The combine is upon us. All the prospects are in Indianapolis right now, getting injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected and--in April, with luck--selected. For maniacs such as myself who want to see a bunch of as-of-last-month college kids run around pylons in shorts and pretend it means anything, the coverage of linemen starts at 2:00 pm EST Saturday and rolls on from there.
Stephen Peterman: brought in with little fanfare but lots of curiosity, Stephen Peterman was a former third-round draft pick of the Dallas Cowboys. Drafted out of LSU by Bill Parcells, Peterman blew out his knee in the last preseason game of his rookie season; he was IR'd and didn't see the field that year, or most of the following year. The 6'-4", 323 pounder made it back in time to make some special teams appearances in the last few games of 2005, but the Cowboys cut him in training camp the following year. It's rumored that the injury and his long recovery put him permanently in Parcells' doghouse . . . unable to catch on with another team before the season started, Peterman languished until the Lions' OL situation got (even more) desperate. In mid-October, Peterman signed with the Lions, and was placed on the practice squad to learn the offense. In December, he began to contribute, and was soon inserted as the starter. He capped the year by playing extremely well in a massive upset of his former team, the Cowboys. Peterman spent 2007 in a duel for playing time with Damien Woody, and eventually won it. He entered the 2008 season as the starter for the first time in his career, and promptly broke his hand in Week 3. After the bye and two weeks off, Peterman came back in Week 7 and really helped solidify the line. I've commented before that for this window--from Peterman's return in Week 7 to the loss of Raiola in Week 11--the Lions' offensive line looked to finally be 'jelling', to becoming something more than the sum of its mediocre parts. However, even though pass protection really became an issue after Raiola went out, with a line of Backus/Cook/McCollum/Peterman/Cherilus the run game finally had some size and grit up front. From week 10 on, Kevin Smith's rushing numbers look really, really good. Excepting for a moment the Tennesee and Minnesota games (because nobody ran on those guys), Smith carred 135 times for 585 yards, which works out to a 4.33 ypc average. If that was the baseline for next season, this team would be in worlds better shape.
Peterman is a grinder, a smart and tough guy with decent size; at 323 he's slightly lean for his height and frame. Depending on what you read, he either lacks athleticism or technique, and from what I've seen it's more like his lack of technique inhibits his athleticism. I think he doesn't quite know how to apply his agility to get lower, to use his leverage. It seems like he has two settings, "pull" and "maul", and he doesn't know that if he was as quick and smart while power blocking as he is in space, he wouldn't have to try and maul everybody. With the hiring of his old OL coach at LSU, George Yarno, as the Lions' new OL coach, Peterman will have every opportunity toacheive his remarkable potential over the five year, $15M extension the Lions just signed him to. Bottom line: Peterman has the size, grit, and smarts to be a great run blocker. He just needs to stay healthy and improve his footwork and technique.
Manny Ramirez: at 6'-3", 335#, Manny Ramirez cuts an imposing figure. A huge, big-bodied guy with tremendous upper-body strength, Ramirez was pigeonholed by all the pre-draft analysis stuff as a raw drive blocker with no pass protection technique or footwoork. However, Ramirez played at Texas Tech, where they pass sixty times a game, so it seemed like that couldn't possibly be true. He called the protections at TTU for both his junior and senior seasons, and was known for his intelligence and leadership on the field. When the Lions got him with their second fourth-round pick in the '07 draft, it seemed like a steal. A big mean road-grader with many years' experience in a pass-first, pass-second, pass-third offense, plus a thorough knowledge of protections and reading defenses? Awesome.
He barely got on the field in 2007, and played only when Stephen Peterman got hurt in 2008. What the deal with this guy is, I do not know, but he has all the indicators of success, and cannot get on the field on a team absolutely desperate for young, big, talented linemen. I would love for him to step right in and start for the departed Ed Mulitalo, but it doesn't look like that will happen, possibly ever. Bottom line: practically limitless potential languishing on the bench while street free agents are signed to start ahead of him. No idea what the problem is.
Damion Cook: A street free agent in his eighth year out of Bethune-Cookman; originally signed as a UFA by the Ravens in 2001. When he got the call for the Lions, Cook had most recently thrown his 6'-5", 330# frame around in the CFL. He'd last seen an NFL action in 2004--yet when Mulitalo went down, he ended up as the starter. Cook finished the season atop the depth chart at left guard. Bottom line: this dude has no business starting in the NFL. He played commendably, considering, but if he didn't have a relationship with Colletto, he would never have gotten on the roster to begin with.
Junius Coston: A 6'-3", 315#, 2005 fifth-round draft pick of the Packers, the Lions are Coston's third team in as many seasons. SUMMARY: fungible dude who doesn't even have a bio on the official site.
OVERVIEW: The guard position is yet another of urgent need. Peterman is currently a decent NFL starter with the potential to be really, truly good; he will almost assuredly enter the season as our right guard of the forseeable future. Ramirez has the body and resume of an All-Pro, but can't get off the bench. Nobody else is anyone we want seeing significant time. The Lions must acquire a starter at left guard--the current thinking is that the Lions will either draft an LT-of-the-future and shift Backus over to guard, or draft an LT-of-the-future and start that player at guard. However, don't rule out a mid-level free agent, even if the LT-of-the-future comes to town; the Lions are thin enough inside they could use a third guy who could start. My current dream scenario is "one of the four LTs" at 1.1, and then Cal's Alex Mack at 2.1, letting Backus and OT handle the right side, Mack back up all three interior positions, and then Peterman and Cherilus hold down the right side.