford may actually have a stronger supporting cast of players, including one of the game's best in receiver Calvin Johnson and excitable rookie running back Jahvid Best.

Cutler has some decent young playmates too, including third year running back Matt Forte and kick returner/wideout Devin Hester, but nobody really stands out and draws too much attention from opposing defenses. Just as much, Stafford seems to have a better group of blockers set up in front of him than Cutler, whose offensive linemen have suffered through inconsistency last season.

They have continued to look poor this preseason as well, which does not bode well for Cutler and the Chicago passing game. I expect the Bears to start off double teaming CJ and the Lions will be forced to put their other guys to test. Veteran receiver Nate Burleson and second year tight end Brandon Pettigrew could have huge days.

Having said that, Detroit's defense will be looking to make a statement early and often in this game and they would like that statement to come in the form of sacks. Newly acquired defensive linemen Kyle Vanden Bosch, Corey Williams, Ndamukong Suh, and incumbent team sack leader Cliff Avril will be asked to get into the backfield and generate pressure on the passing game. I suspect the Bears will be paying a lot of attention to the Mo-town front four, which could leave a lot of opportunity for other defenders to make splash. Keep your eye on second year linebacker Zach Follett.

He did not necessarily have a great preseason but I know that the coaching staff has a plan on how to use him effectively against the Bears. It may be worth noting that he had 23 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks in his senior season at Cal, and left the school with 23.5 sacks on his college football resume. Do not be surprised to see him coming into the backfield on blitzes frequently. Veteran outside linebacker Julian Peterson has continuously proven he can rush the passer in this league and would love to improve on his four and a half sack total of last year as well.

The Bears defense, on the other hand, cannot be considered lousy by any means. With the addition of end Julius Peppers they could in fact be one of the league's best units. Head coach Lovie Smith knows how to field a strong defense and will need another one in order to keep them in games. Peppers, tackle Tommie Harris, and linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs will all be looking to make the pro-bowl this year again in 2010.

Again, to put it simply, if the Lions want to beat the Bears they need to protect Stafford on offense and get QB hits on Jay Cutler on defense. The beautiful thing is that the Lions might just have all the right tools in place to do just that.

Top Players to Watch: QB Matt Stafford, WR Calvin Johnson, RB Jahvid Best, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, DT Ndamukong Suh, S Louis Delmas

Players that Could Roar Under the Radar: RB Kevin Smith, WR's Nate Burleson and Bryant Johnson, TE's Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler, DE Cliff Avril, OLB Zach Follett, CB Chris Houston, and S C.C. Brown.

Final 2010 Preseason Depth Chart

Offense:

WR   Nate Burleson, Dennis Northcutt, Derrick Williams
LT    Jeff Backus, Corey Hilliard
LG    Rob Sims
C      Dominic Raiola, Dylan Gandy
RG    Stephen Peterman, Manny Ramirez
RT    Gosder Cherilus, Jason Fox
TE    Brandon Pettigrew, Tony Scheffler, Will Heller, Dan Gronkowski
WR   Calvin Johnson*, Bryant Johnson
QB    Matt Stafford, Shaun Hill, Drew Stanton
FB     Jerome Felton
RB    Kevin Smith, Jahvid Best, Maurice Morris, Aaron Brown

Defense:

LDE  Cliff Avril, Willie Young
DT    Corey Williams, Sammie Hill
DT    Ndamukong Suh, Andre Fluellen
RDE   Kyle Vanden Bosch, Turk McBride, Lawrence Jackson
OLB   Zach Follett, Landon Johnson
MLB   DeAndre Levy, Isaiah Keujiuba, Rocky Boiman
OLB    Julian Peterson, Ashlee Palmer
SS      C.C. Brown, John Wendling
FS      Louis Delmas*, Randy Phillips
LCB    Chris Houston, Aaron Berry
RCB    Jonathan Wade, Amari Spievy

K       Jason Hanson
P       Nic Harris
LS      Don Mulbach
PR      Burleson, Northcutt, Williams
KR      Brown, Williams, Best

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25 August 2010

Preseason Progress Report

Whether you are new to the ins and outs of the National Football League or you have been a faithful follower for over 20 years it is always worth noting that nobody should put too much stock into the preseason games. They serve as nothing more than a tool for coaches to evaluate their fringe players (guys that may be on the verge of getting cut) in game-like situations and allow the starters to get tuned-up for the regular season. Nothing that occurs this time of year in football should be seen as a trend or an indication of how things will pan out in late December.

Having said that, there are several things that I look for when doing my own evaluations of a team during the preseason. The most important thing is fundamentals. Some of the questions I look for answers on include, but are not limited to, such things as: Is the quarterback hitting his targets? Are the receivers securing the ball?  Are the defensive linemen getting penetration into the backfield? And, are the defenders making the tackles upon first contact? These types of things can give you an indication of how your favorite teams are progressing but none of it will single-handedly tell a viewer whether or not his or her team will make the playoffs or not.

With two preseason games in the bag there were some positive things to note concerning the Lions, especially on the first team offense. However, it has to be stated that not all is exactly well for the team during the 2010 preseason. They have come face to face with a season-ending injury to one player while suffering a loss to the Steelers in week one that saw the second and third team defense get shredded on the ground as well as through the air.

Positives: With two warm-up games against the Steelers and the Broncos down there are a few things that seem to jump out at me.

Negatives: Although I hate focusing on the negative aspects of life, we must consider them here now in hopes that they get addressed and corrected before the regular season starts in another three weeks.

                 
                  The team does continue to make moves in order to improve the depth on the roster. They traded an undisclosed 2011 draft pick to the Seattle Seahawks for third-year DE Lawrence Jackson, who had 4.5 sacks last season. The Lions believe that the former first round pick out of USC was miss-cast in the Seahawks defense while being asked to read and stop the run more than actually rush the passer. In Detroit he will be allowed to attack and penetrate the backfield more in an attempt to disrupt offensive plays before they develop. In the long run Jackson could prove to be a key player along the D-line whether he starts or not as the Lions want to get a rotation of players going in order to keep everybody fresh late in games.
                  Despite what happens now, the first real test for this team will come on September 12th when they face the Bears in Chicago. It is what I view as one of the "very winnable" games on the schedule. Where the Lions are generally viewed as a young talented team on the rise, the Bears seem to be somewhere in football purgatory since their Super Bowl appearance a few years ago. When that game is over we will then know a lot more about the makeup of this team than any preseason game can tell us.

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5 August 2010

News and Notes from Camp

There's nothing like a good holdout to kick off an NFL training camp. While the rest of the Detroit Lions roster were competing in Allan Park Michigan for position on the team's depth chart, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the #2 pick in this year's draft, worked out on his own while awaiting an agreement on his rookie contract. Needless to say, many fans worried about the repercussions of this action, or non-action for that matter, but the Lions remain fairly optimistic for the most part. New free agent defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch had even stated  that  the rest of the players "understand the position he is in" and head coach Jim Schwartz went on to say that he knows "Ndamukong's in great shape and he's chomping at the bit to be here...he'll be here and he'll practice and it probably won't even look like he missed anything".

The Lions have not had a long-term hold out since Texas cornerback Bryant Westbrook and the team could not reach an agreement back in 1997. Westbook's agents at the time were Eugene Parker and Roosevelt Barnes, who just so happen to be representing Suh now. I will leave the speculative accusations up to the reader at this point as I am well aware that this business is not easy, especially when it comes to high-dollar contract negotiations. Besides, as I write this it is being confirmed by the Lions organization that a deal has, in fact, been reached by the two sides. That is good news and it goes to show that if the coach isn't worried and the players remain supportive I personally do not see a problem and neither should anybody else.

The only player that openly criticized the situation was center Dominic Raiola, who told reporters that Suh should inform his agents to just get a deal done ASAP. That was one day before the deal was done and now Raiola, along with the rest of Mo-town, will see what the young kid can do.

On another note, second year tight end Brandon Pettigrew has been taken off the Physically Unable to Perform list and is resuming participation in individual and seven on seven drills. He appears to have recovered well from an ACL tear last season and should become a major factor in the team's offense. He and new veteran acquisition Tony Scheffler could both start in the team's two tight end sets. Pettigrew says that he looks up to Scheffler as a veteran and plans on learning how to become a better route runner from him.

In the offensive backfield, fullback Jerome Felton is getting some reps as a tailback. At 6'0" 246 lbs. he could be a handful on short-yardage and goal line situations, which is something the Lions could definitely use in 2010. The team plans on employing a running back-by-committee approach to the running game, which has become the norm in the NFL these days, and Felton's power could compliment current starter Kevin Smith's all-around skills and rookie Jahvid Best's speed quite well.

So as we roll into August things seem to be going relatively well for the Detroit Lions. As camp develops, news arises, and the preseason games begin come here for more in-depth coverage.

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22 July 2010

Detroit Lions Pre-Camp Roster Report

            With the Detroit Lions training camp looming on the horizon it is time to evaluate exactly where the team is at the end of the 2010 NFL off-season. Every year I submit a full roster report before training camp, at mid-season, and after the last whistle has blown on the season. This year’s pre-camp installment is full of much more optimism for the Lions than last year’s simply because the organization has put together two great consecutive drafts, adding some premium young talent to a roster that was in desperate need of it. Just as much, general manager Martin Mayhew and head coach Jim Schwartz have added some great veteran players through a series of free agent acquisitions and trades.

            For the last decade the Lions have been the doormat for opponents in the NFL. They have suffered 111 losses in the last nine seasons and did not even win a game in 2008. Needless to say, it has been a tough decade for the franchise. Any sense of hope amongst the faithful fans has dwindled and a five or six win season would be viewed as a step in the right direction. However, one should not be surprised to see this team go 8-8 as I believe the pieces are in place to start challenging the other teams in the conference for a playoff spot.
           
Coaching Staff: B  Schwartz returns after one full season in Detroit with most of his staff still intact. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and defensive coordinator are both back as well, which should provide some continuity and a sense of familiarity with the players. Special teams coach Stan Kwan was the only coach fired and he is replaced by Danny Crossman, who will attempt to resurrect the return game and fire up the coverage units. This is a solid crew that should begin to find success on the field soon.

Quarterbacks: C+  Matt Stafford enters his second season as a pro. He showed off the strong arm that made him the number one overall selection in the 2009 draft and even displayed some toughness (see Cleveland game) that is rarely seen in young passers. He reminds me of a young Brett Favre or Donovan McNabb as he will probably throw a lot of interceptions throughout his career but he has the ability to quickly erase any mistakes with big plays downfield. Shaun Hill comes in via a trade with San Francisco, bringing both experience and a great attitude to the backup role. Fourth year pro Drew Stanton returns as the third QB. He struggles in the passing game but can keep a defense guessing with his ability to scramble for big gains. Overall, there is a great mixture of young talent and veteran leadership to provide some hope for the position.

Running Backs: C  Kevin Smith returns as the incumbent starter after recovering from a torn ACL. He never really had much speed to begin with but he has a knack for slipping through cracks and fighting for yardage in the middle of the line. Maurice Morris was brought in as a free agent last year to provide some help but he never really got anything going. With the addition of rookie Jahvid Best Morris may find himself to be the odd man out. Best averaged over eight yards per carry in college and has shown a natural ability to catch the ball. He could be the game breaker that this offense has been lacking in the backfield since Barry Sanders retired. Aaron Brown also has the speed to contribute but he does not seem to have the natural football instincts to be a successful pro.

Wide Receivers: C+  If it were not for Calvin Johnson this unit would get a D- for a grade. He is an absolute stud and could be on the verge of becoming one of the best players in the entire game. The two things he has been lacking thus far in his career are a quality passer and another quality receiver to draw double and triple teams away from him. Enter Nate Burleson as a free agent from Seattle. Burleson has eight years of NFL experience and displays good hands with a fairly large catching radius. He knows he should get plenty of opportunities to see an open field in front of him and he could quickly become one of Stafford’s favorite targets. The rest of the group is filled with unproven youngsters and veteran underachievers and as a result depth is a huge concern.

Offensive Line: C  Left tackle Jeff Backus, center Dominic Raiola, and right guard Stephen Peterman will all be counted on for leadership and consistent production up front. The rest of the line is filled with players that may not be anything more than your average backup. The team brought in Rob Sims through a trade with the Seahawks to fill the gaping hole at left guard. He was not a standout in Seattle but would have to be a huge failure to not be the starter here. Gosder Cherilus returns as the starter at right tackle. He has struggled with penalties and technique thus far in his career and he will be expected to improve this season. The current system in place should suit his abilities as straight-forward mauler in the running game. Veteran Jon Jansen and rookie Jason Fox both should provide adequate depth at tackle but neither one should be counted on to be a starter at this point in their careers.

Defensive Line: B-  No unit in the entire league may be more improved than this one. Last year I gave them an F and they went on to earn it as the team ranked dead last in the NFL in total defense. Schwartz and company know it all starts in the trenches and the organization did everything in its power to improve the talent up front. They added former pro-bowl right end Kyle Vanden Bosch in free agency, defensive tackle Corey Williams in a trade, and drafted tackle Ndamokung Suh, who was widely considered the most dominant player in college football last season and possibly the most coveted defensive player in the draft in the last 20 years. They also return most of their top performers from last year, including ends Cliff Avril and Jason Hunter, who combined for 10.5 sacks, and defensive tackle Sammie Hill, who used his big frame (6’4” 329 lbs.) to help out in the run defense. Savvy 12th year veteran Jared DeVries also returns after missing ’09 with an injury and seventh-round pick Willie Young will attempt to bolster the pass-rush. A lot still needs to be proven on the DL but there is literally a ton of potential for wreaking havoc in opposing backfields.

Linebackers: D+  The success of this unit hinges primarily on second year player DeAndre Levy’s move from outside ‘backer to the middle after veteran Larry Foote did not fit into the Lions’ 4-3 scheme last year. Levy has the size (6’2” 238 lbs.) and showed the skills, toughness, and attitude to succeed. Julian Peterson had 4.5 sacks and is the veteran leader of the unit with over 10 years of experience. He will once again man the strong side and rush the passer on third downs. The big question mark is on the weak side where Zack Follett and Jordan Dizon will battle it out for the starting spot after Ernie Sims was traded to the Eagles. Follett is an intense player who has made an impression on the coaching staff with his hard work over the last year. Dizon is a bit faster but he is being knocked for not having ideal size (6’0” 230 lbs.). The edge will go to Follett. Depth is also a concern here.

Secondary: C-  This unit has been torched repeatedly over the last few seasons and as a result there has been a lot of change over the last year. The one returning bright spot is free safety Louis Delmas who came on as a rookie to be the leader of the secondary. He was second on the team with 91 tackles and also had two interceptions. He could be on the verge of becoming a pro-bowl player. The strong safety position looks like it will again be filled by Ko Simpson, who played admirably after being cut by the Bills. He is recovering from a knee injury and the team is hopeful he will return to full strength. C.C. Brown and Daniel Bullocks both could challenge him for playing time. There are no set starters at corner but plenty of talent abounds and competition should be fierce in camp. The team traded for Chris Houston and he should nab one of the starting spots. Rookie Amari Spievey will most likely compete with veterans Eric King and Jonathan Wade for the other spot. Whoever doesn’t start will fill in on nickel and dime packages. Spievey is an intriguing prospect. Picked in the third round, he has a physical style of play that suits the defense. Former Lions standout Dre Bly returns for another stint with the team but age may have caught up to him. He might struggle to make the team. Overall, the talent here is much improved and this group could develop into a quality unit fairly quickly, especially if the front line gets more pressure on the quarterback.

Special Teams: C  Kicker Jason Hanson is in his 19th season as a Lion. He and punter Nic Harris are above average players who both struggled to find consistency last season. Look for them both to have better years in 2010 but eventually the team will need to replace Hanson as his range is not quite what it was a decade ago. The coverage units were horrible last year but there is plenty of young, athletic talent to help the team improve in that area. The kick return game also needs a boost. Second-year receiver Derrick Williams, rookie slot receiver Tim Toone, and second-year running back Brown will all compete for a shot at returning kicks.

The Bottom Line: I see this team at least getting six wins in 2010. I expect them to compete at a higher level than they have in recent years and I believe they are indeed headed in the right direction. There is finally some consistency in the coaching and some rising stars throughout the roster. With a little luck and a lot of hard work this team could reach the .500 mark and compete for a playoff spot. Those are high expectations though as this team seems like it is still a year or two away from having a winning season. I am giving them until 2012 to finally reach the post-season.
Overall Roster Grade: C  Until some of the big-time talent shows why they were so highly coveted this roster will continue to be considered average at best.

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27 June 2010

Key Players Work Their Way Back from Injuries

With the Detroit Lions 2010 training camp to start on July 30th, the team took to the practice field for their final minicamp this past week. The team took two weeks off from the off-season leading up to these practices and a bit of rust was evident. However, many positives came out of the workouts, including the presence of a few guys who have been recovering from injury.

            Running back Kevin Smith participated in individual drills and made it onto the field for a few four on three, seven on seven, and full-team drills as well. He has been recovering from a torn ACL he suffered last year and it appears he should be ready for training camp. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who is entering his second season after being a first round pick last year, is also recovering from a torn ACL. He participated in individual drills but did not make onto the field with the team. It is unclear whether or not he will miss some time in training camp but he should be ready for the start of the season.

            To provide insurance at the RB and TE positions the team made a couple key moves the last couple months. In a rare three team trade the Lions sent linebacker Ernie Sims to the Eagles and received TE Tony Scheffler from the Denver Broncos. Scheffler could start but would fit in better as a backup behind a fully recovered Pettigrew. The team also went out and drafted California RB Jahvid Best. Best is already one of the fastest players on the team and should provide a home-run threat out of the backfield. Ideally he and Smith will team up for a formidable duo capable of taking pressure off young quarterback Matt Stafford.

The team originally had two Organized Team Activity days scheduled as well for this week but the NFL cancelled them for breaking league policies concerning off-season workouts. According to Head Coach Jim Schwartz the league put the sanctions in place due to their belief that the Lion’s off-season drills have been too physical. Schwartz denied any wrong doing and expressed his concern for younger players that are being denied the opportunity to further improve and demonstrate their abilities on the field.

            Look for the Lions pre-camp roster report in the next month prior to the start of training camp. In that report I will analyze each position and give my predictions for who will be the starters. I will also provide a prediction for what the Lions 2010 win-loss record.

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21 May 2010

A Quick Look towards the 2011 NFL Draft

            I know it is way too early to start getting too deep into next year’s draft but we must face the fact that the draft is one of the few things that Lions fans have to look forward in the immediate future. To say the Lions will go 8-8 in 2010 is being extremely positive and at this point a fair projection would be 6-10. That would definitely be a step in the right direction, however, as the team has only mustered up a total of 2 wins in the last two seasons, all of which came last year after going 0-16 in 2008.
           
Considering that the Lions want to build the team up from the inside-out, the two biggest needs currently on the Lions’ roster are on the offensive line and at defensive end. Here is a look at both of those areas at their present state and who the Lions could consider adding there in the first round of next year’s draft:

Offensive Line – This has been a trouble spot and some of the better veterans along the line are no spring chickens. Left tackle Jeff Backus is 32, center Dominic Raiola is 31, and tackle Jon Jansen is 34. There are some younger guys, such as tackle Gosder Cherilus (25), left guard Rob Sims (26), and right guard Stephen Peterman (28), that could be competent starters in the long run but none of them have shown the ability to be all-pro caliber players or leaders on this team up ‘til this point. There is no question in my mind that this position will be continuously addressed in order to protect the Lions 50 million dollar investment at quarterback. The offensive line prospects for 2011 look promising and some of the top names being thrown around as potential first round picks include:

Defensive End – The Lions have done a great job addressing a big need along the D-line, especially at the tackle positions. Last year they drafted the 6’4” 330 pounder Sammie Hill out of Stillman in the fourth round and he contributed 26 tackles as a rookie. The team then went out this year and traded for veteran DT Corey Williams (6’4” 325 lbs.) from Cleveland and drafted Ndamokung Suh (6’4” 304 lbs.) out of Nebraska with the second overall selection in this year’s draft. Those guys look to have the makings of a formidable three man rotation in the middle for many years to come. Kyle Vanden Bosch was also signed as a free agent to play right end but he is 31 years of age. Third year end Cliff Avril returns as the team’s sack leader (5.5) and Jason Hunter, who also chipped in five sacks in ‘09, also returns. There is not much else beyond those guys and some much needed depth and a boost in talent is needed. The number of potential first round defensive end prospects in next year’s draft is deep. Here is a list of the top four who will most likely have their names called within the top 32 selections:

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24 April 2010

Detroit Lions 2010 Draft Picks and Grades

            When taking a first glance at the Detroit Lions crop of 2010 draft picks the first thing that comes to my mind is mission accomplished. The team addressed some of its biggest needs. While many holes still remain on the depth chart this class of rookies should go a long way towards making the Lions a better team down the road.

Rd 1 Pick #2: Ndamokung Suh, 6’4” 307 lbs. Nebraska – Grade: A He is the stuff coaches dreams are made of, Suh is in a class all by himself. He is extremely quick, with natural leverage and hand strength. He abused blockers in college and often beat double teams. If you want to see his ability to take over games just watch the Big 12 Championship game against Texas. Suh sacked quarterback Colt McCoy 4.5 times and nearly knocked the Longhorns out of National Title Contention. He ended the 2009 season with 12 sacks, 68.5 total tackles, 20.5 tackles for a loss, 10 passes defended, 21 QB hurries, three blocked kicks, and one interception.

He does not need to have great numbers to succeed. He can simply occupy blockers and make teammates around him better just as he did in college. He is also a well respected player off the field and majored in Engineering in Lincoln. He may just continue working for Ford after he retires from football – as a member of their product research and development team.

Rd 1 Pick #30: Jahvid Best, 5’10” 195 lbs. California – Grade: B The Lions traded away a seventh round pick and swapped fourth round picks with the Vikings in order to move up four spots. They got the man they wanted and that is all that really matters. Best averaged 7.8 yards per carry and scored 35 touchdowns over the course of his career. He clocked a 4.35 forty at the combine, proving even more that he can be a home run threat once the ball is in his hands. He is also a lot tougher than people give him credit for as he has shown that he is not shy of contact. He will not be expected to “carry the load” in Detroit. Ideally he will get about 12-15 touches a game, breaking a long run off here and there and providing a great safety outlet on third downs for young quarterback Matt Stafford. Hopefully Kevin Smith comes back strong from knee surgery because he and Best could become a very dangerous backfield combination.

Rd 3 Pick #66: CB Amari Spievey, 6’0” 190 lbs. Iowa – Grade: A An athletic player that plays with toughness. Spievey tackles well and would have gone to the Bucs one pick later if Detroit had not grabbed him. He will compete at one of the corner spots and may be able to play safety if needed. At the very least he improves the depth in the Detroit secondary with another young defender that does not shy away from contact.

Rd 4 Pick #128: OT Jason Fox, 6’7” 303 lbs. Miami (FL) – Grade: C A tall, rangy athlete who can move his feet but definitely needs to get stronger. If he works hard at his craft he could become a competent starting left tackle in another year or two. He should immediately provide some much-needed depth on the left side of the O-line as a rookie.

Rd 7 Pick #213: DE Willie Young, 6’5” 251 lbs. NC State – Grade: B- An active pass-rusher that may have just enough skills to stick in the NFL. However, he may lack the instincts and desire to be anything more than just a backup and special teams player.
Rd 7 Pick #255: WR Timothy Toone, 5’10” 171 lbs. Weber State – Grade: C He will compete for a backup role as a slot receiver but he needs to contribute on special teams to make it. This “Mr. Irrelevant” is a long shot to make the team.

Overall 2010 Draft Grade: B Suh, Best, and Spievey are potential starters for the Lions immediately. The rest will have to work very hard to make the team and stick in the NFL.

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23 April 2010

Detroit Lions 2010 NFL Draft Picks

Rd 1 Pick #2: Ndamokung Suh, 6’4” 307 lbs. Nebraska – The stuff coaches dreams are made of, Suh is in a class all by himself. He is extremely quick, with natural leverage and hand strength. He abused blockers in college and often beat double teams. If you want to see his ability to take over games just watch the Big 12 Championship game against Texas. Suh sacked quarterback Colt McCoy 4.5 times and nearly knocked the Longhorns out of National Title Contention. He ended the 2009 season with 12 sacks, 68.5 total tackles, 20.5 tackles for a loss, 10 passes defended, 21 QB hurries, three blocked kicks, and one interception. He does not need to have great numbers to succeed. He can simply occupy blockers and make teammates around him better just as he did in college. He is also a well respected player off the field and majored in Engineering in Lincoln. He may just continue working for Ford after he retires from football – as a member of their product research and development team.

Rd 1 Pick #30: Jahvid Best, 5’10” 195 lbs. California – The Lions traded away Mr. Irrelevant” (the 255th pick overall) and swapped fourth round picks with the Vikings in order to move up four spots. Best averaged 7.8 yards per carry and scored 35 touchdowns over the course of his career. He clocked a 4.35 forty at the combine, proving even more that he can be a home run threat once the ball is in his hands. He is also a lot tougher than people give him credit for as he has shown that he is not shy of contact. He will not be expected to “carry the load” in Detroit. Ideally he will get about 15 touches a game, breaking a long run off here and there and providing a great safety outlet on third downs for young quarterback Matt Stafford. Hopefully Kevin Smith comes back strong from knee surgery because he and Best could become a very dangerous backfield combination.

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22 April 2010

Lions Stay at #2 and Get Suh

            The first round of the 2010 NFL Draft is in the books. The St Louis Rams did as everybody predicted and took quarterback Sam Bradford. That left the Detroit Lions with a very easy decision to make with the #2 pick as the best player on most draft boards was still there waiting for a phone call. Now Lions fans can rest a little easier knowing that defensive tackle Ndamokung Suh will be added to their defensive line. Believe me, there is a buzz in Mo-town tonight and it is not just because the Red Wings tied their playoff series with the Coyotes at 2-2.
            In Suh the Lions get a guy who is a well respected player by coaches, teammates, and opponents alike. He has worked hard and developed into a force over the last few years at Nebraska and is considered by some as one of the best players to enter the draft in 20 years. Not only was he productive but he has tested through the roof in pre-draft workouts, displaying the strength and quickness that leaves scouts salivating. He should instantly team up with the newly acquired Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams to improve a line that was one of the worst in NFL history over the last two years. He may not put up 10 sacks in his first season but he should at least provide help in the run defense, which would go a long way towards improving the defense overall.
            Late in round one the Lions decided to get a little creative to get another player they really wanted on their roster. They packaged the 34th pick (second pick in round two) with the 100th pick (second pick in round four) to move up four spots and get California running back Jahvid Best. I knew they were targeting Best in the second round but I did not think they wanted him bad enough to trade up. With the move though, the organization has added a fast player that has shown the ability to produce long touchdown runs and catch the ball out of the backfield. He should team up with Kevin Smith and Maurice Morris to give the offense a nice 1-2-3 punch.
            The Lions will pick again on Friday with the 66th pick (second in round three). Nebraska safety Larry Asante, Illinois guard Jon Asamoah, defensive end Corey Wooten, and Georgia linebacker Rennie Curran are all possibilities there.

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15 April 2010

Detroit Lions Mock Draft

            The Detroit Lions have been very busy in the last few months as they prepare for the 2010 NFL draft. With less than a month to go before our beloved annual event the organization filled a gaping hole at left guard by trading away its fifth round pick and reserve defensive end Robert Henderson for offensive guard Rob Sims and a seventh round pick. Sims, who is in his fifth season, has been a starter for the Seattle Seahawks most of his short career. He seems genuinely eager to be reunited with some old Seahawk teammates, such as wide Receiver Nate Burleson, running back Maurice Morris, and linebacker Julian Peterson. Does he solve the problems on the O-line? Not exactly. What he does provide is one more young, able bodied player to compete and mix it up in the trenches and eliminate the need to pass up Ndamokung Suh in favor of addressing the O-line.

            In order for the Lions to finally put their losing ways behind them though, this has to be a big draft for the organization. There are no excuses. They have the number two overall pick and six more in later rounds to spend on players in a draft that is considered to be one of the deepest ever in terms of talent. Add that to the fact that there are a few guys with super star potential on the roster already so good things will eventually be expected from the team. Wide receiver Calvin Johnson and safety Louis Delmas both feel that they are primed for a huge year in 2010, as do last year’s two first round picks, quarterback Matthew Stafford and tight end Brandon Pettigrew. The latter guys both have a lot to prove after showing flashes on the field before ending their seasons on I.R.

            I am a firm believer that you try to take the best player available. Obviously, a small percentage of need will always weigh into a final decision but the Lions will not be taking a quarterback in the first round this year. The possibilities are with the #2 pick seem to be limited to Suh, fellow DT Gerald McCoy, and OT Russell Okung. After round one the possibilities are seemingly endless. The mock draft that follows here is simply a representation of the type of talent the team will be faced with selecting based on how I have them ranked. It goes without saying that everybody’s boards will be different. In any case, if you are reading you have probably thought that you could do a better job than the guys calling shots for your favorite team. When considering at the Lions recent draft history, you may have been right.

Rd 1 #2: DT Ndamokung Suh, 6’4” 300 lbs. Nebraska – The best player in the draft looks like he will fall right into Detroit’s lap. Add him to the mix with Kyle Vanden Bosch, DeWayne White, and Corey Williams and this D-line could be the most improved unit in the league.

Rd 2 #34: RB Jahvid Best, 5’10” 195 lbs. California – I am willing to bet that Best will be the best player still available when the Lions pick in the second round. He might be able to bring another offensive dimension to compliment fellow running back Kevin Smith’s straight-forward style, as well as take some attention off other rising stars. The Lions have not had a home run threat in the backfield like him since Barry Sanders.

Rd 3 #66: CB Syd’ Quan Thompson, 5’9” 191 lbs. California – Instinctive and tough player known to have good character and football smarts. The Lions need all the help they can get in the secondary. Thompson has the skills to at least become a valuable nickel back and would compete with newly acquired Chris Houston for playing time.

Rd 4 #100: OL Zane Beadles, 6’4” 307 lbs. Utah – Played left tackle in college but projects as a guard in the pros, Beadles has the size and skill to contribute at the next level. He could compete with new acquisition Rob Sims at left guard and provide some adequate depth along the O-line, which is something the team desperately needs.

Rd 7 #213 C Kenny Alfred, 6’2 300 lbs. Washington State – Considered an overachiever, Alfred has had some nagging injuries that concern many scouts. Nobody seems to question his effort on the field though and he could develop into a quality backup.

7b #214 LB Ryan D’Imperio, 6’2” 244 lbs. Rutgers – Not the most physically gifted player and has had some questions about his durability. He probably will never be more than a backup. Then again, one really never knows what kind of value you can get out of players this late in the draft.

7 #255 OT Nic Richmond, 6’8” 322 lbs. TCU – My pick for this year’s “Mr. Irrelevant” was the top backup on the Horned Frog’s depth chart but he has some fascinating traits that could allow him to develop into a solid player in the NFL.

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23 March 2010

Adding Bricks and Mortar

Although the Detroit Lions have remained fairly active so far during the 2010 off-season, none of the deals are what I would consider epic. The team has done well in adding some good, veteran guys who want to come in and help change the culture of this team but with the draft coming up, and the Lions holding the second overall pick, the best of this off-season is surely still to come.
After adding defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch and wide receiver Nate Burleson via free agency and defensive tackle Corey Williams through a trade with Cleveland, the front office has now also acquired the services of veteran quarterback Shaun Hill. These are what I call bricks and mortar-type guys and all three of them should contribute heavily next season.

            In exchange for an undisclosed draft pick in 2011, the San Francisco 49ers sent Hill, an eight year player with a 10-6 record as a starter, over to Detroit. He will be a much more dependable backup than fourth year player Drew Stanton and should also be a good tutor for the younger guys. If starter Matt Stafford struggles the team may not hesitate to give Hill a shot at guiding this offense either. Despite all his talent, Stafford is still a couple years away from being a finished product and it may not benefit him to continue taking a beating. Hill will ultimately allow the team to be a little more patient with Stafford’s development.

            With the second pick I, as well as most draft followers, believe the Lions will select one of three players. If the Rams decide to select quarterback Sam Bradford with the number one overall pick then Detroit will, with no doubt in my mind, select Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamokung Suh. If Suh is gone then the team will most likely choose between Oklohoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and Tennessee safety Eric Berry. Although most daft “experts” have McCoy rated higher, I believe Berry is the second best overall player in this draft, behind Suh.

            Suh and McCoy both visited the Lions’ training facility in Allen Park, Michigan this past week. McCoy is a good athlete, capable of running a 4.9 forty. He could be a good penetrator up front but he may not possess the overall strength that the Lions seek for their line. He only put up 23 reps of 225 lbs at the NFL scouting combine last month. Suh, on the other hand, put up 32 bench reps and repeatedly man-handled blockers and ripped apart double teams in college. Both guys ran good forty times in the 4.9 – 5.1 range. Berry, who may be talented enough to play cornerback as well, put up 19 reps while also running a 4.47 forty. Those are exactly the types of numbers you look for in a defensive back that put together as great of a three year college career as Berry did for the Volunteers.

            I have yet to put the finishing touches on my mock draft but I will do so in the next week or so. At this point I am about 75% sure that Suh will become a Lion. I am then about 14% for Berry, 10% for McCoy, and 1% for a trade down. Despite the recent additions on the D-line I still believe the team will continue to address the position in the draft and will not hesitate to take Suh if he is available.

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11 March 2010

Lions Take Steps Forward

The Detroit Lions are picking second in this year’s draft after taking quarterback Matt Stafford first overall last year. The organization does not want to be picking anywhere near the top five again next year and is doing everything it can to win some more ball games this fall. The team is not looking to break the bank but with a few minor moves they could shorten their “needs” list before the draft. That way they will concentrate more on taking the best player available regardless of position.

The first order of business this off-season was to address the defensive line, which had been horrendous the last few years, and as the clock struck 12:01 a.m. on Friday, March 5th, the first minute that NFL free agents were allowed to negotiate with other teams, Lions head coach Jim Schwartz was busy making house calls. With a bottle of wine in his hand he showed up on the doorstep of defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch’s house and told him he needed the former Tennessee Titan to help turn the page in Detroit on a forgettable era. By the time the bottle was empty, Vanden Bosch was on board. He will be bringing his eight years of experience to a position that needs leadership.

Even though he has a reputation of being a pass-rusher, Vanden Bosch is a big guy (6’4” 278 lbs) who can play the run too, which is the most important aspect of his game for the Lions at the moment. Third-year player Cliff Avril, who started at right end last year and got five sacks, will be used more exclusively on passing downs as he is a bit of a liability against running games. Nobody should be surprised to see the coaching staff find some creative ways to maximize both of their abilities.

Later on Friday wide receiver Nate Burleson signed with the team, giving the Lions another legitimate competitor for the number two receiver spot opposite rising star Calvin Johnson. This signing proves once again that there are indeed players out there that see an opportunity in Detroit to jump on the wagon before it gets rolling. Burleson, who will be competing with second-year man Derrick Williams and seventh-year vet Bryant Johnson for playing time, will also be in his seventh season and believes that there is the potential for something deadly here and he does not want to miss out on it.

The biggest move of the weekend for the Lions may have been acquiring defensive tackle Corey Williams in a trade with the Cleveland Browns. Williams did not take to the 3-4 scheme that the Browns employ like everybody thought he would. Playing in the attacking 4-3 scheme that Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham loves should utilize Williams’ ability to penetrate a little bit more.. He has the size (6’4” 320 lbs) that Detroit wants against the run and proved he can get to the quarterback with seven sacks while playing for the Packers in 2006 and 2007.

Signing Corey Williams will not alter the team’s decision-making process if faced with the chance to draft Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamokung Suh. If the Rams, who are picking first, decide to take a quarterback there instead, the Lions will entertain some trade offers but would take Suh over any other prospect. On the other hand, the presence of Williams will make it easier to select Tennessee safety Eric Berry over the other hot defensive tackle prospect, Oklahoma’s Gerald McCoy, if Suh is already gone.

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5 March 2010

Developing Draft Strategies

Now that the annual NFL scouting combine is over and all the forty times, vertical jumps, and three-cone drills have been run, it is time to sit down and really interpret exactly what all this information means in regards to each team. It all varies between franchises, as some coaches put more stock into measurables than others, but one thing is for certain: nobody knows what will happen during the draft until it actually happens.

The Lions possess the second overall pick this year and have many holes to fill. There were three players that were widely considered to be the best prospects going into the combine, tops over everybody else. Lions will most likely score one of them. Preferably the team would like to land Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh to fill that gaping hole in the middle of the front line. Suh has been one of the most sought after defensive prospects in many years and seems to unanimously be considered the top prospect overall. So if that is true, and he is indeed taken first before the Lions can get a chance to draft him, then that would leave either Tennessee safety Eric Berry, who is arguably the best safety prospect ever to emerge from the college playing field, and Oklahoma Defensive Tackle Gerald McCoy. Berry would instantly upgrade the strong safety spot and could team up with last year’s rookie sensation, free safety Louis Delmas, to form one of the best safety tandems in the entire league. This would be a fine strategy as the team could then wait to score a good lineman in the second round where the team holds the 34th pick overall. Alabama’s Terrence Cody (6’5” 265 lbs), Tennessee’s Dan Williams (6’3” 327 lbs), and Penn State’s Jared Odrick are also widely considered to be first round picks but any one of them could slip into the second round and find themselves suiting up for the Lions this spring. McCoy may not have the overall strength (only 22 bench reps at the combine) coveted by the Lions to help stop NFL running games. Berry could help bring more stability and leadership in the secondary.

            Another strategy the team could employ this year would be to trade down. General Manager Martin Mayhew has expressed a willingness to trade down if the right offer comes along. As deep as this draft is in talent it may be the best plan of all. Even if the Lions gained just an extra third round pick to drop down a few spots it would go a long way towards finding answers on the team’s depth chart. It’s possible that Berry would even still be there at pick number five if there’s a mad scramble at the top to grab the top quarterbacks and defensive linemen.

With the lack of overall depth at the offensive line position some teams, including the Lions, may be looking to score one of the top tackles available early on in round one. Oklahoma’s Trent Williams, who was already considered a top 15 pick, put up some great numbers at the combine and may have garnered top five consideration by a lot of teams. Needless to say, the Detroit Lions would benefit by employing Williams’ abilities.

In recent years it has been pretty hard to trade out of the top of the draft, due to high salary demands by the players and the high cost to the team trading up. However, with the type of talent that’s available at the top this year it may seem very possible that some movement happens. An extreme version of what could happen may look something like this:

When it is all said and done though, do not be surprised if everybody just stays put. With the wealth of talent available in rounds two, three and four, teams may not be so willing to part with those picks in order to take a risk on one guy at the top. Besides, there are a lot of things to consider salary-wise when taking a guy in the top five.

Some of the top players the Lions may be targeting in the next couple rounds include:

Round 2:

Round 3

Adding an extra pick somewhere in the second or third round would be ideal. With as many holes as the Lions need to fill on their depth chart they could stand to add 10 young athletes to the team. Ideally, the Lions should add three long-term starters and a few key backups this April. It does not seem that hard at first glance but the history of this franchise has proven that it is truly difficult to properly evaluate players and make selections that pay off in the future.

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15 February 2010

Looking Towards Free Agency

The upcoming free agent period will be like no other since the installation of a salary cap. The reason being is that there most likely will not be a salary cap at all. It is a little ironic considering the disheartened state of affairs of the economy. Business will go on as usual though, and some players are about to make a lot of money in the NFL.

The Detroit Lions, on the other hand, do not have plans on spending big money on high-priced veterans. Their plan is to keep building the team through the draft and reward their own guys later, after they have proven their worth.

Last year the Lions did score a few nice hits in free agency without really breaking the bank. Linebacker Larry Foote, who was a cap casualty in Pittsburgh, happily came to the Lions and vowed to help turn his hometown franchise around. He did his part by leading the team in tackles. Offensive tackle Jon Jansen also came home after being let go by the Redskins. Both of them played college ball at the University of Michigan in nearby Ann Arbor, one of the few bright spots still left in the Lower Peninsula. Even though the Lion’s defensive and offensive units still struggled mightily and the team lost 14 games, the efforts of last year’s free agent class will not go unnoticed. Not as long as I am around to beat the drum anyway.

This year free agency probably will be much of the same. It is not likely that we will see this franchise drop a hundred mill on a guy. There are a lot of holes on the roster that need to get filled before they start swinging for the fences.

One of the biggest priorities this off season will be to get the O-line in order. The team still has high hopes for most of the guys there now, including tackles Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus. However, if the team wants to protect its investment at quarterback and wage war on NFL defenses with its running game then the line will need an infusion of talent to go along with a lot of work this off-season. The team has been looking for somebody to play left guard for years and they will continue that search in 2010.

There is a serious lack of depth in the offensive line talent in this year’s draft. In free agency, on the other hand, there appears to be a lot of line talent hitting the open market. Logan Mankins has been an outstanding left guard for the Patriots since being drafted out of Fresno State in the first round of the ’05 draft. He would be a great addition to the front line. Another option may be to sign a left tackle and move Backus to guard. The Saints Jammal Brown will be looking to cash in mightily, as will the Chargers’ Marcus McNeil. Either guy may be out of the Lions’ price range. Donald Penn, who has silently been a steady left tackle for Tampa Bay the last couple years, could be signed at a relatively cheaper rate and may provide enough stability to protect Stafford’s backside for the foreseeable future. Tra Thomas, who was cut by the Jaguars, might also be a somewhat cheap quick-fix at left tackle and San Francisco 49er left guard David Baas, another former Wolverine, might fit in at left guard.

The other major priority is the defensive line. It has been one of the worst in NFL history over the last two years, yielding 4.8 yards per carry to opposing running backs and mustering up a mere 56 sacks during that span. A lot needs to happen here before things will get better for the entire defense. The linebackers cannot be expected to make tackles on running backs at the line of scrimmage when their own teammates are getting shoved in their way.

The two guys on the line with the biggest upside are right end Cliff Avril, a third round pick out of Purdue in ’08, and tackle Sammie Hill, a fourth round pick last year out of Stillman. Avril led the front line with 5.5 sacks this past season. He is on the small side (6’3” 253 lbs.) but he should continue to contribute as a pass-rusher. Hill brought his large frame (6’4” 329 lbs.) from his small school and helped out on some run downs. He did not have a breakout year, only collecting 26 tackles, but with another year in the weight and film rooms he will be expected to throw his body around a little bit more. The best tackle options in free agency look to be Johnny Jolly of the Packers, Barry Cofield of the Giants, and Tony Brown of the Titans. Brown (6’3” 290 lbs) played for Schwartz in Tennessee and may like to reunite with his former defensive coordinator. Another possibility to help out in the run defense is Arizona’s Gabe Watson. While he is not an all-pro, he is a big guy (6’3” 330 lbs) who has a lot of experience now.

With it being such a good year for defensive tackles in the draft the Lions may want to just wait and see what happens there first. The organization will most likely look to take the least costly approach to free agency, hopefully finding younger guys who are willing to come in and compete for a spot while the team continues to build through the draft. The organization would then like to reward its own players later who have earned their keep on the team.

Out of the pool of its own free agents there are a couple guys that the team would love to keep around. Cornerback Will James had 73 tackles and two interceptions and defensive end Jason Hunter had five sacks. They are two guys the team would like to keep around. Safeties Ko Simpson and Daniel Bullocks may have played well enough to get resigned. Even if the team does draft Safety Eric Berry out of Tennessee, either guy could make an excellent backup.

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8 January 2010

Final Grades for the 2009 Detroit Lions

Coaching: The jury is still out on whether Jim Schwartz will be the man to bring the Lions back to playoff contention after so many years of futility. Although the team struggled mightily once again in 2009 there seems to be a slight sense of optimism entering the 2010 off-season. The key for him in the next few months will be to keep the ship moving forward, focusing player’s attitudes towards winning, and adding some key pieces to the roster. It will not be easy and 2010 should not be a make or break season, but it will tell a lot about which direction the new regime is headed as improvement on a 2-14 season will be expected by all.

Quarterbacks: D Daunte Culpepper was horrible when given a chance to play until the very end when he threw two touchdowns in a loss to Chicago. He was originally given the starting job so rookie Matt Stafford wouldn’t have to be thrown to the wolves, but Stafford simply turned out to be the best quarterback on the roster. The rookie had some great moments but he also felt plenty of growing pains. Fans should like what they have seen though and expect more good things to come. Drew Stanton had a shot to prove his worth but failed in his only start. He should improve though and will have a chance to move up from the third spot on the depth chart to take over Culpepper’s place behind Stafford. He doesn’t have a great arm but will keep defenses guessing with his ability to run.
Draft Outlook: Stafford looks like he’ll be a capable starter with a deadly arm in this league. Someone else should be brought in to compete for the backup job with Stanton and Culpepper but it probably will not be a rookie.

Running Backs: C- Kevin Smith and Maurice Morris each had a couple good games but both struggled to be consistent threats in the running game. Smith then ended the season on injured reserve and Morris did an admirable job filling in fulltime. Rookie Aaron Brown showed some flashes of playmaking ability but a lot was left to be desired out of this group.

Draft Outlook: The Lions need to either find a starter in free agency or draft one because everyone on this roster seems like they’d be better suited as backups. CJ Spiller looks to be a legitimate top ten pick. He would presumably add a lot of speed and versatility to the backfield. Toby Gerhart may still be available in round two. He has the rare size (6’1” 237) and ability to pound the ball into the hearts of opposing defenses, which is something the coaching staff would like to do on a consistent basis. He also seems to possess enough speed to take it to the house once he is out of the box. LSU’s Charles Scott may be another second or third round possibility with the size (5’11” 233lbs) to punish would-be tacklers.

Receivers: C- This group, like many others, showed flashes of brilliance but could never be reliable. Calvin Johnson played well down the stretch but should be an all-pro. Hopefully he and Stafford will develop some chemistry this off-season. Free agent Bryant Johnson was not much of a factor due to injury but had a TD in the last game of the season. Rookie third round pick Derrick Williams should continue improving and could develop into something special, especially as a kick returner. Dennis Northcutt was a pleasant surprise at times but he does not have much to offer at this point in his career. First round tight end Brandon Pettigrew had one great game against the Browns and then tore up his knee. He should be back in time for training camp.

Draft Outlook: Given time and proper coaching this unit could be deadly in the near future with the talent that is already on hand. More production needs to come from the second, third, and fourth options in order for CJ to stop seeing so many double teams. Golden Tate or Brandon LaFell might both be available early in round two. Either one of those guys would be hard to pass up there.

Offensive Line: D+ The Lions continue to have a huge hole at left guard and tackles Jeff Backus, Gosder Cherilus, and Jon Jansen all may be better suited for that spot. None of them really stand out at tackle. Dominic Raiola seems to talk a good game but seems to be an average center at best. Stephen Peterman is okay at right guard but again is nothing special. This unit could use a boost in talent.

Draft Outlook: While the Lions may seek to upgrade this position through free agency, it may be hard to pass up Oklahoma State’s Russell Okung in the first round. He could help out a lot on the left side of the line. Bryan Bulaga would also be a quality first round pick if he chooses to come out early. Illinois’ Jon Asamoah is a nice guard prospect that the Lions may be targeting in the second round. Either way, it will be a priority to protect their investment at quarterback and make room for the running game.

Defensive Line: F I have repeatedly criticized this unit for being the worst in the league, and they are, but they did show signs of improvement. Ends Cliff Avril and Jason Hunter both come on to tie for the team lead in sacks with five but that was not enough. The Lions allowed over 4,000 yards passing so a much needed boost to the pass rush will needed. The defense also allowed 4.4 yards per rush.

Draft Outlook: The odds on the Lions taking a defensive lineman with their first pick are high. If Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh (projected first overall) is gone with the first pick, Oklahoma’s Gerald McCoy, Michigan’s Brandon Graham, and Florida’s Carlos Dunlap would be nice consolation prizes. However, none of them may be worthy of the number two pick the Lions now possess. The team may opt to wait until the second and third rounds to address the position as this is an exceptional year for front line defenders. Syracuse’s Arthur Jones, Penn State’s Jared Odrick, Mississippi’s Greg Hardy, and Northwestern’s Corey Wootton would all be nice pickups later on in the draft.

Linebackers: B- Larry Foote made a fairly successful transition from a 3-4 defense over to a 4-3 middle linebacker. While he wasn’t necessarily a pro-bowler he led the team in tackles with 99. Julian Peterson wasn’t very consistent but he did end up with 76 tackles and four sacks. DeAndre Levy was a nice surprise, contributing 85 tackles as a rookie. Ernie Sims is a bit of an enigma and may not be with the team much longer. He has the athletic ability to be great but is often injured and most of his tackles occur down field. Even though he improved as the season went on, Sims often appeared lost in Shwartz’ defensive schemes and may be better suited in another system.

Draft Outlook: Not too much change is needed here. The starters are good enough to be winners and there’s adequate depth with Levy, Zach Follet, and Jordan Dizon. They all would be helped greatly by better play upfront on the line.  

Secondary: C- This unit suffered through a lot of injuries and because of the horrible play by the front four, they were left to make too many tackles. Rookie safety Louis Delmas was second on the team in tackles with 94 and cornerback Will James was fourth with 73.

Draft Outlook: Eric Berry looks like a sure-fire top ten pick and may be the best player in the draft besides Suh. He and Delmas could pair up to give the Lions a very dangerous safety combo in the defensive backfield for the next 10 years. UCLA’s Alterraun Verner, Kentucky’s Trevard Lindley, and Florida State’s Patrick Robinson could be nice cornerback options in round two or three. There does not look to be much top end corner prospects this year so free agency might be the best route.

Special Teams: C+ The coverage units are fairly young, consisting of a lot of rookies and second or third year players, but they only allowed 8.6 yards per punt return and 23.3 per kick return. Those number could improve but were not horrible by any means. Their own return games could use a boost though, as they only mustered up 8.3 yards per punt return and 21.4 yards per kick return with no touchdowns by either unit.

Coming Up: I will provide frequent updates on the Lions’ off-season as it progresses and I will give extra attention to potential candidates for the number two pick in the upcoming draft.

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29 December 2009

Lions Lose and Hopefully Learn

The Detroit Lions (2-13) struggled once again on the football field and had to leave the city of San Francisco with another loss on another bad season. To their credit, however, they are struggling through a long list of injuries and are looking to just end the season without losing anybody else.

On this Sunday they also just happened to run into a very good 49er team that is playing with something to prove. Mike Singletary’s young team got knocked out of the playoff race last week after a tough 13-27 loss to the Eagles. They are now 7-8 with this win over Detroit. Next week they should reach 8-8 as they play the St Louis Rams. Overall it is solid improvement over the records they have posted in recent years. Next year there is no reason why they shouldn’t be competing for a playoff spot again. In fact, I have them pegged as one of the hottest up and coming teams. They are young, well-coached, and hungry.

At this point it’s hard to say the same thing about the Lions. I had them pegged as a 6-10 team going into the season and they barely have pulled two wins out thus far in 2009. With one more home game against NFC North Division rival Chicago Bears the team has the opportunity to pull out one more win over a hated opponent to end the season on a positive note.

Either way the Lions look to be picking in the top five again in the draft. There will be a variety of good players to choose from and the Lions will have many needs. They will obviously take the best player available approach with the exception being quarterback. If the best player available is an offensive signal-caller then the team may look to trade down with a team willing to move up to get him. More picks in the second or third round would be much appreciated.

After next week’s finale, I will post my end of the year report card. The evaluation will be stiff and harsh but I will go out of my way to find the positives. There are not many but there are probably more than most people think. After that we will go into some in depth analysis of what the upcoming draft has in store for the Lions.

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29 December 2009

Stafford Done, Stanton Gets First Career Start at QB

Detroit Lions rookie quarterback Matt Stafford is done for the season. The team placed him on the injured reserve list as preemptive measure before he gets what the team is calling “minor surgery” on his right knee. Apparently there is some ligament debris floating around and Lion’s management knew he would eventually need surgery, so they decided to go ahead and do it now in order to bump up any recovery time. It would be ideal for Stafford to be participating in the team’s full off-season program.

Third year quarterback Drew Stanton, out of Michigan State University; will get his first taste as a starting quarterback. The team still as high hopes for him as a quality backup and possibly future trade bait so all eyes will be on him these last two weeks.

It is very likely that veteran Daunte Culpepper will not be in training camp next summer as he has not performed well. In fact, his play hasn’t been anywhere near what the coaches had hoped and he should probably retire.

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21 December 2009

Lions Fall Short of Redeeming Themselves

The Arizona Cardinals (9-5) are the struggling leaders of a weak NFC West Division. They were virtually one second away from winning the Super Bowl last February but were derailed by the late game heroics of Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Now they desperately need some wins late in this 2009 season to hold off the San Francisco 49ers and secure another division crown. Luckily for them they landed the Detroit Lions on their December schedule.

The Lions (2-12), in their feeble defense, have been a struggling franchise for years and are searching for ways to correct a slew of problems former General Manager Matt Millen left behind when he was fired after last season’s 0-16 debacle. They also have caught the injury bug as of late and find themselves without a troop of their top young talent; including quarterback Matt Stafford who is still nursing his shoulder left shoulder. A win over the Cardinals could have offered a boost of confidence to help close out the 2009 season on a positive note.

In the end it was a 31-24 bitter defeat that appeared to be very winnable late in the game. I have to give credit to the Lions, though, for putting on a strong showing after laying down for the Ravens a week earlier. Needless to say, I for one was severely upset by the 48-3 hammering they received at the time and gave them a well-deserved verbal lashing. This week, however, I want to offer my gratitude for a well fought, entertaining contest that turned out to be one of the better games on the day, despite the fact that it was another loss for the franchise. At this point that is all Detroit fans can ask for from them. At least it appears that the team possesses some heart after all.

Before the season started I made a comment to a friend, who is a Michigan native and long time Lion fan, that Drew Stanton could quite possibly be the man who carries this team this year. While Stanton definitely hasn’t done that, he started the second half and provided a much needed spark to the offense, displaying the savvy that had endeared him to area fans while playing at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. His ability to scramble and make plays with his legs offers another dimension that can stave off the efforts of a mediocre offensive line. If Matt Stafford is unable to go again next week expect Stanton to get the starting nod, unless of course the hits he endured against the Cardinals catch up to him.

Meanwhile, Stafford, who dressed for the game, displayed good leadership by providing moral support to his teammates, congratulating them as they came off the field after each series. It’s not a secret that Stafford will be the man expected to lead this team in the future but he was in Stanton’s ear on many occasions, obviously offering some positive reinforcement to his backup.

Rookie Louis Delmas also continues to show his capacity for being a defensive leader from his safety position, returning a Kurt Warner interception 100 yards for a touchdown. He also was in on eight stops on the day. At this point of the season one has to give credit to first year GM Martin Mayhew for making that selection with the first pick in the second round. One can argue that Delmas is the best rookie defender in the league.

In the end the Lions defense missed a lot of tackles though, which has continually been a problem since the invention of the wheel. Particularly, they got out-muscled by Cardinals wideout Anquan Boldin with just two minutes to play in the fourth quarter for the go ahead touchdown, reminiscent of a Larry Csonka or a Mike Alstott TD more than a receiver’s. It’s nothing new to see would-be Lion tacklers being shucked like corn and I suspect things are not likely to change too much at this point in 2009. However, this performance does breed some hope for the optimistic.

Running back Maurice Morris, subbing for the injured Kevin Smith, cut up 126 yards of turf for a 7.4 yard per carry average and one TD. He also caught five passes for 35 yards. Ernie Sims got into the action on defense, gathering six solo tackles and two assists. 
Again, it was a defensive back leading the team in tackles, as safety Marvin White had seven solo stops and two assists.

With this loss, along with Tampa Bay and Cleveland wins on Sunday, Detroit finds itself dangerously close to once again taking the number one overall pick in the 2010 draft, as well as the $50 million of guaranteed money that goes with it. As we close out the season it would be encouraging to see the current players wear their hearts on their sleeves and fight to stay out of that top spot in the draft. Financially, it would be beneficial for the franchise as a whole and, emotionally, it would be a favorable end the 2009 season. That way, the team would have more of a sense of sanguinity going into the off-season.

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13 December 2009

Going Through the Motions

Yikes! That was ugly.

What else can you say about the Detroit Lions these days? They continue to stumble through the season and simply got rung out like a wet rag this week by the Baltimore Ravens, losing the wet contest 48-3. In reality it really wasn’t much of a contest at all.

The Ravens, who still have a shot at catching Cincinnati and winning the AFC North Division, racked up a franchise record 548 yards and five rushing touchdowns. 308 of those yards came on the ground with Ray Rice personally getting 166. Joe Flacco only needed 13 completions to get 230 yards and a touchdown. Backup quarterback Troy Smith even came got into the action and ripped off a 15 yard TD run.

As the rain came down the young Lions seemed to not want to be there at all. In fact it appears that they have no desire to finish the season and are dreading the fact that there are still three games left. Are they in a race for the privilege of selecting Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh with the first pick in the 2010 draft? He seems to be the most coveted prospect coming out of college this spring and if he were on the Lions this week he would have been the best defender on the team. But that’s not really saying too much.

It’s impossible to find any positives in this team at the moment. There’s no sense in even trying to sugar coat it as everybody and their brother knows this team is horrible. They should be improving, as they are young, but they just took a huge step back in their development by showing the whole world how gutless and miserable they really are as a team.

Hey Lions! Why don’t you do me a favor and just forfeit the next three games so I’m not forced to watch you embarrass yourselves. If you do decide to show up then why don’t you try putting some effort into it so I have something to actually write about.

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28 November 2009

Lions Cannot Induce a Sense of Optimism

It is very difficult for the people of Detroit to be real thankful these days. The unemployment rate has almost reached the 30% mark and violent crime is steadily increasing. Murder rates are among the nation’s highest and nearly three out of four of them go unsolved. The industries that once supported the city turned their backs on the people a long time ago and the rest of the country seemingly could care less. The city that once supplied the country with the motors to turn its gears sits and dies, looking for a glimmer of something to be grateful for these days. Unfortunately, the Detroit Lions, which were once a competitive NFL franchise, are not providing it.

It was only as little as six years ago that the annual Thanksgiving Day game, which has been a Detroit tradition since 1934, was a time of excitement and joy on a holiday that is suppose to represent the opportunities and promise that once defined this country. At the very least it showcased the team in the national spotlight and allowed the locals to be proud of their beloved team. That was about the time Matt Millen came to town as the Lions CEO and General Manager (2001-2008) and ran the business into the ground, just as the owners of the team have done to their once great motor company.

A shadow of the Millen era still loomed this Thursday as it was a sixth straight disappointing Thanksgiving Day game for Lions fans. The Green Bay Packers came into Detroit and thumped the team 34-12. The Packers had a field day as Aaron Rodgers threw for 348 yards and three touchdowns. Donald Driver received 142 of those yards for one TD and the Packer defense only gave up 10 points. As a result the Lions fell to 2-9 on the season and were once again humiliated in front of millions.

Matt Stafford erased the enthusiasm surrounding his great performance on Sunday against the Browns by throwing four interceptions and only completing 46.5% of his passes against the Packers. Kevin Smith could only muster up another 43 rushing yards on 18 attempts and tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who left the game in the first quarter and did not return, only caught one ball for 12 yards. Calvin Johnson caught the only touchdown on the day for Lions, a one yard reception, but only hauled in one other ball for a grand total of 10 receiving yards after putting on a Pro-Bowl caliber act on Sunday against the Browns as well.

Defensively the Lions didn’t do much either. The leading tackler was cornerback Will James (11 stops), a sure sign that things did not go well for the team. Linebacker Julian Peterson, a Michigan State grad, did get seven tackles, a sack, and one forced fumble of his own and rookie safety Louis Delmas, a Western Michigan product, scored a safety. Those guys at least pretended like they cared. Other than that it seemed like a no show for the rest of the team.

What a difference playing a good NFL squad makes I guess. The Browns rank dead last in yards per game on defense compared to the Packers who rank second in that category. Charles Woodson, who won a Heisman Trophy while playing college ball at nearby Michigan, put on a show for his old fans on Thursday by accumulating seven tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, and two of Stafford’s four INT’s. He also donated $2 million to the new University of Michigan Mott Children's Hospital to show that he still cares about the region that once gave him so much love. However, despite Woodson’s efforts off the field, the city sure could use something more positive to talk about on Thanksgiving Day. High unemployment, elevating crime rates, philanthropic pursuits of rival players who feel bad for the locals are certainly nothing to cheer about with family and friends over a turkey dinner.

I mentioned in this column before that Detroit’s other professional sports franchises, the Tigers, the Pistons, and the Red Wings, have done their job to lift the area’s spirits in recent years. This year the Tigers ended the season with 86 wins and were second in their division and the Wings are currently 11-8-4. Unfortunately though, the Pistons have only assembled a 5-10 record so far this season but they are rebuilding. The Lions have been rebuilding for what has seemed like forever.

It is not exclusively the franchise’s fault that the economy is so bad, even though the owners should be held accountable for the part their family’s business has played over the years. The simple fact that the team can’t seem to get it together is a continuous reminder of how bleak things are in this once great city. Hopefully, for the sake of the area fan’s spirits, they’ll get it together.

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24 November 2009

Lions Give Up Loser’s Title

It was quite a battle on Sunday between two of the worst teams in the league as the Cleveland Browns came into Ford Field to take on the Lions. In what may appear to have been a coming out party for rookie quarterback Matt Stafford the hapless Lions mustered up a 38-37 win over the unfortunate Browns. If you are a Lions fan you saw a lot of promise as the Browns’ defense couldn’t stop the young Lion’s offense and sent them back to Ohio with their ninth loss of the season.

It was a bitter-sweet win of sorts though as the Detroit defense gave up a touchdown pass from Brady Quinn with less than two minutes to go in the fourth quarter to send many Detroit fans heading for the stadium exit signs. However, rookie quarterback Matt Stafford engineered the two minute drill effectively to move the team within scoring position. With time running out the Lions’ offense got an assist from the refs in the form of 31 yard pass interference call with no time left on the clock to put them on the one yard line. With the last shot the coaches let Stafford, who was hurt on the previous play, pull the trigger and he delivered a touchdown pass to rookie tight end Brandon Pettigrew, this year’s other first round pick, to give the team its second win of the season.

Stafford ended the game with 26 completions on 43 attempts (60%) and five touchdowns, including the game winner. Calvin Johnson caught seven balls for 161 yards and a TD while running back Kevin Smith, who only had 45 rushing yards, caught four passes for 104 yards and another TD. Pettigrew had the best game of his career so far with six catches for 72 yards and the game winning touchdown reception.

On defense Larry Foote lead the way with 12 tackles and one sack. He has adjusted well and continues to improve after moving into the Mike Linebacker position in the Lions’ 4-3 scheme after playing in a 3-4 in Pittsburgh. Safety Louis Delmas also continues to improve and is once again among the team leaders in tackles with 8 on the day. No defensive linemen came away with any sacks however, thus providing fuel for the argument that this continues to be the worst unit in the league.

The young team gained a little confidence in the win and should take pride in the fact that they may no longer be the laughing stock of the NFL. That honor may now go to the Browns. Hopefully the sweet taste of success will carry over into the short week as the Lions will play their division rival Green Bay Packers on Thanksgiving Day this Thursday.

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16 November 2009

Looking For an Inside Man

The Detroit Lions are desperate for an inside man, a guy who can create havoc on defense from the middle and disrupt offensive game plans upfront. At the moment there is a huge hole in the middle of the Lions’ front line and on Sunday the Minnesota Vikings’ running game once again exposed an area of the Lions’ team that seriously needs to be fixed.

Overall the Lions once again looked sad while trying to stop the league’s best running back and didn’t do too much on offense to overcome defensive mistakes. Matt Stafford passed for 224 yards and 1 TD. Calvin Johnson showed up to get 84 of those yards through the air and Kevin Smith averaged 4.6 yards per carry. However, it is just too hard to get a check in the win column when you give up three sacks and countless quarterback hurries while only getting one sack of your own defense and allow 7.4 yards per carry on the ground to Adrian Peterson.

Defensive tackle is one of the most important positions on a football team and it was a huge factor that separated these two teams on Sunday. A really good tackle, such as Minnesota’s Kevin Williams, will disrupt blocking schemes, clog running lanes, and collapse the pocket of the other team’s quarterback, all the while making life easier for other defenders. If one were to look back at all the great defensive teams in NFL history they would see that none of them were without at least one dominant man lining up over the guards and center.

DT Warren Sapp wreaked havoc in Tampa for a decade, helping the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl win and several top five defensive rankings. It often took four men to block both Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams while Baltimore shut down every offense they faced in 2000. And of course you can’t forget about Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain defense which featured NFL legend “Mean” Joe Greene at tackle. That defense was a huge reason the Steelers won four Super Bowl championships in the seventies.

Washington’s Albert Haynesworth is one of the highest paid players in the league with $100 million for seven years, thus illustrating how high of a priority coaches, general managers, and owners put on the defensive tackle position. The Minnesota Vikings have had the best run defense in the league the last three years and they owe a lot of that prowess to Kevin and Pat Williams who are both pro-bowl caliber defensive tackles with a combined weight exceeding 630 lbs. The Patriots, winners of three Super Bowls between 2001 and 2004, also pride themselves with good defensive line play. Currently they have two first round draft picks manning their front line. They did have three before shipping pro-bowler Richard Seymour off to the Raiders for a first round pick in 2011.

The Lions haven’t spent a first round pick on a defensive tackle since drafting Luther Ellis back in 1995. Ellis went on to be a mainstay on their line for a decade and even made a few pro-bowls. It is clear that the Lions are long overdue for addressing their front line with some high draft picks.

There are a number of good options that will be available in the upcoming draft. In fact it wouldn’t be surprising to see the number one overall pick be a defensive tackle. Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh (6’4” 302lbs), who had 7.5 sacks and 19 tackles for a loss last year, is on pace to be in Heisman contention and should no doubt be a top five pick in 2010. With nine games in the bag in 2009 Suh has racked up 5 sacks, 11 tackles for a loss, 8 passes defensed, and one interception. He has been virtually unblockable, consistently drawing double and triple teams and he is currently on top of the NFL Draft Dog’s list of Heisman hopefuls.

Alabama’s Terrence Cody (6' 5" 365lbs), a big run stuffer, will most likely get first round consideration as well. If he has a solid performance at the combine he could jump up into the top 15. Oklahoma’s Gerald McCoy (6’4” 297lbs), a junior, is an active playmaker who may make himself available for the draft as well. Neither one is the prospect that Suh is though; however, they both could develop into something special for an NFL franchise.

In the later rounds of the draft the Lions could nab a sleeper. Last year they spent a fourth round pick on Sammie Lee Hill. He has helped out a little bit as a rookie but nine tackles is nothing to brag about. Syracuse’s Arthur Jones, Penn State’s Jared Odrick, and Duke’s Vince Oghobaase are all decent sized tackles who may be available in rounds two or three.

No matter where the Lions wind up selecting in the first round of the 2010 draft it seems likely that the team will address either its offensive or defensive line. With a serious lack of talent on the offensive side of the ball being available it’s a safe bet to assume the Lions will most likely address their defense. Besides, as history has shown, it is a necessity to have dominant defensive line play if you want to compete for the Super Bowl.

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11 November 2009

Lions Midseason Report: Hard Times Continue in Motown

Detroit is known as Title Town in the hockey world and its basketball team has been one of the best in its Conference over the last decade. In the National Football League the Motor City is where other teams go to wipe their feet. As perennial doormats, the Lions continue to be the standard at which we measure just how bad other teams are playing. Take Tampa Bay for instance. They may be bad at the moment but they are no Detroit Lions. 

At this point the only thing that seems like a plus in 2009 is the increasing chances that they will receive a top ten pick in the upcoming draft…again. It is really nothing to cheer about at the moment but it is something to hold on to as the team has an opportunity to add more high quality talent to its roster. This year’s pick, the rookie Stafford, has shown some promise by displaying a rocket arm, capable of making all the throws he needs to in order to be a star. However, he too has been plagued with mistakes that continue to define this team.

Even though the Lions are technically not out of the playoff race yet, it looks like it will be at least another year before that dream has a chance to manifest itself into a reality. At least the hockey and basketball seasons have started up to give the Detroit area fan base something to cheer about for the time being.

This week the Lions coughed up another winnable game against another struggling NFL club. Stafford threw a couple late interceptions and some fingers started being pointed around the locker room. The team is in turmoil and Schwartz needs to take the reigns gain some control before it gets any uglier. Although that would be hard to do considering this club has only mustered up one win in the last year and half.

There are not many bright spots on this team but again I will attempt to find the positives as I give you my unit by unit analysis:

Quarterbacks: D- Stafford has shown flashes of promise but he has played a lot like a rookie the last couple weeks after coming back from a right knee injury. So far this season he has 1265 yards, 5 TD’s, and 12 INT’s with a 53.7 completion percentage. He needs to get a better poker face. By that I mean he needs to stop locking onto receivers and showing his hand as opposing defenses are reading him like an open book. Daunte Culpepper and Drew Stanton have not been very good when given the chance either.

Running Backs: C- Maurice Morris and Kevin Smith may both be better suited as backups in this league as the Lions rank 24th overall in average yards per rush.

Receivers: C- This unit has underachieved more than any other unit on the team. A lot of that has to do with the problems at quarterback but much of the blame has to be given to the receivers as there is a lot invested here in Calvin Johnson (#2 overall pick), Bryant Johnson (2009 Free Agent), Brandon Pettigrew (#20 overall pick), and Derrick Williams (3rd round pick).

Offensive Line: C- The team continues to have a huge hole at left guard. Free agent right tackle Jon Jansen has even seen some time there. The rest of the line has been average at best and it could use an overall boost in talent and depth. I was actually surprised that the team passed on some of the top O-line talent in favor of Matt Stafford (#1) and Brandon Pettigrew (#20) in this year’s draft.

Defensive Line: F Quite possibly the worst D-line in all of football. The unit has rarely put pressure on the quarterback and struggles to get off blocks. Cliff Avril leads the front line with 2.5 sacks. This team will not start winning games consistently until this unit starts playing better first.

Linebackers: B- Larry Foote is first on the team in tackles with 56 and Julian Peterson leads the team in sacks with 3.5. Ernie Sims has been hurt but has played well the last few weeks since coming back. The nice surprise here has been Deandre Levy who has come on as a rookie to provide a spark on defense. The unit would be playing better with a better line in front of them.

Secondary: D+ The only real plus here has been rookie second round pick Louis Delmas. He is second on the team with 45 tackles. The corners have played poorly overall and have seemed unwilling to make tackles. Anthony Henry has been benched and Jason David has been signed on as a free agent to provide some interceptions. He had five last year in New Orleans. The team is desperate for better play here but again a lot can be said about the lack of pass rush upfront. The team has six INT’s so far this year which is five more than they had all last year.

Special Teams: C+ Derrick Williams and Aaron Brown have been decent kick returners but they have only had the chance to return 11 punts. Punter Nick Harris is averaging 42 yards per punt and Jason Hanson is considered by some fans to be the Greatest Lion Ever but who really cares at this point as special teams are really the least of the team’s worries.

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6 November 2009

Top Ten Pick Within Reach

It has been hard to find positives in the Detroit Lions’ season again this year. They have struggled to reach even a low level of mediocrity and continue to be the bottom-feeders that they have been for so long. In the meantime, the fans continue to wait for a savior to come along and turn the muck into cream that will rise to the top.

After last week’s bye the Lions looked pathetic and did nothing to stimulate the hearts and dreams of their fans in a futile battle against one of the other worse teams in the league. The coaches tried to sound optimistic after the 17-10 loss to the previously winless St Louis Rams but the only real highlights of the game included a two point safety and a two point conversion after quarterback Matt Stafford rushed for a touchdown. The low points seemed endless and accumulated into the Lions’ sixth loss on the season.

Cornerback continues to be a real problem on this team. Currently Phillip Buchanon and Will James are the starting duo as Anthony Henry has been benched. It seems that they are all unwilling to tackle and have had problems nabbing interceptions. The diminutive Jason David (5’8” 180 lbs) was brought in to provide some help but he is coming off a shoulder injury. He did have five interceptions in New Orleans last year and he has 16 INT’s throughout his career.

There is no doubt in my mind that the team will look to add a player or two here in the off-season to provide more competition at the corners. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any real top end talent coming out of college worthy of a high first round pick. If the Lions want to add a player through the draft they will most likely have to look at doing so in the later rounds.

Florida Gator cornerback Joe Haden (5' 10" 202 lbs), a junior, is the best prospect at the college level but it is uncertain whether or not he will make himself eligible. Florida State’s Patrick Robinson (5’11” 192lbs), Kentucky’s Trevard Lindley (5’11” 177lbs), and UCLA’s Alterraun Verner (5’11” 180lbs) are also among the top 100 prospects listed here at the NFL Draft Dog and could provide some valuable options when the Lions make their picks in the second and third rounds.

The best defensive back prospect that is most likely to be a top 10 pick is Tennessee safety Eric Berry (5’11” 195lbs). He seems to have all the physical attributes you would want in a safety, including the speed of a cornerback (4.3 forty). He has built himself quite a resume in college and will definitely be playing on Sundays. It wouldn’t surprise too many people to eventually see him playing in the Pro Bowl someday either. It will be hard for any team to pass up on his talent and the Lions may be tempted to pair him up with this year’s second round pick Louis Delmas who is establishing himself as one of the best defenders in Detroit.

In order for the Lions to take the next step and rise out of the NFL cellar they will have to continue addressing the secondary. However, it will not matter who is playing back there if the team continues to have a weak pass rush. Against the Rams the Lion defense came away with no sacks. That is a number that represents many of the problems this team faces and it will have to change.

This week the Lions get another chance at a win by traveling to Seattle to play the 2-5 Seahawks. Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselback has been struggling lately and he apparently is still recovering from a rib injury. If the Lions want a chance at a win there they will need to put some hits on him. If they don’t they may be reaching the midway point with only one win.

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23 October 2009

Defense Hustles but Quarterbacks Struggle

The Detroit Lions (1-5) were shutout 26-0 by NFC North “rival” the Green Bay Packers (4-2) on Sunday. The game may have been closer than it looks by some accounts but the final score tells it all: The Lions have no game. There have been plenty of times in the last few years that the team neither played with an offense and a defense. On Sunday the defense decided to make an appearance but it was the offense was non-existent.

The closest thing to resemble production was Kevin Smith’s 61 yards on 15 attempts (4.1 avg). It didn’t amount to much as nobody else decided to chip in to help. Only 17 more yards were put up on the ground and Daunte Culpepper and Drew Stanton combined for 105 yards passing. If it looks dead and smells dead then it is probably dead and on Sunday the Lion offense stunk up Lambeau field.

It’s especially bad because the defense, despite allowing Aaron Rodgers to throw for 358 Yards and 2 touchdowns, played a good game. Rookie safety Louis Delmas lead the team with 7 tackles and 2 assists and Cliff Avril added another sack to bring his season total up to 3.5. The real story though was Julian Peterson coming alive to get 2.5 sacks and force two fumbles. That instantly put him in the team lead with four sacks and also brings a sense of hope to the fans that at least a few players on the field really care.

This week the Lions are guaranteed not to lose as they have a bye. Next week they play the Rams at home. It should be a real barn burner as St Louis hasn’t won a game yet. America can hardly wait for that one. I will see you all there I’m sure.

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16 October 2009

Looking to Upset

The Green Bay Packers offered up the last opportunity for the Lions to escape the 2008 season with at least one win but instead sent them packing back to Detroit with a 21-31 loss and a 0-16 record. This week the Lions travel back to the scene of the crime looking to get revenge upon dairy land. If a few things come together Lambeau Field could be very quiet when the last whistle blows on Sunday.

It looks like Daunte Culpepper will get the starting nod as Matthew Stafford continues to nurse a knee injury. Last week against the Steelers Culpepper put up some decent numbers but he needs to speed up his reads a little bit. He was sacked seven times last week by Pittsburgh and some of them he could have avoided. Not having a healthy Calvin Johnson (knee injury) doesn’t help though. This week we’ll see how tough the young wide receiver and the veteran quarterback are as the crowd will be hostile and the Packer’s defense will be looking to erase them both from the field.

WR Dennis Northcutt stepped up and had a strong performance last week (5 rec, 70 yds, 1 TD). Both he and Bryant Johnson will be depended upon to take advantage of some coverage matchups that may present themselves. But again, that would depend on whether or not Culpepper checks down fast enough from his first option.
It would be nice if the Lions pass rush showed up in Green Bay.

Giving up sacks can really take the wind out of a crowd’s sails so getting to Aaron Rodgers early and hitting him late in the game is critical. That’s a lot to ask for from this team however. Cliff Avril, who leads the team in sacks with 1.5, may be the team’s best pass rusher but he needs to use his speed and athleticism to beat linemen. However, he lacks the bulk and strength to move blockers and he doesn’t hold up against the run very well. I have continuously expressed my belief that the Lions will focus on the pass rush in the upcoming draft and that will not stop unless something miraculous happens this season.

The University of South Florida’s George Selvie had a down year last year with 5.5 sacks. If he had been a Detroit Lion he would have tied for the team lead. Selvie is a hard player to project as a prospect as he is somewhat of a mystery. He was virtually unknown coming out of high school and it’s hard to say if he fits into any position at the next level. He has played end in a 4-3 in college and he could possibly fit in as a linebacker in a 3-4. His size (6’4” 250lbs) suggest that he could do either one and his numbers tell you that he is worth a look no matter what scheme a team employs. He has been one of the most disruptive players in the country the last three years, collecting 186 tackles and 59.5 tackles for a loss in that time. His sack total slipped from 14.5 in 2007 to 5.5 in 2008 but it can be argued that other teams caught on to Selvie and double teamed him while he suffered through some injuries.

When healthy, he can be a terror. So far in 2009, the Bulls were 5-0 going into a big matchup against the Cincinnati Bearcats and Selvie had two sacks and 20 tackles going into the game. The Bulls lost the game and at this time I am unsure what Selvie’s stats were for the game. If he finishes the season with some big games, however, he will be one of the most sought after defenders at the combine. Without a doubt he’ll be looking to have a great offseason and boost his draft stock. Right now he appears to be a possible late first rounder. In any case his type of presence would be a welcome on the Lions’ defense. He would eventually be expected to put up Dwight Freeney or Mario Williams type numbers if he’s drafted high in the first round. If he slips down into the second round it may be that scouts see him more as a situational pass rusher.

Insider Tip: keep an eye on Selvies' team-mate DE Jason Pierre-Paul, 6' 6" 265 lbs. Paul has better size and is more explosive and athletic than Selvie according to some scouts. Pierre-Paul has even been added to the first round of NFL Draft Dog's 2010 Mock Draft.

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12 October 2009

The Detroit Lions: Road Work Ahead

First Quarter Report

With four games in the bag the Detroit Lions have provided much of the same effort as was on display last year. It hasn’t been without any excitement or glimpses of what may be some good things to come in the future though. At the very least a huge monkey has been lifted off the backs of this franchise as it got its first win in over a year. A week later the Chicago Bears delivered a nasty wake up call in the form of a 24-48 beating.

In that game at Soldier Field the Lions gave up three rushing touchdowns while second year Bears running back Matt Forte only needed 12 carries to get 121 yards on the ground (10.1 yds/rush avg). Kevin Smith never got his game going and Stafford was sacked four times, including 2 ½ by Adewale Ogunleye, thus igniting more questions about D-town’s offensive line. If this unit, which does have potential, could step up and deliver I believe this offense would be stable enough to keep the team in games. It especially needs to come to life when Detroit is on the road and faces loud, hostile environments.

QB Matt Stafford has shown signs of life while throwing for 894 yds in the first four games. He’ll obviously have to improve on his 3-6 TD to INT ratio in order to win more games but he’s on track to throw 3,500 yards in his rookie season. That would be a nice accomplishment for any QB and we should only expect more good things to come if he can keep feeding the ball to wide receiver Calvin Johnson like he did against the Bears (8 catches 133 yds). Hopefully the knee injury Stafford sustained in the fourth quarter last week doesn’t become a lingering problem for the team. If he does miss an extended period of time, however, the team is prepared to give Daunte Culpepper and Drew Stanton each more reps under center.

On defense things have looked very similar as they do on offense. Although each individual unit has had its share of troubles thus far, the real ugly duckling on this side of the ball has also been the line. For the most part they have been sieves against the run and merely flies buzzing in the ears of opposing QB’s. Barely annoying, they have struggled to muster up seven sacks. Obviously things will have to change here as well.

Safety Louis Delmas has done a good job proving the Lions new regime to be good judges in talent as he is third on the team with 22 solo tackles and has also contributed a fumble recovery and a sack. Larry Foote leads the team in tackles but has possibly been out-played by rookie Deandre Levy the last two weeks. The young linebacker from the University of Wisconsin had seven solo tackles and forced a fumble against the Bears and was very active in the win over Washington. Julian Peterson has not quite provided the big plays that were expected of him when the team traded for him from Seattle.

Hopefully some camaraderie continues to develop on this team. The younger players need to continue stepping up in games and the veterans need to provide more leadership in the locker room. This team will win more games this year and perhaps upset some good teams on the road in the upcoming months. There will be plenty of opportunity to provide excitement in the Great Lakes State for the Lions. For now, however, just like many of the roads in Michigan, it is a continued work in progress.

Vs. Pittsburgh

The Steelers visited Detroit and escaped with a 28-20 win. Daunte Culpepper put up 282 yards through the air in place of the injured Matt Stafford. Calvin Johnson was limited to two yards receiving but Dennis Northcutt picked up the slack with 5 catches for 70 yds and one TD.

The Lion’s running game again looked pedestrian. This are will be the focus for improvement on the offensive side of the ball. Kevin Smith did chip in 44 yards receiving however.
Cliff Avril chipped in a ½ sack and Julian Peterson finally nabbed one as well. The will be the are of focus for improvement on the defensive side of the ball.

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28 September 2009

Detroit Lions: Down in the Trenches

                  As I sit in the Belltown Inn, sipping my third cup of Seattle’s Best and awaiting the Bears visit to Qwest field, I am keeping up on the Lions game through the online game tracker and watching the Titans play the Jets on the tube. Nothing could seem more fitting to me at the moment as I wonder how Matt Stafford is doing in his contest against the Redskins. Mark Sanchez is putting himself on the NFL radar right before my eyes with a TD run and a TD pass in the first half against the Titans. It has been a different story for the two rookies so far this season. Going into week three the Jets were 2-0 and the Lions were 0-2.

                  A lot of credit and attention is given to the young signal callers, but some dues need to be paid to the two team’s offensive lines. That’s where the big difference is being made. Sanchez and company have the opportunity to play behind an offensive line that has a lot invested in it, including two first round draft picks and a pair of high-priced free agents, including former Lion Damien Woody. In the end, they could have four pro-bowl candidates playing for them in the trenches where as the Lions will most-likely have none.

                  As the early games roll on a buzz around the Lions and Redskins game seems to be brewing. Could the Lions be on the verge of breaking a 19 game losing streak? It appears more and more likely as the clock ticks away and the team continues to run the ball effectively. However, the Lions are experts at coughing up games in unfortunate ways and continuing the joke. I’ll wait until the end before celebrating and sparing myself any further embarrassment as a fan.

                  One thing that I quickly notice in the stats is the lack of interceptions and the rushing yards the Lions are racking up on Washington. Again, that’s a direct attribute of solid offensive line play and without even seeing the game I can tell that the guys in the trenches are getting it done. I am a firm believer that the offensive line is the first priority when building a team. The Lions’ management thinks that there is plenty of talent there to begin building around but an upgrade will be needed in order for the team to have any success in the future.

                  The formula seems to be working well for the Jets, as they are on their way to being 3-0, and one can only expect the Lions to make some changes up front in their near future as well. At the very least, this year’s draft stock includes some prospects with the size, strength, and college gridiron resumes to make pro scouts drool. Tackles Cirron Black of LSU and Russell Okung of Oklahoma St could follow in the footsteps of Jake Long, Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe, and Andre Smith towards becoming top ten picks in the NFL draft. Black (6’5” 320 lbs) and Okung (6’5” 302 lbs) are both big and athletic enough to play left tackle and at the very least should make really good guards at the pro level for the next decade. When the 2010 NFL Draft finally rolls around one of these guys may be the one guy considered as the “safest” pick in the entire talent pool.

                  As it turns out, the Lions pull off their first win in over a year. Kevin Smith rushed 101 yards, Matt Stafford did not throw an INT, and Maurice Morris also got a TD run. It appears that the Lions won by playing ball the way they want to play it. A huge key to that is the work in the trenches. Despite whatever type of successes the o-line finds this year I am still putting my money on some high picks being spent on the position in 2010.

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16 September 2009

Things Seem to be Back to Normal in Michigan

Whew! What a weekend. I’ve been so busy that the college and professional football seasons have snuck right up on me. At times it was a little over-whelming and I feel like I didn’t look both ways before crossing the freeway and got T-boned by a Mack truck. It was pure sensory overload that got the best of me as I watched the sport I love so much come back into my life and fill the void that has been missing since January.

However, I have to admit that I only caught a glimpse of the games on Sunday. It’s a long story but let’s just say I stayed up a little too late on Saturday celebrating Michigan’s win over Notre Dame and then proceeded to miss the early Sunday games as result of my condition. I have recently moved to the great state of Washington as well and I haven’t gotten used to these 10 a.m. kickoff times on the Pacific coast yet. Anyway, I did study the stat sheets, made a few phone calls, and watched the highlights of the games. It was easy to see as I analyzed the Lions and Saints game that nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

I only picked the Lions to win six games this year and I definitely didn’t give the Saints to them. It’s just good to see things a little back to normal and that a quarterback has emerged to ease the worries of local football fans throughout the state of Michigan. Too bad for the Lions he is a 19 year old freshman who plays for the Wolverines on Saturdays.

As Tate Forcier passed for 240 yards, rushed for 70 more, and scored three touchdowns for the Wolverines against the Fighting Irish, Matthew Stafford struggled in his first start against NFL competition and sadly looked like any other passer the Lions have had in recent memory. Honestly though, nobody really expected great things from him immediately. I don’t recall anybody claiming that the Lions were going to light things up this year and I believe more Michiganders were worried about their storied University over their struggling professional franchise. Needless to say, though, Michigan has the talent to bounce back from the worst season in school history while the Lions are a year or two away from erasing any traces of the 0-16 season that was last year’s nightmare.

It is obvious that Stafford has a lot to learn yet and he may not capture the magic that last year’s crop of rookie quarterbacks did in other NFL cities, namely Atlanta and Baltimore, but throwing three picks and watching his defense get shredded by Drew Brees for six touchdowns is just par for the course. This building project (I refuse the word rebuild) will take some time and lessons like those taught to the Youngsters of Motown by the Boys of the Big Easy on Sunday will simply not just go away. A lot more needs to happen before any dreams can take flight in D-town.

One thing that was evident was a lack of a pass rush on defense. No sacks were recorded by the Lions and Anthony Henry, a cornerback, actually led the team in tackles. Those are not good signs of a team that wants to improve its defensive play. New middle linebacker Larry Foote, a Michigan graduate, did have nine tackles but the fact that the Saints averaged 4.5 yards per rush shows that not enough penetration is occurring at the line of scrimmage and a lot of tackles are being made downfield. In comparison, Detroit averaged 1.7 yards per rush and didn’t even reach 50 yards on the ground for the day. If things are going to change it’s a reversal of those stats that will lead the way for the Lions.

It was evident that the defensive and offensive lines were not going to be strengths for this team in 2009. In fact, I gave the D-line an “F” in my pre-camp grades as I think they are probably the worst in the league with or without Jared Devries. The O-line is a little better than their counterparts but that unit also still lacks good overall talent and is probably two new starters away from being respectable. With that in mind we can begin looking ahead towards the 2010 NFL Draft.

If things continue to play out as they did in New Orleans for the Lions the team will again find themselves picking number one overall. Barring any career-ending injuries to Stafford or a very bold move on GM Martin Mayhew’s part it will be safe to say that the Lions will not be taking a quarterback for the second year in a row. There is still a lot of time left between now and the draft so it’s hard to predict how things will pan out. Simply looking at the Lion’s need leaves us with several possibilities.

One interesting figure to keep in mind played for the Wolverines on Saturday as well. Defensive end Brandon Graham, a Detroit native, was Michigan’s best defender last year and could have been selected in the first round this past spring if he had decided to go pro. He chose to stay in school and came back after collecting 10 sacks (first in the Big Ten) and 20 tackles for a loss (second in the NCAA) as a junior in 2008.

He (Graham) made a quiet statement against the Irish, using his combination of speed, strength, and leverage to power through blockers and attack the line of scrimmage. He’s not the biggest defensive lineman at 6’2” 276 lbs but he handles the right end spot in Michigan’s 3-4 schemes with a non-stop motor. While constantly facing double teams he will struggle to get his sack numbers up but his value as a disruptive force is very high. He is fairly versatile as well. He was recruited as a linebacker and could possibly play as a tackle in a 4-3 or line up inside on passing downs.

With the Lions looking to rev up their defensive motor a guy like Graham will get some consideration and if the Wolverines continue to win then his stock will probably rise. Whether or not he’s in the Lions sites with the first overall pick is too risky to speculate on at this point but he looks like a first round player. As the season progresses I will continue to evaluate potential first round picks and make predictions as to who could fit into the Lion’s plans. At this point you can expect to see a lot of profiles on players who play in the trenches.

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1 September 2009

Detroit Lions News and Notes: The Shape of Things to Come

                  Let us not be fooled by all the talk of Mathew Stafford sitting on the sidelines this year as he “learns the pro game”. The boy came to D-town to play some ball and thus far he has proven he can hang in pro circles and is motivated to put in all the necessary work. He will be given every opportunity during the regular season to prove himself on the field and if he continues to show a steep learning curve he’ll be throwing passes on Sundays sooner than later.          
       
                  In the first preseason game Stafford showed that he can maintain his composure and stay focused in the face of adversity. After he threw his first NFL pick returned for a touchdown he responded on the next series with a nice drive that ended with a beautiful 25 yard TD pass to fellow rookie Derrick Williams. It’s easy for a player to beat himself up and collapse after a mistake like that but the kid from Texas stood up and put it behind him quickly. This is exactly the type of characteristic the team envisioned from him when they made him the number one overall selection in last spring’s draft. I have to admit that I wasn’t enamored with him as the first pick overall but so far I have been impressed with his poise and eagerness to work and learn. Now with Drew Stanton (knee) and Daunte Culpepper (foot) out with injuries at the moment Stafford will continue to get the reps needed to aid his development.

                  I do realize that it is only the preseason. I didn’t forget that the Lions actually won all their preseason contests last year before tripping over on the regular season. However, things are seemingly shaping up in Detroit and the team is improving on a day to day basis. The team concept seems to be taking hold and savvy veterans have noticeably been sharing their wealth of knowledge with the younger players on and off the field. Linebackers Julian Peterson (Michigan State) and Larry Foote (Michigan) and offensive tackle Jon Jansen (Michigan) have all returned to their motherland to provide leadership and assist in turning things around. Again, these are the types of characteristics that the new coaches and administration are seeking in players and it will make a difference down the road.

                  Jared Devries has also been lost to injury. Shaun Smith was signed to help ease the loss on the defensive line. Smith, a five year veteran, brings more size (6’2” 325lbs) to the middle. He and Grady Jackson could provide a very formidable duo, capable of occupying some space and penetrating some opposing quarterback pockets. The interesting part to this story is that former Lion defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, a close friend of Smith’s, actually facilitated the decision-making process for him by giving Detroit a positive recommendation. That is a far cry from the relationship Rogers had with the Matt Millen regime.

                  The offensive and defensive lines are the real keys that will turn the motor of this team. While the Lions have made attempts to increase size, depth, and overall talent in the trenches on both sides of the ball there is no question that some new talent will need to be added in the near future in order for them to become playoff contenders. At this point both lines consist of a few real players surrounded by backups and role players filling in as starters for the moment.

                  If I had to make one prediction for the team right now it would be that the defensive backs improve on their total of interceptions from 2008. That’s a safe bet considering they only had one last year and significant changes have been made to the lineup. There could be as many as three new starters in the secondary. Young safeties Daniel Bullucks and Louis Delmas, who has been stirring things up in camp with some big hits, have the ability to be a strong pair of players patrolling the defensive backfield for the next decade. Cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon, Anthony Henry, and Eric King all come in to try and help third year incumbent Keith Smith. I expect that more talent will be added to the corners in some high rounds of upcoming drafts as well.

                  As the regular season approaches and the roster is downsized a lot more will be asked of the players. More reps will be provided to guys like Stafford and Delmas. We then will start to really see how things are starting to shape up. For now it’s just good to see that there are guys who want to be here and are willing to do the little things to make themselves and the team better.
                  I’m sticking by my guns and predicting at least six wins for this team in 2009. That would be a drastic improvement and a shot of hope for the fan base. Then they will really be able to talk about next year with a hint of optimism. The Red Wings, Pistons, and Tigers have all done their parts in putting Detroit on the sports map in a positive way. Now it’s time for the Lions to do the same.

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19 June 2009

Pre-Camp Roster Grades

                  Looking ahead towards training camp one can sense a lot of optimism surrounding the Detroit Lions football team. There’s really no reason for there not to be. While the people of the Detroit area tell the rest of the country “welcome to our world” in regards to the financial crisis, they too are optimistic about the future of their beloved National Football League franchise. After all, the simple fact of the matter is that it can’t get any worse.

                  The new regime under General Manager Martin Mayhew and Head Coach Jim Schwartz have quietly added some pieces to the puzzle that may be the beginning of a beautiful picture. This roster is not loaded with talent but it has the potential to be good. Here are my position grades and a breakdown of how things are shaping up going into the summer months:

Kicking: B+ I had to start here because this has been the most stable position for years with Jason Hanson holding the spot for as long as anybody can remember. There aren’t many other kickers out there with the accuracy of the “greatest Lion ever”. Punter Nick Harris returns and is one of the least of the new coaching staff’s worries.

Linebacker:
B- A lot is riding on the shoulders of this unit. Newly acquired inside man Larry Foote is a Michigan native who comes with championship experience and will be depended upon to help stuff the run. Julian Peterson is a former Michigan State Spartan who can make big plays all over the field. He will get an opportunity to be a force as a pass rusher as well, which is something this defense desperately needs. Weak-side linebacker Ernie Sims was a top 10 pick a few years ago and so far he has been good. Now is the time for him to take his game to the next level and really make things happen. Jordon Dizon and rookies DeAndre Levy and Zach Follet should provide a lot of help on special teams.

Wide Receiver: B- It sure is hard to not get excited about Calvin Johnson. He is a true beast at the position and is on the verge of catching 100 balls a season. Free agent additions Bryant Johnson and Ronald Curry, as well as rookie Derrick Williams, could help him get there. BJ has a big frame and is capable of catching 60-70 passes opposite of CJ. Curry has had some success throughout his career in Oakland and he could become a nice option in some packages. Williams never became the great player he was envisioned to be when he was recruited by Penn State but the Detroit Lions believe that the talent and athleticism is there for him to be a playmaker. He will be tried out at returning kicks first and could develop into a nice receiver down the road.

Offensive Line: C- This unit is more stable than people think, especially now that Jon Jansen has been signed to the roster. He and Jeff Backus give the Lions bookend Michigan products with a lot of experience at the tackle positions. Backus is a serviceable left tackle who still may have his best years ahead of him. Center Dominic Raiola isn’t a dominant player, but he is fiesty and could thrive under the right system. Gosder Cherilus was a first round pick last year and should benefit from a full offseason with the new coaching staff. The arrival of Jansen means he will have to fight very hard to start at right tackle. The guard positions are ultimately the biggest question marks so if Cherilus is ready to play he may have to do it there. Big bodied guys Stephen Peterman returns at right guard and Damion Cook returns as the starter at left guard. Overall, this is a fairly young unit that returns all of its starters and possesses enough talent to be solid, but it will not be great.

Safety: C- The Louis Delmas pick was a good one. He will bring a lot of energy and leadership to the team and should be a starter at free safety from day one. Strong safety Josh Bullocks is a former second round pick who knows how to throw his body around. The tandem could be a fixture for many years to come. Kelvin Pearson, Gerald Alexander, and Stewart Schwiegart provide decent, but not necessarily good, depth.

Cornerback: C- This position was a disaster last season as they were never in position to make a play and they got burned often. Granted, they never received much help from any sort of pass rush but everybody who was a starter at some point here last year is now gone. Former cowboy Anthony Henry is the type of big (6’1” 208lbs) corner the Lions want to play their style of defense. He should be an immediate improvement at one of the starting spots. Phillip Buchanon comes over from the Buccaneers and brings some size (5’11” 185 lbs) and athleticism to the position for Detroit. He should start opposite of Henry. Eric King (5’10 185 lbs) knows how to play Schwartz’s system after playing for him in Tennessee and will compete for a starting job. This group should be the most improved on the team.

Quarterback: C- Everybody has all their eyes on first overall pick Matt Stafford, just as they should be. However, there is a select group of Lions fans who believe it will be Daunte Culpepper who steps it up this year and delivers for the team. Of course there are a lot of doubters but the guy looks to be in great shape this year and he has had tremendous success with star receivers in the past while playing for the Vikings. If he did it once he can do it again. Drew Stanton will compete hard and if he stays healthy he could become very valuable to the franchise in one way or another as well.

Running Back: D+ Kevin Smith runs hard and had a few nice moments as a rookie but he is not scaring anybody yet. He would be best used in a rotation with some guys with more speed. Maurice Morris could be that man and provide some spark as he often made plays throughout his career in Seattle. This group could still use a boost in talent.

Tight End: D+ Holdover Casey Fitzsimmons is a fan favorite for his workman-like mentality. He is not a great receiver but he can catch a couple balls a game, provide some decent blocking, and play special teams. First round pick Brandon Pettigrew was a bit of a draft day surprise but he brings another big target (6’5” 263lbs) to the passing attack and he had a reputation in college of having solid game all-around. Until he proves himself as a player this position will remain a question mark on the roster.

Defensive Line: F This unit provided no pressure in the passing game and got pushed around a lot in the running game last season. The loss of end Corey Smith, who died in a boating accident off the Florida Gulf Coast this offseason, is a tragic blow that leaves the team without its best pass rusher (five sacks in 2008). Dewayne White is a steady player who can lineup and play on the right side but he looks like a better fit on the left. Jared Devries works hard and plays the run well but he would serve the team better as a role-playing backup at both end and tackle. However, he will probably be starting at left end. Ikaika Alama-Francis hasn’t proven much in his short career with the Lions but there is still hope that he can develop into a solid edge player. A lot is riding on tackle Grady Jackson, who came over from the Falcons, to use his big body (6’2” 345lbs) to plug some running lanes up the middle. If he can do that it will make life a little easier for fellow tackles Andre Fluellen and Chartric Darby, as well as inside linebacker Larry Foote.

The defensive line position could really use a boost in talent across the board and I guarantee that it will be a high priority of the coaching staff to do just that in the next few years. Sammie Lee Hill is an intriguing prospect added through this year’s draft. With his size (6’4” 350lbs) and relative athleticism he could provide the type of play that Shaun Rogers did for the team a few years ago but Hill is raw and may need a couple years to develop into a full-time contributor. Ultimately, Schwartz and crew wish Rogers was still here. His presence would make life easier for everybody in the new scheme.
                 
When looking forward and making predictions for this season I believe it is a good idea to just think in terms of worst and best case scenarios. Obviously, to get a look at the worst-case scenario one only needs to look at last year’s performance. That won’t happen again under the new coaches. The best case scenario would probably see this team at 8-8 this year. Nobody has delusions of grandeur when it comes to this team as making a playoff run is not likely. However, RB Kevin Smith has opened his mouth and stated that he guarantees a playoff berth. That has drawn more laughs than anything from anybody outside the clubhouse. They will surprise some folks by being a lot more disciplined and competitive though. I personally think they will win at least six games, which should be enough to provide a glimmer of hope for the future.

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4 May 2009

Standing Out in the Crowd

            The Detroit Lions held their rookie orientation camp this past weekend in Allen Park, Michigan. All the draft picks were there, as well as a load of undrafted rookie free agents who were looking to make an impression on the NFL coaches. Of course, some guys stood out from the rest.

            All eyes were expectedly on quarterback Matthew Stafford, which will continue to be the case for at least the next couple of years. He showed off his arm and whipped passes around the practice facility, apparently surprising many of the receivers who were on hand at how fast he could get the ball to them. However, the one pass that ultimately stood out in the end was an interception by another top draft pick.

Louis Delmas, the top selection in the second round, made a diving play to pick off Stafford, the top selection overall, towards the end of the final practice session of the weekend. That could be a bad omen for the rookie quarterback but for those who were in attendance it was a testament to the type of player that Delmas is going to be more than Stafford. The safety from Western Michigan was very vocal throughout the whole camp and stood out amongst the rest of the rookies as a leader. It could be an early indication of the impact he may have on this team for years to come.

DeAndre Levy made the move to middle linebacker and apparently seemed comfortable. He may be the answer there in a couple years but for this season the Lions will most likely fill the starting role with a free agent. There has been a lot of talk about Larry Foote, who is from Detroit and played at Michigan, being released by the Steelers and signed to fill that hole in the middle of the Lions starting defense.

Huge defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill (6’ 4” 330 lbs) also showed off his raw athleticism but his technique and knowledge of the game is a bit lacking. He has so far proven to be a great prospect but if he wants to contribute this fall he will have to step it up when the players put the pads on in training camp.

Tight end Brandon Pettigrew did not participate in the last few practices of the rookie orientation but will be ready to go when the entire team participates in organized team activities later this month.

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29 April 2009

Let the Good Times Begin Rolling

Just like the U.S. financial market and automotive industry, the NFL draft produces its share of multi-million dollar contracts and outrageous bonuses for guys who are expected to produce big numbers but rarely ever do the job that is originally envisioned.

Over the years the Lions have seen their fair share of first round busts, including quarterbacks Joey Harrington and Andre Ware; again they have put themselves at risk of looking like draft day fools with the selection Georgia QB Matthew Stafford with the #1 overall pick.

He could pan out in few years, but the history of this team suggests this may lead to more long, cold football seasons in Detroit. Time will only tell if new Head Coach Jim Schwartz and General Manager Martin Mayhew will receive good marks on their first draft class. Despite the predictable pick of Stafford, the rest of the first round was anything but, the rest of the Lion’s picks on day one was no exception. In fact, it seems that the Lions were contradicting themselves with their draft strategy. As they reached a bit for Stafford at the top, they seemed to go with the “take the best player available” approach later on. Overall, this crop of rookies is loaded with athleticism and big-play potential that may serve them well in the future.

#1: Quarterback Mathew Stafford, Georgia – Stafford actually walks into a good position as he will be given the opportunity to learn without being thrown to the wolves. With the Lions coming off the worst season in NFL history and Daunte Culpepper set as the starter in Detroit there really is no sense of urgency at the moment. In another year the expectations will be high and the strong-armed Stafford will need to deliver a performance for the Lions similar to the one Matt Ryan did in Atlanta last year and what the two Mannings have done for their respective franchises over the last decade. Stafford reminds many people of Eli more than Peyton and he will have the weapons available to succeed, including emerging pro-bowl wide receiver Calvin Johnson, but the fact that he was surrounded by an over abundance of talent in college and never truly established himself as a big-game winner is one red flag that would have turned off other teams.

#20: Tight End Brandon Pettigrew, Oklahoma State – This pick was a surprise as linebackers James Laurinitis and Rey Maualuga were still on the board, but there is no need for the boo birds to begin circling like a vulture waiting for its prey to die so they can say “I told you so.” Pettigrew is a solid prospect who has the skills to become a reliable option in the Lions passing attack and seal the edge with his blocking on running plays. Don’t be shocked if the 6’6” 260 lb tight end is in the pro bowl in a few years, especially if Stafford pans out.

#33: Safety Louis Delmas, Western Michigan – The Lions must’ve believed that Delmas was worthy of a first round selection and was the best player still on their draft board. Again, the top two middle linebacker prospects were still available, as well as some quality offensive linemen, but the Lions took the best playmaking safety in the draft instead. Delmas is worthy of a look here as he seems to have the smarts and leadership abilities to really make a difference in the locker room as well as on the field. At the very least he will be an outstanding special teams player, but should become a fixture in the secondary for many years to come.

#76: Outside Linebacker DeAndre Levy, Wisconsin – Levy is an athletic player who should also be another solid contributor on special teams. There is also a chance that he could develop into a good starter with the ability to pressure the QB from the edge. We are beginning to see a defensive trend rising in the league which calls for bigger run stuffing linemen and faster linebackers who can quickly shoot the gaps into the backfield or cover tight ends downfield. Levy could fill this role for Schwartz.

#82: Wide Receiver Derrick Williams, Penn St – Even though Williams has not necessarily lived up to expectations as a top high school recruit he is a quality NFL prospect with the opportunity to become a quality kick returner and number three receiver for the Lions. He will not be asked to do too much on offense as Detroit will work to establish the running game and Calvin Johnson and Bryant Johnson sit ahead of him on the depth chart.

#115: Defensive Tackle Sammie Lee Hill, Southern – A small school prospect who will not be asked to do too much as a rookie either. He will sit behind Grady Jackson, Andre Fluellen, and Chuck Darby on the depth chart as he is groomed to potentially be the big space-eater of the future.

#192: Running Back Aaron Brown, Texas Christian – Brown is a quality offensive pickup in the sixth round with speed and athletic ability that never accumulated into much on the field in college. As is the theme of this draft for Detroit, Brown also brings a lot of special teams potential to the table.

#228: Offensive Tackle Lydon Murtha, Nebraska – Murtha is not the top-rated offensive line prospect the fans of Detroit were hoping to see taken on day one of the draft, but he has got size, versatility, and enough athleticism to develop into a starter someday.

#235: Linebacker Zach Follet, California – Do not be surprised if Follet leads the team in special teams tackles this season. His intensity and love for the game could rub off on other players in the locker room and on the field. He probably will never be a starter though as he does not exactly light up the field with speed and athleticism.

#255: Tight End Dan Gronkowski, Maryland – At 6’ 6” and 255 lbs, Gronkowski has all the tools, including a 4.68 forty and a cool name, to develop into a solid contributor on offense. If he sticks around he and Pettigrew may develop into a high quality one-two punch from the tight end position.

It is obvious that things did not go as expected in the first few rounds for Detroit fans, but the one great thing about this draft class is that they will actually be allowed to learn from the sidelines and develop their techniques without being put under too much pressure. Despite the horrible record last year the Lions have a lot of returning starters, including QB Daunte Culpepper, that are expected to produce for the new coaching staff so the rookies do not have to.

With time this group has the potential to be the nucleus of a winning organization for years to come. However, in order for Schwartz and Mayhew to look back and give this draft class an “A” three years from now Stafford will have to play well enough to take the starting job for himself and not just receive it by default as many past first round flops have done.

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