Lions Ink Pettigrew; All Rookies Signed

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Detroit Lions announced Friday that it had inked its remaining unsigned draft choice, tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who was selected with the 20th pick in the first round.

The two sides agreed on a five-year deal. Additional contract terms were unavailable.

Friday afternoon served as the team's official report date. They will begin practices Saturday morning.

Excited about Lions Training Camp? Discuss The 2009 Season and More in The Den Message Board

Jim Schwartz and the Tabula Rasa

Michael Lombardi, current writer for the National Football Post—and former NFL executive—has written a very interesting article on Jim Schwartz and the Lions.  He delves deeply into the challenges and opportunities of trying to build up a team that is both currently awful, and has a long history of futility.  The challenge is, of course, overcoming a culture of losing.  The upside is that he has carte blanche to do so!  There are no sacred cows on a team that just went 0-16.  Nobody’s job is safe.  No process, tradition, or parking space is safe.  Jim Schwartz has total freedom to build his football team from the ground up, and do everything the way he wants to do it.

Lombardi shares an outstanding memory with us: hiring Schwartz as an intern in Cleveland.

“Every candidate we talked to had to take a profile test, the same test that prospective college player take at the Combine. After Schwartz took the test, Bob Troutwine, who graded the test, called my office and told me not to let Schwartz out the building as he would be the best employee we would ever hire.”

I don’t think I’m the only one who finds it hard not to be genuinely excited for the future of the franchise when I hear stories like this.  It’s really hard to temper expectations when everyone who is anyone in football absolutely gushes over JIm Schwartz’ intelligence, ability, instincts, and character.  It’s even harder when he takes the new cornerstones of his franchise to a Ford plant, to show them the heart of their new city.  It’s harder yet when he spends 90 minutes proving his impeccable credentials as an 80s metalhead.  It’s even harder when you realize, as Lombardi points out, that this down-to-earth, only-two-suit-owning, Operation: Mindcrime-loving Regular Joe has a bachelor’s degree in economics from Georgetown—and finished in the top ten of his class.

On the morning of training camp, it’s extremely hard to remember that it’s almost impossible for all of this awesomeness to translate into winning football in the (surprisingly few) weeks between now and the regular season.  The Lions have a very steep hill to climb just to get back to respectability.  But, as Lombardi points out, few coaches ever get the opportunity to build an entire football team from the ground up; if Jim Schwartz is everything he appears to be, success will come sooner rather than later.  When success does come, there’s no reason why the team won’t mirror its master: smart, tough, aggressive, and grounded.

Discuss it here, in The Den!

ESPN's Page 2: "Vick needs Detroit, and vice versa"

ESPN the Magazine senior writer and Lions fan LZ Granderson writes on Page 2 that the Lions should sign QB and recent prison resident Michael Vick.

In my opinion, Granderson's logic is never particularly well laid-out. He seems to gloss by the fact that the team just spent its top pick in the draft on its QB of the future. He doesn't discuss whether the Lions will adopt some sort of Wildcat scheme which Vick would run.

His logic seems to be that the Lions have stunk for years, Vick is an electrifying talent, so how can the Lions not use Vick?

Vick needs a place to start rehabilitating his image and career, and the Lions need … well, the Lions need a lot, but we'll start with buzz. With Stafford and Culpepper, Lions fans are thinking, "Well, we can't do worse than last year." With Vick, fans would line up to buy tickets with a sense of hope.

It would be a misplaced sense of hope, but hope nonetheless. His quarterback rating be damned, before going to prison, Vick was the most exciting player in the NFL, and when you can't promise the people wins, you at least should be able to promise them entertainment. Worst-case scenario, you'll end up with a situational scrambler/kick returner who will move merchandise and guarantee national media attention. Best-case scenario, he'll put up decent-to-good numbers for cheap and either become trade bait and/or fuel a quarterback controversy.

Sorry, LZ, but your argument isn't exactly convincing.

Here's one thing Granderson wrote with which I agree: Ignore the inevitable protestors wherever Vick goes; he paid his debt to society and deserves a chance at redemption.
Vick has served his time in prison, is remorseful for his actions and should be allowed to work in his chosen profession -- not frozen out because of fear of bad publicity.

Discuss in The Den!

The Football Outsiders On The Lions

Thursday, July 30, 2009

I received my Football Outsiders 2009 Almanac today, and even as I type I have it clutched in my greazy fingers. This is my annual 'little kid' experience - well semi-annual, along with draft weekend. The Outsiders really appeal to my interests in trend analysis and 'Moneyball' concepts. So I guess their work isn't for everyone, but it certainly is for me. Normally when I get books and magazines I employ a certain level of discipline, starting at page 1 and reading every article before getting to my favorite teams and players. Occasionally I will skip those pages entirely, saving them for last. In this case though, my first thought was to blog it up, so in a sense of true altruism I forewent my typical custom and dove right into the Lion pages. Bill Barnwell, another Lion slappy penned the Lion section and the quotes are from him. Without revealing everything, Barnwell discusses four topics in the main narrative; 0-16, Jim Schwartz, player turnover, and Matt Stafford.

While they had the worst record in NFL history, they weren't the worst team. They had the second-worst DVOA of any team in the 15 seasons for which we've calculated DVOA, but they don't come close to the 2005 49ers ... since the merger in 1970 there have been 32 teams whose Pythagorean winning percentage ... was below that of last year's Lions - including last year's Rams.
This sort of touches on something we all knew anyway, it is really hard to go 0-16. Even with a dysfunctional talentless team it very difficult not to luck into at least one win. Pythagorean projections (based on points scored/allowed) put them as a roughly average 'worst team in the league' over the last 40 years. It was just bad luck that kept them from the win column. On Schwartz:
Schwartz knows that a team's performance on third down has a disproportionate impact on their success relative to how they do on first and second down [so practices will concentrate on third down conversions, and stopping the same] ... Schwartz's decision-making will be equally affected, though, by his experiences as a pro coach. As he initially struggled with rebuilding the Tennessee defense, Schwartz realized that all the scheming and analysis in the world was useless if it didn't fit the personnel he had in front of him [go figure!]. As a result, he began to construct his defenses with the primary goal of fitting the personnel he had in place.
Golly, play to your strengths, disguise your weaknesses. Don't make square Lenons fit round holes. Hardly revolutionary but something that was desperately lacking on offense throughout the West Coast days and then on defense in the Marinelli era. Barnwell also notes that last year Tennessee primarily ran Cover-2, which played to the coverage strengths of their linebackers. As for the Stafford comments I'll leave them to anyone who wants to purchase the Almanac. As expected, he doesn't project very well as a pro quarterback but perhaps he can defy projections. So far he appears to be off to a good start. Looking at some of the Lion stats from last year I'll try to extract the wheat from the chaff. The Outsiders acknowledge the limitations of their methods, and really of any statistical discussion of team sport, but perhaps football most of all.
Football is a game in which nearly every action requires the work of two or more teammates - in fact, usually 11 teammates all working in unison. Unfortunately, when it comes to individual player ratings. we are still far from the point at which we can determine the value of a player independent from the performance of his teammates.
For example Calvin Johnson had a DYAR of 256 which is respectable, but also in the range of Steve Breaston and Derrick Mason, whereas the best receivers in the league were close to double that. The rating is understandable, Calvin was targeted 150 times with 79 catches, by contrast Larry Fitzgerald was also targeted ~ 150 times but with 96 receptions for nearly as many Y/C. Context is everything though, Arizona had Kurt Warner throwing to Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Breaston. Detroit had 300 pound quarterbacks fresh from Safeway throwing to Calvin and Keary Colbert.

But anyhoo, a few of the more interesting numbers that should have some significance in '09. The '08 offensive line was surprisingly effective at run blocking. Some of this is due to opponents playing prevent for huge chunks of their contests, but not all. The overall running numbers were very poor, however Detroit finished 9th in the NFL in Power situations (3rd, 4th, goal-line). Looking at the Y/C #s, blocking was increasingly effective going left to right, with Detroit rushers averaging just over 2 Y/C going outside LT while averaging 4.2 going over RT and 4.7 going off the RE. Adding Pettigrew to the blocking mix on the right side makes for a very promising weapon, assuming Cherilus and Peterman can maintain last year's production.

The defensive line also had some surprising production. Both Jared DeVries and Chuck Darby finished in the top 20 in Stop % at their respective positions. DeVries was surprisingly effective as a pass rusher as well, with 3 hits and 10 hurries to go with his 2 sacks. By comparison Dewayne White had 3 hits and 4 hurries.

Finally, while the defensive secondary was a mess, as we all know, there was one rather bright spot, Kalvin Pearson. Pearson finished 10th in the NFL versus the run and 24th versus the pass. The rest of the secondary finished in the 60s and beyond in just about every category. No other db finished in the top 30 in either spot.

Okay, so it's just numbers, and maybe they only really appeal to geeks like me, but in some sense they pass the sniff test. Pearson did appear to be effective in spots last year, even while the rest of the defense flailed. DeVries was steady. Once the offensive line got aligned it was fairly effective at run blocking. The team has a way to go, clearly. The cornerbacks are still awful, the offensive line won't get fixed in a single year, the linebacking may have been fixed a little but it is patchwork, we can't expect either Peterson or Foote to remain effective for long, if they even stay past '09. But even so, maybe the light at the end of this tunnel isn't a train.

Discuss it Here, in The Den

Lions Ink Delmas; Visit with Hackett

Seven down, three to go.

The Detroit Lions came to terms with rookie safety Louis Delmas on Thursday. Delmas' superagent, Drew Rosenhaus, was able to tweet the news, which was reposted (and re-tweeted) as Hot News by's Adam Caplan, and is now being blogged to you here.

First-round pick Brandon Pettigrew, third-rounder Derrick Williams and fourth-round project pick Sammie Lee Hill all remain unsigned with less than 24 hours to go before Friday's camp deadline. The Lions expect to have each in the fold by Friday morning.

The Lions also worked out receiver D.J. Hackett, according to John Niyo of the Detroit News, but Hackett reportedly left without a contract.

Excited about training camp? Discuss these topics and more in The Den, the most popular Detroit Lions message board on the internet.

FOXSports' "10 Guys Worth Rooting For in NFL Training Camps" chock full o' Lions contributor Peter Schrager has written a column on 10 players worth rooting for in NFL training camps, and it features three Lions and an ex-Lion.

His Lions include undrafted free-agent WR D.J. Boldin, who Schrager lists along with WR Nick Moore of the Vikings. They're the younger brothers of established NFL star WRs Anquan Boldin and Lance Moore.

Writes Schrager: "D.J. and Nick would be more than happy just surviving training camp with jobs at the end of August. For all the younger brothers out there let's keep an eye on how they do in the trenches this month."

Also on Schrager's list to root for is new LB Larry Foote and OT Jon Jansen.

Writes Schrager: "They say there's nothing quite like going home. Have 'they' been to Detroit?" (A gratuitous shot at Motown. How novel.) Larry Foote and Jon Jansen have, and the two return voluntarily this season to help revitalize and recharge a team that's been entrenched in the ashes for far too many years ... "Together, Foote and Jansen will strive to bring veteran leadership, consistent play, and a sense of pride to their hometown team. And who knows, perhaps even a few wins."

Some Lions fans might have difficulty rooting for another on Schrager's list -- ex-Lion flameout and current Saint backup QB Joey Harrington.

States Schrager:

If you're a fan of redemption stories, you might want to check out what he's up to down in New Orleans this August. Harrington, known as "Joey Blue Skies" in Detroit, is currently with the Saints — his fourth team in five NFL seasons. Bounced on and off the New Orleans roster in '08, the Lions former No. 3 overall pick is now in a tight race for the Saints backup job with fellow veteran gunslinger Mark Brunell. Harrington, whose face once famously graced a New York City billboard back in his Oregon days, has been throwing the ball well this offseason. Signed to a one-year deal in NOLA, this could be his last shot in the NFL.

Talk about it in The Den!

Salary Cap Forum Updated - PREMIUM

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

2009 Lions Cap Status

Transaction Log Updated through July 29th

DeAndre Levy Player Cost

Lydon Murtha Player Cost

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

Lions work out 3 QBs -- should any current QB worry?

Nick Cotsonika at reports that the Lions worked out three veteran QBs on Tuesday - Cleo Lemon, Craig Nall and Brooks Bollinger.

Lemon rode the bench in Jacksonville last year (that's where the Lions' recent signee, CB Will James, was too. Is former Jax front office guru Shack Harris on a Jag jag?).

Nall was briefly with the Texans last year; Brooks Bollinger -- who we all remember from his days with the Wisconsin Badgers -- got in a game for the Cowboys last year when Tony Romo was hurt.

The Lions' flirtation with adding a veteran QB is something a few of us have speculated could happen before camp, given Drew Stanton's wobbly performances in earlier workouts.

But's Tom Kowalski throws another wrinkle out there -- Daunte Culpepper's contract is structured so that he makes the vast majority of his money this year if he's on the roster for the first game of the regular season.

The Lions restructured the deal that one way for one reason - to give them an "out'' if they didn't want Culpepper on the roster for the start of the regular season - and also to protect against a training camp injury.

From all accounts though, Culpepper's come in his best shape in years, and with a hungry-to-succeed attitude. It seems far-fetched to believe he could be dumped from being the starter or backup to Matthew Stafford. But C-Pep does have an injury history, and should he suffer another bad one in the preseason, it looks like the Lions are trying to cover their bases.

They're talking about it in The Den!

Lions sign CB James, release three

Tom Kowalski at reports that the Lions on Tuesday signed free-agent CB Will James, who Killer said was "impressive" during a workout for the team earlier in the day.

An old 2006 story from's Len Pasquarelli sheds some insight on the new guy, who used to go by the name William Peterson.

A third-round selection of the Giants in the 2001 draft, James missed 11 games in 2003 after suffering a stress fracture to the right transverse process, a small bone in the lower back. He returned to camp the following summer and was so highly regarded that the Giants signed him to a five-year, $27 million contract extension.

James responded by playing in all 16 games in 2004, arguably the best season of his career. But then (in 2005), the back problems flared up in camp, worsened early in the season, and eventually forced James onto injured reserve. The diagnosis: an old displaced fracture and so-called "hot spots," a sign of a potential stress fracture to the left transverse process.

Surgery would have ended James' career, so the former Western Illinois standout worked out and worked his way back into health.

James was released by the Giants, signed with the Eagles, and since bounced to the Bills, where he was signed in preseason last year but cut by the end of camp. He signed with Jacksonville, played in eight games and made one start. The Jags released James last month.

May just be camp fodder, but James has some return experience in his past, and given the Lions' situation at CB, who knows?

As Patrick already noted on the blog, the Lions also on Tuesday released CB Tra Battle, DE Rudolph Harvie and RB Antone Smith, a player who had intrigued many Denizens.

They're talking about it in The Den!

Tra Battle Waived

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

You know it is the slow season when the 80th best player on your favorite team's roster gets released and you feel that it is newsworthy enough to blog about. This does nothing to settle the Lions' defensive back catastrophe but in my mind it is clearing up a spot to sign Hollis Thomas.

Bye bye, Tra. We hardly knew ye.

Don Banks Power Rankings: Lions Aren't Last!

Don Banks (a columnist who I respect more than most) just posted his preseason power rankings with the Lions coming in at #31.

Consider it a strong vote of confidence for the beginning of the Jim Schwartz era that I didn't doom the winless Lions to dead last right off the bat this season. But next to last still speaks to how much work remains in Motown.
While I disagree with a lot of spots in the last ten, I do agree with Banks statement under the Broncos

Sometimes I think the task of separating the bottom 10 teams in these power rankings is significantly more challenging than identifying the top 10.
Typically the worst teams in the league are also a bit more unpredictable. A couple teams that are already entirely written off by the media will take their divisions by storm. Or maybe not, but it is a fairly common occurence.

One spot I do agree with is #32
Investing in Steve Spagnuolo's future was a move I believe will pay dividends at some point in the future. Solid coaching is the foundation of success in the NFL. But this year, a bright future may be hard to see in St. Louis.
St. Louis has a lot of the same problems as Detroit, and it is difficult to argue that they did much to address them this offseason. They off-loaded Torry Holt and Orlando Pace, and while the moves were understandable, those two players still represented the best of their group. Adding Jason Brown will help a bit but that offense is still awfully old and creaky. Their quarterback is old and broken, their star running back the same.

Mark down November 1 v the Rams as a sure victory. I guarantee it!

Discuss it Here, in The Den

Levy signs; Lewand expects all draftees signed by Friday

Monday, July 27, 2009

Some good news heading into the start of training camp Friday: Lions team president Tom Lewand said he expects all of Detroit's rookies to be signed and in camp on time, Tom Kowalski reports at

Those yet to ink deals include first-round pick TE Brandon Pettigrew; second-round S Louis Delmas; third-round WR Derrick Williams and fourth-round DT Sammie Lee Hill.

"I feel confident that we'll have everybody in camp on time," Lewand said this afternoon. "We've been pretty close to meeting it every year. The last couple of years, we've missed a day or two at times and you certainly don't want to do that and I don't think there's any reason why we should this year. "We've got good relationships with the agents we're dealing with. They're established, credible, good agents who have good track records of their own."

Why wouldn't you want to report on time as a rookie on a team this bad? Where else do you have a better shot at playing time?

As if to prove Lewand's point,'s Kevin Seifert reports on his NFC North blog that the Lions signed third-round LB DeAndre Levy to a three-year deal today.

Discuss in The Den!

DT help on the way?

With Shaun Rogers long gone, free-agent signee Grady Jackson facing a possible 4-game suspension, and the remainder of the DTs on the roster either insufficiently experienced or insufficiently, well sufficient to fit the new defensive scheme, the Lions are in desperate need for help at defensive tackle.  Veteran DT John Thornton already turned the Lions down, in part because he didn’t want to gain the fifteen-to-twenty pounds required to anchor the middle of the line.  The latest candidate to fill out a size XXXL jersey will have no need to gain weight; in fact he’ll have to lose quite a bit in order to slim down to the 330-pound target the Lions seem to have in mind.

Former Eagles and Saints DT Hollis Thomas has been on the market since the Saints released him shortly after the draft.  On the 17th,’s own Adam Caplan reported that Thomas’ old team, the Eagles, worked him out—yet he was allowed to leave that session without a contract, and he reportedly weighed in well about his listed playing weight, 335 pounds.  Despite an extremely disappointing 2009 campaign in which he gathered only 14 tackles in 8 games (2 starts), Scout still lists Thomas amongst the best available talent at his position, partially due to a 50-tackle, 3-sack 2008 campaign.

According to PFT, the Rams are on Hollis’ four-team short list—it’s unknown if the Eagles are still in play after declining to sign him last week—and an ESPN Insider piece named the Lions as a natural fit.  John Niyo of the Detroit News wrote in his blog on Sunday that the Lions may keep a roster spot open for a veteran defensive lineman.

Frankly, the Lions have nothing to lose here; even if Hollis cannot get back down to a more athletic 335 pounds, he should at least be a usable big body on first down and short yardage situations.  A moderate one-year deal to at keep Grady Jackson’s sizable seat on the bench warm for four games seems like a no-brainer.  The only question is, can the Lions outdraw the other three teams on the list for his services?  We should find out this week.

Discuss it here, in The Den!

Jansen Happy To Be Home

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Our old friend Dave Birkett is the Wolverine correspondent for now, as many Den regulars already know. Jon Jansen's link to the school gave Birkett an excuse to write about Jansen joining the Lions.

When Redskins owner Daniel Snyder told him of his release in May, Jansen immediately called his agent and asked to work out a deal with the Lions. Two hours later, with Jansen still on Snyder’s private plan back to Michigan, a contract was done.

“My whole life has been built around Detroit and in the state of Michigan,” said Jansen, a Clawson native who kept an off-season home in Petoskey when he was with the Redskins. “I’ve got a good base of people that support me, and to be able to play in front of them was special. “I would have loved to have come here (coming out of college). It would have been great for me, but it didn’t work out at that time. I’m just happy that I get to play part of my career here.” ~ Still, Jansen said he’s “hoping to play in Detroit another 10 years” and has a minimum “five or six” seasons left in his rebuilt body
I think it is pretty optimistic for Jansen to think he can play until he is nearly 40, particularly considering the string of injuries that has taken a toll, but there is no reason that he can't play another 2-3 years.

Stirring the tea leaves, it's fun to envision Jansen pushing Cherilus to the inside for a couple of years with 34k running over a right side of the line featuring those two along with Pettigrew. It's pure fantasy, of course, but it's fantasy that would have opposing coordinators pulling out their hair.

Discuss it Here, in The Den

Niyo: 10 hot Lions topics heading into training camp

Lions writer John Niyo of the Detroit News lists 10 hot Detroit Lions topics heading into the start of training camp. I won't list them all here (follow the link to see them all), but a couple that caught my eye:

So, who are these guys, anyway? It's way too early to suggest the 2009 Lions can repeat the feat of the 2008 Dolphins. Miami rebounded from a 1-15 finish in 2007 to win the AFC East and make the playoffs last winter under rookie head coach Tony Sparano. And the key was a Bill Parcells-led purge that saw 27 new faces on the Dolphins' 53-man roster to begin last season.

Lions general manager Martin Mayhew is on a similar pace, with nearly half the players from last year's Week 1 roster (25 of 53) already gone -- and others sure to follow in the next six weeks. Mayhew has made five trades since last October, claimed seven players off waivers since the start of free agency in late February, and signed 27 new players, not including draft picks, since the end of last season. In short, he's trying to, as new head coach Jim Schwartz puts it, "take advantage of being crappy."

When you stop and quantify it like that, there really has been a lot done to try to turn over last year's awful team. Many of us were calling for a major roster overhaul to start the road back, a la the Dolphins or the Saints under Jim Haslett years ago. We sort of got that -- and like Niyo said, with more to come.
But who'll emerge as a playmaker on defense? There simply wasn't one last season, though defensive end Cliff Avril showed promise as a rookie. The Lions finished 2008 with a NFL-low four interceptions, with only one by a defensive back. Not surprisingly, the secondary is almost all new, and free-agent cornerback Phillip Buchanon, along with rookie free safety Louis Delmas (Western Michigan), will be counted on to make a big splash.

So will the revamped linebacker corps, with Julian Peterson and Larry Foote helping to free up Ernie Sims. And while the addition of Peterson, a five-time Pro Bowler, may have been the team's biggest offseason move outside of the draft, the more noticeable difference could be schematic.

The answers will all start to become clearer -- for better or worse -- very soon.

Discuss in The Den!

Training Camp Battles: Defensive Backs

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Today I'll take a look at the safeties and cornerbacks and try to make hay of how the position group might settle out. The defensive backs are probably the toughest group on the team to project out because not only is it unsettled, it is mostly composed of veteran castoffs and young players set adrift by other organizations. Detroit figures to go into the season with 8-9 dbs on the roster and right now it is hard to really argue more than about five guys have better than tenuous positions on the team.


Louis Delmas. I can't possibly write anything that hasn't been discussed exhaustively in the Den and elsewhere. scottallen222 started a thread that got extensive contributions Here. Chance of making roster: 100%

Kalvin Pearson. Earned some impressive copy out of the OTAs, Pearson is probably the favorite right now to win the second starting job. He's limited and probably shouldn't be a full-time player but for now he's the best Detroit has. Chance of making roster: 90%

Marquand Manuel. I expect him to compete hard for the starting spot opposite Delmas, and I also don't expect him to win it. He really isn't very good. He's got a lot of experience with a number of teams, none of which were too motivated to keep him. He was cut two years ago after the first year of a five year deal. Yeesh. Even so, I think he'll show enough that Schwartz will have a hard time cutting him. Chance of making roster: 80%

Daniel Bullocks. That Bullocks is the most experience returning safety is a testament to [something]. I don't think anyone outside of Allen Park has either a great feel for exactly how talented Bullocks is or how much potential remains. I expect we'll have a better idea after this summer. I expect Bullocks to make the roster as the fourth safety but it wouldn't be a huge upset to see him cut. Considering that Gerald Alexander was competing against Pearson, Manuel, and Bullocks it is a bit scary that he was expendable so quickly. Chance of making roster: 75%

Stuart Schweigert. Had a couple of really promising years for the Raiders before going over a cliff a couple of years ago, losing his starting gig and then getting cut twice in training camp last summer. He was signed by Detroit to replace LaMarcus Hicks so I guess he might have a better shot of making this year's team but I don't think his odds are good. Chance of making roster: 30%

LaMarcus Hicks. Still has some practice squad eligibility, and Detroit might stash him there until they need him. Chance of making roster: 20%

Tra Battle. It is tough to distinguish his chances from Schweigert's or Hicks'. Like Hicks, Battle still has practice squad eligibility so he may find a spot there. Chance of making roster: 20%


AtticusSpeaks provided an excellent treatment of the Lions' corners a few days ago. I could do the same but it would look very familiar to those who read Atticus'. Instead I'll just roll through the suspects with only a couple of comments.

Philip Buchanon. Starter. Chance of making roster: 100%

Anthony Henry. Starter by default. His presence might force Schwartz and Gunther to keep one more corner and one fewer safety. Chance of making roster: 100%

Eric King. Nickel. I sort of think he will be starting before the end of the year. Chance of making roster: 90%

Keith Smith. Dime, I guess. Chance of making roster: 60%

Ramzee Robinson. Mister Irrelevant. Chance of making roster: 30%

Chris Roberson. Practice squadder. Chance of making roster: 5%

As Atticus points out, the cornerbacks are a wasteland. A year ago Detroit arguably had better corners than they do today. While it is impossible for this year's group to be worse than the '08 flavor, it is just as easy to argue that they won't be much better, particularly as injuries expose their lack of depth.

Discuss this Here, in The Den

Tom K.: Already a lot to like about Schwartz

Before he's been head coach in a pro game,'s Tom Kowalski says new Lions Coach Jim Schwartz already has some key edges over what Lions fans have gotten from that position in the recent past:

Jim Schwartz, the Detroit Lions' new head coach, might not win a football game during his time in Detroit, but he has already separated himself from recent Lions' coaches in one significant way. In my opinion, Schwartz is the first coach in decades who will give the Lions an advantage in strategy and gamesmanship on Sunday afternoon.

Blown timeouts, poor clock management and incredibly conservative strategic decisions have been the hallmark of Lions' head coaches in the past. That should change drastically under Schwartz, who is like a skilled poker player - he's going to play the odds because he really knows the odds and while he won't win every time, he expects to win in the long run.

Killer writes that Schwartz's ability to be adaptable and innovative sets him apart from the likes of Rod Marinelli, Steve Mariucci and Marty Mornhinweg.
One of the reasons Schwartz was not only the top choice but, really, the only choice for the Lions in the hiring process was the wealth of his football experience, his overall intelligence and knowledge and his lack of "scheme identity.'' Marty Mornhinweg and Steve Mariucci were West Coast offense guys and Rod Marinelli was a Tampa Two defense guru. The Lions wanted to steer clear of that mentality; they wanted to find a coach who could fit a scheme around the talent, not the other way around.

Schwartz has stuck to one principle - that he wants a bigger and stronger team. The reason is because the cold hard results prove that bigger, stronger football teams win more football games.

Another reason Schwartz is a good fit with general manager Martin Mayhew and president Tom Lewand is that they're all in agreement about just how bad the team is (or was). There is no pie-in-the-sky feeling that filling a few holes here and there will put them in Super Bowl contention. The roster needed a complete overhaul and attitude adjustment and that's going to take time and they're all on board with that.

I like what I've seen from Schwartz too. But I also remember how excited I was when Mariucci -- who, unlike Schwartz, actually had a track record as a successful head coach -- came to Motown.

As some in The Den might say, it's all Honolulu Blue Kool-Aid until it's proven on the field. Which seems to be completely fine with Schwartz.

Talk about it in The Den!

ESPN's Clayton: Stafford needs "incredible preseason" to beat out Culpepper's John Clayton is putting a check on the rampant speculation that Lions rookie QB Matthew Stafford will be the starter by Week 1.

It would take an incredible preseason for rookie Matthew Stafford to beat out Daunte Culpepper in Detroit, but Stafford does have an incredible arm.

Culpepper showed up for OTA's in the best shape I've seen him in in years. I think the job is Stafford's by no later than mid-season, and it still wouldn't shock me if he does have an incredible preseason and shows he's ready from the jump.

They're talking about it in The Den!

Training Camp Battles: Linebackers

Friday, July 24, 2009

The linebacker corps provide something of a break as we stroll through the position groups in the week before training camp. This is the only position on the team that actually resembles an NFL-caliber group, with solid veteran starters backed up by promising young players. Detroit will probably go into the season with 7-8 linebackers and many roster spots are already relatively secure.

Julian Peterson. The prize acquisition from this past offseason, a five time Pro Bowler including the last three years in Seattle. He figures to play three downs and to be the pressure linebacker from the strong side. He may occasionally line up with his hand in the dirt. Chance of making roster: 100%

Ernie Sims. Sims is a bit enigmatic, struggling the last couple of years after a promising rookie season. Still, he is only 24 and there is a good argument that his problems stem more from being required to do too much, rather than any particular talent issues. This will be an interesting year as we see whether he can develop into an above average linebacker or not. Chance to make roster: 100%

Larry Foote. The third part of the starting triumvirate, he'll steady the middle and make plays. I'm not quite as excited as many by Foote, but he represents an upgrade and the matador run defense that Detroit featured the last couple of seasons should at least be slowed a bit. Chance of making roster: 100%

Jordan Dizon. Another disappointing linebacker from last season, and another strong argument that he was misused, when he was used at all. Lots of promising news about him out of the OTAs leads me to expect him to play a significant role, and eventually take some time from Peterson. Chance of making roster: 95% (you never know)

DeAndre Levy. The heir apparent to Foote's spot in the middle. As a third rounder on a rebuilding team it would be a major upset to see him cut. Nate wrote an article after the draft, part of which really illustrated the difference in philosophies between the Marinelli defense and the Schwartz defense.

Typically, the middle linebacker is considered the quarterback of a defense. However, under defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, the "MIKE" position would have no more responsibility than any other position.

As Schwartz put it, it's not a very "mentally taxing" position.

“Quite honestly in our defense that’s not that big a deal," said Schwartz. "It’s not that big of a difference between an outside player and an inside player. It’s not like a quarterback on offense and maybe a tight end or something like that. Everybody on defense is responsible for making calls. It’s not one person that makes every call over there, so it’s not as big of a concern.”

Of course, we all recall that last year Dizon wasn't allowed to play because somehow Marinelli's defense was too complicated for a rookie. Apparently it was also too complicated for eleven veterans and half a dozen coaches as well, but I digress. Chance of making roster: 90%

Cody Spencer. With the release of Alex Lewis, Spencer is the lone veteran backup fighting for a spot. His experience and special team skill should give him an edge in landing one of the last 2-3 spots. Chance to make roster: 70%

Zack Follett. Guy is already developing a cult following but the fact remains, he's a 7th round pick and facing an uphill fight to win a spot. My heart says that he will be just crazy enough to land a special teams gig. Chance to make roster: 49%

Curtis Gatewood. Gunther and Karm thought enough of Gatewood to claim him from Kansas City so we have to figure he'll get a fair look. Accrued a half dozen games of special team time last year with the Chiefs. He's a classic tweener, a defensive end in college who is too small for the position in the NFL but who lacks the kind of athleticism and instincts to be an effective linebacker. It is doubtful he can ever develop past special teams. Chance to make roster: 25%

Darnell Bing. Entering his fourth NFL year and has been activated for exactly one game, registering one special team tackle. Holdover from '08 it is hard to see Bing finding a role, considering neither Oakland nor San Francisco nor Detroit have thought much of him so far. He has the hitting and coverage skills to be a nickel backer, but at this point he's filling out Safeway applications. Chance to make roster: 10%

Spenser Smith. Rookie FA our of Eastern Michigan he isn't competing for a roster spot. Converting from DE to LB, he will be lucky to get a year on the practice squad. Chance to make roster: 0%

I have a hunch that the Lions will continue to watch the waiver wire closely throughout the summer. While there is good reason to be excited about the first five linebackers above, there is plenty of room for improvement after them.
Tomorrow I'll wrap up the tour with a review of the Lions' brutal secondary.

Discuss the article Here, in The Den

Detroit's OL? Dead Last

We might not have entered training camp yet, but that hasn't stopped the endless analysis provided by football prognosticators, who in a recent article, have deemed Detroit's offensive line the most pathetic in the league. The verdict delivered in a SportsXchange article:
"Four of the five positions on the line seem secure: Backus at left tackle, Raiola at center, Peterman at right guard and Cherilus at right tackle. All four players are signed beyond this season, with Raiola and Peterman landing extensions in the offseason. Cherilus, a first-round pick last year, sometimes loses focus and could use some competition from Jansen, a veteran trying to prove he's still got it. Loper is a leap of faith at left guard, never having started a regular-season game in four NFL seasons, but he fits the Lions' new profile: big and strong. The Lions are going from a very simple zone running scheme to a more varied attack featuring power running. The hope is that will help a line that has looked bad in recent years look better."
The New York Giants earned first-place honors, while Carolina, Tennessee, Minnesota, and Philadelphia rounded out the top five.

Killer: Hanson's stellar career "wasted" on Lions

Add kicker Jason Hanson to the list of great talent the Lions wasted over many years of losing, playoff-free seasons, writes Tom Kowalski at

Kickers are frequently an afterthought, but most Lions fans have a healthy appreciation for just how good Hanson has been. But Killer points out it's not just his steady, long career that deserves accolades, but what he's done for us lately:

Hanson became the only player in league history to hit eight-of-eight field goal attempts of 50 yards or more in a single season. His 41 career field goals of 50 yards or more is also the most in NFL history.

Not only is Hanson a threat to bomb one from 56 yards, but he's amazingly accurate from 40 yards and in, hitting .952 percent during his long career.

While many teams keep a veteran kicker for short-term accuracy, they'll sign a youngster for booming kickoffs and long-range field-goal attempts, Kowalski points out. With the 39-year-old Hanson, that's not necessary. four of his final five games last year, the average distance of his 15 kickoffs was 70 yards or more (which means they landed in the end zone). Hanson only had one touchback during that stretch because opponents didn't fear Detroit's coverage units and almost always brought the ball out of the end zone. In fact, Hanson's seven touchbacks were the third-fewest of his career, but his average kickoff of 65.9 yards was one full yard better than his career average.

But Hanson is only seventh on the all-time list for a simple reason -- the Lions have been one of the worst teams in the NFL, with one of the worst offenses, for most of his career.

Only one kicker has made the NFL Hall of Fame as a pure kicker, playing no other positions -- Jan Stenerud. I think Hanson, when all is said and done, will deserve to be there on his talent and incredible consistency over many years. But whether the drag on his numbers of being a Lion ultimately holds him out remains to be seen.

Talk about it in The Den!

Training Camp Battles: Defensive Line

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Returning to the training camp battles on the defensive side of the ball. I haven't been too happy with the discussion so far which accidentally became more of a biography than any kind of worthwhile analysis. The tepid response in The Den confirms my thoughts. Furthermore there have already been a couple of excellent discussions about the defense, both in The Den and elsewhere. This morning Den regular AtticusSpeaks went through a fairly in depth discussion of the entire roster. mickeyblu posted a link to a FoxSports discussion of the team, and finally there is already an extensive ongoing discussion of the defense in The Den, started by poster scottallen222 about the state of the defense. I'm not sure that I can add anything original in this space, so instead I will attempt a different tack while discussing the defense, and hopefully it will be a little more interesting than the prior articles.

Defensive Tackles

Probably the point of greatest concern by Lion observers of the entire roster, it is difficult to argue that the team has one legitimate starter at the position. Last season Detroit began the year with six defensive tackles on the roster, they are unlikely to have so many this year.

Grady Jackson. Little can be said about the guy that hasn't been said elsewhere. Long-time vet, he's the most legitimate of the tackles on the team. He played at a high level as recently as two years ago, but no longer has the legs to be a full time player. He should provide starter-level production when he is on the field. Chance to make the roster: 100%

Sammie Lee Hill. Rookie fourth rounder who has impressed so far. Raw and ideally would be used sparingly his rookie year, he may be thrown into the fire early. He and Jackson are the only two tackles with the bulk that Schwartz prefers. Chance to make the roster: 100%

Andre Fluellen. Spent more time at left end than at tackle his rookie year, and played fairly well, showing surprising pash-rush skill. One possibility might have him at end on running downs, moving inside on passing downs. Chance to make the roster: 100%

Chuck Darby. Long time vet set a career high in tackles in '08 but was widely blamed for the defective run defense of the '08 team. He's never carried a line and he isn't about to start, but he can still be effective as a rotational guy. Chance to make roster: 85%

Landon Cohen. Got regular rotation time the last half of '08. He's been ordered to gain weight and his effectiveness at a bigger size will determine whether he wins a spot. The lack of competition leans in his favor and since he accrued a year with Detroit I do not believe he is eligible for their practice squad. He has a good chance of making the team as a regular inactive. Chance to make roster: 75%

John Gill. UFA out of Northwestern, he had an impressive Pro Day showing good strength and quickness but he is not ready to contribute at the NFL level and seems practice squad bound. Rick Gosselin named him one of the sleepers of the draft, for what it's worth. Chance to make roster: 30%

Orien Harris. Strictly a look-see guy. He's been productive in training camps even while he's bounced around the league. If he sneaks on to the roster his spot would be tenuous, at best. Ongoing discussion about the Harris acquisition Here, while Ty provides some more detail Here. Chance to make roster: 15%

Defensive Ends

Dewayne White. The only ex-Buc that Marinelli demanded who actually worked out pretty well. Is the only secure starter on the defensive line. Chance to make roster: 100%

Cliff Avril. He got four starts last year but his strength at the point is still questionable and he may be more suitable as a two-down end, particularly since there are ends on the roster more suited to defending the run. Chance to make roster: 100%

Ikaika Alama-Francis. Call me an optimist but Francis has all of the tools to be a standout pro. He's ideally sized at end for Schwartz' bigger line and started to get his legs toward then end of '08 after washing out of his rookie year due to injury and inexperience. There is no way this guy should ever have been a 2nd round pick, but think of him as a developmental 5th rounder and he is right on pace. He has the strength to defend the run and the explosiveness to get up field on passing downs. I expect him to be a very regular contributer at both ends. Chance to make roster: 100%

Jared DeVries. Has only been a starter the last three seasons and remains more valuable as a reserve. Typical yeoman-type player who will fight hard but is fairly easily controlled by better tackles. His roster spot is probably dependent on whether Detroit signs Kevin Carter or not. Chance to make roster: 80%

Jason Hunter. Special teams ace for the Packers he also did a credible job filling a regular spot late in '08. Isn't the size that Schwartz looks for and is probably a special teamer for Detroit, but he should land a spot. Chance to make roster: 75%

Eric Hicks. Was a good end for Gunther Cunningham and Bob Karmelowicz for years before his career wound down in '07, and his last really productive season was '05. Karm thought enough of him to call him and offer his a shot, but these types of comebacks don't usually work out too well. Chance to make roster: 20%

Ryan Kees. UFA out of St. Cloud. Isn't NFL ready but he could force his way on to the roster due to lack of competition. Big framed developmental guy, ideally suited to a year on the practice squad. Chance to make roster: 5%

Rudolph Hardy. Spent most of his rookie season out of the NFL before being added to Detroit's practice squad late. Strictly training camp fodder who is playing for another practice squad gig. Chance to make roster: 1%

Detroit had enough bodies to field a defensive line, but most of those guys aren't terribly good, with only White approaching NFL-average performance at his position. Rome wasn't built in a day, and rebuilding this line might be tougher than slapping up the Parthenon. I still expect Detroit to add bodies, if not Kevin Carter then someone, but either way I will be surprised if there isn't a significant draft investment in the defensive line next spring.

I have a lot of important drinking to do tomorrow, so the next installment may be delayed until Friday. Meanwhile discuss it Here in The Den

Lions trade Ronald Curry to Rams for DT Orien Harris

According to the St. Louis Dispatch, the Lions have traded WR Ronald Curry to the Rams in return for DT Orien Harris.  Harris himself was acquired by the Rams in a trade with the Bengals on May 7th.  A 2006 fourth-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the younger brother of Raiders OT Kwame Harris has also been on the rosters of the Browns, Bills, and Saints during his two seasons in the NFL.

Born in Jamaica and educated at the University of Miami, the 6’-3”, 300 pounds Harris garnered 14 tackles in 14 games for the Bengals last season, including his lone career start.  Wherever he goes, his production at Miami (11 career sacks, honorable mention All-ACC his senior year) is touted as a sign of great potential—but sooner or later it seems as though he’s on the move again.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune ran a nice article extolling his preseason production, attitude, and work ethic—and of course, he never played a regular-season down for the Saints.  Harris is quite the enigma, flashing potential—and occasionally, production—wherever he goes, and yet never catching on.  Unfortunately for him, the Lions have had a surplus of 300-pound DTs, and still have a need for bigger bodies.  Free agent DT John Thornton fits the slimmer mold--but he walked away from a deal with the Lions, in part because he didn’t want to gain the weight.

Like the Gerald Alexander-for-Dennis Northcutt deal, the Lions appear to be parting with a player they didn’t think could get very high on the depth chart, and receiving a player at a thinner spot.  Coincidentally, it’s that very deal that might have made the Lions consider Curry expendable.  Now if the Lions can deal Landon Cohen or Ikaika Alama-Francis for a third or fourth cornerback, we’ll be getting somewhere.

Discuss it here, in The Den!

Marinelli's men; how will they adjust?

It's getting to be that time of year with 2009 season previews, and Athlon Sports has one with a fairly astute breakdown of the Lions in different areas -- and one point I found particularly interesting:

Marinelli was proud no defensive lineman weighed more than 300 pounds entering training camp last year. Now Schwartz has told everybody to bulk up, and he acquired a couple of monsters to stick in the middle. The Lions signed tackle Grady Jackson, who is listed at 345 pounds but weighs much more. They also drafted tackle Sammie Hill, a raw, 329-pound prospect out of Stillman. Keep an eye on end Cliff Avril, who was a tweener when the Lions drafted him in the third round last year. He likely will start at right end as a speed pass rusher, but the Lions might move him around creatively. Dewayne White and Jared DeVries are solid, know-what-you’re-getting ends. But it will be interesting to see how end Ikaika Alama-Francis and tackles Andre Fluellen and Landon Cohen fit. All were drafted by the previous regime for the Tampa 2.

The Athlon writer also notes "Former coach Rod Marinelli wanted smaller, quicker players, and he wanted them to execute his Tampa 2 defense generally the same way regardless of the opponent. Schwartz wants bigger, stronger players and more versatile schemes. He wants to play to his players’ strengths and opponents’ weaknesses."

I think the Athlon writer is right, that IAF, Flu and Cohen may have more to prove to the new regime this training camp than some others. If Schwartz's and Cunningham's defense don't play to their size and/or strengths, how versatile can they prove themselves to be, being able to adjust?

Discuss in The Den!

The Pain Train is coming

According to Adam Caplan, the Lions have signed seventh-round draft choice Zack Follett to a three-year deal.  Known as the “Pain Train” to his Cal teammates, Follett has said that he patterns his game after the original Pain Train, Terry Tate

Coming out of Clovis, CA as a four-star recruit—the 40th-ranked linebacker in the nation--Follett immediately made an impact at Cal with his speed and aggressiveness.  Playing in every game as a true freshman, he had 32 tackles and 2 sacks.  As a sophomore, he only started one game, yet lead the team in tackles for loss (12.5), tied for the team lead in sacks (5.5), led the Pac-10 in forced fumbles (4), had 62 total tackles, and was honorable mention All-Pac 10.  As a junior starter, he was second-team All-Pac 10; again with 12.5 TFL and 5.5 sacks, plus 64 total tackles.  However, his season was interrupted by a neck stinger, caused by the aggravation of a bulging disc discovered in high school.  Just prior to his senior season, Cal switched to a 3-4 alignment, partially to maximize Follett’s explosive, attacking style:

I would say they were successful. Follett finished fourth in the Pac-10 with 10.5 sacks.  He also led the Pac-10 in tackles for loss (23) and forced fumbles (5).  He was named first-team All Pac-10, in a conference rife with NFL linebacking talent.  He was also MVP of the Emerald Bowl after racking up 9 tackles (8 solo), four of them for losses (-33 yards).  That also includes two sacks, one of which forced a fumble.

As easy as it is to get pumped about Follett’s amazing hits, huge plays, and passion for football, there are several drawbacks to his game.  Follett’s far from a complete linebacker; he was asked to do little more than blitz in college. He lacks the coverage skills to be a traditional 4-3 strong side OLB, and there were multiple reports from minicamp that he’s having difficulty picking up Gunther Cunningham’s scheme.  While it’s tempting to compare his skill set to OLB Julian Peterson, a more apt comparison would be former Buckeye and Patriot Andy Katzenmoyer, whose explosive highlight-reel hits in college failed to translate into excellent all-around play in the NFL . . . and whose career was also sidelined by neck stingers.

Follett’s only saving grace may be that he won’t be asked to be a traditional strong side OLB; the Cunningham-Schwartz scheme will feature a lot of blitzing, as high as forty percent of snaps.  If Follett can prove to be a situational threat when blitzing, and a special teams demon, he could yet make the roster—and be the next against-the-odds fan favorite, in the mold of David Kircus, Greg Blue, and “Blue” Adams.

Discuss it here, in The Den!

Salary Cap Forum Updated - PREMIUM

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Zach Follett player cost . . . Lions Cap Status updated . . . Follow Detroit's salary cap with expert George Ketchman here. (Requires premium membership to

Position Battles: Offensive Line

Monday, July 20, 2009

Continuing our discussion of players fighting for both starting jobs as well as roster spots we come to one of the more interesting positions with the offensive line. Four starting positions seem fairly secure, five counting Brandon Pettigrew at TE (a position we will also discuss today) and some order may be coming to the line that has lacked continuity for years. The remainder of the roster spots will provide opportunities for competition among the remaining players on the roster. There is one center on the roster with NFL experience and only three guards listed, one who hasn't played in the NFL in three years and another who is no way guaranteed to make the team. With six tackles vying for backup spots it is pretty clear that flexibility will be one of the guiding determinants. Detroit is likely to carry 9-10 offensive linemen into the season.

The Offensive Line


Manny Ramirez. If not for the lack of other options at guard he would probably be considered a longshot to make the team. Third year player out of Texas Tech he was one of the strongest players in his draft and one of the smarter players on his team, but so far has been unable to force himself into an otherwise weak rotation at guard with only five games (three starts) in his first two years. This has to be considered a make-or-break camp for Ramirez.

Daniel Loper. Probably the surest bet to make the roster and a somewhat likely starter. Was a regular backup for 40 consecutive games with the Titans after sitting for his first year and a half, although he did start the Titans' '07 playoff game against San Diego. Tough line to crack there with two All Pros and two other multiyear starters. Has extensive experience at guard and tackle.

Damion Cook. Another player with fairly extensive experience at both guard and tackle. Detroit signed him out of the CFL after his early NFL career petered out. Adequate player who may not provide enough value at any one position to secure a roster spot but who also has the potential to win the remaining starting spot. It's that type of year.

Ephraim Salaam. Nine year starter for four different teams, '08 was his first season exclusively in a reserve role. At this point in his career he is strictly a backup tackle who might start in a pinch.

Jon Jansen. Another player who is likely to make the roster, has reportedly gotten some practice at center. He's been exclusively a starting RT his entire career and it is possible that he fights Cherilus for playing time, and seems determined to prove that Washington made a mistake in cutting him.


Dylan Gandy. Listed as a center on the Lions' roster but virtually all of his professional experience is at guard. Was unable to win playing time for either Denver or Oakland last year and will probably be an early cut.

Dan Gerberry. A look-see guy only, will have a very difficult time making the roster. Probably an outside shot as a practice squader. GBN listed him as the 36th best center prospect in this year's draft and with only 32 NFL teams ... well, you do the math.

Toniu Fonoti. Another tryout guy. Trying to come back after eating his way out of the NFL. Has been signed by six teams since being cut by San Diego after his second season so plenty of teams still see his potential. Still holds the Nebraska record for pancakes. Words fail.

Lydon Murtha. He's generated a bit of excitement, but the fact remains that he is a 7th round draft pick and has a battle in front of him. He's quick enough to pull, but at this point isn't strong enough or bulky enough to stand up to NFL defenses. Run blocking is a weakness.

Kirk Barton. He got into one game with the Bears last year as a rookie 7th rounder before getting cut and spending roster time with Miami and Cincinnati. It is a little unclear what position he actually plays as he's been listed variously at all three offensive line spots. He played RT for Ohio State so we'll go with that for now.

In addition to Backus, Peterman, Raiola, and Cherilus it is very possible that the Lions go into opening day with the top five guys on the list. More likely one or more gets hurt or disappoints and then the fun really starts.

Tight Ends

Pettigrew has the starting position locked up and Will Heller has the inside track to winning the #2 spot, leaving the field to scramble for one or two other spots.


Casey Fitzsimmons. 7th year Lion is not a great blocker which might be job one for tight ends on this team. He is a decent pass-catcher, can play fullback and has been one of the Lions better special teamers throughout his career. His flexibility may save him. Figures to go deep into August regardless.

Dan Gronkowski. Rookie 7th rounder out of Maryland. Good size with long arms and big hands. He's a good blocker but lacks great speed and will never be a threat to stretch the field. His future in the NFL probably starts on the practice squad with a graduation to blocking back.


Jake Nordin. A holdover from Detroit's '08 practice squad, has one active game in his first three years (Ravens, '07). Is unlikely to force his way onto the roster.


With the move of Sean Conover to DE it is unclear how many tight ends Schwartz/Linehan intend to utilize. Nordin cannot be considered much of a threat to make the team and Gronkowski is a longshot to make a significant impact his rookie year. That would leave three tight ends on the active roster though, an unusually small number for a team that intends to remake itself as a physical running team, particularly considering tight ends are staples of the special teams as well.

Tomorrow we start on the defense.

Discuss my nonsense Here, in The Den

Salary Cap Forum Updated - PREMIUM

Dennis Northcutt player cost updated . . .Lions Cap Status updated . . . Follow Detroit's salary cap with expert George Ketchman here. (Requires premium membership to

Position Battles: Wide Receivers

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Continuing with our discussion of training camp battles we move on to the wide receiver group. With Calvin Johnson entrenched at #1 and Bryant Johnson almost certainly slotted to start on the other side, that likely leaves three more spots for receivers, at least one of whom will double as one of the kick returners. After the Johnsons there are several players who could either win the third receiver position or get cut in training camp. This will probably be one of the more interesting position groups to watch as preseason progresses.

The Contenders

Derrick Williams. The Lions' 3rd round pick out of Penn State, Williams should be something of a favorite to make the roster. Prior to the draft Williams got broad interest from teams such as the Patriots, Cowboys, and Colts. With five return touchdowns his senior year the primary interest has been in his return skills. He's a fast player with reasonable size. His career could easily follow the Derrick Mason/Steve Breaston path, primarily returning kicks early before maturing into a key receiver. It wouldn't be too surprising if he gets pressed into duty earlier than either Mason or Breaston were.

Ronald Curry. His offseason signing generated a bit of enthusiasm but the recent trade for Dennis Northcutt raised questions if Curry really has anything left, as the two players are likely competing for the same role and position. Up through 2007 Curry was reasonably productive as the #2/#3 in Oakland but went over the cliff last year, with little production despite reasonable health and little competition. Curry can probably win a spot regardless of Northcutt's performance if he can again become the reliable target that got him so many looks during the tumultuous period when he shared the field with Randy Moss, and Jerry Porter.

Dennis Northcutt. This trade feels more like a free look-see than a real commitment. Both the Jaguars and Lions traded surplus players who were unlikely to make their respective roster. Northcutt may have to impress to find a roster spot with a fairly pricey $3M contract for 2008. He's a reliable 3rd/4th receiver and there is no reason to think he can't continue in that role. At 32, his days as a regular punt returner appear to be over. Like Curry he will have to win a job as a receiver.

The Pretenders.

D.J. Boldin. Younger brother of Anquan. Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Wake Forest. Boldin led the ACC with receptions in '08 with 81, primarily in a possession role. A somewhat slower player ~ 4.55 40. NFL DraftScout has him listed at #220. He may be bulking up to emulate his brother's career. It is very possible that he is still rising as he only had 26 total receptions before taking over Lion draft pick Kenny Moore's role in '08. Has some experience under center, in punt returns and rushing. Probably bound for the practice squad.

Keary Colbert. Lions picked him up as a roster filler last year and didn't produce much, with only five receptions in five games (three starts). He represents a cheap insurance policy against need, either due to training camp injury or later in the season.

Adam Jennings. A pure punt returner who the Lions signed in '08, only to fumble his only return. He is a good cover guy on special teams but that probably won't be enough to win him a spot.

Eric Fowler. Spent most of '08 on the Lions practice squad. Killer reported that he has improved as a receiver this offseason which may win him an extended look, but like most of these guys he will probably only win a job on the back of his coverage skills on special teams.

John Standeford. A Den favorite from last year, he got extended time on the regular roster and impressed a bit averaging 16 y/r with 240 yards over 9 games and 4 starts. He is probably the most likely player among this lower list to fight for regular playing time, although Schwartz' unfamiliarity with him may weigh against him.

Kenneth Harris. Perhaps the longest shot of the group. A big receiver who spent much of his college career injured. He was slotted to start for Georgia in '08 but lost his job to A.J. Greene when he got hurt yet again. Finished his 5 year college career with 41 receptions and 2 TD. It would be an enormous upset for him to do any better than win a practice squad spot.


It is difficult to handicap these players. In preparation for the article I noted one source that claimed that both Williams and Northcutt are assured spots. Otherwise there is notably little discussion of who has impressed in the OTAs or who is on the outside looking in.

Discuss it Here in The Den

Could Sammie Lee Hill Be Forced To Play Right Away?

This morning, Tom Kowalski of wrote an opinion column, stating that Sammie Lee Hill may be one rookie forced into a large role early with the Lions due to the possible suspension of Grady Jackson. With Stafford, Pettigrew and Delmas all expected to be in various degrees of position battle--all expected to be huge parts of the Lions' future success--no one has talked about Hill playing a significant role any time soon.

Until now.

Here's what is certain. Sammie Lee Hill is a big big big boy. At 6'4" 330, he is hard not to notice. Other than that?

In the words of Kansas, "If I claim to be a wise man, it surely means that I don't know."

Hill is a unknown in the truest sense of the word. The 4th rounder out of Stillman had almost zero gametape on him prior to being drafted. Lions' coach, Jim Schwartz once complained that the only tape he had seen on Hill was a grainy amateur tape with a post from the press box in the way.

Some fans claimed they had seen on Hill, but all of us saw the same one, him jumping up onto a table in shorts. Not exactly telling. (I mean, maybe if it had been out of a pool or something)

The scouting report I put together on Sammie Lee Hill earlier this offseason reads as follows:
A developmental prospect out of Stillman College. He is big and very athletic—and very very raw. He's used to out-muscling opponents. Coaches will work closely with him to develop a football player where an athlete currently stands.
Yet, as much as we caution fans to wait for the pads to come on before making judgments, it could be the work in shorts that starts the ball rolling for Hill. Kowalski reports that Hill has done a "good job so terms of footwork, leverage, and hand placement. That is essentially the answer to the biggest question mark on Hill, fundamentals. If Hill can continue to use those skills with his pads on, he could definitely be the answer to the Lions' defensive line woes. Frankly, it's all speculation at this point. The athleticism and raw potential of Sammie Lee Hill is undeniable. We all know Kowalski is a glass half full type of guy, it's what we love about him. But, if he's right about Hill--if Hill is forced into playing time and shines, it would be a turning point for a franchise that is due. Discuss it in the Den!

Salary Cap Forum Updated - PREMIUM

Aaron Brown Player Cost, Calvin Johnson Player Cost Updated and various free agent signing adjusted, Franchise Tag Designation updated and 2009 Lions Cap Status Follow Detroit's salary cap with expert George Ketchman here. (Requires premium membership to

Position Battles: Offensive Backfield

Saturday, July 18, 2009

As we close in on training camp I thought it would be fun to take a look at the different position groupings and discuss some of the position battles we have to anticipate. I'm going to concentrate a little more on more off-the-grid fights. Stafford versus Culpepper is certainly compelling, but that has already gotten a great deal of digital ink, and will certainly get a great deal more.

Third Quarterback

Drew Stanton v Himself. If there is any role on this team that is the cliche 'player's job to lose' it is this one. There has been a lot of disagreement both in The Den as well as in the popular press, talk shows, and ... well ... everywhere about whether Stanton has gotten a fair shake. Really that is all irrelevant though, going into this season. He has every opportunity to make enough of an impression on Schwartz and Linehan that they will be comfortable with him as the backup QB if the need arises. If the Lions start shopping for veteran backups in August then Stanton is probably bound for points Calgary.

Third Running Back

There seems to be little likelihood that 34k or Morris can be dislodged from their positions at the top of the depth chart so that probably leaves one spot for third back, with the potential for a fourth who can also return kicks.

The contenders:

Aaron Brown. The recently signed 6th rounder out of Texas Christian is somewhat unlikely to make the team on the back of his running skills. He alternated with Joe Turner last year at TCU, displaying some breakaway skills and receiving ability, so there may be some potential for him to develop into a 3rd down back. Brown appears to have been drafted for his kick return skills. He finished 8th in the country in KR average (over 10 attempts) while returning a handful of punts with more modest success. If Brown breaks camp with the team he will likely be the primary kickoff returner.

Allen Ervin. A rare holdover from 2008, Ervin was something of a training camp favorite last year before landing on the practice squad. He was never activated during 2008 and appears to be a significant longshot to make the team.

Aveion Cason. Long time veteran whose flexible range of modest skills see him popping back up on the roster every year or two. Perhaps (hopefully), this is the year that Detroit is able to replace him permanently. With the drafting of Brown and Derrick Williams, as well as the trade for Dennis Northcutt it appears that Mayhew/Schwartz place a premium on upgrading the return game, a goal that obviously bodes ill for Cason. Cason's best chance to secure a roster spot is probably as an in-season roster replacement, a role he has filled repeatedly. In his five Lion seasons he has only broken camp with the team one time.

Antone Smith. A message board favorite. An undrafted free agent out of Florida State he was a priority signing by the Lions after the draft. He led the Seminoles with 15 touchdowns in '08, complemented by a somewhat modest rushing total. At 5'8" , #190 Smith is a smaller back, fast but unlikely to break any stopwatches. Football Outsiders developed a metric called Speed Score that has a reasonable correlation to future NFL success for running backs (Bill Barnwell discusses it a bit Here). With a speed score of a bit under 98 Smith is a bit behind the curve. As a one cut runner lacking much elusiveness his NFL potential is fairly limited. He is probably more of a practics squad candidate than a true competitor for a roster spot.

If it appears that I am a little dim on the prospects for third running back out of this group it is because I am. Perhaps one of the younger guys will surprise and force his way on to the roster.


Jerome Felton. The Lions could keep either one or both of these guys, so this may not be a true battle. Felton impressed enough to win the starting job in Colleto's offense to begin the year, before getting hurt and ceding the spot to Moran Norris. As a second year player Felton is probably a decent favorite to make the roster and would probably have to lose his spot at this point.

Terrelle Smith. Fresh from starting in the Super Bowl for Arizona Smith joined the Lions as a long-time veteran, having blocked for Deuce McAllister early in his career, Edgerrin James late, with a regular job with the Browns in between. Smith is an accomplished special teamer and a solid blocker and provides a very good option in the event that Felton is injured or cut.

Tomorrow: The wide receivers.

Discuss it Here in The Den.

The cautionary tale of another Georgia Bulldog QB

David Greene was a star at Georgia.

Matthew Stafford was a star at Georgia.

It’s the sincere hope of Stafford and the Detroit Lions that the similarities will end there.

Nice posting by Jeff Schultz in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's blog.

Writes Schultz:

Five years ago, David Greene was college football gold. He broke the NCAA record for most wins. He threw for more passing yards than any quarterback in SEC history (including Peyton Manning). Maybe he wasn’t projected as an NFL star. But he was drafted in the third round by Mike Holmgren, who had made a career of molding quarterbacks into Super Bowl champions, so that had to mean something.

Today, David Greene sells insurance.

Greene spent four years in the NFL. He never started a game. He tells Schultz he had a big adjustment period. He struggled with the new playbook terminology. Coaches re-worked his drop. "I felt like I had zero carryover from college," Greene said.

“As talented as Stafford is, he’s got the arm to be successful,” Greene said. “But I don’t know any college quarterback who doesn’t have growing pains as a pro. It’s just a completely different game. Everybody struggles. Look at [Troy] Aikman. Look at Manning. [Ben] Roethlisberger is about the only one who did well but he had the perfect system to step into and a great team around him.”

When reminded of Matt Ryan’s spectacular first season with the Falcons, Greene said: “He throws off the curve. What he did was unheard of.”

Schultz makes clear that Greene never had Stafford's physical gifts. But he wasn't junk, either. "Greene projected as at least solid NFL backup because he was successful, smart and never appeared overwhelmed," Schultz writes.

While Stafford has the talent to step right in to the Lions' starting role, whether he's truly ready is another question. "Some scouts have questioned his feel for pressure in the pocket. There were accuracy issues at times in Athens. Also a few underwhelming performances in big games," Schultz writes.
“With Stafford, it’s just going to depend on how well he catches on,” Greene said. “I never got comfortable playing in the system and my reps were limited.”

My take? Reps for Stafford obviously won't be a problem. And we're hearing he already has a good grasp of the playbook. Greene's experience is no more an indicator of what's going to happen with Stafford than Joey Harrington's was. Still, it's good to remember stories like Greene's to keep the enthusiasm at realistic levels.

Talk about it in The Den!

Julian Peterson Joins a "Deadbeat Club" and Gets to "Roam If He Wants To"

As reported this morning by Tom "Killer" Kowalski of, the arrival of Julian Peterson gives the Lions a lot of options with the former first rounder out of Michigan State.

Football fans have a tendency to lock players into a certain position. Yet, more and more, coaches are doing more and inventive things with talented players. Troy Polamalu gets to walk up to the line of scrimmage any time he wants. Jason Taylor can play any number of positions in one game.

With the Lions, Peterson offers the same amount of versatility. If the goal on 3rd down is to provide the maximum amount of pass rush. Expect to see a defensive line bracketed by Avril and Peterson.

With coaches wanting to use Dizon as a nickle linebacker, the biggest question will be who pairs with him. Larry Foote is a tackling machine, but doesn't have the range needed in pass coverage. Ernie Sims is a talented young player but has never shown the versatility Schwartz craves. Peterson is the obvious choice but if Sims and/or Foote step up, Peterson may end up seeing even more time as a defensive end.

And they say you can't teach an old dog new tricks!