PFW: Lions building depth from the bottom up

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

There’s a great Lions article, written by Eric Edholm, now up at Pro Football Weekly.  He examines, position-by-position, the roster moves that have been made by the new Lions brass.  He points out that while the starting 22 aren’t all dramatically better, the twos and threes on the “nonexistent” depth chart are all light-years ahead of where they were a year ago.

This all fits in with head coach Jim Schwartz’s attitude and GM Martin Mayhew’s M.O. so far: upgrading every spot on the roster at every opportunity.  Back during the OTAs, Schwartz was asked about if improving the defense was a focal point: “Well, [defense] was a focal point, but it was one of three focal points. I mean, quite honestly, we needed to improve special teams and the offense also,” said Schwartz.  “People mention the Julian Petersons and the marquee-type names, but we've made a lot of improvements on the back of the roster also. When you replace the bottom five guys on the roster, you start moving up that way and you incrementally get bigger--and that's places you can improve from the waiver wire, picking up free agents that are late in the game. You can improve the bottom five of your roster a lot easier than improving the top five.”

As solid as many of the offseason acquisitions have been, the veteran starters acquired (e.g., Larry Foote, Grady Jackson, Anthony Henry, and Philip Buchanon) are older veterans, and not without question marks.  In fact, it’s almost inconceivable that all of them will start 16 games, play a full load of snaps, and be effective wire-to-wire.  It’s how well the rotational players handle being pushed into starting roles, and what the rookies and developmental players do with the rotational snaps they’ll get, that will really determine the Lions’ win total this season.

Discuss it here, in The Den!

Saving Stafford: Start Him or Sit Him? contributor Mike Mady shared this premium article with subscribers, pointing out (and using examples along the way) that regardless of how the Lions utilize Matthew Stafford in 2009, it shouldn't detract from his long-term success -- or failure -- in Detroit.

Writes Mady:

"The question is, will Stafford learn more from watching Culpepper play or by getting advice from the veteran while taking the snaps himself? "Looking at the last 10 Super Bowl winning quarterbacks shows that both approaches can work. Five of 10 played significantly during their rookie seasons while the other five started only two games between them. Of the five who played large roles as a rookie, only Ben Roethlisberger had a winning record."

Mike breaks it all down here. (Free 7-day access to

Salary Cap Forum Updated - PREMIUM

Monday, June 29, 2009

Dominic Raiola Player Cost

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Aaron Brown Meets the Welcome Wagon

Lions’ sixth-round draft choice Aaron Brown, a running back from TCU, had an epiphany this offseason, delivered courtesy of linebacker Ernie Sims.  Brown told the Free Press’s Carlos Monarrez about a play where he thought he had the defense beat to the outside—and then Sims dramatically altered his perception of the situation.

Brown seems like a very self-aware kid, one who, despite electrifying the Mountain West Conference from his freshman year on, has had his share of setbacks. Injuries and off-field incidents clouded what could have been a radiant career at TCU; his track-star speed and big-play ability allowed him to take over games—even while sharing the load with several teammates in TCU’s unconventional offense.  Still, the Lions’ revamped—and superbly athletic—Lions’ LB corps aside, Brown’s window of opportunity in Detroit is open, albeit narrowly.

With third-round pick Derrick Williams out with a hamstring injury, the Lions have no young players with real kick return ability.  Veterans Maurice Morris, Philip Buchanon, and Dennis Northcutt all have extensive return experience—but Morris and Buchanon are needed more as from-scrimmage players, and all three are pretty far removed from being full-time returners.  Brown, if he can “elevate his game”, has a great chance to make the roster—and even be a regular contributor—come autumn.

Discuss it here, in The Den!

Can Backus have a resurgence? Who knows?

From MLive's Tom Kowalski's summer scouting reports... Killer describes LOT Jeff Backus as a player who's "had his confidence shaken and who has given up an average of 10 sacks per season for the last three years."

(Now that you quantify it like that ... yuck!)

Killer makes a decent case for how an offseason contract squabble, Mike Martz's system and the pressure it puts on pass blockers, and a rib injury all worked against Backus in recent years.

The new staff isn't giving up on Backus yet because they want to see how he does when he's firing off the ball as much as he is dropping back in pass protection. The theory is that an offensive line has to dictate the action because defensive linemen are far less effective when they're worn down by the running game and also don't know when a run or pass is coming. When a team is either pass-happy, doesn't have a running threat or constantly behind, the linemen can tee off and play the run on the way to the quarterback.

That's why new head coach Jim Schwartz is adamant that the Lions will run the ball and, even if they're not effective early, they're not going to abandon it. Left tackle is the most important position on the line and, based on his performance this season, Backus will either prove to be a solid starter again or he'll be one of the players who could see a change of scenery next year.

I hate to be the one who reminds you, but we heard about the commitment to the run from Rod Marinelli after Martz was ousted, too. And it -- and Backus -- didn't work out so great.

Still, Jeff has to know what's on the line this year. I've got to believe he'll come in in the best shape he's been in, physically and mentally, in years, and really go after keeping his job. If it still doesn't work out, at least the Lions' line depth is better than it's been.

Talk about it in The Den!

Linehan On Fanhouse

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Dan Graziano caught up to Scott Linehan for a fairly extensive interview that he published at the Fanhouse.

"Daunte's as healthy as he's been in some time, he looks great and he's really driven to try and re-establish himself in this league," Linehan said. "If he can be anything close to what he was in '04, the sky's the limit for Daunte."

In fairness Graziano interpreted this paragraph a little differently than me. The praise from the coaching staff about Daunte has been effusive and to me there is little doubt that Culpepper is the number one quarterback on Schwartz's No Depth Chart depth chart. The enthusiasm that Schwartz, Linehan and his teammates have shown for Daunte have a much differenct flavor than Mike Martz consecutively calling Jon Kitna and J.T. O'Sullivan the best quarterbacks he had ever coached.

Linehan cements Culpepper's status with the following:
"Matt's a young guy with all the talent in the world, and he could certainly show enough that he could be our quarterback," Linehan said. "But we're not going to do that until we believe he's ready for it, whenever that is.
This really isn't anything new. The coaching staff has been very consistent with this kind of statement. It isn't an indictment of Stafford at all, but rather a great deal of comfort with Culpepper. Surely things can change with training camp to come, but it seems that the job is Culpepper's to lose - and even then he might not lose it. Linhan has this to say about Shwartz's Tennessee defenses:
"The way that Tennessee defense always performed -- I don't want to say they overachieved or to downgrade any of the players he worked with there, but you would look and sometimes you'd be amazed," Linehan said. "You'd look at a matchup where you wouldn't think they'd be in it, and they'd be beating teams 14-13, and you'd scratch your head -- 'How are they doing that?' And I think that says a lot about the people there and the continuity of the coaching there, and he was a huge part of that, and I he's going to bring that here with him."
This Lion defense doesn't have the talent of any of Schwartz's Titan ones. They surely will need this unit to produce at capacity to have much of a shot at anything more than a handful of wins. Even so, there is good reason to believe that the team is finally in capable hands.

Ongoing discussion Here in The Den

Showing the rooks what -- and who -- it's all about

Terry Foster of the Detroit News highlights something very cool and under-the-radar that Lions Coach Jim Schwartz recently did -- and apparently hoped would remain a secret.

Schwartz took top Lions draft choices Matthew Stafford, Brandon Pettigrew and Louis Delmas to the Dearborn Truck Assembly Plant, where they sat for two hours and signed autographs, took photos and passed out Lions gear to surprised workers.

He wanted this to be part of his players' education on the NFL and the city of Detroit.

Schwartz is a different cat. After a month of planning, he took his high-profile rookies to meet the rank-and-file. His goal was to do more than just spread good will to Ford employees. He wanted his rookies to touch hands with regular people in Detroit. He wanted them to see the hardened Rouge plant that has pumped out thousands of cars and trucks over the years.

"The other day, Dominic Raiola talked about how he fell in love with the city," Schwartz said by phone from Maryland. "He said how much he loves the people and I thought it was important for these guys to experience the same feel and things like that. We did not want cameras there because we thought it would have ruined the whole dynamic of it."

Schwartz, 43, wants his rookies grounded ... "We wanted them to know who they were playing for," Schwartz said. "We wanted them to meet the people who were paying their paychecks."

I think this is just fantastic. If Schwartz handles football games as well as he's handled the other stuff so far, 0-16 will soon become a very distant memory.

Share your thoughts in The Den!

Salary Cap Forum Updated - PREMIUM

2009 Lions Cap Status

Transaction Log Updated through June 26th (late evening)

Gerald Alexander Player Cost

Dennis Northcutt Player Cost

Follow Detroit's salary cap with expert George Ketchman here. (Requires premium membership to

Alexander to Jaguars for Dennis Northcutt

Friday, June 26, 2009

According to John Clayton of, the Lions have traded safety Gerald Alexander to the Jaguars for veteran WR Dennis Nortcutt. Northcutt should be in the mix at slot WR, with Derrick Williams, Ronald Curry, and others. Northcutt does have return experience, though it's unknown if the Lions plan to try him out at that spot.

Salary Cap Forum Updated - PREMIUM

Transaction Log Updated through June 26th

Dan Gronkowski Player Cost

Follow Detroit's salary cap with expert George Ketchman here. (Requires premium membership to

Will stronger = better?

When Coach Jim Schwartz was hired in January, one of the first things he did was change the team's conditioning regimen to develop a bigger, stronger team, emphasizing free weights and old-school Olympic power-lifting, Nicholas Cotsonika reports at

Before the last day of minicamp, Schwartz drew the players together to discuss their progress in that program -- a 21 percent increase in upper-body strength in 14 weeks of training, excluding rookies and players who didn't go through the full program.

"That's significant," Schwartz told reporters. "Twenty percent for us in 14 weeks wouldn't be significant because we all have a lot of potential."

Schwartz paused for snickering, then continued.

"Consider the starting point," Schwartz said. "These are professional athletes. These are world-class athletes. For them to increase 20% said something, No. 1 about the program, No. 2 about their work ethic and how they embrace the program."

The program also led to a 14-percent increase in lower body explosiveness. And in perhaps the most impressive number, the strength and conditioning program had about a 95 percent participation rate.
"That's unparalleled in the NFL," Schwartz said. "I thanked them for their effort in the off-season program, but effort's not enough. You need to see results, and we did see results."

I'm personally impressed by this, and think it is yet another sign that things could be about to begin turning around.

The Lions should paint on the wall of their weight room, "You're winning the fourth quarter of a December game at Lambeau or Soldier Field right now." Because they are.

It's also the first example of quantifiable positive results from Schwartz implementing his philosophy.

Talk about it in The Den!

Schwartz gets tough on last day of minicamp

It wasn't quite a Mornhinweg Motorcycle Moment. But new Lions Coach Jim Schwarz sure seemed to be trying to send a message to his players on the last day of minicamp.

Tom Kowalski at (who absolutely must be given props for working harder than all of his colleagues to deliver news out of the minicamp) reports that Schwartz extended workouts -- at one point making the offense start all over with a drill because he was displeased with how they were practicing.

At the end of the one-hour, 50-minute session, Schwartz had the team run gassers.

As Kowalski noted:

It's typical on the last day of a minicamp -- especially when players are going to be off for an extended period -- that things get a little sloppy. Players already are thinking about making their flights out of town and gearing up for their vacations. Because of that, it's not unusual for coaches to cut the final practice a little short, and the players know it.

Is this a sign of things to come in training camp, Killer asks?
Schwartz indicated after practice that he is not the kind of coach who tries to kill his team during training camp, and said there would be only one instance where they will have back-to-back two-a-days.

While Schwartz didn't address Thursday's repeated plays or gassers specifically, he did say this about the training camp that will open July 31: "I want to keep them fresh. But it's up to them to work when it's time to work."

Is this good to see? Concerning to see? Much ado about nothing? Discuss in The Den!

Schwartz: Raiola is “Everything that’s right about the NFL”

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dominic Raiola has taken his fair share of lumps from Lions fans.  From his early years, struggling to find an identity between a carousel of has-been veteran guards and never-will-be youngsters, Raiola has been a favorite punching bag of fans.  From little visible push on goal-line stands, to an obvious difficulty slowing down top nose tackles without guard help, Raiola seemed to most fans to be an obvious bust.  Yet, somehow, all of the many head coaches, offensive coordinators, offensive line coaches, and teammates who’ve interacted with Raiola throughout the years has spoken extremely highly of him.  As reported earlier, Raiola has just signed his second major contact extension, ensuring he’ll be anchoring the Lions’ line through 2013.

What does the current Lions’ leadership see in Raiola?  “He has great leverage; he's got great balance. He's a good athlete. In the center position, you don't need a giant to play center,” said head coach Jim Schwartz.  “The last couple years in Tennessee we've had Kevin Mawae, who - if he cracked 280 pounds that was a lot - but he was very athletic, he was a great athlete, he was always on his feet. If you talk about the great centers - probably in the history of the National Football League - I think they'd all have that in common: leverage, feet, balance, quickness - those kinds of things. Dom has all of those.”

However, it’s not just Raiola’s on-field performance that has had Lions fans scratching their heads.  During last season’s disastrous 0-16 campaign, several fans were riding Raiola particularly hard.  He made an obscene gesture at them and rebuked them in a profane manner.  Even after he was fined $7,500, he showed no remorse about the incident: "I don't take one thing back," he said at the day after.  “I'm just so frustrated. I'm tired of being a doormat for people to just talk to us how they want to talk to us. I'm just not going to put up with that anymore.”

However, head coach Jim Schwartz has no reservations about the two-time offensive captain’s character:  “I just want to say how proud I am to have my name associated with a guy like Dominic. He's everything that's right about the NFL; he's a guy that embraces the city he lives in - he lives here year-round. He is as hard a working guy as you're going to imagine - a guy that loves the game. (A guy) that is durable, that plays the game the way it's supposed to be played. As an organization and as an individual, we're very, very proud to have him and have him under an extension."

Whether the fans appreciate him or not, Raiola is sure to be the pivotman for the Lions' offensive line for the forseeable future.  According to the National Football Post, Raiola’s four-year, $20 milllion extension makes him the fifth-highest-paid center in the NFL.

No more questions: Raiola extended

Today, Lions team President Tom Lewand announced that center Dominic Raiola has been extended, according to Nick Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press.  Drafted by the Lions in the second round of the 2001 draft, Raiola was the second draft selection ever made under the stewardship of ex-CEO Matt Millen, and has started almost every game for the Lions since that day.

While dollar figures were not available at the time of this writing, it is safe to assume that this will cement Raiola as the Lions’ starting center for the forseeable future—regardless of some fans’ desire to see him replaced.  Notable for his stout, squat frame and pugnacious character, the former Rimington Award winner has developed into one of the league’s steadiest centers.  While not physically dominant, nor a road-grader in run-blocking, his ability to recognize blitzes and mow down defenders in the second level have proven valuable.  The extension ensures some much-needed continuity on a unit that has had very little of it in the last decade.

They’re already discussing it in The Den!

The heat is on

Terry Foster and John Niyo of the Detroit News collaborated to tell us all about the suffocating heat wave that’s coincided perfectly with the Lions’ minicamp.  There are a couple of great quotes from Jim Schwartz in there about what camp was like with the Titans: sweltering in the Tennessee heat, it really prepared them to do battle with the other teams in the AFC South. 

This can only be a positive for the Lions; the new veterans and rookies need to be pushed as hard as possible.  The roster turnover has been extensive—outside of OLB Ernie Sims, and DEs Cliff Avril and Dewayne White, every defensive starter has been replaced.  Similarly, at least two--and as many as four--offensive line starting spots are up for grabs.  For now, Jim Schwartz has even dispensed with the depth chart entirely.  With every position up in the air, and so few players having any history here, it’s almost impossible to have a sense of team—even seven-year-vet Nick Harris says he feels like a stranger.  It’s all about putting pressure on the veterans—holdovers and newcomers alike--to perform their best, and evaluating the rookies against the fiercest possible competition. It’s in the figurative heat and pressure of these competitive flames, and literal heat and pressure of the sweltering summer sun, that this team will be forged.

To expect the Lions to make up for a decade of constant turnover in one summer, and play like a team that's had a decade of continuity is expecting too much.  However, at the very least, two-a-days in a pressure cooker will reveal who can stand up to the heat, and who can’t.

Discuss it here, in The Den!

Culpepper says he's 100-percent healthy in camp for first time since before monster '04 season

Wouldn't it just be the Lions' luck that they take a QB first overall, pay him the largest rookie contract in NFL history by far, and then Daunte Culpepper returns to his elite play from his days with Randy Moss in Minnesota?

Associated Press football writer Larry Lage, reporting from the Lions' mini-camp, talked with C-Pep:

"This is the first time I've been 100 percent going into camp since 2004," he said, referring to the season in which he threw 39 TDs for the Vikings. "I feel great."

Matthew Stafford's feeling great, too, though. He told Lage he's still preparing with the idea that he'll be ready to start in Week 1.'s Tom Kowalski reported on the Lions' two-minute drills from camp yesterday. Both Culpepper and Stafford had their highlights -- C-Pep hitting Calvin Johnson on a 40-yard bomb (though Killer says it wasn't a great ball and Calvin adjusted on it); Stafford zipping completions to a few different receivers. But neither quarterback got the ball into the end zone, and Stafford had a ball batted at the line and an interception, Killer reports.

Then there's Drew Stanton. Killer says ... uh ... not that good. And Coach Jim Schwartz seemed to concur.
"He flashes. He hasn't been quite as consistent as I'd like at times,'' Schwartz said of Stanton. "The one thing that's going to happen with Drew is that Drew isn't the classic drop-back passer. He's going to make plays off-schedule a little bit and sometimes you don't see that at practice. You don't see the quarterback scrambling around in practice and extend the play and tuck the ball and run and those things. Those are the plays he made in college, that sort of defined him as a quarterback, that he could make those plays. We'll see that a little bit more when we get to preseason games. It's a little bit hard to read that style of quarterbacks in the stuff we're doing out here because you're throwing everything from the pocket in practice."

Anybody who thinks that sounds good for Stanton's chances to stick with the team ... well, you must be a very strong Stanton fan and a very positive thinker.

Discuss in The Den!

William Clay Ford Sr. speaks out

John Niyo at has a fairly lengthy interview with Lions owner William Clay Ford Sr., Ford's first since the firing of team president Matt Millen early last season.

Among the interesting tidbits:
* Ford did get input from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after Millen's firing regarding a new front office leader. But he went with Millen holdovers Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand because he knew them, liked them and found them qualified.
* An admission that both Millen and former Coach Rod Marinelli didn't have the necessary experience going into the job.
* That Ford relied on Millen to make the decision to hire both Marinelli and Steve Mariucci, but new Coach Jim Schwartz was his call and his alone.
* That Ford's son, Bill Ford's, public declaration that Millen would be fired were he in charge, days before Ford Sr. actually fired Millen, did not influence the decision. In fact, the elder Ford told Niyo, he had heard his son's dissatisfaction with Millen multiple times -- days before he went public with it; weeks; months; and years earlier.
* That Ford has never directed a coach or team executive to play or not play a player.
* That the supposed dispute over remaining money to be paid to Millen is resolved.
* That Ford feels for the fans, praises those who remain loyal to the team; understands those who have finally bailed out; and that he actually listens to the fan complaints.

A lot of meaty stuff here, obviously.

Ford's been psychoanalyzed in the past by armchair pundits. He certainly has a different way about him, and it shows through in the interview. He pays lip service to wanting to win and doing what it takes. But then he casually explains away sticking for years with Millen despite his abysmal failure at all levels, with the entire world including his son howling at him to make the necessary change.

We hear Ford casually talk about blowing off the NFL Commissioner's attempted help on not making another Millen mistake, and why his grand search for a way to turn around 0-16 ended at the end of his nose, with the front office guys right in front of him. (Don't get me wrong; that might actually work out. That still doesn't make the lack of a real examination of the situation or a search outside of a 31-97 franchise any less maddening.)

I continue to think Ford doesn't have a clue how to win, and the bottom line of why it hasn't happened for decades is it's simply never been high on his priority list. We can only hope he's stumbled into the right people who can make this successful in Mayhew, Lewand and Schwartz.

They're talking about it in The Den!

Schwartz: Delmas has "mastered" defense already

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Lions Coach Jim Schwartz just laid some MAJOR praise on rookie S Louis Delmas, according to Nicholas Cotsonika at

Delmas apparently already has the mental aspects of the game down, before the Lions even get into pads:

“There’s nothing that’s done in the NFL that we don’t do,” Schwartz said. “We have about every coverage invented. We run about every blitz package invented.

“A lot of times in college, they’ll play a couple fronts and a couple coverages. It’ll be a lot more limited.

“He’s not only learned it but mastered it maybe as quick as I’ve ever seen a young player in the secondary do it.”

Talk is cheap. But I obviously respect Schwartz's opinion. It's hard not to get excited about this. Did we just snag the next Bob Sanders?

Talk about it in The Den!

Lions defensive great Robert Porcher now a scouting intern

Good catch by StangFreak483 on The Den boards...

Buried in a photo gallery on is this photo:

The caption reads: Veteran DE Dewayne White with former Detroit Lion and current scouting intern Robert Porcher

Not exactly an announcement the Lions made with great fanfare. But it's nice to see a good guy and great player continue with the game.

Follett wants pads, hitting, pain infliction

Minicamp's all well and good. But Lions rookie LB Zach Follett really has his eye on the start of training camp July 31 -- when the players go into full pads and start hitting, Tom Kowalski reports at

"I'm just excited to get pads on and see what I can do," Follett said after Tuesday's morning workout. "It's coming through and hitting people and that's what I do best. I'm not going to be scared going into any hole against anybody."

As a seventh-round draft pick, Follett knows he's buried on the depth chart. And he admits that he's got a lot of learning to do:
"Any position from college is new to me because I was more outside and coming off the edge every play,'' he said. "I played inside backer in high school and the beginning of my college career and I'm starting to dust the cobwebs off and get a nose for the ball and how to play inside and read blocks. It's coming along."

"The pace of play has been fine. It's just getting a whole new system down and playing the position these coaches want you to play. I had three linebacker coaches when I was at Cal and I had to adjust to a new system and this is a whole new one as well. That's four different ways of learning how to play the position."

I've said it before and will say it again -- even if Follett only turns out to be a special teams demon, that's pretty good for a last-rounder.

Talk about it in The Den!

Schwartz: Fans are "guardedly optimistic"

Lions Coach Jim Schwartz knows true Lions fans have put their heart into the team time and again, only to have it trampled. Cynicism reached a new level in last year's 0-16 debacle, though the firing of Matt Millen stopped up the dam break to some extent.

Schwartz, hired in the offseason, understands what fans have endured, Tom Kowalski reports at

"It's been extremely encouraging from the standpoint - we talk about the players and being able to put it behind them - and I feel the same thing about the fans. The fans are excited, everybody's excited at this time of the year across the league. But I think here in Detroit they're even more excited. They see the new players, they see a little different philosophy and they're hungry for it.

"We're coming off the Red Wings and the Stanley Cup Finals, a Game 7, and they're hungry for that kind of excitement and we have a responsibility to give it to them.''

Schwartz was asked if some fans are angry.

"It's hard to be angry at me," Schwartz said. "So I generally don't get that that. I don't know the best way to put it ... they're guardedly optimistic. I think when you put yourself out there, the way you do when you're a fan, and when you expose your soul to rooting for your team and you get hurt time and time again, sometimes you have a tendency to hold back and not put yourself out as much.

"I think the one thing is that they keep stepping up and they're true football fans in this city and they're excited about it. Everywhere I go, I get positive feelings from the fans."

Does excited or guardedly optimistic accurately describe you heading into '09? Discuss in The Den!

Schwartz isn't patient; Sims has "switched his swagger"

Good article from Associated Press football writer Larry Lage on the Lions:

Linebacker Ernie Sims said the 2008 season is out of sight and mind.

“It’s out of my head,” Sims said. “Last year is over with and we’re focusing on the new year with a totally new team. We’re switching our swagger around.”

First-year coach Jim Schwartz relayed a message he shared during a team meeting, kicking off the three-day minicamp.

“Patience is no longer a virtue. Indoctrination is over,” Schwartz recalled telling the team. “There are new schemes. There’s new philosophies. There’s new coaches. There’s whole new dynamics. A significant number of players on the team are new.

“We need to get past it now and we need to start seeing results on the field.”

Schwartz also reiterated that he won't be naming starters at ANY positions for months, no doubt in an effort to sharpen competitiveness.

Lage also gets comments from Calvin Johnson, Kevin Smith and Jon Jansen as the minicamp got under way:
“It’s definitely a different mindset because we have a bunch of new players, who have brought a new energy,” Johnson said. “I’m looking forward to playing with these guys.”

Running back Kevin Smith, one of the holdovers, said the players are approaching the upcoming season as a new start.

“This is the 2009 Lions, not the ’08 Lions or the Lions that won it in ’57,” Smith said.

The Lions have put together a hungry bunch of players. Jansen, for example, joined the franchise soon after the Washington Redskins cut him.

“There are a lot of guys who want to prove a point,” he said. “I want to prove that I’m not done. A lot of guys want to prove that last year wasn’t them.”

Discuss in The Den!

First Look at the New Lions

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Lions’ new coaching staff has had some chance to evaluate their holdover stock, and their new acquisitions, through OTAs, film sessions, quarterback school, independent weight-room work, etc.  Moreover, up until this point, the rookies and veterans have been segregated—rookies against rookies, vets against vets.  This means that the key rookies are competing against dozens of “camp fodder” guys that almost certainly won’t make the team—and the veterans aren’t playing with or against several players who are sure to see plenty of playing time.

Now, however, the Lions’ new staff—charged with the Sisyphean task of making the worst team in the history of the NFL competitive—will get their first look at the complete, overhauled, roster today.  Since there won’t be any live TV, live radio, scoreboard, box score, or any other traditional metric of football success, Lions observers looking for concrete improvement will have to focus on a few key areas:

  • Calvin Johnson vs. Cornerbacks: One of the only absolutes on the Lions roster is Calvin “Megatron” Johnson.  The 6’-5” wideout managed to haul in 78 balls for 1,331 yards and twelve scores last year--despite subpar quarterback play, and a lack of complementary threats to keep defenses honest.  It is probable that he'll be successful against both free agent CB signee Patrick Buchanon, and CB Anthony Henry, who came to the Lions via trade.  However, whether he is merely “successful”—as opposed to “unstoppable”—could reveal whether the Lions’ secondary can slow down the likes of Bernard Berrien and Greg Jennings . . . or not.
  • Interior OL vs. Interior DL: The Lions have struggled for the better part of a decade to find stalwart guards to bracket smart, gritty veteran C Dominic Raiola. This offseason, the Lions re-signed Stephen Peterman, brought in Titans T/G Daniel Loper, claimed ongoing reclamation project Toniu Fonoti, and signed a pair of tackles--Ephraim Salaam and Jon Jansen--all of whom could compete for the two starting spots.  Peterman is the returning starter on the right; the Lions think his game is more suited to this run-first offense than the outgoing Martzian zone scheme.  Loper, who came to Detroit with Schwartz, has the inside track on the left guard spot—though his 6’-6”, 320-pound frame makes him a more natural tackle.  All will compete against an extremely young and raw defensive line.  With FA acquisition Grady Jackson taking most of the summer off to keep his legs fresh, fourth-round rookie Sammie Hill and second-year vet Andre Fluellen will get a lot of reps in this minicamp.  Both are athletic, yet extremely raw prospects.  Fluellen looked good in what very little time he played last season, but has been asked to bulk up in this new defense.  Hill needs little bulking up at a lean-looking 330 pounds--but having played for tiny Stillman College, he has nearly zero coaching in fundamentals or technique.  How these two fare against the rotating cast of outsized veterans will show how much the Lions have improved a run defense that allowed over 2,700 yards rushing in 2008.
  • The linebacking corps: What was the Lions’ greatest weakness in 2008—the linebackers—just might now be their greatest strength.  A trade brought former MSU Spartan Julian Peterson in from Seattle, and Steelers run-stuffer--and Detroit native--Larry Foote, came home after becoming a cap casualty in Pittsburgh. Adding third-round rookie DeAndre Levy to returning starter Ernie Sims and second-year vet Jordon Dizon, the Lions’ new-look LB corps features a lot of speed and athleticism.  In coordinator Gunther Cunningham’s new blitz-heavy scheme, the Lions will be asking these players to create a lot of pressure—and in turn, relieve a lot of pressure from the defensive line and secondary.  Given the Lions’ well-documented troubles in pass protection, word from camp should be that these linebackers gave the offensive line fits—if not, the Lions’ defense could again lack fangs come autumn.

There will be many other interesting positional battles waged, and the performance of many other players will be closely watched--of course, all eyes will be on Matt Stafford and Duante Culpepper.  However, determining when in the next 12 months Matt Stafford will take over won’t answer the real questions surrounding this team: Can they run?  Can they stop the run?  Can they rush the passer, and can they cover opposing wideouts?  The answer to at least some of these questions being "yes" will be the keys to the Lions winning . . . well, any games in 2009.

Discuss it here, in The Den!

It's on now

A mandatory 3-day minicamp for the Lions begins today in Allen Park. And as Nicholas Cotsonika at reports, the competitions for jobs begin in earnest now.

Previous weeks have been preoccupied with veterans learning the new coaching staff and its wants; rookies getting caught up; and the Lions' front office turning over to a great extent the largely atrocious roster from last year's 0-16 season.

Coach Jim Schwartz has pointed to this minicamp -- the end of the off-season program -- as the time to start making it count, Cotsonika says.

The battles won't begin in full force until camp opens in late July with the players in pads. The players will be in helmets and shorts this week. No hitting.

Things I'm looking to see:

1. How much do OLs Ephraim Salaam and Jon Jansen have left in them? Enough to push Gosder or even Backus? Or at least to be very strong backups? The problems last year weren't just Backus' and Gosder's inconsistency. It was a lack of quality depth, the inability to rotate in effective players as the starters got tired. If Salaam and Jansen show something -- even if they don't unseat the starters -- the Lions might have a much better rotation available to them in the second halves of games this season.

2. How much better will the Lions' secondary be this year? (It can't be much worse.) With two new CBs -- Phillip Buchanon and Anthony Henry -- and highly touted rookie S Louis Delmas.

3. Will one of the veteran WRs -- Bryant Johnson or Ronald Curry -- emerge as a legitimate threat on the other side of Calvin? It's incredible what Megatron accomplished last season with no other Lion receiver seriously taking any pressure or attention off of him.

Discuss in The Den!

Brian VanOchten looks in front of the QB battle

Brian VanOchten, of the Grand Rapids press, has written a very interesting article framing the Lions’ quarterback position not in terms of the quarterbacks—but in terms of the offensive line.  Brian’s contention is that since Stafford is certainly going to be the long-term starter for the Lions, whether they allow him to go out there right away depends not on his performance or Culpepper’s performance, but on the performance of the big boys up front.  If the new OL signees jell quickly and prove they can keep the quarterback clean, VanOchten theorizes, Stafford will start sooner rather than later.

Stafford, if he’s half of what he’s been billed to be, is already a better quarterback than Duante Culpepper at this point in time.  The team has—wisely—made no real investment in Culpepper, and has—who knowsly—made an enormous investment in Stafford.  Stafford started as a freshman at Georgia, and for two years more after that.  Outside of the NFL, there’s no more pressure-packed situation.  Matt Stafford is not going to be brought to his knees by the incredible pressure and big stage of the NFL.  Georgia’s football stadium holds more fans than Ford Field—and they’re a lot crazier to boot.  With Stafford’s arm, experience, pedigree, and intelligence (38 on the Wonderlic), he’ll be able to handle it.  With great coaching, plus Megatron and Pettigrew to lean on, he should have no shortage of crutches and safety valves.  I say, let him grip it and rip it—what’s the worst that could happen, 0-16?

Discuss it here, in The Den!

Killer pens a pair of posts

Monday, June 22, 2009’s Tom Kowalski has put up a pair of interesting articles on the eve of the Lions’ minicamp.  First, he discusses second-year pro (and nascent blogger) Cliff Avril, going into how defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham is teaching Avril to utilize his speed and explosion to disrupt the protection before it sets up, thereby “taking the air out” of the enemy offensive line.  The progression of Avril is something this defense is absolutely relying on—he is the only defensive lineman on the Lions’ roster with terrifying pass-rush skills.  His development--from a rookie who got a surprising amount of sacks and pressures in a string of meaningless games, into a feared pass-rusher that disrupts the offense, and makes life easier for the back seven--will be critical to this defense being not-awful in 2009.

Second, Kowalski posted a very interesting item highlighting some of the most intriguing position battles that will be waged during these three days—and how Coach Schwartz is rallying the troops by refusing to write up a depth chart.  In theory, Killer explains, this will keep the veterans on edge, and bring out the best of the rookies.  This is the polar opposite approach of the previous regime; where there was an ironclad depth chart that newcomers—both veterans and rookies—had to earn their place atop.  Former Lions CB Leigh Bodden indicated that that very approach poisoned his relationship with the coaching staff from the beginning of his time with the Lions.  Only time will tell if Schwartz’s approach will be an improvement.

Discuss it here, in The Den!

Mayhew pleased with progress, says more to do, admits to "learning curve"

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Decently substantive interview with Lions GM Martin Mayhew by Chrissie Wywrot at Detroit

Mayhew says the Lions have improved their roster, but still are not where they need to be. To that end, he's continuing to work the phones on potential trades and scanning the waiver wire every day.

Mayhew says the big difference in his current position than when he was a Millen underling is "making the decision instead of making a recommendation."

The biggest off-season move in Mayhew's mind is (obviously) the hiring of Jim Schwartz. "I think he’s done an outstanding job with the team and an outstanding job putting the staff together," Mayhew said of Schwartz.

“I like our offensive and defensive systems; I think both the systems and the coaches relate well to the players. I’ve been really pleased with the coaching staff and where we are right now as a football team.”

Mayhew also admits there's been a learning curve with the new executive staff.

“Looking back, there are things that I would do different in terms of the draft, (in terms of the) first part of free agency but, overall, we had enough experienced people working with me that both of those things turned out positive for us. Shack, Sheldon, Scott McEwen, Jim and the rest of our coaching staff have all been a big part of making this offseason a good one so far.”

(Memo to Ms. Wywrot: I know you work for the Lions, but a follow-up question would have been great here. What would Mayhew do differently about the draft and the first part of free agency? I'm certainly curious.)

There's more from Mayhew, so read the linked article and discuss in The Den!

Stafford aims to start Week 1 - with fabulous hair

Friday, June 19, 2009

Earlier this spring there was speculation in some circles that Lions rookie QB Matthew Stafford might have a harder time getting national endorsement deals, because of the economy and the fact that he's in Detroit.

Well before training camp has even started, Stafford's already defied that prediction. Nicholas Cotsonika at reports that Stafford is making the radio rounds touting his new deal with Axe Hair.

Stafford said the company had done a great job of giving him “girl-approved hair” and promoted the Web site Guys can upload their picture.

“You can see if your hair is girl-approved,” Stafford said.

There is also a link to, where fans can enter to win a trip for two to Los Angeles to hang out with Stafford at the ESPYs on July 19. There are some glamour shots of Stafford and his, uh, girl-approved hair.

What help does a guy need with his hair when he was a star quarterback in high school and college?

“I had to step up my game, and they were there to help me,” Stafford told Galloway and Co. “In college, I used to wash my hair with a bar of soap. It’s a little different now.”

Stafford also talked some football, saying he would "love to start Game 1" and that he's competing for it, but will work on readying himself should it not happen.

He also said learning the offense hasn't been as tough as he thought it might be.

Talk about it in The Den!

Tom K. makes Kalvin Pearson - Ramon Santiago comparison -- and it actually kind of works

Tom Kowalski at continues his summer scouting reports with Lions S Kalvin Pearson:

Perhaps the best way to describe Detroit Lions backup safety Kalvin Pearson is to compare him to Ramon Santiago of the Tigers - they're both effective when used in the right role but when they have to start in every game, their flaws are exposed. When used correctly, though, they can give your team a lift.
Killer rightly notes that Pearson is a bit undersized and while he's willing to hit, it seems the long season takes a toll on him when he gets a lot of playing time. He then reminds us of some of last season's ugliness:
He started fairly strong and then his effectiveness took a nosedive (Pearson had only started a total of two games in his previous three seasons). For example, the Tennessee Titans rushed the ball 46 times (for 292 yards) on Thanksgiving and Pearson was credited with just two tackles - one solo and one assist. Pearson is an aggressive and fearless hitter, but the long season took its toll.
Pearson can probably kiss starting goodbye, but the new coaching staff seems to like him for depth and special teams. Discuss in The Den!

Stafford On ESPN Radio

Nothing particularly revelatory. He feels he is picking up the offense quickly and is able to call plays fairly easily already, which is promising if not unexpected.

When asked to evaluate the Lion offensive talent he rolled off the names of the usual suspects but emphasized that it is Schwartz' philosophy that will make the most significant difference to the team. I always roll my eyes when rookies are asked to evaluate their team after the draft anyway. How could they possibly know?
Link to podcast
Ongoing discussion Here in The Den.

Millen still talking, should have quit while he was behind

Thursday, June 18, 2009

If 0-16 architect Matt Millen would have left things where they were after his recent news conference, the process of turning the page on his disastrous time in Detroit could have moved further along.

But come now, did you really expect Millen to do something right?

He's continuing to talk about his time with the Lions, and having the audacity to play the victim, Nicholas Cotsonika notes at

Millen told's Don Banks, "“I don't go backward. I just don’t think like that. There’s nothing I can do about (Detroit). All I can do is from here on out."

OK. Nothing wrong with that. Let's just call it a day then, Matt, and begin to move o--

Oh, wait. He's not done:

“I understand. In Detroit, they need a bad guy. I was a bad guy. I was to blame for the fall of the auto industry and the housing market. Somehow, I had something to do with Kwame Kilpatrick, although I’m not sure what.
“But that’s what happens when you lose in this game. You give everyone a cheap and easy story to jump on.”


Exactly who is to blame, then, for almost completely whiffing on the draft for 8 years? For very high draft picks not only failing but being out of the league in a matter of a few seasons?

Who is to blame for failed free agent signings like Bill "Butterfingers" Schroeder, or for re-signing mediocre Lions to mega-bucks deals? (Cory Redding)

Millen keeps saying "Put it on me. I take responsibility." Then, in his next breath, he makes sure you know he doesn't really feel it's his fault.

It was an embarrassment that the guy didn't have enough dignity to quit when he had demonstrably failed -- oh, say, three years ago.
That he doesn't get that he owns 0-16, that he owns 31-97, is stunning. And that he in any way is putting it back on Detroit and Lions fans ... well those are fighting words.

Cotsonika sums it up well:
But for Millen to portray himself as a victim is downright offensive to the people of Detroit, Lions fans everywhere and those who cover the team. As a media member, he should know how criticism works. As a former player and executive, he should know how accountability works. He has criticized, hired and fired people himself.
Millen was not a convenient scapegoat. He was not a “cheap and easy story to jump on.” He was not blamed for the fall of the auto industry, the housing market and the Kilpatrick mayoral scandal. For Millen to rub salt in those wounds is inappropriate at best. Maybe Millen was trying to be funny. Doesn’t matter.

Discuss in The Den!

Moving out of Allen Park Already?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

In 2002, the Detroit Lions moved from their former stadium, the Silverdome, located in Pontiac, MI (approximately 20 miles north of Detroit) to their new stadium (Ford Field) located in downtown Detroit. Complimenting the move back in to Detroits city limits, the Lions built their new headquarters in Allen Park, MI (adjacent to the city of Detroit- about a 5 minute drive from Ford Field). The headquarter building is about 460,000 square feet; housing the Lions day-to-day operations as well as a full indoor practice facility with ample gym and weight room space along with a lockerroom almost comfortable enough for the entire roster to live in. Oh yeah, I left out the additional 2.5 practice fields outdoors. The cost of this facility alone was more than $35 million. The reason why some may find this information interesting: Tom "The Killer" Kowalski of has just posted a story stating that Coach Schwartz believes in moving the players out of the area for camp! While Kowalski speculates that there remains only little doubt that camp would actual move from Allen Park next season; it just seems like a pretty unreasonable time to even make such a request. Considering the amount of money that was spent developing and maintaining the Allen Park facility, the current state of franchise (both fiscally and popularity wise), and the current state of the economy (not to mention the teams owner)-- this is a request that just doesn't make financial sense. Since this is Coach Schwartz's first season, the Lions fan-base is going to have to get used to how he works and how his coaching (as long as he's putting together a talented squad and winning games, I don't think that anyone is going to care where or when they practice). But in the NFL (a.k.a. the 'Not For Long' -or- "show me" league), most would want to see "on-field" success and see that the franchise is moving in the right direction before basically abandoning a $35 million facility (not even six seasons old) built specifically for practicing and training camps. The whole purpose of building this new facility was to have a state of the art facility, from which a talented and success team could be grown. Even though that hasn't been the case (yet!), Schwartz was brought in to change that, and that before he starts changing practice locations and spending dollars the franchise doesn't have, they may want to start with what they have.

Chuck Rogers: does he finally get it?

Hugh Bernreuter from The Saginaw News just posted a nice article on Charles Rogers. Rogers, of course, is a Saginaw product who made good at Michigan State, was drafted by the Lions, and flashed serious potential in the first few weeks of his rookie season.  Unfortunately, that was his career high-water mark, and injuries and lack of production kept him off the field until his contract could be dumped without repercussion.  In the years since, Rogers has been sued by the Lions for the majority of his signing bonus, arrested, worked out by several other teams (and looked horrible), apparently agreed to terms with the Montreal Alouetttes (but never reported), arrested again, and finally jailed.

However, it seems as though a little time behind bars brought Chuck some perspective.  Well, that and watching his former high school teammate and college rival LaMarr Woodley win a Super Bowl while he was falsifying AA meeting attendance records to avoid said jail time.  While helping LaMarr and Clifton Ryan run their annual football camp, Rogers impressed onlookers with his new attitude, new resolve, and much-improved physical condition.  Can Rogers rediscover the electrifying athleticism that earned him that enormous contract, that afforded him the lifestyle he'd been addicted to?  Nobody knows for sure.  But for the sake of Rogers, and his children, I'd love to see him make good.

Discuss it here, in The Den!

Kevin Carter taking it easy

As the Lions continue to constantly evaluate the roster and make changes where appropriate, one of the most appealing free agent options is former Titans and Bucs DE Kevin Carter.  Having worked with Schwartz and Cunningham in Tennessee, the 36-year-old defensive lineman could help hold the edges on running downs with his 6'-6", 305-pound frame, and then slide inside on passing downs and use his speed to disrupt.  Like Grady Jackson, Carter needs to preserve what little tread is left on his tires--so, as Nick Cotsonika reports, he and the Lions are taking a mutual wait-and-see attitude.

According to our own Nate Caminata, Carter met with the Lions for a tire-kicking session back in April.  Both sides expressed mutual interest, but neither saw the point in making Carter slog through six months of OTA and training camp.  At this point, expect the Lions to get serious about signing Carter closer to preseason--or possibly earlier if, heaven forbid, the injury bug bites the Lions' defensive line during training camp.  Of course, the injury bug might bite another team and they could offer Carter a better deal . . .

Discuss it here, in The Den!

FOXSports writer labels Follett "can't-miss"

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"Can't-miss" isn't a phrase usually associated with a seventh-round draft pick. But Ed Thompson at in his latest "7 points," gives Lions rookie LB Zack Follett that label. Says Thompson:

I was stunned as I watched the former University of California linebacker slip into the seventh round of the NFL Draft back in April. If you've seen him play, Follett is a fiery, old-school style linebacker, who loves to put the biggest hit he possibly can on the poor sap running with the football. And the energy level you see on the field isn't that far off from what you'd experience if you talked to him face-to-face off the field. You see, Zach Follett is simply a live wire. But what do you expect from a guy who picked Terry Tate, Office Linebacker, as his hero while he was growing up? NFL rookies are expected to contribute right away on special teams if they want to earn a roster spot. And Zack Follett is a player who will strike some fear into his opponents as he flies down the field with kamikaze-like abandon, ready to do whatever it takes to find the ball carrier and drop him in his tracks. Detroit Lions fans are going to love watching this guy in training camp. He gets my vote as the seventh-round pick who is most likely to make his team's 53-man roster this September.
Follett had some neck stinger issues in college; maybe that scared teams away. But I personally can't wait to see what some NFL-level linebacker coaching does for the kid. If he only turns into a special teams beast, that's still pretty good for a 7th-rounder. Discuss in The Den!

Millen Still Collecting

Despite Millen talking to the Detroit Free Press recently, telling Nick Constonika how much he loves the city of Detroit and how much he likes the pick of Matt Stafford, he still wants the $5 million remaining on his contract that he didn't receive after being fired last season. This story comes on the heels of Millen stating how much he had learned from all of his failures while with Detroit; he did leave the club with a record of 31-97 (counting the loses gained after his mid-season termination). After doing everything possible to dodge the Detroit Press and staying as far away from the city as possible after his termination; the first time we actually get to hear from Millen comes on the heels of him being hired by the NFL Network and the motivation of $5 million. So, after eight years of "Football Purgatory", this guy who put this franchise into the worst shape any football franchise has even been, he didn't have the guts to say anything to anyone until now. I wonder why he'd choose now as a time to begin speaking with Detroit writers? I'll bet you $5 million that if he didn't think he was still entitled to $5 million, we still would hear this......? Well I'll let you fill in the blank!

Cliff Avril: Marinelli OK By Me

Monday, June 15, 2009

OK, so perhaps the widespread assumption that Detroit Lions defensive end Cliff Avril's comments last week were a direct indictment of former coach Rod Marinelli's coaching methods was a bit of a reach.

In a recent blog post shared by Player Press with The Den message board, Avril clarified the misconception.

"Coach Marinelli is a great coach. I would never in any shape form or fashion try to come at him and say he’s not a great coach. He definitely knows what he’s talking about and he’s coached Pro Bowlers and Hall of Famers. He drafted me, he’s the one who gave me the opportunity to be where I am so why wouldn’t I be happy about him?"

Good point, Cliff.

Discuss this topic in The Den message board.

Millen heaps love upon Lions, Detroit in press conference

Get your bricks and disposable televisions ready, Lions fans. Matt Millen's coming back. As Nicholas Cotsonika reports at, Millen held his first media session since being hired as an analyst by the NFL Network. Millen disclosed that his pay issue (the Lions' money was apparently cut off after they fired him) remains unresolved. But he said that won't affect how he talks about the Lions on TV.

"I’ll handle the Lions like I do any other football team -- just look at them and break them down and see where they’re at."
Millen was asked if his atrocious record as an NFL executive with the Lions will cause him a loss of credibility with viewers.
“In the National Football League, you’re only judged on wins and losses, so my tenure was not good,” Millen said. “I mean, it was very poor. And so it’s been said, you learn a lot from failures, and I learned a ton. So I can bring that to the table. I view my experience in Detroit as a positive.”
Millen was effusive in his praise of Detroit during the press conference (as if that will win back any hearts and minds):
"Here’s the thing with Detroit,” Millen said. “I love Detroit. I love … I’m a huge fan of Martin Mayhew. I’m a huge fan of Jim Schwartz. I think that’s an excellent hire. I think Jim did a good job of putting his staff together. “But there is no bigger fan anywhere of Mr. Ford than me, and I would love to see him holding a trophy. That would be great for me -- for him, rather -- but more importantly, it would be great for the fans of Detroit. They deserve it. They’re awesome fans."
He then turned his praise to the Lions rookies:
“But I know this: I really like Stafford. Stafford has a real arm, and Stafford can make real throws. In our league, you have to have that guy. … “I couldn’t speak to what they would win or lose, but I can speak to they’ve got themselves a guy to really work with. I also like the tight end they got. That kid’s a good player. So there’s some pieces up there.”
My take? I think Millen's forever tainted by his toxic time with the Lions. That's not to say he can't go on and be quite successful once again as an NFL analyst -- a job he was once quite good at. It just means that there won't be nearly as much buy-in into his analysis as there was prior to his taking the reins in Allen Park. Talk about it in The Den!

Larry Foote: Class

Sam Farmer of the LA Times wrote an excellent article this weekend--well, several, really--but one of them focused on Larry Foote's arrival in Detroit.  While the article won't be completely unfamiliar to the Lions-obsessed, there are a couple of notes on his character in there that will definitely make any fan proud to have Foote on the roster.

During the runup to the draft, I made an impassioned plea to the Lions' brass to draft Aaron Curry.  One of the primary reasons was that the Lions' roster, during the Fontes "glory years", was stocked with high-character players; men with deep ties to the city.  Guys like Herman Moore and Robert Porcher were not only Pro Bowl-caliber players on the field, they became pillars of the community.  Given the state of Detroit's (and Michigan's) economy, is there an NFL city that more desperately needs its team to be not only a source of civic pride, but an actual agent of growth and change?  I felt that even if Matt Stafford panned out as a quarterback, Aaron Curry--a kid who came from nothing, whose single mom worked like a dog to support her three boys--would be a much better avatar of the franchise than a kid from one of Dallas' most privileged suburbs.

Yet, in the post-draft free agent market, the Lions have added two players--Foote, and Jon Jansen--born and raised in the Detroit area, schooled at U of M, and absolutely thrilled to be back home.  Moreover, they'll help bolster two of the Lions' weakest positions from last year: linebacker and offensive line.  As the Lions rebuild their team with fresh young talent from around the nation, it's great to know that they'll be taking their cues from high-character leaders who love the city as much as the city loves them.

Discuss it here, in The Den!

A View Of The Top

Lions Den regular AtticusSpeaks breaks down the Lion administration from the ownership to the assistants in an excellent essay.

Ford Sr. -- nice man by all accounts. Would like to win. At times has taken steps -- even bold ones -- to try to win. But -- while some guys obtain teams to satisfy a competitive zeal (like Snyder) and NEED to win -- in their guts -- that's not Ford. So ... he'll give it a try -- but he won't give it 100%. AND more importantly, he's just not a talented executive and doesn't truly know football all that well. So even a 100% effort isn't likely to change things -- other than getting lucky on a decision regarding underlings
I don't have much to add as we share very similar views of the Lion hierarchy, although I think I have a brighter opinion of Sam Gash than Atticus. Much more and ongoing discussion Here in The Den

Killer: Loper getting long look at left guard

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Tom Kowalski at continues his summer individual scouting reports with new OL Daniel Loper. Killer says that while Jim Schwartz and Co. are emphasizing that there's no depth chart yet, Loper is getting a lot of reps at left guard with the starting unit.

Loper played for the Tennessee Titans so Lions head coach Jim Schwartz knows him very well. Schwartz has repeatedly said that Loper was capable of playing any of the guard or tackle spots but there was always somebody just a little bit better in front of him. That hasn't been the case with the left guard spot in Detroit, which has been a revolving door for several years. Loper will have to continue to prove that he belongs in that position - and reject some notions that a veteran tackle might get moved inside. Loper has some positives, though. At 6-6 and 320 pounds, he has the size to deal with the bigger defensive tackles in the league and, because of his abilities as a tackle, he's a better pass protector than most guards.
The only person who appears to have a starting spot nailed down is C Dominic Raiola, Kowalski says. Hopefully the added depth this offseason will lead to some sorely needed competition. Discuss in The Den!

Stafford/Pettigrew = Romo/Witten?

Well, the bromance may not be at a Tony Romo-Mark Witten extreme -- yet, anyway. But Carlos Monarrez at notes that rookie TE Brandon Pettigrew was a frequent target of rookie QB Matthew Stafford during a recent Lions practice, and the two appear to work well with each other.

"It just happened like that," Pettigrew said. "I'm glad we're kind of getting a feel for each other and a good connection going into this thing and having a good relationship. That'll be good." Pettigrew has been particularly impressed with Stafford's on-field maturity. "He's a rookie as well, but he sits in there with composure and attitude and leadership, like he's been here," Pettigrew said. "He's just an all-around good player and good guy."
Pettigrew was obviously brought in for two reasons -- help the running game with his blocking prowess and take some pressure off WR Calvin Johnson with his receiving ability. The extent to which he does both will go a long way toward putting 0-16 in the rear-view mirror. Talk about it in The Den!

Bigger Alama-Francis looking forward to fresh start

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Carlos Monarrez at talks with Lions' DE Ikaika Alama-Francis. A "pet project" of former coach Rod Marinelli's, IAF says (paraphrasing) that so much time was spent attempting to cram his head with knowledge, he spent too much time thinking and not reacting. He's put on 15 pounds this offseason because Schwartz likes 'em big, and is raring to go. "I think we're doing really well," Alama-Francis said. "We're learning what the coaches are teaching us. I know it's a little bit different from last year, but it's the same thing: Get up the field, penetrate as a D-line and then the rest just falls into place." Discuss in The Den!

ESPN blogger: Calvin, Delmas among "Ultimate Building Blocks"

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Lions continue to get more offseason love than you'd expect for a team coming off 0-16. Kevin Seifert, the NFC North blogger at, lists the top 10 "Ultimate Building Blocks" in the division. At No. 3 Seifert places Calvin Johnson:

He put up huge numbers last season on a team without a quarterback. Imagine what he could do with a permanent fixture at that position. He'll be a living mismatch for the next decade.
(Loved that "living mismatch for the next decade" line!) At No. 8 is Louis Delmas:
We're doing some projecting here, of course. But Delmas has the hitting ability and Bob Sanders-like toughness to be a star in this division.
Seifert explains in his criteria that as building blocks, he was looking for players with three or more highly productive seasons left in them -- and specifically lists Jason Hanson as one of three people that left off his list. (Hey, don't sell Hanson short of giving us more than three more years!) Discuss it in The Den!

Cherilus named to Sporting News NFL "All-Notorious" Team

Lions OT Gosder Cherilus was named by Mike Florio at to his "All-Notorious" Team. Florio names some for their disruptiveness (Chad Ochocinco, Jay Cutler); others for brushes with the law (Plaxico, Brandon Marshall, Matt Jones and many more). On Gosder, Florio says:

Beaten on a play last season by Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, Cherilus dove at Allen's knee. Cherilus also got into trouble in college, allegedly breaking a guy's back while supposedly breaking up a fight.
I don't know about "dove at Allen's knee," but the hit was definitely borderline -- and showed the attitude I want my OT to have with a cheap-shotter like Allen (who of course is on the All-Notorious defense list). Discuss in The Den!

Kowalski - Alex Lewis could be crowded off roster

Who ever thought they'd see the day where the Lions would have a logjam at linebacker? But it's shaping up that way, and that may bode ill for Alex Lewis, Tom Kowalski says on Killer makes the argument that Lewis was misused in the Millen era -- asked to step in as a starting strong-side LB and stop the run when he was performing well as a backup specializing in pass coverage. Says Tom K.:

The linebacker position is one of the most rebuilt spots of the off-season. Not only did the Lions go out and get a couple of starters in Julian Peterson and Larry Foote, but they drafted two linebackers (DeAndre Levy and Zach Follett) and brought in some solid free agents (including Curtis Gatewood and Cody Spencer). Lewis will find the competition tough because second-year player Jordon Dizon is proving to be very effective in pass coverage and the younger Gatewood, a former defensive end, could be stronger on special teams.
Talk about it in The Den!

Playoffs -- Guaranteed?

Yahoo! Sports has posted another Lions Team Report this morning, except this team report isn't as detailed as the previous reported posted by them. Instead of looking at the Lions team from various positions, off-season moves, or by new personnel, they talk about how a few past players have stated a "guarantee" when it's come to winning games and/or seasons, the past few years. They start with Kitna's 10-win guarantee, then move on to Roy Williams' guarantee to beat Chicago (where they were promptly blown out). Now, they are opening a new chapter in the Lions book of guarantees; this time it is resting on the shoulders of current RB Kevin Smith and DE Cliff Avril. While Smith did not make a public guarantee of how many games the team would win this season, he did guarantee that they would make the post season! DE Avril wasn't as outspoken as Smith was, but he did say that to win in this league, you've got to have the type of confidence that Smith has. He also mentioned that playoffs are very, very possible this season. The article mentions that while a lot of peoople would argue that point; a surprising majority of his team-mates are backing him up (finally); it seems that things are changing a bit in the locker room, not as many players rallied behind Kitna or Williams during their guarantees. Might this be the beginning of a much needed change to this franchise? Players rallying together to win games, having each other, playing as a team and not for themselves-- IN DETROIT!! That sure would be nice, a change of that nature is much needed in this city and while only time will tell if this transformation is finally starting to take place, hearing about it (at this time of year should provide a boost in confidence). The article also mentions Coach Schwartz's take on the situation:

“I like his enthusiasm,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “I don’t want to discourage enthusiasm, but the playoffs are a long way away. What’s more important is what happens today, how we practice today. Those are the things that we need to take care of on a daily basis and that’s been the message. We need to set goals on a shorter scale than further on down the line. We don’t want to talk about Super Bowls or playoffs or those kinds of things or even the opener right now.”
While coach Schwartz knows that the franchise needs to learn how to crawl before walking, and how to walk before running, he too isexcited to see some enthusiasm and emotion out of some of his players. And the fact that the team seems to be jelling at this point during the off season should help him sleep better at night as well. After all, inheriting an 0-16 team that has been mismanaged for almost a decade is an uphill climb, but Schwartz knew that coming in, and for him to see and hear this type of enthusiasm from him his squad has to take a little weight off of his shoulders.


The Lions, moreso than any time in recent history, are appealing to their fans.  According to Nick Cotsonika of the Free Press, yesterday the Lions sent an email to former season ticket holders, saying they "WANT YOU BACK".  It invited those who'd cancelled their season tickets--from all the way back to 2002--to an exclusive minicamp session on the 24th.

It's quite interesting to see the continuing committment that the Lions' leadership has shown to the fans . . . of course, the cynical person says, "that's because they want the money", and that's certainly true.  However, it would be one thing to run some ill-advised TV spots and call it a day--it's quite another to hold town all meetings, send personal letters from the head coach, and hold exclusive practice sessions . . . after decades of not only not reaching out to fans, but practically bending over backwards to spite them, the Lions are now working overtime to mend fences.

Whether these measures result in more season-ticket packages being sold or not, no one can say.  However, if it took forty years of mediocre capped by ten years of absolutely wretched to drive the fans away, these outreach measures--plus a little bit of winning--should at least melt the ice encasing many fans' hearts.

Discuss it here, in The Den!

The Lions: 1989 And 2009

Thursday, June 11, 2009

It is interesting (to me) that the Lions go into 2009 in a sitation similar to the one they were in precisely 20 years earlier. A multiyear run near the bottom of the league. A new defensive-minded head coach replacing an old defensive-minded head coach who was clearly out of his league. A fanbase that had finally capitulated, staying away from the the team in droves. A young offensive player taken at the top of the draft who would be relied upon to lead the team from the wilderness.

I thought it would be fun to look at the differences and similarities between these two teams.


Much like the '08 Lion defense, the '88 offense was the worst in the league, and not by a little. They finished last in scoring, yards, passing yards, rushing TD, rushing y/a, passing net y/a, and 1st downs. They also finished bottom 3 in rush yards and rush atts. Much like the '08 defense's inability to get off the field, the '88 Lions offense was unable to stay on the field.

Signature play of ineptitude. The '08 Lions had Orlovsky running out of the back of the endzone for a mistaken safety. The '88 Lions had the Mayday play against the Saints, which a few of you may recall. Deep in their own end and protecting a slim lead, Jim Arnold lined up to punt on 4th down. Noting that the gunner was uncovered, Arnold called a pre-arranged audible "Mayday! Mayday", before taking the snap and passing to the uncovered gunner. The gunner apparently didn't hear or didn't understand the audible and never turned. The perfect pass by Arnold struck the gunner in the back of the head. The Saints took over on downs within the Detroit 10 yard line and quickly scored to take the lead.

Superlative kicking. The '08 Lions had veteran Jason Hanson leading the league with a 95% FG rate while setting records for long field goals, supported by very solid punting from Nick Harris. The '88 Lions had veteran Eddie Murray connecting on 95% of his field goals in his last great seasons with Pro Bowler Arnold handling the punting.

Missing quarterback. The '08 Lions played 5 quarterbacks, starting 3 of them and never settling on one. The '88 Lions played 4 quarterbacks, starting 2 of them. Both teams had the quarterback who started the year for them end the year on the IR. Both teams signed a veteran free agent mid-season who instantly became the starter. Daunte Culpepper in '08, Rusty Hilger in '88. Not surprisingly, both of them sucked.

Bad misses on skill position players. In the '80s Detroit invested first round picks on Mark "He'll Do For The Passing Game What Billy Sims Did For The Rushing Game" Nichols, Dave Lewis and Chuck Long, all significant busts. The mid '00s Lions wasted high first rounders on Harrington, Chuck Rogers and Mike Williams.


Aside from the obvious, the '89 Lions promoted their interim HC while enduring another season under Russ Thomas while the '09 Lions promoted their interim GM and went outside the organization for the HC, there were a few other distinctive differences between these two teams.

The '88 defense. As bad as the offense was on that team, Wayne Fontes had really built a quality defense. His Bend But Don't Break 3-4 finished 10th in scoring while landing in the middle of the pack in the yardage categories. Mike Cofer qualified for the Pro Bowl at OLB.

Core of quality young players. Forgive me for jumping to conclusions, but outside of Calvin Johnson there is little reason to be particularly optimistic about any players returning to the '09 team. Smith, Cherilus and Avril each have the potential to be plus players but at this point it is potential unrealized. By contrast the '89 team had a solid core of young veterans. Lomas Brown and Kevin Glover were entering their 5th seasons, Jerry Ball, Dennis Gibson and Dan Saleaumua entering their 3rd. Bennie Blades and Chris Spielman were coming off of standout rookie years and would become cornerstones of the defense. Eric Andolsek and William White were also coming off of their rookie seasons and would enter the lineup as quality pros in '89.

Barry Sanders versus Matt Stafford. I guess Calvin Johnson is the cornerstone offensive player for the Lions right now, but it is very difficult for wide receivers to have the type of impact that running backs and quarterbacks have. The very best receivers may get ten touches per game while even average running backs get twenty or more. Regardless of what Stafford becomes, the flavor of these teams will be entirely different. When a team has a player who is the best in the league and among the best of all-time the very identity of the team becomes wrapped up in that player. It is impossible to think of the Lions from that era without thinking of Barry Sanders. If Stafford is destined for greatness then the Lions of the teens will be forever entwined with Stafford, but even then it will be impossible to compare those teams with the Lions of Barry Sanders. The identities will be entirely different.

Coordinator philosophy. Two areas where these teams are going in opposite directions. The Lions are coming off of a period of offensive innovation (2008 notwithstanding) and moving to a much more traditional offensive philosophy. Likewise they are moving away from a tired fad of a defense toward a traditional set with traditional philosophies and goals. The '89 Lions installed an innovative offense that had not been seen in the NFL while running a defense that was also a bit out of the prevailing practice of the day. While teams were emulating the attacking and stifling defenses of the Bears, Eagles and Giants, the Lions opted for a gap filling defense built around Jerry Ball and funneling everything into Speilman and Gibson.

In the end, these teams are vastly different, both in the type and quality of personnel. But even so it is entertaining to consider the two teams against the single generational difference that separates them.

Ongoing discussion Here in The Den.

Memo to Your ad campaign may not work too well in Detroit

Currently across the top of is this ad from We'll pass on that. But thanks anyway.

Dan Miller On WZAM: 15 Minute Interview

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pirated from WZAM Marquette via MLive. Really outstanding 15 minute interview with Miller where he discusses the OTAs in real depth.


Stafford has a lot of talent but his rawness is pretty clear (yawn).

Pettigrew looks good, but more important in Miller's analysis that Pettigrew was really drafted to be an impact player along the lines of Witten/Cash/Gonzalez. While he has a slightly different skill set, Miller was pretty emphatic that Pettigrew is out there to create mismatches and in his eyes will be a disappointment if he doesn't become a significant offensive threat.

And the best, his discussion of Delmas (paraphrasing) 'the fans will love Delmas, he hits everything that moves and keeps hitting it until it stops moving'.

Miller goes on to warn that it's early, players are in shorts, etc. Another datapoint that we have a lot to be optimistic about concerning the '09 rookies. Every source has been positive on the top three and it is sounding more and more like Delmas is projecting to be a star.

Direct download of interview. Link to MLive article/discussion.

Discuss it here in The Den.

NFL's Pat Kirwan on the bandwagon?

Thanks to DrewsLions, a contributor to the Pride of Detroit blog, for pointing out this outstanding Pat Kirwan article (plus NFLN video segment!) discussing in-depth the Lions' offseason, transitions, and prospects for the upcoming year.  Unlike many, he's not simply tossing the Lions a 3-13 bone and having done with it; he's looking at all of the many, many improvements the Lions have made to the roster, the coaching staff, and the front office.

Oh, and he calls Calvin Johnson "Megatron", which should settle that debate.

Discuss it here, in The Den!

Millen's drafting: a postmortem

David M, of, has been doing analyses of how noted team builders--such as Bill Belicheck, Ted Thompson, and AJ Smith--use the NFL draft to lay their talent foundation.  Calling them "draft blueprints", he's been examining the drafting patterns of these successful GMs.  By position, by round, he's been dissect  Yesterday, he posted a similar analysis of Matt Millen, trying to find the Achilles heel.  Drafting too much offense?  Too many skill players?  Not enough front seven help in the early rounds?  You might be surprised by the answers . . .

Discuss it here, in The Den!

Kowalski on Gosder -- consistency a concern

Tom Kowalski at continues his summer analysis of individual Lions (hey, even if it isn't hugely groundbreaking, I give Killer credit for providing some fodder during the pre-training camp news blackout) with a look at RT Gosder Cherilus. Says Tom K:

There are a lot of things to like about the game of Detroit Lions right tackle Gosder Cherilus: his size, work ethic, attitude, power and nasty streak. It's why the Lions selected Cherilus with the 17th overall pick in the first round last year. But Cherilus also lacks something very significant: consistency. His ability to maintain focus throughout the course of a game will ultimately determine whether he becomes an anchor on the Lions' offensive line or someone who will soon be replaced.
Kowalski also speculates that the offseason signings of Ephraim Salaam and Jon Jansen could indicate the Lions aren't willing to wait forever for Cherilus' consistency issues to work themselves out. And Kowalski also discusses what could have been:
One of the favorite games among Lions fans is "Who we should've drafted'' and that comes into play with Cherilus because the Lions actually traded out of the No. 15 spot to take Cherilus. The Lions moved down two spots, allowing the Kansas City Chiefs to move up and take Virginia guard Branden Albert. Although Albert graded out higher on most draft boards, the Lions were looking for a right tackle and Albert - who played guard in college - would be something of a projection in the pros. It turns out that he wasn't much of a projection - Albert started 15 games at left tackle (the much tougher tackle position) for the Chiefs. Albert, who started the regular season opener despite missing a good deal of preseason time with a foot injury, missed just one game during the year (hyperextended elbow).
Thoughts? Talk about it in The Den!

Baldinger: Simple Line Adjustments Should Lead To Large Improvement

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Brian Baldinger with a Total Access video discussing the Lions '09 outlook. In addition to the quarterback question, his main theme was to point out the communication problems with the offensive line, using some game footage to illustrate. He feels the problems are more in the classroom than in the players, a theme we are seeing repeated this offseason with revelations from Jonathon Scott and others.

Also a Kirwan puff piece that will mostly be uninteresting to Den regulars, a rehash of the offseason. He does note the following:
When you look at the addition of linebackers Julian Peterson and Larry Foote to go along with Ernie Sims, all of a sudden the Lions' linebackers physically look like the Titans' group. Here's how they compare: Peterson is 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, while his Titans counterpart Keith Bulluck is 6-3, 235. Foote is 6-1 and 239 pounds and Tennessee's David Thornton is 6-2, 225. Sims is 6-foot and 225 pounds while Stephen Tulloch stands 5-11, 235. Pretty similar.
I'm not sure how significant or surprising it is that the Lion linebacker now resemble the Titan linebackers more closely, but until now I hadn't seen the comparison. Discuss it Here in The Den

Cliff Avril: Playoffs in '09 "very, very possible"

Lions DE Cliff Avril, from his blog,is backing up teammate Kevin Smith's prediction of making the playoffs this season. "I think that is very, very possible," Avril says. "I’m definitely right with Kevin, we have a good enough team. Now it’s all about getting out there and proving it." Avril also praised the Lions' front office for its performance since season's end:

I think the team has made some great moves during the off-season going out and getting players we need. We’re building the foundation, now we just have to go out and make things happen.
Cue the Jim Mora press conference clip. I guess I like the confidence, but bold predictions coming off 0-16 are going to get mocked and ridiculed until you start creating W's on the field. Agree? Disagree? Talk about it in The Den!

Watch out, NFL: Calvin's planning on a better season than last year

Chrissy Wywrot at had a good long talk with Lions WR and all-around stud Calvin Johnson, who says he's looking to improve this year. That means improving on more than 1,300 yards and leading the league in TD catches, despite having multiple mediocre QBs throwing to him and no real help to take pressure off him from his fellow receivers.

“Every year I just want to go into the season thinking, ‘Just do better than you did last year and you’ll be okay.’ I don’t ever put any specific numbers up for myself, but as long as I feel I’ve done better than I did the year before, it was a successful season.”
Calvin also praised the addition of veteran WRs Ronald Curry and Bryant Johnson.
“It’s been great. There are some skill areas that everybody needs to work on and those guys would definitely be the first ones to tell you, ‘Hey, if you do this on this route, you’ll win.’ “They’re always giving little hints and tips and stuff like that so it’s been a great addition. I feel like they know what they’re doing, so it’s been good for the whole group.”
Bryant Johnson gave the love back, saying Calvin is mature and a hard worker, always striving to improve, and that rubs off on other players. A better supporting cast almost has to help Calvin Johnson. And if he does improve on last year ... ooh, man. Discuss it in The Den!