the first forty eight

>> 2.28.2009

One of my and Mrs. Ty's guiltiest pleasures is watching late-night crime reality shows, like Forensics Files.  One of the many such shows beamed into my home from low orbit is called "The First 48", and its premise is that a homicide detective's chances of solving a case are cut in half if he or she can't pull it together in the first 48 hours.  The show then breathlessly follows a team of law enforcement agents from the time a homicide is reported, all the way through the first 48 hours of the investigation.  I have no idea if the quoted statistic is true or not, but as I sit at the computer tonight, just minutes before the first 48 hours of free agency draw to a close, I can't help but note the parallels.

In the days leading up to free agency, there's a wierd period of a few days where agents and players and teams are all doing an intricate dance, feeling each other out, hush-hush, while publicly saying nothing.  Why?  Because, of course, the league forbids any such contact until the clock strikes midnight at the end of the league year, and the free-agents-to-be become actual free agents.  Usually, there are rumblings about who might be headed where, but this year the 'tampering' escalated to unignorable levels.  This year's biggest fish, Albert Haynesworth--a man who many Lions fans were hoping would take less to rejoin The Grandmaster up here--was reported to be off the market three days before there was even supposed to be a market.

Many Lions fans and observers were irrationally hoping that the Lions would be making a big splash in the early hours, depsite repeated quotes from the men in charge that that wouldn't be happening.  Don't ask me why the Lions blogologue exploded with hate when there were no new signings as of noon on Friday; this was all foretold well in advance.  I honestly wonder who, besides Haynesworth, people were expecting the Lions to break the bank for?  However, soon there were rumblings of a coming meeting with WR Nate Washington and RB Derrick Ward, and--yes!--OG Derrick Dockery.  Then came the first slap in the face: News surfaced that Mayhew had brokered a deal with Carolina for CB Ken Lucas--but Lucas immediately nixed it, saying he wouldn't report if he was traded to the Lions.  As I said at the time, those of you out there rooting for 0-16, well, the weed of crime bears bitter fruit, you old hag.

I was both thrilled to hear this--the Lions are moving swiftly to address what I percieve to be the most glaring need, with a player I've long admired!--and crestfallen: they couldn't do it because dude would rather not play than play here.  It was right then that I realized how far uphill Martin Mayhew had to go.  Still, he filled one need (#2 RB/third down back) with the signing of Maurice Morris, and with Derrick Dockery and Nate Washington in town, I thought we had a great chance of plugging all our biggest holes on offense--save QB--without breaking the bank or giving up anything in a trade.  As I left work, I was bouyed by the notion that Mayhew saw all the holes, that he was filling the ones he could responsibly fill responsibly, and appeared to be patching up the offense and preparing to raze the defense and rebuild it from scratch.

Imagine my suprise when I turned on my radio and heard Brian VanOchten, of the Grand Rapids Press, on Bill Simonson's "Huge" show, spewing ignorant, exasperated tripe about how the lack of a splashy signing meant it was the "same old Lions".  Odd, but I seem to remember Matt Millen making a while lot of splashy free agent signings that amounted to precisely jack and squat over eight long, painful years of failure.  No, I think Mayhew's initial approach--the exact one he said he'd take from the get-go--was the right one.

Oh, but just because he didn't make a splashy free-agent sign, didn't mean he wasn't about to make waves.  News broke that the Dockery "free agent visit" was actually part of an accidentally unconsummated trade (gee, thanks Buffalo!), resulting in Dockery returning to the team that drafted him, the Redskins--who, somehow, still had some money left?  Undeterred, Mayhew managed to work a stunner of a deal in his third attempt.  He dealt Jon Kitna to the Cowboys for--at least--CB Anthony Henry, a legit veteran starting cornerback.  Admittedly, he's coming off a down year, but he's still an enormous upgrade over Travis Fisher as a #1 CB.  Mayhew also filled some depth with WR Bryant Johnson, who would make an okay inurance policy if neither Nate Washington nor T.J. Houshmandzadeh will sign here--and an awesome #3 if one of them does sign.  He also addressed CB depth and the lack of specialized special teamers by signing ex-Titan CB Eric King.

Finally, we come to the real whiz-bang deal of the evening: hot on the heels of the reports of Matt Cassel being traded to the Chiefs, several sources reported that the Lions had dangled a "flip this house" scenario to the Broncos: We'll get you Matt Cassell if you'll give us Jay Cutler.  First of all, the fact that this even reached the dicussion stage should put to rest any visions some had of a diaper-clad Martin Mayhew, sitting in a high chair at the Big Boy table, crying for his mama because widdle ole him don't know what ta do.  Second of all, trading for Cassell--to flip him for Jay Cutler?!?  Not only would our quarterback picture have gone from one of the gloomiest to one of the brightest (Cutler the starter, Culpepper the veteran backup, Stanton the project), the proposed chain of trades would have been plain crazy, as would have been the press coverage and fan reaction.  Crazier still is this: the fact that the deal was even discussed at all infurated Cutler--to the point where he is referring to his Broncos career in the past tense to the Denver media.  The latest as the "first 48" come to a close?  That the deal may not be dead, and the Lions may still be in the hunt.

What's the verdict?  In the matter of Lions Fans versus Martin Mayhew, on one count of being a real NFL GM, me the jury finds the defendant guilty.  Mystery solved.


The Lions Congregation

>> 2.27.2009


I was remiss in not mentioning it yesterday; the good Reverend Spielman over at The Church Of Schwartz has assembled some of the best and brightest of the Lions blogosphere (also, me) to convene as part of a weekly roundtable dicussion called the "The Lions Congregation".  It's a healthy mix of fan bloggers and journalist bloggers, with, of course, input from The Rev himself and his compatriot, Deacon Blades Boyd.  I figured there would be a lot of consensus, but it's really interesting to read all the different opinions.  I encourage you all to give the first edition a read.


old mother hubbard: the fullbacks

>> 2.26.2009

Unfortunately, I may not be able to get all these bad boys done in time for tonight's midnight madness.  Still, we press on . . .

Jerome Felton:  The Lions second fifth-round pick in 2008, the 6'-0", 246# rookie definitely made an impression.  Big, thick, and yet agile enough to be a legitimate rushing and recieving threat, Felton seemed to be a solid addition.  He didn't blow people up in the blocking game quite like a man of his size ought to, and he was slowed for a few weeks by an ankle injury.  However, the man absolutely wrecked people at Tulane, and I think he could develop into an effective offensive weapon.  Much like TE Michael Gaines, he could get used as Linehan used H-back Jim Kliensasser did when Linehan was in Minnesota.  However, I don't think he'll develop into the facemask-breaking replacement for Cory Schlesinger that fans want to see.  Bottom line:  a big young man with plenty of athleticism for his size, Felton could see significant time in 2009.

Jon Bradley:  A fan favorite, Bradley is a converted defensive tackle (!).  Listed at 6'-1", 310#, Bradley is a huge load coming through the line.  However, he's not just a big body--Bradley was an RB/LB in high school, and is sitting at third all-time in Arkansas high school history with 6,493 rushing yards and fourth all-time with 85 rushing TDs.  That . . . is impressive.  Bradley was converted from DT to fullback in the middle of the 2007 preseason, and served pretty admirably for the rest of the year, considering he knew practically nothing of the offense or position until then.  Hopes were high for 2008, but a shoulder injury in the last game of the preseason was going to sideline him for at least several weeks.  The Lions pulled out their old "let's stash this guy" card and IR'd Bradley.  If he is 100%, he should push Jerome Felton for playing time--and in fact, they might become the 'blocking FB' and 'recieving FB'.  However, if he doesn't shine in camp, he might not make the team.  Bottom line: a fan favorite who's a lot more 'theoretical potential' than 'actual reality'.  Missing all of 2008 means the jury is definitely still out.

Moran Norris: a journeyman free agent signed when Felton got injured, the 6'-1, 250# free agent has one of the best names ever.  If you ever frequent the message boards at, you know why.  Norris proved to be a capable veteran blocker, but he didn't flash much that makes me think he'll be around at the end of training camp.  Bottom line: just a guy with a great name.

SUMMARY:  Between Felton and Bradley, the Lions should be okay at this position going into 2009.  Both of them have potential to be above-average NFL fullbacks in one capacity or another, but it remains to be seen how close to their potential they'll get.  I don't see a burning need here, but if a prospect they love falls into their laps late on the second day, I could see it.


why did the 400-pound chicken come home to roost? to get whatever he wants!

>> 2.25.2009

It puts me in a difficult spot, as a fan.  When a player like Shaun Rogers--an impossible beast who can outrun, outjump, and generally out-athlete men half his size--gets drafted by the Lions and sees immediate success, it's hard not to love him.  When you see this big doofy mug (thanks, Sports Illustrated):

How can you not love him?  When it looks like he's on his way to being one of the best players in the game at his position--maybe even on his side of the field--how can you not love him?  How can you not want to drive to Ford Field, buy a Big Baby jersey and an eight dollar beer, and holler like a Texas country boy every time he blows somebody up?

Here's the problem.

As's Adam Schefter points out, that big fat lovable tub of badass carries a lot of baggage--and I am neither referring to Samsonite, nor the keg of flesh behind his doubtlessly-melon-sized belly button.  Rogers plays hard when he is happy, or feels he has something to prove, and that's it.  If he's not happy, doesn't feel like he's under the gun, or just plain doesn't wanna be sweet that day, he goes from being a badass to a lardass, effective purely for his size and nothing else.

We as Lions fans saw plenty of both the unblockable monster, and the wind-sucking goldbricker.  Many have correctly noted that the loss of Rogers put a dagger in the heart of a nearly-moribund defense, and the one INT we got out of Leigh Bodden in the one year he was here, can't possibly make up for the every-down impact Rogers had.  I concede that removing Big Baby from the middle of the defense created a cavernous hole, and our run defense was horrifyingly bad without him.  

However, it was only 'pretty bad' with him--and there were critical times (like the Philly game of 2007) where he was technically present on the field, but got blown off the ball by 100-pounds-lesser men.  Moreover, his play on the field is only part of the picture.  He clearly buys his own hype, and wants to be treated at all times like the lead dog--regardless of recent production or attitude.  Everything I heard while he was here was that the was a literal and physical enormous presence in the locker room, and he more or less ruled it with an iron fist.  He, like most other talented players stuck on the Millen-era Lions, grew completely sick of it all and turned the coaches out.  His influence became entirely negative; his off-field antics grew increasingly unpalatable.  Finally, his on-field play absolutely melted into nothing; he could be counted on nothing more than 20 snaps of 'meh', occasionally punctuated by a big play if the game was still close in the fourth quarter.

The Browns got most of a season of "good" Shaun Rogers, making the Pro Bowl as the rarest and most integral piece of a 3-4 defense: the nose tackle.  Now that they're building around him, Mangini has realized--too late--the importance of handling Big Baby with kid gloves.  He's seeing the problems that come with making Rogers the foundation of your defense.  And he'll find out that Rogers will find the chinks in his armor, and undermine his ability to coach.  Good luck, Mangenius, you'll need it.


old mother hubbard: the tight ends

Onward and outward from the football, , to the tight ends we go . . .

John Owens:  Some of you may remember this blast from the Millen past: a 6'-3", 255# TE out of Notre Dame, a fifth-round pick who contributed on and off for a few seasons.  After that, he bounced around Chicago, Miami, Cleveland, and New Orleans, until getting re-signed by the Lions late last year.  Owens is definitely a blocking-first tight end in a reciever's body, a guy who played both TE and DE in both high school and college.  Owens is a hard worker, but is neither gifted athletically, nor blessed with great hands, nor a "third tackle" blocking down the line.  Bottom line: just a guy.

Michael Gaines:  Gaines, a bit of a beast at 6'-4", 277, was originally drafted by Carolina in the seventh round.  Hailing from Central Florida University (Also Duante Culpepper's alma mater, if memory serves), Gaines was drafted by Carolina and saw occasional PT, culminating with 12 catches for 155 yards and two TDs in his third season.  Still, Carolina let him walk, and Buffalo picked him up right at the start of the season.  Despite waltzing in to a brand-new offense, Gaines got career highs in starts (14), receptions (25), and yards (215).  With at least one reception in every game he played (15), it seemed like Gaines might be starting to reach his potential.  So when the Bills released him and the Lions signed him, there was a bit of interest--could he be a diamond in the rough?  One season, six starts, 23 catches and 260 yards later, the answer is "probably not".  It's clear that he's a theoretically useful red zone target at that height, and has at least pretentions of being a two-way player.   He's more gifted than Owens, but I don't know if he wants it as badly.  Bottom line:  Gaines is a nice physical talent with some upside.  If the new offensive system actually uses the tight end position, he could develop into a good pass-catching #2 TE, or even a compelling red-zone option.

Casey Fitzsimmons:  Oh, man.  Somewhere, in an alternate Fan Wet Dream universe, Casey Fitsimmons was the Pro Bowl tight end on the Super Bowl-winning Lions.  He and co-MVP Mike McMahon recorded an authentic early-80s Detroit techno redux of the Super Bowl Shuffle, with features by fellow Pro-Bowlers Scotty Anderson, David Kircus, Jon Bradley, Danny "Blue" Adams, and Greg Blue.  Fitzsimmons hails from tiny Carroll College, an NAIA school in the middle of nowhere, Montana.  His high school team was so small it played 8-man football, and Fitsimmons played WR, TE, DE, and LB for them at various times.  Fitzsimmons was a sensation out of nowhere as a rookie in 2003.  At 6'-4", 258#, Casey displayed unusual athletic talent and a nose for the end zone.  Due to injuries, he was pressed into a starting role.  He started 11 of 16 games, and hauled in 23 catches for 160 yards and 2 TDs.  As we go into his seventh season in the NFL, he has yet to approach matching that kind of production.  Part of this is due to fragility--he's missed several games due to injury or illness in almost every season, including 4 in 2008.  Part of this is due to scheme; Martz's offenses really had no use for his talents.  And part of it, unfortunately, must be chalked up to him.  Bottom line: a pure recieving TE, and a fan favorite everyone would love to see reach his potential--but unless a miracle happens, he'll never be more than a great special teamer with a small but ardent set of fans.

SUMMARY:  The cupboard is shockingly, alarmingly bare here.  Three years of an offensive system where tight ends are almost completely vestigial have left the roster stripped of legitimate starting talent.  All three of these players are theoretically useful as depth, but Scott Linehan has always made great use of TEs--Lions fans should recall being terrorized by Jim Kleinsasser, and of course there was the sensational story of Randy McMichael in Miami (and then St. Louis!).  You can throw standout TE Brandon Pettigrew on the ten-man-long-list of "possibilites that would fill an need at 1.20", but I would look for a TE in the fourth or fifth round, possibly combined with a FA signing like soon-to-be-ex-Titan Bo Scaife.


old mother hubbard: the tackles

>> 2.24.2009

Thanks for your patience folks!  I'm getting these cranked out so they'll be done before free agency . . .

Jeff Backus:  Backus is the man of the hour; the discussion of whether or not the 6'-5" 305 pound veteran could physically play guard--after 128 straight games at left tackle--dominates the Lions blogosphere dialogue (blogologue?).  Backus, as we all know, was an all-world beast at U of M, the capstone of a nigh-legendary college offensive line.  Coming into the draft, there was great debate as to whether Backus was better suited to play guard or tackle.  He had sufficient height and frame, grit and strength to play left tackle, but didn't have either elite size or elite athleticism.  When he was drafted, I hoped he'd be moved inside to guard, but Matt Millen made sure he was installed at LT.  Thus began eight long years of Lions fans not forgiving Jeff Backus for not being Jonathan Ogden or Orlando Pace.

Backus is a warrior, a smart player who (mostly) makes up for his lack of extraordinary gifts with relentless effort, good strength, and great technique.  Backus is a good drive blocker, and there were some running lanes opened up on the left side between him and Ed Mulitalo over the past couple of years.  However, his lack of lateral agility has caused him to consistently struggle against pure speed rushers.  As Matt Millen's first draft pick, Backus has been here much much much longer than the vast majority of the roster.  The 'standout OT' was signed to a six-year extension in 2006, so the Lions are committed to him financially for at least 2009 and quite possibly 2010 as well.  I think a lot of the tide turned on Backus in 2007, when he injured his rib cartilage in Week 3 against Philadelphia, then tried to play through it.  Ask anyone who's had this happen to them, or known someone who has: rib cartilage injuries are extremely painful.  Backus' limitations with the injury were apparent; he immediately let through a crucial sack and was removed from the game.  He didn't practice all week afterwards, but then started the following game to keep his streak intact.  Streak or no, he was pretty much awful that game, and for the rest of the season.  I have to believe that if the Lions had had a legitimate option to start ahead of him, Backus would have been benched right then, as the Lions were in the thick of the playoff race.  That's when he turned the corner from "okay but overpaid and I'd love an Ogden or Pace instead" to "completely blows" in most fans' minds.  It's difficult to really get a grade on him, because throughout his career, the Lions have so often been in down by two or three TDs, in desperate passing situations.  Opposing teams, throughout Backus' career, have been able to pin their ears back and really attack Backus' biggest weakness, the speed rush.  I do believe he's a servicable left tackle, better than most give him credit for, and one of the vanishingly few veteran leaders on this team.  Bottom line: Backus is a net asset to the Lions with his grit, effort, and leadership.  His play is mediocre, but good enough for 2009.  If the Lions drafted a franchise LT for the future with the 1.1, and plugged that player in at guard, or moved Backus to guard, I wouldn't mind that at all.

Gosder Cherilus:
  Gosder the Gozerian, as I call him, was part of the Great Tackle Run of 2008, an unexpected passle of offensive tackles selected in the middle of the first round of the 2008 draft.  Standing 6'-7" tall, and relatively light for that height at 318 pounds, Gosder possesses great size, strength, and an absolutely vicious mean streak that has gotten him in trouble a time or two.  Assigned to work with Lions legend Lomas Brown, Gosder came in pretty raw, and pretty stiff.  Still, in a competition with veteran RT George Foster, Cherilus got some near-immediate PT, getting in against the Packers home opener when Foster was benched.  He got his first start the week after, at San Fransisco, and acquitted himself fairly well--however, Cherilus had trouble mastering the snap count, and therefore racked up many false starts.  He also looked fairly stiff in pass protection, and tended to use his size and strength to maul rather than 'block' people--infuriatingly, these were the twin sins of Foster, the incumbent veteran.  Marinelli would bench one, then the other, then the other, trying to get one to step up and play well.  Ultimately, the light started to come on for Gosder towards the end of the season.  Even if he didn't completely eliminate the mental mistakes (in Week 16, he was flagged for lining up too deeply on what would have been a game-tying 43-yard bomb to Megatron), his hips started to drop, his lateral moves started to look good, and we saw a glimpse of a young right tackle with Pro Bowl tools instead of a big mean dude in football gear.  Many were hoping that Gosder would blossom into the elite franchise LT that Backus is not and never will be--after all, he played LT in college, didn't he?  But the truth of the matter is that Cherilus will be an oustanding right tackle for years to come . . . let him be what he is instead of what he is not.  Bottom line: a prototypical RT body, posessed by a nasty mean streak.  If he can get his head in the game and get his footwork down, he will be among the league's best right tackles.

George Foster: a 6'-5", 338 pound walking false start.  I would be surprised to see him here next year.

SUMMARY:  The tackle position has two solid starters but no depth whatsoever.  Speculation is rampant that the Lions will use the first overall pick to select a left tackle; if that happens either Backus or the pick will probably slide over to guard.  If the first pick isn't a tackle, look to see at least one drafted in the middle rounds, as there is no backup except Foster, and he may be gone.


quick hits

>> 2.22.2009

Hey folks, I'm busy at work behind the scenes on the rest of the position group breakdowns.  A couple quick combine impressions:

* As almost everyone is saying, the shenanigans involving Alabama OT Andre Smith are like a forest of huge red flags: out of shape, didn't work out, left the combine without telling anybody, had an awful round of interviews . . . no thanks.

* OT Jason Smith from Baylor looked phenomenal.  Folks like Dave Birkett have been raving about him for a couple of days, but watching him in the position drills, he clearly stood out.  Very very strong in the upper body, very smooth and polished.  My new #1 OT.

* OT Eugene Monroe of Virginia did himself a lot of favors yesterday with his performance, and the Lions have already met with him.  He also looked excellent in drills; I'd have to rate him #2.

* Michael Oher didn't do anything to drop his stock necessarily, but he looked thick on bottom and lean on top; didn't look all that athletic next to some of the other guys, and admitted he hasn't even read "Blind Side", a book that was written primarily about him.

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