For Sale: St. Louis Rams

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Rams franchise which currently calls St. Louis its home, will be put up for sale as soon as Tuesday of this week. Majority shareholders Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez, children of late Georgia Frontiere, inherited her stake in franchise after she past away in early 2008. As posted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this morning, Bernie Miklasz writes that it has been rumored that Rosenbloom and Rodriguez have retained ther services of Goldman-Sachs to assist with the sale and complex financial details that stem from a sale of this type. Miklasz also mentioned that once up for sale, the franchise will be sold without any pre-conditions -or- "no strings attached", which means that any potential buyer will not be required to remain in St. Louis and would be free to move the franchise to any venue approved by the NFL. Sirius Radio's NFL Network's Jim Miller mentioned that this may be the beginning of the Rams moving to the Los Angeles area. While many in St. Louis are hoping that the team stays local, an estimated value of $929 million from Forbes magazine will puts a steep price on the franchise and at this point the Rams remaining in St. Louis is about 50/50; expect to hear a lot more about this in the coming weeks.

Report: Jansen signed for only vet minimum

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Nick Cotsonika at reports today that the Lions signed OT Jon Jansen only for the minimum veteran's salary of $850,000 -- which makes me like the signing even better. The Lions won't lose much even if it doesn't work out. And even if Jansen is only playing a George Foster-type depth role, I've got to believe he's still got enough left in the tank for that. The man's tenacity is off-the-charts. This can't help but be an upgrade to the O-line corps of last year.

Schwartz Turning Lemons in to Lemonade

Friday, May 29, 2009

Nick Constanika's article, "With Waivers, Lions Make Best of Being Bad", written today on the website, refers to the 'Town-Hall' meeting that was held between season ticket holders and the Lions brass earlier this. Schwartz felt that occassion was a good time to communicate to the fans that being at the bottom was bad and is now in the past, but being there surprisingly has an upside too. He said, and I quote:

“....In other words — you can say it in a lot of different ways — but basically, benefit from that position.”

To summarize what Schwartz was trying to say with his statement was yes, the Lions were terrible last year, but that will give the franchise a lot of advantages when it comes to upgrading the roster. The Lions will get the first shot at choosing players not only in the draft, but also those on the waiver wire. While some great talent was added during the draft; Schwartz is proving that he knows how to capitalize on that wavier priority. He's already picked up some talented veterans on both sides of the ball. With his latest addition, Jon Jansen (ROG) formerly of the Washington Redskins, should add even more talent up front. While with Washington, Jansen was know as "The Rock" because of his stability and constant production at the position, despite missing a few games the past following season due to injury. For a fan-base was somewhat upset with the O-Line situation, Schwartz has shown that he too recognized the need to upgrade the talent and add some depth there, and he's done so successfully thus far. Something's telling me that he isn't done taking advantage of the Lions waiver position (they do have first overall priority). Another thing to keep in mind is that once camps begin to open and players start t0 get cut due to younger talent or possibly more cap causalities, expect Schwartz to continue to bring in even more new faces. By the time the season starts the Lions may experience one of greats turn ar0unds, in terms of roster personnel, in the history of the NFL.

Lions add more beef to the OL with former Wolverine Jon Jansen

Carlos Monarrez at reports the Lions have agreed to a 1-year deal with veteran OT and former Michigan Wolverine Jon Jansen. Jansen, who's 6-6, 306, spent the past nine seasons with the Washington Redskins, and started 11 games last year. The 33 year old is a native of Clawson. Jansen wasn't even out of work 8 hours after the Redskins cut him on Friday. Dan Snyder flew Jansen and his wife from their Michigan home to Redskins Park, where he was offered the opportunity to retire as a member of the team. "He's been a tremendous part of this program," Redskins Coach Jim Zorn said. "I didn't want to just call him up and go 'Hey, I'm cutting you today.'" When Jansen indicated he wanted to continue his career, the Redskins granted his release, and the Lions pounced. Jansen started 122 games for the Redskins, validating his nickname "Rock" by missing only one snap in his first five seasons while playing close to Pro Bowl level. A ruptured Achilles' tendon in 2004, two broken thumbs in 2005, a torn calf muscle in 2006, a broken ankle in 2007 and a sprained knee in 2008 kept him off the field and hindered his skills. Jansen temporarily lost his starting job to Stephon Heyer last year, but he returned for this year's offseason workouts and organized team activities determined to show he could still play at a high level. "He was going to prove to everybody that he could make the Pro Bowl and be an All-Pro player, and that's what we were hoping for as well," Zorn said. "At the minicamp and the OTAs, I didn't see that." Jansen, however, questioned the timing of the Redskins' decision. "My response was I would have hoped for a better chance at the OTAs and the minicamp and maybe some more reps," Jansen said in a telephone interview as he headed to the airport for the flight home. "I think that their mind was made up prior to that, and that's OK. I just wish it would have happened a little sooner. ... There would have been more jobs available, more money available." How much tread does Jansen have left on the tires? Insurance in case Gosder doesn't progress? Can Jansen push anybody to start as a guard? They're talking about it in The Den!

Lions and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. try to sell each other's tickets

Embattled heir to the NASCAR throne, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., made an appearance at the Motor City Casino with Lions coach Jim Schwartz, as well as Lions Matt Stafford, Jared DeVries, and Casey Fitzsimmons.  According to Mike Brudenell of the Free Press, Earnhardt was at the casino to speak with hundreds of GM employees about the adversity he'd gone through this season, and how he was persevering and overcoming it.  For his trouble, was presented with an authentic Lions helmet.  The event was an interesting cross-promotion, both trying to raise awareness and ticket sales for the annual NASCAR race at MIS, and raise awareness and ticket sales for the Lions.

Dale, Jr., the Lions, and GM certainly have a lot in common when it comes to disappointment, but I'd like to think they're at different points on the journey.  The Lions already hit rock bottom and are poised to regain respectability, GM is set to bottom out on Monday, and Earnhardt might not yet have fallen as far as he's going to fall.  Still, here's hoping I'm wrong--and that the Lions, NASCAR's favorite son, and the hardworking men and women of GM have all put their worst days behind them.

Discuss it here, in The Den!

FOXSports NFL organization rankings -- Do I have to tell you the Lions' finish?

Sirius radio Blitz host and columnist Adam Schein has done the site's first ever ranking of each and every NFL organization. Categories factored in include: Owner, front office, head coach, coaching staff, quarterback, offense, defense and intangibles. The Lions finished (drumroll) ... 32nd. In Schein's words:

I like Jim Schwartz and thought he put together a very strong coaching staff, led by Gunther Cunningham. But it's tough to overcome a "1" for ownership and front office. There's a reason why the Lions are rebuilding since 1957.
Ranked 31st was Cleveland; 30th the Raiders. I'd say Oakland's in more disarray now than the Lions. But I can understand Schein not letting Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand off the hook for their complicity in the Matt Millen era at this point. And William Clay Ford? Uh ... you want to take up the defense on that one? My quibble is with the top of Schein's list. He has the Patriots ranked first; the Steelers second. I believe it should be the other way around. The Steelers were the best team of the '70s, have won two Super Bowls recently, and changed to a young, relatively unproven coach and remained a consistently great team. Debate it in The Den!

Lions claim another ex-Chief

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Apparently still not satisfied with the size and depth along the defensive front, today Martin Mayhew claimed former Chiefs DE Brian Johnston.  Johnston was a 2008 seventh-round pick out of I-AA Gardner-Webb.  The 6'-4", 269-pounder likely made a poor fit for new Chiefs DC Clancy Prendergast's 3-4 scheme.  Johnston finished his college career as the Big South Conference's all-time leader in sacks (21) and tackles for loss (55.5).  Though he started his freshman year at outside linebacker, he started every game of his sophomore, junior, and senior years at DE.  Johnston neatly fits the prototype of Gunther Cunningham's new scheme: 255-270 pounder, pass rusher's body, should be able to line up wide with a hand down and get to the quarterback.  Gunther got to see plenty of Johnston last year while running Kansas City's defense, so he must have seen something he likes.  Still, Johnston will ultimately represent one more log on top of the "almost-but-not-quite" logjam on the defensive line. Discuss it here, in The Den!

K. Smith to have "Break-Out" Season!!

Lions Running Back Kevin Smith opened some eyes last season when the rookie RB rushed for just under the 1000 yard while scoring eight touchdowns. Keep in mind he was able to do that behind a dismal line and with a passing attack that feature five different QB's; not too threatening. All things considered, Smith had a great year but it didn't receive the recognition he should have because of an 0-16 record. During the winter, Smith opened some more eyes and received some recognition; not for his play, but rather for his comments. Smith stated that despite having the worst season in NFL history, he and his fellow Detroit Lions will be in the playoffs at the end of the 2009 season- while most NFL fans think he's crazy, those in Detroit love his optimism and his desire to win; it'll have an affect on his teammates sooner or later. Kevin Smith is still at it, opening a few more eyes- this time it's columnist Christopher Harris at ESPN. Harris has Smith chalked up to have a "break-out" season in 'Fantasy Football'! Don't think Smith's anticipated success will be relegated only to 'Fantasy Football'. If a player is going to have a breakout season, his impact will be made on the Fantasy Field as well as the Real Field. An improvement in the running game generally means the passing game will improve as well. If Smith does have a break out season, expect the Lions to balance his success with the passing game and the Lions will have a chance test the lights on the scoreboard at Ford Field!

Madden Ratings Released

The Madden '09 player ratings were released as reported yesterday at One Lion made a top ten at his respective position, one guess who. Hint: it's not Chuck Darby.

Another ex-Lion indicts last year's coaching staff, without really trying

Earlier this week we had former Lion Jonathan Scott saying the coaching staff under Rod Marinelli was not on the same page, leading to confusion for players. This is a little more subtle than that, but still doesn't sound too good. In a Houston Chronicle article today on former Lions QB Dan Orlovsky there's this:

Orlovsky credits coach Gary Kubiak for making him emphasize his footwork during the ongoing organized team activities at Reliant Park. “That’s something I had never experienced before, never had coached that way,” Orlovsky said. “It’s going to be a big adjustment for me, but I can see differences already when I try to do that."
Dan-O never had his footwork emphasized by coaches in training? Maybe this explains the Drew Stanton situation better than anything. Among the things that make this interesting is that former Lions quarterbacks coach Scott Loeffler landed at the University of Florida, where he's now trying to make Tim Tebow pro-ready. Talk about it in The Den!

Lions claim ex-Cowboys CB Tra Battle

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

According to a report by Adam Caplan of, the Lions have claimed 5'-11", 173-pound Tra Battle off of waivers.  Originally signed as an undrafted free agent last year by San Diego, Battle was claimed off the Chargers' practice squad by the Cowboys last November.  Seeing action in five games, he recorded five tackles.  Battle was released earlier today, and the Lions immediately pounced.

As has been noted before, one of the extremely few perks of going 0-16 is having a death grip on top waiver priority.  It remains to be seen if Battle will even make the final roster--but with nearly 100% turnover at the cornerback position, nearly every corner in camp will have an opportunity to do so.

Discuss it here, in The Den!

Backus: I'm optimistic, but this time it's real!

A lot fans of Detroit Lions can tell you in about three sentences, how easy it would be to fix the Lions and get them competing again. The majority of those fans will tell you that the defense needs to be upgraded and the offensive line needs to be completely overhauled. Most are quick to criticize either Domenic Raiola or Jeff Backus as the main culprit behind the lethargic play of the O-Line. An article written today by Mark Snyder on talks about Jeff Backus, and his football career with the Lions as well as with the Wolverines. Often criticized by both fans and the media, Backus has finally learned how to handle himself and stay out of 'hot-water' when questioned by the press. When he's approached, he gives the same simple statement, just in a new rendition: "I'm always optimistic". Well wouldn't you know it that when Backus was asked about the recent Lions' changes he responded by saying "I'm always optimistic". The reason I found this interesting is because of what the eight year Lions vet added to that statement. He followed that by saying "... I'm being realistic this time around. It's early, we've got a new staff, and we've made a lot of roster changes. Who knows what the season has in store for us?". Regardless of its length I think this speaks volumes as to how players are reacting to the new coaching staff. Lets face it, there really isn't any reason for this guy to be optimistic; his entire career has been spent with a team that has assembled the NFL's worst record for eight year period (his entire career)! For him to further elaborate by mentioning that he's being realistic this time really lends credence as to how veteran Lions feel about the new staff and the changes they're making. For a player who has been what he's been through, and as tough as his pro career has been, for him to have faith in any staff that hasn't really proven anything yet, really shows the type of positive impact that Schwartz and company have made thus far. A lot of writers like to write about the changes going on in Allen Park, both on and off the field; but for a player like Backus to make a statement like this (making sure that people know that he's not trying to keep the franchise happy, rather he's making an honest statement), should tells us exactly how the players feel about this staff and how they're changing this franchise both off the field and in the locker room. They have to make progress in those two area's before they can begin making progress on the field and they still have some time before that begins. Let's hope that Backus' "gut feeling" or inclination to be honest translates to this club finally finding that elusive 'corner' and turning it!!

it's official: Lenon to Patriots

Following up on yesterday's news that the Patriots worked out former Lions LB Paris Lenon, Mike Riess of the Boston Globe reports that the Pats went ahead and inked him to a deal; terms were not initially disclosed.  Lenon should get an opportunity to be the top backup at ILB, and plenty of looks on special teams.  Also, one would think that Tedy Bruschi is nearing the end of the road, so Lenon has a chance to earn the inside shot at starting next to 2008 defensive rookie of the year Jerod Mayo.

Discussion is underway in The Den!

from 0-16 to 16-0

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

For reasons that are difficult to discern, there's been a steady stream of free agents--players who'd been tarred, feathered, and rode out of Detroit on a rail--ending up in New England, as part of one of the most outstanding franchises in sports.  First, there was Fernando Bryant.  Then, Leigh Bodden.  Now, the Patriots have worked out former Lions LB Paris Lenon.  Needing an inside linebacker, they're hoping the 235-pound Lenon can play the same role that new Lions LB Larry Foote played on the Steelers.  Lenon is a competitor, a veteran, and reasonably athletic.  However, in Detroit he was never athletic enough to cover like a safety--as Tampa 2 LBs must occasionally do--and yet he also lacked the size and strength to stuff the many runners blowing past the Lions' defensive line.  A decent player, and good tackler, who was not enough of anything to be special here, could have a very nice couple of years being a "good tackler" in the middle of New England's vaunted defense.

Drew Rosenhaus loses Anquan Boldin -- but touts the kid brother

Mike Florio at reports receiving an e-mail from uber-agent Drew Rosenhaus, announcing that he's lost Cardinals WR Anquan Boldin as a client. His e-mail in part:

"Regarding Anquan Boldin, let me say that I have great respect for him. I’m hopeful that we can work things out and he will return to the Rosenhaus Sports family in the near future. We are proud to continue to represent his brother D.J. Boldin."
D.J. Boldin, you may recall, is a WR out of Wake Forest that the Lions signed as an undrafted free agent. Hey, maybe D.J. will be great, too. But "We may have lost Anquan, but we've still got D.J.!" seems to be a bit of spin that won't work there, Mr. Rosenhaus.

Report: Stafford could miss out on big endorsement bucks has an interesting item quoting Crain's Detroit Business magazine (which requires a subscription). Crain's is analyzing the endorsement challenges Matthew Stafford will likely now face:

Because of the catastrophic economy, the Lions' winless 2008 season and the specter of the failed Joey Harrington still looming over the team, advertisers locally and nationally may be leery of inking Stafford as a megadollar pitchman. “I think he's going to be one of the most challenged No. 1 draft picks,” said Jan Katzoff, executive vice president for sports and entertainment of San Francisco-based branding and marketing firm Radiate Group. “When you factor that in with not only the global economy but what Detroit is dealing with, you've got factors nobody else is dealing with.” That's a change from just two years ago, when quarterback Brady Quinn arrived in Cleveland from the University of Notre Dame already armed with deals from Subway, Hummer, Xbox, Nike and Sprint. ...
My reaction? ... good. From what I hear, Matthew isn't hurting for cash. And he can -- and should -- focus on building a rapport with Calvin Johnson, Brandon Pettigrew, Kevin Smith, et al. The Crain's article does mention that Stafford is in talks for a handful of local and national deals. Should he have any level of success on the field, this year or beyond, you can bet that will spike up. Talk about it in The Den.

CB Rod Hood chooses Browns

Nick Cotsonika at reports that CB Rod Hood has signed with the Cleveland Browns, and that the St. Louis Rams were his second choice. Hood visited Detroit last week, but looks like Lions Coach Jim Schwartz was being truthful when he indicated then that both Hood and the Lions were just kicking the tires and exploring their options.

Dan-O on his fresh start in Houston -- and "The Play"

From the Hartford Courant we catch up with former Lion and current Texan Dan Orlovsky. "Paying attention to detail and doing all the little things, I think, is why I was blessed to be in position to get the contract with Houston," Orlovsky said. Attention to detail? Um, what about the play where you ...? Actually, Orlovsky gives some interesting elaboration on that scramble out of the back of the end zone in Minnesota, that I don't think we've heard before:

The Lions were at their 1 when Orlovsky dropped back to pass. The Vikings' Jared Allen broke through the line. Breaking to his right, Orlovsky saw Allen but inadvertently stepped out of bounds in the back of the end zone. He not only ran out of bounds, but he kept running as if the play were still live while Allen was merely shadowing him and celebrating the safety. "That wasn't the impression I was looking to make," Orlovsky said, laughing. "But I felt terrible. It was a stupid play and I was really down about it, but Jared DeVries, a defensive end and an 11-year veteran, comes up to me right after the play and says, 'Forget about that. We need you. Everybody makes mistakes.' "[Wide receiver] Calvin Johnson comes up to me and says, 'Man, I didn't mean to laugh, but that stuff was funny.' So I mean, it happened. I'll be remembered for it, I'm sure. But you have to move on, and I did. After that game, I just went back to paying attention to detail again and doing the little things — like I always did."
Something about Megatron seeing Dan-O on the sidelines and cracking up about that infamous play will have me smiling all day -- though I wasn't smiling at the time. Talk about it in The Den.

The Generation Gap, Ford-style

Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press has written a really nice article about the decades of struggle the Chicago Blackhawks went through under late owner Bill Wirtz, and their resurgence fostered by his son Rocky.  Guess which Detroit-area franchise he drew a parallel to?  Of course, he compared them to the Lions, where, in the eyes of the fans, aging owner William Clay Ford is already the Bad Cop to his son Bill Ford, Jr.

Of course, we have very little real understanding of where the lines of power are drawn in the Lions' boardroom, how tight of a hold Ford Sr. still has on his franchise, how much of a say Junior has in the operations, or what level of interest he has in taking over the franchise and throwing himself into its revitalization.  From an outsider's view, William Clay Ford meets all the critera for a good owner: he runs his organization with class, he fearlessly reinvests in his own franchise, built a new stadium with his own money, hires football men to run his football, and gives them all the time and resources they need to succeed.  The only problem is, he's hired lousy football men.

Discuss it here, in The Den!

Jared Devries' seventh "fresh start"

Monday, May 25, 2009

Nick Cotsonika over at the Free Press has written an interesting little post about both the forgotten man, Jared DeVries--the only Lion (not named Jason Hanson) who's seen Millen come and go--and the new defensive alignment.

"You get down to it, it's the total opposite," DeVries said. "Instead of making the corners make the tackles, you make the linebackers make the tackles."
When he puts it that way, it makes an awful lot of sense.  The new ends-wide alignment should cut down on the screens, pitches, and bounce-outs that the Lions have had chronic difficulty slowing in recent years.  Often, the DTs would disrupt or penerate on running plays, only to have the DEs be easily sealed off or blocked down; the runner could make one quick adjustment and get into the second level untouched.  Regardless of the tremendous amount of sense the philosophy switch makes, I think doing "the total opposite" of what the worst defense of all time did is at least a good starting point. Discuss it here, in The Den!

Jonathon Scott On Lions Experience

Den regular Freebird22 with an outstanding find. Jonathon Scott relates his experience with the Lions which points directly to the dysfunction among the Lion coaches during his years on the team. Years of coaching turnover with new systems and schemes annually, created a destructive spiral where promising young players like Scott were significantly handicapped in their development.

In Detroit, the life of a lineman was maddening. Scott said the communication breakdowns between the offensive coordinator and his offensive line coach ran rampant. One told him to step left on a play, the other said to step right.

“So which one do I do?” Scott said. “If I don’t it the offensive line way, I won’t be able to play. If I don’t do it the offensive coordinator’s way then I’ll never get on the field. There were always situations like that.”

Chaotic fragmentation. The shoddy separation of powers triggered on-field breakdowns. Scott said the linemen became “chickens with their heads cut off.” Who was supposed to block where was a play-to-play mystery.

“You can sense frustration throughout the entire team,” Scott said. “Cancer is a disease and negative energy can be transmitted easily from one player to the next and one coach to the next. I’ve witnessed situations where coaches aren’t on the same page. So when you try to change all that negative energy and do a 180 on game day, your chances aren’t that great.”

While Scott's revelations are a direct indictment of Rod Marinelli they also provide Lion faithful with a spark of hope. Regardless of how talented Lewand, Mayhew and Schwartz turn out, their unity of plan should create as much immediate on-field improvement as any personnel decisions.

Ongoing discussion here in The Den

Tom Kowalski scouts the Lions

Tom Kowalski at has begun a series of scouting reports on the current Lions roster.  Starting with quarterback Duante Culpepper and wide receiver Calvin Johnson, Kowalski goes in-depth on the pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses of each.  He was very fair with both players; he highlighted Culpepper's highs and lows, and tempered the raging Megatron manlove with a spalsh of cold reality.  There's an especially telling section on Culpepper, where former Lions offensive coordinator Jim Colletto reveals what he thinks really held Culpepper back in 2008. It will be interesting to see how many of these in-depth reports Killer is able (or willing) to crank out, and what he has to say about a few of the key offseason additions the Lions made--especially on the defensive side of the ball. Discuss it here, in The Den!

The Schwartz Plan: Go big or go home

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Nicholas Cotsonika at points out that the Rod Marinelli days of smaller, faster players (they were supposed to be fast?) is changing under Jim Schwartz.

The players the Lions have added include guard Toniu Fonoti (6-foot-4, 340 pounds), tight end Will Heller (6-6, 270), defensive end Eric Hicks (6-6, 280), defensive tackle Sammie Hill (6-4, 329), defensive tackle Grady Jackson (6-2, 345), guard Daniel Loper (6-6, 320), linebacker Julian Peterson (6-3, 240) and tight end Brandon Pettigrew (6-5, 263).
And yes, that's by design, Schwartz said. Better approach? Discuss it in The Den.

Grim Outlook For Lion Quarterbacks

There is an old maxim that a team with two quarterbacks is a team with no quarterbacks. If this is so, then what is a team with no quarterbacks?

Killer presents a scouting report on Daunte Culpeppper that is less than flattering.

Linehan had a huge influence in the drafting of Stafford. Both Lions general manager Martin Mayhew and head coach Jim Schwartz have talked about Linehan's input, his experience with young quarterbacks and his plan to develop Stafford. It's only reasonable to assume that if Linehan was pushing hard for Stafford that he has some real doubts about whether Culpepper was going to be consistent enough to be a winning quarterback in Detroit. After all, who knows Culpepper better than Linehan? ~ Last year, former Lions offensive coordinator Jim Colletto told me that ... Culpepper's biggest problem was that he too often threw to the wrong receiver in the offensive system.
Even while Kowalski is known to be a bit unreliable in his reporting, this discussion is quite troubling. For Culpepper to have a career renaissance he has to remake himself into a quarterback who relies on savvy rather than physical gifts. He is no longer the quarterback who can disrupt defenses with his size and speed, and he hasn't had a good year since Cris Carter retired. If his decision making hasn't improved in his years since Minnesota then it will be a very long year for Detroit as long as Culpepper is under center.

The Ghosts Of Lions Past

Saturday, May 23, 2009

In a typical May non-event event, the 49ers signed Dre Bly a couple of days ago to help replace the injured Walt Harris. What makes this a little more curious though is that the Bly signing marks the fifth former Lion player or coach added by San Francisco in the last two years. In 2008 the 49ers hired Mike Martz to teach his kill-the-quarterback offense to the team and he brought his henchman J.T. O'Sullivan. After purging the team of the coach and quarterback, Mike Singletary added former Lion coach Tom Rathman to his staff while the team signed Moran Norris and now Bly.

In the most recent iteration of how-many-licks-to-the-center-of-a-Tootsie-Pop we get how-many-former-Lions-to-the-center-of-a ummm ... what? Championship?

With Bly beating out Brian Kelly, another former Lion, for the vacant defense back position, rumors that the 49er front office as been inundated with resumes from Dwight Smith, Edwin Mulitalo, Paris Lenon and Brian Calhoun are entirely unfounded.

Yahoo! Sports: Lions Offseason Progress Report

Yesterday at Yahoo! Sports writter MJD posted an article title "Offseason Progress Reports: Detroit Lions. This article outlines all of Detroits off-season free agent releases and signings, trades, and draft acquisitions. The article goes on to report how the new look Lions should take the field this season with all of those new acquisitions, both offensively and defensively. While the writer may have viewed the team from the standpoint of "0-16, and no where to go but up", he's right! The Lions have a slew of new players on both sides of the ball, some may be one-year stop gap players, but other veterans have been brought in to fill holes for a longer time period, as well as help to change environment of locker room. While the team may have finished the season with holes just about everywhere, they're off-seasons moves have proven, on paper, that a lot of holes have been filled and that 2009 Lions shouldn't resemble their predecessors in the least-- Finally!

Week 1 Underdogs With Time to Prepare

As posted earlier this week, when odds makers in Las Vegas issued their 2009 NFL betting lines, they proved that they still didn't have much faith (if any) in the Detroit Lions. An article posted today in the Detroit Free Press further reiterated that point. The article stated that when the Lions open the 2009 season in New Orleans against the Saints, the Saints will be favored by 12 points. The article goes on to say that while it's still early (considering training camp is still a good 4 weeks away), the Lions opening the season as +12 underdogs might not seem bad as it looks. While this line shouldn't come as of much a surprise considering that last season the Lions lost to the Saints 42-7 at home, this line may be a glimmer of hope! With the final score of last seasons game, odds makers could have been much harder on the Lions; but could it be possible that expert odds makers are finally viewing the Lions franchise with some optimism due to all of the off-season changes? Lets hope that's the case, but only time (about 3.5 months or so) will tell.

Sanchez struggling?

Friday, May 22, 2009

While quite a bit has been made of Matthew Stafford's first OTA with the veterans (including some good natured ribbing, followed by an endless array of compliments), fellow first-round rookie Mark Sanchez isn't enjoying the same success.

The Den user redwing777 found this interesting article on Sanchez's first OTA:

Sanchez, in his third practice with the veterans, completed just one of nine passes with one interception in 11-on-11 drills and earned the wrath of offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer on more than one occasion.
Will this help curb the recent GQ/ESPN/more-than-slightly-uncomfortable media man-love for Sanchez? We hope. TALK ABOUT IT IN THE DEN!

Lions Strength of Schedule

According to a league release, the Detroit Lions have the 21st toughest schedule in 2009. Even more discouraging (they did go 0-16 after all ...) might be the fact that the Packers (6-10), Vikings (9-7), and Chicago Bears (10-6) have the NFL's easiest schedules in 2009. Of course, it didn't hurt those teams that they're scheduled to play the Lions -- a .000 winning percentage last year -- twice. (Cue Rodney Dangerfield) ... Talk about it in The Den message board.

Just a tease: Matt Stafford in Honolulu Blue was nice enough to post a quick video of Matt Stafford and Jim Schwartz discussing his progress during the OTA sessions yesterday, along with several clips of Stafford working through throwing drills.  To even pretend to analyze how he looks here from these few throws would be a fool's errand.  There is nothing on here that is too discouraging (one short throw on the run looks pretty wobbly) or encouraging (a couple nice deep balls are shown, but the camera angles are quite poor, so you don't see much); about what you'd expect.  Still, this is the first real video we've seen of Matt Stafford, Detroit Lions quarterback.

Discuss it in The Den!

Does Schwartz like the QB trio as it is?

Reading perhaps too much into a comment by Lions Coach Jim Schwartz, as relayed by Dave Birkett on his blog. Schwartz was asked whether the Lions would have any interest at all in Michael Vick and responded, “No, I think we're pretty happy with where our quarterbacks are right now." It's May, and a lot can change. But interesting that Schwartz threw in his feelings on the Lions' slate of slingers when he didn't necessarily have to. On the other hand, you could put your emphasis on the "right now" portion of what Schwartz had to say, and the meaning becomes, "Why would I even worry about adding a QB now? I've got plenty of time to deal with that." Talk about it in The Den.

Stafford already taking teammates' ribbing -- and earning their respect

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Good story from the Associated Press on how rookie QB Matthew Stafford is fitting in, how Stafford's teammates are teasing him (yes, much of it involves his paychecks), and importantly, how impressed they are with Stafford already. "So far, he's more than lived up to the hype — he's been very impressive," defensive end Eric Hicks said. Another interesting wrinkle: Stafford's arrival has ramped up Daunte Culpepper's and Drew Stanton's play considerably, Coach Jim Schwartz noted.

Another Playcaller-- Looks like a Perfect Fit

Earlier this week The Detroit Lions started a three-day OTA program which put the rookies on the same field as the vets for the first time. While much of the media attention has been directed at the first overall pick, Matthew Stafford, a report on chose to focus their attention on another early draft pick who may be calling plays too. Apparently, Louis Delmas (S) (pick 33; first pick of the second round) who made quite an impression on the coaching staff during rookie OTA's a few weeks ago continued to impress; this time including his veteran teammates. Delmas, who is to be reported a "vocal leader" on the field has proven those reports positive, and his teammates, both the vets and rookies like it; A LOT!! "I'm a leader, that's what I do best", stated Delmas after he zipped around the field, proving to know his assignments & where he was supposed to be and when. The article goes on to detial how passionate of a player Delmas is proving to be, proving it both on and off the field. He's also proving to be a student of the game-already, camping out in film room and we're still a month away from camp! He is proving to be the type of player the Lions have desperately needed both on the field and in the lockerroom. With veteran cornerbacks Anthony Henry coaching him on the field and, Philip Buchanon coaching him off the field; the secondary is already seeming to gel and the vets are making it clear that want Delmas with them on the field starting week 1.

OTA Notes

Dave Birkett with a couple of Blog posts from the OTAs reports.

Stafford got reps with the second team with somewhat predictable results. Very good in one-on-one drills, shakier with the full team stuff. It's difficult to be either impressed or dismayed considering he is working with rookies who won't make the team. There is little doubt of what Stafford is capable of, but much more doubt about how well or quickly he will be able to translate his capabilities into consistent production. That question certainly won't be answered by the end of OTAs, and possibly not before 2010.

Birkett also notes that Schwartz was complimentary of Drew Stanton, but the compliments seemed a bit backhanded. I get the distinct impression that Stanton has no chance of keeping a roster spot through the summer. On the other hand, despite months of reports that the Lions are hunting for a veteran backup QB they haven't even brought one in for a conversation. I suspect that Shwartz and Mayhew want to define Stafford's role before they find their third quarterback. Will Stafford be the primary backup or the primary clipboard caddy? Another question for July, not May.

Lions add even more beef up front; but where?

With Nick Cotsonika's report that the Lions have signed OT Ephraim Salaam, there are even more questions about the Lions' offensive line.  The 6'-7", 310-pounder was most recently with the Houston Texans--who made him expendable when they drafted his replacement, Duane Brown, in the first round of the 2008 draft.  Salaam visited back in early April, but didn't make a decision at the time.  The timing of this announcement is interesting; did someone's performance at the OTAs prompt the Lions to give Salaam another call, or were they just waiting for him to make up his mind?

The question becomes, "what happens to Jeff Backus?"  Many were anxious to see the Lions draft an elite franchise left tackle with the #1 overall pick, or possibly the #20 if Michael Oher fell that far; then move Backus to fill the hole at left guard.  Could Salaam displace Backus at left tackle?  Unlikely; Salaam is a journeyman veteran; he's older than Backus and has never been an elite player.  More likely, he's being brought in to compete with George Foster for the backup swing tackle position.

Discuss it here, in The Den!

Lions sign veteran OT Ephraim Salaam

Nicholas Cotsonika at reports the signing. Salaam, 32, is a 12-year NFL veteran who last played for the Houston Texans. He's massive: 6-7, 310 lbs. He didn't start for the Texans last year, but did play in 13 games, according to Salaam started all 16 games in 2007. Talk about it in The Den.

Follett finished with school, but just starting education

When Larry Foote was asked about how he was handling the transition from from a 3-4 ILB to a 4-3 MLB, he said, "I had my first meeting with the linebacker coach, and we put in a couple of the base defenses and it was similar to some of the stuff that we did at Pittsburgh.  My mind wasn't as lost as the other guy who was next to me."  Foote declined at the time to mention who that other guy was--but now, we can guess.  Nick Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press has posted an article about rookie OLB Zack Follett, who's still trying to wrap his head around Gunther Cunningham's playbook.  Follett's not stupid--his woodworking skills reveal a creative brain--but thanks to NFL rules and Cal's academic schedule, today is the first day he's allowed to formally work out with the team.  After struggling in minicamp, he's already a couple of days behind on the OTAs.  Still, if he can keep his head above water, Follett's straight-line speed, playmaking ability, and love of the big hit make him an excellent fit for this defense.

Discuss this in The Den!

Foster asks: Would expanded schedule hurt NFL?

Columnist Terry Foster in The Detroit News says it's a near foregone conclusion that the NFL will eventually expand its schedule to 17 or 18 games. Foster speculates it would lead to expanded rosters, higher salaries, more injury difficulties for teams, and may cause the NFL to lose some of its "every game is a premium event" mojo. My take? That's a bunch of hooey. The overall number of games would remain the same; only the number of preseason games would be reduced. And fans would jump for joy to have two fewer awful preseason games they have to pay top dollar for. If there's one thing the NFL has proven, it's that its fans can't seem to get enough of it. They never reach market saturation. It's DRAFT in the heart of the offseason is bigger than most sports!

The Line on The Lions

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

While most analysts agree that the personnel moves and many of roster changes made by the Detroit Lions this off-season should prove that the franchise is finally moving in the right direction and might even have some surprise success similar to last years Dolphins; Las Vegas odds-makers just won't buy it. As stated today in the Detroit News, Las Vegas odds makers have the Lions at an over-under win total of five games for the 2009 season (the lowest in the league). While five wins is an improvement, Vegas isn't quite giving them a pat on the back. The same odds makers also gave the franchise the worst odds to win the NFC North (their division), the NFC Championship and the Super Bowl! While Vegas may not have a lot of confidence in Detroit this season, Lions players are already saying they can sense a positive change and the fan-base is beginning to follow. With a new regime in the front office, new coaching personnel, new schemes on both sides of the ball as well as huge changes made to the roster; the Lions that take the field for the 2009 season will be a completely different team and hopefully will be quick to prove it.

Rod Hood Making The Rounds

Mike Florio at PFT reports that Hood has a contract offer in hand from the Rams but continues to allow teams to court him. Next up the Bears, with Detroit and Cleveland in the mix.

OTA propaganda

Since the Lions aren't allowing media access to the OTAs until Thursday, there's essentially no information available beyond what the Lions decided to release via the official website.  Speaking mostly about Matt Stafford, DeAndre Levy, and Derrick Williams, the piece offers a lot of background knowledge, but little real information has to how things are progressing.  Levy's section is probably the most worthwhile; Cunningham seems to be absolutely convinced that he can move to the inside--and play like that's always been his natural position.  Even if Levy doesn't see much of the field this year as a base-defense MLB, the odds are good that he'll get a lot of preseason and garbage-time reps in preparation for 2010.

Alexander: "The neck is no longer an issue, physically and mentally."

It's probably the worst kind of injury any athlete can have -- a fractured vertebrae in the neck. Such an injury limited Lions S Gerald Alexander to only five games last year, and put his budding future in some doubt. As Carlos Monarrez reports in today's, Alexander says he's fully recovered both physically and mentally from his injury, and is ready to get after it and prove himself again. A healthy Alexander who continues coming on as he was, combined with a high-performing Louis Delmas, could go a long way to solving the Lions' perennial secondary problems.

Silva On Delmas

Notable Den whipping boy Evan Silva rated rookie defenders from a fantasy perspective. He mentions DeAndre Levy as a 'maybe' while profiling Louis Delmas as a likely high impact rookie.

The Titans will use Delmas in center field mostly, with Daniel Bullocks playing in the box. Still, Delmas possesses much more range than Bullocks and should end up beating him to many plays. Strong safeties are generally more desirable, but Delmas has the ball skills and speed to flirt with 80 tackles and 3-4 picks in his first season.
While confusing the Lions with the original iteration of the New York Jets - the 1958 - 62 Titans - it is more bizarre that Silva can put actual numbers to thirty rookies with uncertain participation this year. While chalking this up to a pre-camp column-filler it looks like his projections for Delmas are as reasonably solid as can be expected prior to the completion of the first minicamp.

Did Schwartz want a different ST coordinator?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dave Birkett of the Oakland Press unearthed a Jeff Fisher radio interview that contains a few extremely interesting tidbits, including a suggestion that Schwartz had planned to hire ST coordinator Scotty O'Brien away from the Broncos--when of course, he ultimately retained the incumbent Stan Kwan.  However, O'Brien was hired by the Patriots for the same position on January 14th, while the retention of Kwan was not announced until February 11th.  Does this mean that Schwartz was turned down by his first choice?  Not necessarily--the announcement of Schwartz's hiring didn't come until January 15th--and though O'Brien and Schwartz had history, that history primarily came from working together under Bill Belichek in Cleveland.  Besides, even if O'Brien was Schwartz's first choice, if you had an offer in hand from a Patriots team looking to get back to the Super Bowl in 2010, and an "if-I-end-up-getting-hired" offer from Jim Schwartz two weeks after the Lions put the finishing touches on the 0-fer . . . would you even hesitate to punch a ticket to Boston?

Stafford's "guaranteed" money no sure thing

When Matt Stafford's deal was announced, the amount of "guaranteed' money dropped jaws around the league.  Reported to be a staggering $41.7 million dollars, many shook their head at the foolishness of the Lions' front office.  Despite Tom Lewand's long track record of crafting especially creative and clever contracts, despite the fact that agents typically release the terms of deals and Stafford is represented by power agent Tom Condon, and despite nearly a two-day stall in negotiations--reportedly over the structure of the guaranteed money--most fans, media, and journalists decried the Lions' awful negotation skills.

Well, blogger AdamJT13 has revealed (according to only him; as of right now there's been no confirmation of his numbers) the exact structure of Matt Stafford's contract, including a nifty 2010 option bonus.  According to this excellent article, if Stafford rolled up to Allen Park in a new Toyota Tundra this morning, and Mr. Ford ordered his immediate release, Stafford would only be owed a lousy $17.05 million.

the NFC North quarterback picture

The possibility of Brett Favre joining the Vikings has spawned a lot of conversation about the NFC North, the old black-and-blue division, suddenly boasting the strongest-armed passing attacks in the NFL.  Dave Birkett of the Oakland Press decided to rank the NFC North QBs, first-to-worst.  He assumes that the Favre deal will eventually happen, and that the Lions could be starting either Stafford or Culpepper come Week 1.  Of course, if Culpepper is truly back in 2004 form, his arm is nearly as strong as Stafford's, the autumn "air show" will happen no matter who's under center for the Lions.

Former Lion who killed 3 still drunk driving

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer comes a story that should make you angry, or at least sad. Former Lions high draft choice Reggie Rogers, whose career was derailed after he went to prison after a drunk-driving incident in which three teenagers were killed, has pleaded guilty to TWO MORE drunk driving incidents from last year, including one in which he crashed into another car again. Tragic? No thanks; I think I'll go with pathetic. Talk about it in The Den.

Pre-Memorial Day QB Controversy

As all of the newly drafted Detroit Lions rookies report to the Lions Headquarters in Allen Park today, they'll be joined with their veteran teammates for their first practice together. While some of the veterans have already reached out to welcome their new teammates, they haven't yet had an opportunity to take the field with one another. As Nicholas Constanika reports on, much of the media attention will be focused on two particular players: Incumbent Lions QB Dante Culpepper and this years first overall pick, Matthew Stafford. While most anticipate that Culpepper will be taking the snaps as the season begins, fans have been left to wondering: if the 2009 season unfolds similarly to the horrendous 2008, how soon will Culpepper get yanked in favor of playing Stafford? Martin Mayhew addressed that issue during rookie orientation earlier this month. "They [rookie QB's] get drafted early by teams that haven't been successful, and then they get rushed onto the field", said Mayhew, specifically referred to the 1999 draft when the Cleveland Browns took Tim Couch first overall. At the time Cleveland had Ty Detmer and planned to start him; not wanting to rush their new QB onto the field. By the time Cleveland reached week 2, Couch was starting and the rest is history. Mayhew goes on to finish the interview by saying, "....other hand, there are guys that have been able to go in and play early. I think you can't plan for that." With that said, he leaves it to the fan to wonder; but we have a lot of time between now and week 1, so we're left to watch it unfold.

Should Stafford start as a rookie? A statistical and historical examination

Monday, May 18, 2009

Brian Burke at has taken a very interesting look at whether it's in any way beneficial or harmful to start a rookie QB in his first year, or to have him on the sidelines, ball cap on head, clipboard in hand. Burke looks at the record of QBs drafted in the first and second rounds from 1980 to 2004. It gets a little heady and math geeky, but the bottom line? Some rookie QBs are ready to go from the jump, and if you have one of those, he tends to be successful over the course of his career. Further, it appears that a coach holding back from starting such a ready rookie QB has no particular benefit. Debate the subject in The Den.

Pop sociologist -- "Why don't Lions no-huddle?"'s Bill Simmons has been talking with journalist, author and pop sociologist Malcolm Gladwell, the author of the popular books, "The Tipping Point," "Blink" and "Outliers." A theme in his work is how small events can have big implications in society. Gladwell addressed the Lions in one of his recent conversations with Simmons:
Right now, great teams (such as the Colts and Patriots) use the no-huddle selectively, as a way to maximize their dominance. But why don't bad teams use it? If you were the Lions, why not run the no-huddle this season? Why not put together a lighter, better-conditioned offensive line and a radically simplified playbook and see what happens? It's not as if you are risking a Super Bowl if it backfires. Your offensive line is lousy anyway, so there's no harm in tearing it down, and your fans aren't going to turn on you if you get killed while you work out the kinks. Last I checked, your fans have already turned on you. On the plus side, maybe the no-huddle exhausts the other team's defense so much you slow down their pass rush in the second half. And maybe giving your quarterback a bit more autonomy helps develop his knowledge of the game, and his leadership skills.
Gladwell also talked about how its a moral hazard to reward NFL teams for losing by giving them higher draft choices. Agree? Disagree? Talk about it in The Den.

Porcher enshrined in South Carolina

Congratulations to former Lions defensive great Robert Porcher, who today will be enshrined in the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame. Porcher's exploits at South Carolina State were near-legendary, and he went on to have a long, highly productive career as a defensive end in Detroit. We could use about 15 sacks a year from somebody these days.

Another good look at the new unis, on the rooks

From a Matthew Stafford fan's blog: Matthew was in Los Angeles this past week for the NFL Players Rookie Premiere at the Los Angeles Coliseum. During the event the rookies pose for trading card pictures, sign autographs and are interviewed for websites. The LA Daily News, and have posted some photos of Matthew wearing his Detroit Lions uniform. From that event, here's a picture of Derrick Williams, Brandon Pettigrew and Stafford together: For some reason, I see the unis in a way I didn't see them when they were unveiled. Maybe it's the natural lighting. You'll never convince me they haven't gone to a lighter, teal-er shade of blue. Looks good, though, I guess. Has a more modern look. The other thing I noticed is, Matthew's a rather big boy. But check him out next to Pettigrew! What do you think? Talk about it in The Den.

2011 CBA Talks to Begin Soon--Finally!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

As the expiration of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the Players Association grows closer, so does the the possibility of the an NFL work stoppage (its first since 1987). The current CBA, negotiated in 1993, has been extended on several occasions (most recently in 2006, at which time the CBA was extended through the 2012 season; that extension also gave both sides the option to shorten the agreement by one year). Approximately three months prior to the start of the 2008 NFL season, all 32 clubs voted unanimously to opt out of the current agreement by one season; a decision that affected the salary cap situation for the 2008 & 2009 seasons, may lead to an uncapped 2010 season and eventually a full NFL "lock-out" at the start 2011 season (unless a new CBA is signed). Considering the popularity as well as the enormous amounts of revenue generated by the NFL, most would think that both sides would want to come to terms on a new agreement as quickly as possible; but for the most part, it has been surprisingly quiet. Fortunately, per Yahoo! Sports, labor discussions between the two sides is planned to begin within a month, hopefully leaving enough time for the two sides agree upon a new CBA, thus avoiding any work stoppage and kicking off the 2011 season on time.

Linehan: Run or pass, Pettigrew will be big factor

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has a history of turning less-than-elite tight ends into legit pass-catchers -- Jim Kleinsasser, Byron Chamberlain and Jermaine Wiggins in Minnesota; Randy McMichael with the Dolphins. But Brandon Pettigrew may have more talent than any TE Linehan's ever had. Well, Scott didn't go that far, but per Pro Football Weekly, he did call Pettigrew "a unique fit" because of blocking and receiving skills that will make him an every-down tight end in the league. "He will be a big factor in our offense whether we’re throwing the ball or running," Linehan said.

Lions 23rd in available salary cap space

If the Lions have any flashy signings left up their sleeves,they've still got some wiggle room -- but not as much as most teams. Mike Florio at lists each NFL teams' available salary cap space as of Friday (not including the nearly $1 million the NFL recently added to each team's cap). The Lions are 23rd out of the 32 teams with $7.4 million left in available cap space. The Buccaneers are still a whopping $36.6 million under the cap. But it's not as if your available cap space at this point is a sign of your team's competence or success: teams such as the Steelers, Patriots, Giants, Colts and Cardinals all have less available space left than the Lions.

Lions to bring in veteran CB for workout

Steve Wyche of is reporting that the Lions will bring in veteran CB Rod Hood on Monday.  After the 5'-11", 198-pounder was signed by the Eagles as an undrafted free agent in 2003, Hood caught on, and saw spot duty for four seasons.  He then signed as a free agent with Arizona, and started nearly every game in 2007 and 2008.  They then released him late last month for cap relief.  A former walk-on at Auburn, Hood has climbed a mountain that very few can climb.  On a roster crying out for veteran starting corners on the right side of 30, Hood could be a perfect fit.  However, he's already met with the Bengals and Browns.  A good fit Hood may be, but Mayhew steadfastly refuses to pay more than a player is worth--and so will not be drawn into a bidding war for Rod Hood.

Sports book's over-under for 2009 Lions wins: five

Vegas doesn't appear to share Kevin Smith's optimism about playoffs for the 2009 Lions. has set the Lions' 2009 win total at five games, the lowest of any NFL team. (Did they see the Raiders' draft???) And if you take the under, you've gotta bet $130 to win $100; even money only for the over. "This team had the worst season in the history of football and they aren't going to be that much better this year," said spokesman Dave Staley. "They have some great talent like Calvin Johnson but they are still a long ways from being competitive." Sounds like a challenge to me.

Larry Foote talks the talk

As many Lions fans had hoped, veteran MLB Larry Foote has brought a champion's resumé--"street cred", says Jim Schwartz--relentless energy, and a vocal leadership style to the middle of the Lions' defense.  Now, as the Free Press' Carlos Monarrez writes, all that's left is for Larry Foote to actually learn the defense, and execute it well.  If he can do those things, he'll be the centerpiece of a major defensive overhaul that happened so slowly and quietly, most fans barely noticed.

Schwartz falling for Cherilus -- "He plays with a mean streak"

Friday, May 15, 2009

Don't let the draft fool you -- Jim Schwartz is apparently all about the O-Line. In addition to singing Gosder Cherilus' praises today, the new Lions coach also discussed wanting to give fellow former Titan Daniel Loper a shot at starting left guard: "He's big, he fits the profile of what we're looking for at the position ..." Justin Rogers' story at MLive:

Lions release WR Will Franklin -- already

As earlier reported by Nate, the Lions today released former Mizzou and K.C. Chiefs WR Will Franklin, who they signed only a month ago. Sheesh, what's a guy got to do to fall out of favor that quick in May? The Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune speculates that the Lions' stockpiling of receivers in free agency and the drafting of Derrick Williams is prompting the move. Franklin may not appreciate the timing -- four other teams had an interest in him when the Chiefs waived him: the Eagles, Colts, Raiders and Rams. All four since addressed their wide receiver needs in the draft.