It’s (finally) mailbag time! Most of the questions I received had to do with a very round peg that just might fill a very big hole in the Lions’ lineup. I'll print David M, of NFLDraftBlogger.com's instance:
I saw that Ed Johnson of the Colts was released today. We need DT help and he's a decent DT that hasn't been playing up to standards and being lazy (the reason for release was listed as him being overweight at 315 pounds). He got his wake up call from the Colts, so do you think the Lions will attempt to sign and shape him up?
Johnson is an interesting case. The 6’-2”, 296# DT was released from the Colts last year, after a traffic stop resulted in the discovery of marijuana in his car. He was re-signed by the Colts seven months later--after, essentially, promising to be good. However, he was released again last week. When pressed for a reason why, Colts coach Jim Caldwell denied that it was a character issue, saying that it was a case of “overall production, or lack thereof”.
This is an interesting philosophical question for Lions fans. If Ed Johnson was truly cut only for performance, and not character, issues, then he's not just a "turd", and might be of use. Then again, if he was truly cut only for performance, he must have been terrible indeed; NFL teams don't release a guy midseason unless they're clearing up a roster spot for someone else. The quagmire was cleared up a few days ago when, Colts GM Bill Polian finally came clean:
“Jim Caldwell about three weeks ago called him in and essentially said to him, 'Ed, you have to pick it up – the production, the hustle, the effort and the ability to lose the weight has to be improved,''' Polian said Monday, adding that Caldwell told Johnson, “Otherwise, we're going to have to make a change.'''So there you have it: Ed Johnson was indeed cut for being lazy. His weight was a just manifestation of that lack of intensity. The many Polian, and Caldwell-via-Polian, quotes in that article make it crystal clear: the coaches wanted nothing more to do with Johnson’s half-hearted effort. This guy is like a fat Chuck Darby, without Darby’s motor; I don’t think that’s someone who can help the Lions. Moreover, Sammie Hill, a player with a naturally huge frame and a lot of heart, should come back healthy next week, or shortly thereafter.
David also highlighted another free agent target who might be worth pursuing:
I saw through various media outlets that former starting safety for San Diego Clinton Hart was released. Why have we not heard about the Lions going after him? Are they really pleased with Marquand Manuel starting next to Delmas? I know Ko Simpson is here too, and I like him as a player, but it never hurts to bring in someone with starting experience.
I have to admit, I hadn't heard of Hart's release. Judging by the fan reaction, it looks as though the Associated Press’ take on it:
Coach Norv Turner said the Chargers were carrying an extra safety and felt younger players Steve Gregory and rookie Kevin Ellison "have come along and are ready to play."is essentially correct. The Chargers are trying to shake things up in general, and Hart's release (following several weeks of poor play) sent a message to the rest of the defense that nobody's job is safe.
As far as the Lions making a move to pick him up, I think you answered your own question. The Lions already have a starter they seem to like in Ko Simpson, and I'd expect him to come back healthy after the bye. I have not been fond of Marquand Manuel's play, but he's been on the team--and in the system--for much of the offseason, and can play either safety spot. That's another thing to remember: Schwartz doesn't use the typical "strong" and "free" safety roles; a traditional SS who's a liability in coverage has no place in this defense. According to Adam Caplan of Scout.com, that's exactly what Hart's problem has been: coverage.
I also got another very good question from commenter SomeChoi:
S Hill and L Cohen seem to be good DTs who will only get better. Yet, Killer talks about DT as a major need for next year. Am I just overvaluing those guys? I would think LT is a bigger need than DT (but both behind DE, CB, and S).I think we as Lions fans need to be clear: after Megatron, Matt Stafford, Brandon Pettigrew, Louis Delmas, and DeAndre Levy, just about everyone on the roster is a candidate to be replaced this offseason.
Of course, I would love for the Lions to get an elite left tackle--but the Lions' DT rotation, with Hill out, is Cohen, 36-year-old Grady Jackson, and 278-pound Turk McBride. Understand that on a team with an established defensive line, Hill and Cohen would have each had to wait a year or two to get on the field--and instead, they're part of the starting rotation.
Likewise, the DEs are extremely thin: Avril is just starting to turn it back on after his injury, Dewayne White can't stay healthy, DeVries was going to START before going on IR, and his street-free-agent replacement, Jason Hunter, is also out. Six months ago, Jason Hunter was a special-teams standout for the Packers, who was then released. Now, the Lions are eager for his return, so they can plug him back into the rotation? Yikes.
I've been ringing alarm bells all offseason long: the cornerback position is absolutely dire. Henry is better suited to safety, Buchanon needs to pull his head out of his posterior, and there isn't another legitimate NFL starter on the roster. Will James is a great story, but he's another weak #2/strong #3-type guy that could be a cog in an otherwise-excellent secondary, but he's no #1, not in a division full of excellent, strong-armed quarterbacks.
I could go on and on about the talent definciencies all over the roster--but I'll try to stick to your question. Sammie Hill is still extremely raw; he doesn't yet know how to use that incredible build to its fullest. His technique, hand work, and use of leverage is simply not there yet. Once it is, though, his potential is limited only by his effort. If he reaches that potential, could be the Lions' nose tackle for years to come. However, at this point he's just a big body--that helps, but only goes so far.
Landon Cohen has made absolutely unbelievable strides since the Lions took him in the 7th round of the 2008 draft, putting on about 35 pounds of pure muscle. I bumped into him at the “Lions Uncaged!” event; he didn’t notice, but my clavicle was broken in three spots. Still, he was a seventh-round draft pick just last year. He BARELY saw the field--and all of the technique coaching he got last season was wiped out and rewritten with the opposite approach this summer. If he continues to develop, he could indeed be a valuable rotational guy next to Hill.
This is kind of the thing: us Lions fans are so used to anyone who's even moderately decent starting; the notion of having both an excellent starter and a solid backup is disorienting. I agree that Cohen and Hill are two excellent young prospects--but this defense needs to be built around the NEXT Grady Jackson, the next Albert Haynesworth, the next Pat Williams. If you have a chance to draft the kind of DT who stops people's running games cold all by himself, you don't pass on that guy because Landon Cohen is coming along pretty good.