Jerod Mayo was the Lions' Plan B. Rod Marinelli openly coveted the blazing natural speed of Florida DE Derrick Harvey, but it was a foregone conclusion that the top 4-3 pass rushing end would eventually get drafted much higher than the mid-to-low first round he'd been projected at by most obvservers. As Harvey's stock rose, it became apparent that the Lions would not get the chance to draft him. Jerod Mayo looked like a perfect Tampa 2 MLB; fast, agile, intelligent, senior starter on an SEC defense . . . he had all the physical and mental tools to be a plug-in starter. When Harvey went off the board at 1.8, that wasn't that suprising. When the Pats "reached" for Mayo at 1.10, it was like a kick in the groin. I said to my assembled friends and family, "Well, if the Patriots took him, at least we were on a guy who was going to be good."
By the time the Lions went on the clock, the doomsday scenario had unfolded--none of the Lions' targets were there, save for Boston College RT Gosder Cherilus (who would have been a pretty big reach at 1.15; I believe the Lions had scouted as a guy they might trade up for if he were available in the late first or early second. Millen wisely moved back to pick up an extra pick, and then took the guy he probably would have taken at the original spot anyway: Cherlius.
Now Gosder the Gozerian got off to a rough start--a rough false start, that is! Ha! Gosder, like all of the rookies, got put on the Rod Marinelli "earn your starting spot" schedule, and that proved to be a longer timetable than most assumed it would be. He looked great against Aaron Kampman and Green Bay when he came in for the second half of the Week 2 game. However, more playing time revealed some of the same flaws that plagued the veteran, George Foster, that he was brought in to replace: namely, an unacceptable level of mental-mistake penalties (the aforementioned false start), stiff hips and high pad level, slow to move laterally and quick to lose his temper.
Multiple times, Marinelli cycled Foster and Cherilus, presumably trying to motivate either one of them to step up and get their head in the game. Goz was showing flashes here and there, but also continuing to make stupid penalties at the worst possible times--most notably against the Saints in Week 16, he was flagged for lining up too deeply on a play that would have been a game-tying 43-yard bomb to Megatron. Still, his technique steadily improved. I watched him against Julius Peppers--and while Carolina was certainly teeing off against the Lions in every phase of the game, on many plays Goz looked composed, his technique looked good, and he did not at all seem like he was hopelessly overmatched, while playing against one of the very best.
I believed at the time of the draft that Mayo was and would be an excellent linebacker in the Lions system. I think the upgrade he would have provided this season for the linebacking corps would have been far more noticeable this year than the upgrade Goz provided for the offensive line. However, Jerod Mayo would not have been the difference between 0-16 and anything worthwhile, and furthermore we now enter this offseason with the RT spot solidified for years to come. Bookended with an elite LT like Andre Smith or Michael Oher, and with Backus moved to guard and Raiola in the center, Goz will be the first step towards repairing an offensive line that has been irretrievably broken since the untimely death of Eric Andolsek and the paralysis of Mike Utley.
THAT, I have always believed, has been the systemic problem that has poisoned so many coaches and draft picks during the Millen tenure: no holes for the running game, no running game to take pressure off the passing game, no protection for the passing game either. You simply cannot draft talent at the edges and hope to overcome the deficiency up front!
Congrats to Jerod--I would have loved to see him in a Lions uniform. But Goz might be the first massive stone placed in the real foundation of this franchise.