cory redding goes sittin' by the dock of the . . . puget sound?

>> 3.14.2009

UPDATE: The Free Press has several quotes from Curry on the trade:

"Actually, I’m very excited about that (trade), being that he’s going to be a perfect Sam linebacker,” Curry said in a phone interview. “Ernie Sims is going to be a great Will (weak-side linebacker) and I just have the opportunity to play the Mike. That Mike position is always a position that I always looked at at Wake Forest that I wanted to play but just never was allowed to really just play it 400 snaps (a season)."

Yeah, that's a tortured Otis Redding pun in the title.

Earlier today, PFT reported rumors that the Lions and Seahawks were in talks to swap Cory Redding for Julian Peterson . . . now Killer is reporting that it's nearly a done deal, and Fox is reporting that it IS a done deal.

The knee-jerk reaction is "Oh, I guess no Curry then."  JP is a Sam 'backer, who happens to have a gift for pass rushing, much like Curry.  Theoretically, they would play similar roles in the defense.  However, IMO JP is more limited than Curry.  Peterson was a hybrid DE/OLB at State, a bit of a 'tweener who wreaked havoc from either spot.  However, he's played at the strong side mostly because of his size and speed; he's not that gifted in coverage.  Curry, however, can roam the field like a safety.  If the Lions are considering drafting Curry #1 overall, and having him center JP and Ernie . . . wow.  The Lions would boast a devastatingly fast, strong, and athletic linebacker corps.

Moreover, the Lions would get out from underneath a rotten contract . . . Redding is still one of the highest-paid defensive tackles in the game, yet he's been barely more than a placeholder without an impact nose tackle next to him.  I think we should expect big things from Andre Fluellen in 2009 (assuming the Lions don't draft a DT to start ahead of him).  With their new free-weight training program and an emphasis on maxxing out size and power, I believe Andre Fluellen's athletcism will make him a force to be reckoned with--especially with Grady Jackson occupying two blockers on most downs.

It's sad to see one of the last pieces of What Might Have Been shipped off . . . but it again reinforces a few points:

1) Martin Mayhew is a Real Live NFL GM who has a plan and is executing it like a pro
2) Mayhew and Schwartz are on exactly the same page when it comes to how to build this team
3) They're going to do it by getting bigger, faster, and stronger on defense, right away

I'm all for it.  Yes, yes, yes, today is a good day to be a Lions fan . . . and the blue flame burns a bit brighter yet.


the lions congregation, part III

>> 3.13.2009

It's Lions Congregation time again over at the Church of Schwartz.  This week, the faithful discuss:

* the one remaining free agent we'd love to see inked

* if Jordon Dizon can start in the middle

* Bryant Johnson's possible role in the offense

Once again, this is a roundtable discussion by the Web's pre-eminent Lions bloggers (and me); you'll see just about every concievable defendable opinon on each topic.  It's always enlightening and entertaining.


i'm getting sentimental over you

Last night, I started in on my way home from work, and turned the radio to the Huge Show, a Grand Rapids-based syndicated sports talk show. Almost immediately after I turned it on, who comes on as a guest? Aaron Curry. Go ahead and listen to the interview right here; believe me when I say it is worth the time.

When Simonson said "Aaron, I know that right now, Lions fans are crying in their cars, praying to God that the Lions draft you number one overall", I laughed out loud because that was nearly what I was doing. This kid sounds like a true gem: an intelligent, dedicated, hardworking young man who puts his family first, excellence second; little else rates at all. He speaks of leadership, of committment, of character. But moreover he speaks of tenacity, of relentlessness. What he said to elicit that quote out of Huge was naming one classic and one modern player whose game he patterns himself after: Lawrence Taylor and Ray Lewis.

Of course, talk is cheap, so I decided to go to the definitive criterion on whether or not a player is any good: YouTube highlight reels. There are several out there on Curry, some with better quality than others. This one is my favorite (make sure you enable high quality!).

The thing that dropped my jaw most was not the breathtaking pass rush ability, the big hits, the interceptions, the incredible awareness, or the great open field tackling. No, what dropped my jaw is that all of those things were on the same highlight reel. Normally with these things, you have (for example) the famous Sam McGuffie mixtape--where you get an unbroken string of Sanderseque run after Sandersesque run. You're not going to see McGuffie move the pile. You're not going to see him flex out to WR. You're not going to see him taking snaps at QB. You're going to see a kid doing the one thing he does really well, over and over and over and over.

Curry did EVERYTHING exceptionally well at Wake. He'd line up at the end of the line, put a hand down, and rush the passer like an end--and look like Freeney coming around the corner. He'd do the same on rushing downs, standing up tight ends, shedding blocks, and making tackles at the line. He'd play traditional on-ball SAM, blanketing the TE and breaking up passes. He'd drop deep into coverage, read the QBs eyes, break on the ball like a safety, pick passes off and motor past everyone on the field for the TD. He'd blitz from the outside and absolutely eat quarterbacks. I love his open-field tackling; after watching the Lions needing four or five guys to bring anybody down, having a guy who can square up, hit, wrap, and bring a guy down with no help would be heaven.  His read/recognition skills are unbelievable; on all of the highlights you'll see him sniff out screens (once on Mr. Popularity Darrius Heyward-Bey), recognize reverses, and fail to fall for fakes. There's one play against Navy where the QB does two fake handoffs, and Curry blows off the snap and goes right for the QB. He never flinches on either fake and drops the QB before he's even done with the second fake. The "Jacked Up"-worthy hit drove the QB into the turf, and he didn't get out of the turf until the trainers came for him.

I cannot explain to you how desperately we need this young man on our team.


2009 NSS Joint Draft

>> 3.12.2009

The NSS Joint Draft (as it's now called) is officially underway over at Next Season Sports.  You can see my pick/ analysis/justfication just a couple posts down, but I threw up a 'diet' version over there, too.  I really do think anyone reading this site should pay close tabs on how that mock is rolling out; judging from the quality of writers they have, and the first-cut draft of it a month ago, this could be one of the most spot-on mocks you'll see this year.  I really have been honored to participate in it, and thanks again go to Steve at Detroit Lions Weblog for getting me in touch with the webmaster over at NSS, Aaron.


extreme franchise makeover: logos edition

There's been a lot of handwringing about the Lions' new uniforms and logo. In fact, it's been bordering on great lamentations and/or gnashing of teeth. I won't pretend as though I am not right in the thick of the wailing masses myself; I've been all over the Internet uselessly commenting that this makeover had "better be good". I'm not sure what follows that statement . . . "or else, I'll REALLY be mad!"? "or else, I'll STOP FOLLOWING THE TEAM?"? Let's be real folks: if 0-16 only caused me to redouble my committment to supporting this organization, a bad logo isn't going to make me hock my gear in shame.  

The winner of the Detroit News reader contest for designing your own logo was announced, and somehow many people took that to mean that that would be the new official logo--which was bad, because it wasn't that good. Grady Jackson said he "liked the new colors", which of course sent a chill down everyone's spine. New colors? New COLORS? Visions of the Detroit Pistons in teal, orange, and disgusting danced through everyone's heads. Radio host Mike Valenti said he thought he saw the new logo yesterday, and it was "horrible" and looked cheap.   Brian VanOchten said the new logo should be "simple but modern, much more aggressive, but not cartoonish."  Whew, got all that?

Now let me put this forth: I am no Picasso. However, my mother was an art major, and has worked in advertising and media sales for nearly thirty years; so I know a thing or two about design, color, etc. Most football fans, however, do not. Fashion is not exactly tops on the mind of most gridiron fanatics. You don't see a lot of sports bloggers walking around their house with paint chips and a color wheel. Yet somehow, when this topic comes up, every monday morning quarterback sees fit to nitpick the work of a team of highly-paid people who spent four (or more) years in college learning about every aspect of what looks good.

Besides lack of experience on the subject matter, there's the matter of taste.  Taste is subjective, both amongst regular Joes such as you and myself, and amongst design experts. When Comerica Park was built, most regular Joes such as you and myself loved it. It was spectacular! All sorts of displays, attractions, faux-old-timey conceits, actual old-timey construction (note the use of rivets over hex bolts/nuts at many prominent beam connections), the statues of the Tiger greats, the ivy, the fountain . . . it's a jaw-dropping monument to both everything baseball is, and what we like to think it used to be.

However, when Ford Field was being built, I recall an interview with the design firm where their dislike of CoPa was verging on open contempt. I remember one guy saying, "Well, you're not going to see a bunch of huge plastic lions on the roof"--a dig at the outsized tiger sculptures prowling the rafters of Comerica. And sure enough, the smoothly arched aluminum roof, the classic brick facade, and the enormous ground-level windows of Ford Field provide a classic, timeless counterpoint to the spectacularly anachronistic structure across the street. And, most regular Joes such as you and myself love it! Two adjacent sports stadiums, two completely different styles, two completely different executions, and yet the same fans who helped pay to build both of them are equally happy with the results.  

The Detroit News fan contest shows exactly what happens when most of us are asked to design the Lions logo: we draw the best/meanest/fiercest Lion we can and then write "Detroit Lions" somewhere on there. Or we incorporate the Olde English D, because that's cool, and try to work a lion in there, because that makes it Lions--nevermind that we didn't like it when the Tigers had that D with the tiger crawling through it . . . do you see what I'm getting at here? Just because an athlete or broadcaster or whoever "likes" or "doesn't like" it, doesn't mean it is or isn't well done. I'm sure that when good old Bubbles was unveiled, as many disliked it as liked it, for no other reason than people generally not liking change. However, I do have faith that this makeover will be a positive one--or at worst, one that just takes getting used to.

Don't forget, when Bill Ford Jr. set the design goal for Ford Field, he said "I want to stand on the fifty-yard-line and know I'm in Detroit."  Sure enough, there are few stadiums in the world that more effectively evoke their host city than Ford Field.  Say what you want about the team.  But, in terms of the image, the franchise, and the marketing and promotion, Lewand and the Fords have always been consistent in what they want: classy, classic, strong, clean, and timeless. The Fords are not going to allow their billion-dollar franchise to get stamped with something "horrible" or "cheap". You all may well hate them for the product he's put between the lines, but Big Willie Style has always made sure that his branding, his image, and his money are well taken care of. We may not know what the changes will be, but I can guarantee that whatever they are, some will like them, some will love them, some won't care, and some will hate them.


on quarterbacks

>> 3.11.2009

held a press conference (click for Killer's take) yesterday afternoon, in which he adroitly managed to avoid saying very much of anything at all. However, I heard one thing in particular that made me glad:

"In the spring, when we start the first minicamp and the first OTAs, I'll sort of let that determine some of that,'' Schwartz said Tuesday. "We need to see where Drew Stanton is. We need to see Drew Henson. We need to see Daunte. We need those guys to throw. The early part of the offseason program, the first minicamp, the first OTA days, may have something to do with that and our comfort level with those guys."

I heard Dave Birkett's interview on the Huge Show afterwards; from what he said, it was apparent that Schwartz and the Lions really are putting an emphasis on assessing what they have in Drew Stanton before going into the draft.

Now, a quick disclaimer here: I've avoided "coming out" as a DS supporter, partly because so far his career has mostly consisted of an undeserved exile. On top of that, I am a third-generation Spartan who greatly admired Stanton's intelligence, toughness, and leadership at MSU . . . and of course, how lame and predictable is it that I'd root for the hometown boy to make good with my beloved Lions? But perhaps most importantly (to me), I've been burned before.

You see, Chuck Rogers was at State at the same time I was, and I had the pleasure of making his acquaintance a couple of times. The idea of a Saginaw kid, coming to State and blowing away records, and then being the #2 overall pick in the draft to the Lions . . . it was all just too good to be true. Even more incredible to me, this was a guy I'd actually met in real life. Watching his character and his game get dissected live on national TV, for weeks on end, really brought home to me what a completely ridiculous circus this all is, and how much money, fame, power, and greed circles around these kids, these boys, these men. Of course, being completely immersed in the NFL circus my whole life, I bought in wholesale; me and my boy got matching home-and-away C. Rogers jerseys, and that first game was a watershed moment.  We were absolutely jubilant at his two-TD performance. I remember watching the highlight shows after that day, and every once in a while a talking head would slip in, almost as an afterthought, "Oh, by the way, that Charles Rogers fellow found the end zone a couple of times." I actually said out loud, "FOOLS! Don't you see?? It's already begun!!

. . . I can neither confirm nor deny any accusations that I was anything other than stone cold sober at the time.  In any event, we all know how that turned out: with Rogers throwing his jersey to a kid on the way out the door, and the Lions suing him for his signing bonus. With Rogers working out for other teams, barely able to break five seconds in the forty--when he had legit 4.2 speed coming out of college. With Rogers in and out of jail for various petty crimes. With yet another Jersey I Cringe To Wear in Public hanging in the closet.

Now Stanton is a player I have an extra soft spot for, because my then-toddler daughter was introduced to football through him. One of the games we'd play with her would be to point out Drew Stanton every time teh camera closed in on him. In fact, one of the first times she recognized a number was during a Spartan football game, and she started shouting, "Green Number Five!" It took us a little while to realize that she was seeing Stanton and calling out his jersey number: a green five.  When got a little older, my mother taught her to say "Drew Stanton, what a babe!" (gee, thanks, Mom). Ultimately, DS was kind enough to do an autograph session at the Mall, and my little girl actually got to meet the man in person.

Anyway, when Stanton was drafted by the Lions, it was a dream come true, of course. A second-round pick, at just the right time to draft and groom a QB, and a very Millen kind of QB, a tough-nosed, smart, gritty, vocal leader. The kind of player who legitimately hates opponents and wants to beat them--not for glory, not for stats, not for money, but for the sake of victory. The kind of player who can't stand losing, and will give every last ounce he's got to come out on top. That is exactly the kind of quarterback that most Lions fans have been screaming for for years, yet have not ever seen.

I was both thrilled and scared to tell my daughter about Drew Stanton What A Babe becoming a Lion, because deep down I feared that what happened to Chuck would happen to Drew. That the dark presence that hangs over this organization would roll down upon Ford Field and smite him, and DS would never lead the Lions to anything. Sure enough, it's been two whole seasons now; thanks to injuries, blackouts, and the ineffable Will of Rod, my now-twice-as-old-as-she-was-then daughter has still never seen Drew Stanton play for the Lions. She roots for the Buccaneers now.

I tried really hard to not let this burn me. I tried really hard to temper my expectations. I tried for the longest time to justify everything that had happened and convince myself that Stanton would get a fair shake. But I'll state the obvious: if the Lions draft a quarterback with the first overall pick, Drew Stanton will never be the starter for the Lions. If I'm being brutally honest, a not-insignificant chunk of why I don't want to see the Lions draft Matt Stafford is that I don't want to see them give up on DS. If you take a hard look at their career numbers, their production was virtually identical--and Stanton played on much worse teams. If you look at their intangibles, their decision-making, their grasp of the offense (Stanton was a grad assistant his senior year, and actually assisted the coaches in gameplanning) . . . Stanton has everything going in his favor, and Stafford has . . . well, a better arm. To be frank, I think that if the Lions really give DS a chance, and truly evaluate Stafford as a quarterback--not as a passer, as a quarterback--they'll see that they'll be wasting, at least, forty million dollars if they select Stafford #1 overall.

Now, finally, we are hearing that Stanton will get his day. That he'll get the pre-draft minicamp and OTAs to show the Lions what he can do. That he'll get a fair shot to prove to Schwartz, Linehan, Mayhew, and whoever else that he's got enough potential to keep wearing the QB Of The Future headset-and-ballcap. Since the new Lions leadership has yet to fail to do what they say, or say anything they won't definitely do, I'm choosing to take them at their word.

Unfortunately Birkett rightly pointed out that the by the time DS gets his day, the Lions will have already made a decision on Matt Stafford. Schwartz said at the presser that they've already watched every pass Stafford threw in college. Stafford was actually in Allen Park yesterday for testing, interviews, etc. And, as Birkett noted, if you think Matt Stafford is worthy of the first overall pick, you take him. If you think he will be the next Peyton Manning, you take him. If you are comfortable with handing Matt Stafford forty million guaranteed dollars and the keys to your franchise, you do it--regardless of how DS looks in minicamp. Likewise, if you do NOT think he's worth the 1.1, then you DON'T do it--regardless of how DS looks in minicamp. No, the evaluation of Matt Stafford must be done separately from the evaluation of Drew Stanton. All I can do is wait and see, and trust that the Grandmaster knows what he's doing.

Technorati Tags: nfl,detroit lions,drew stanton,matthew stafford,jim schwartz


NSS Interblog Mock Draft

>> 3.10.2009

The Next Season Sports Interblog Mock Draft is getting ready for its second-go round--which means we're starting at the top once again. This time, Steve from Detroit Lions Weblog and I will flip spots--I'll take the 1.1, and he'll handle the 1.20.  It hasn't been posted yet, because Aaron over at NSS is trying to corral all the picks up front, but I assure you it's underway.  With the entire field of prospects available to me, I selected this guy:

It was a really difficult choice. For me, if I am in Mayhew's chair, I am looking at making a guaranteed MINIMUM of a five-year, thirty-five million-dollar investment in a dude who may or may not be able to legally buy beer. This is absolutely walking the tightrope as a GM; getting this pick right means a you add a perennial Pro Bowler to a team desperate for playmakers. Getting it wrong means you probably seal the fate of the team, the coaches, the franchise, and yourself for the next five years. It seems a little early and often in the Mayhew Era to be calling for do-or-die moments, but this pick is just as crucial to the Lions' future as the head coach hire.  

What is the "safe" pick? Well, if you look at the recent history of top ten QB picks . . . it's disastrous. Basically once you get beyond Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, and Philip Rivers, every top ten QB pick of the past ten years has been an abject failure. If you look at the LTs selected, there have been a mix of "good" ones and "bad" ones--but even the "bad" ones (D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Robert Gallery) have developed into solid contributors. So, of the two positions most commonly selected at 1.1, QB or LT, there is an overwhelming case to be made that the LT is the safer pick.

Moreover, while great QBs can and do come from all over the first round, and some times even later, elite LTs pretty much only come from the top ten picks in the draft. LTs who have the potential to be the next Orlando Pace or Johnathan Ogden always go in the top five or ten--and once they are drafted they either hit, and retire with the team that drafted them, or miss, and get shifted to guard--and maybe eventually released after the second contract.  

There are several excellent LTs to choose from at this #1 overall spot, and ideally, the Lions won't be sitting at 1.1 next year. So why would I pass up the (I hope) last-for-a-long-time opportunity to take a franchise LT? Well, let me present a few reality checks:

* the Lions' starting linebackers are, of this moment:

SLB - Alex Lewis, career special teamer, 6'-0", 228#
MLB - Jordon Dizon, 2nd year guy, lost rookie year to injury, 6'-0", 229#
WLB - Ernie Sims, Pro Bowl potential but pedestrian reality, 5'-11", 220#

That would be an unacceptably small LB corps for a Big Ten school, let alone a NFL team.

* The Lions allowed 32.3 points per game last year, by far the worst in the NFL.

* The Lions allowed 2,754 yards rushing to opponents last year, on 536 carries--that's an average of 5.1 ypc.

* The Lions were passed against fewer times than any team in the NFL, yet allowed the 27th most yardage.

* Opposing passers' average QB rating was 110.9. No, that's not a typo, one hundred and ten point nine.

Okay, so, get it? The defense was beyond atrocious last year; it was historically bad. Statistically speaking, the defense was dead last in nearly every category. On top of that, the Lions let starting MLB Paris Lenon, and starting SLB Ryan Nece walk out the door as free agents. So, basically, the LB position was a lethal weakness in 2008, and it is significantly worse now.

It's true that the OL has been a sore spot with Lions fans since the freak paralysis of G Mike Utley in 1991, and the tragic accidental death of G Eric Andolsek in the ensuing offseason. However, there are multiple ways to address the issue. This draft has several excellent interior line prospects in the late-first, early-second round window. If we were to draft, say, Cal's Alex Mack with the 2.1, he would be able to immediately compete for a starting guard spot, as well as back up Dominic Raiola for now--and of course he could eventually replace Raiola once he develops. Further, given the run on tackles in the 2008 draft, and the bumper crop of tackles in the 2009 draft, there are going to be 9 or 10 teams that just blew a first-rounder on a tackle when the 2010 draft rolls around. Assuming the Lions don't pull a miraculous worst-to-first (a safe assumption), they should be drafting in the 5-15 range next season, which is a perfectly fine spot to find a tackle, or trade up to get one. Assuming I'm right that there is an unusal lack of demand, the Lions could well take care of the interior OL directly this year, and get their LT of the future next season.

Okay, so why Curry?  Curry's incredible size (6'-2", 254#), speed (4.56) and intelligence could make him the best Lion on the defensive side of the ball from day one.  Besides desperately needing Curry's production, the Lions' defense has even greater need of a leader.  Ernie Sims plays with lots of passion, but he doesn't have the gift of inspiring other men to play like he does.  Curry could immediately fill that role.  Finally, Schwartz has been saying all along that he doesn't want "the right position", he wants "the right person": a good kid, a hard worker, someone who's both athletically elite and a remarkable individual--and he's pointed at Megatron as the perfect example of that. Between his insightful blogging, (you really do have to click that link and read it!) his committment to supporting his family, and his jaw-dropping skill set, I really think that Curry is "the right person".

We went to a place called Palomino, across the street from the hotel, with the head coach, Jim Schwartz, and a couple of other coaches. Mostly, they just wanted to know what kind of person I am because they already know the type of player I am. They wanted to know if I could handle the pressure of being a number one pick. I told them I was willing and ready. Then they wanted to know if I was the person and player they could build a defense around. I told them I was ready to lead their defense next season. I don't know yet if I convinced them, but I think I did a pretty good job. We'll find out soon enough.
Indeed we will, Aaron.

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