an open letter

>> 4.16.2009

Messrs. Mayhew and Lewand--

You, gentlemen, are fully cognizant of the task you have at hand.  You figuratively hold the keys to an NFL franchise, the Detroit Lions--an organization worth, perhaps, a billion dollars.  You literally have hundreds of people in your employ, and many thousands of people indirectly rely on your success for their family's meal ticket.  On an even broader scope, millions of people over the past seventy-five years have invested their time, emotions, and money in following and supporting your organization--season tickets, single-game tickets, club and luxury suites, parking, concessions, hats, shirts, jerseys, flags, banners, stuffed animals, etc.  Of course, none of this is anything you aren't keenly aware of.

As you also know, hosting the Final Four in Detroit--with Michigan State in it to the finish line--was not only a great psychological boon to the people of Michigan, it provided a tangible economic boost to the city of Detroit.  However, as many pointed out, this was fleeting; a wonderful moment in time that can be hung on a wall--but won't pay the bills.  You, gentlemen, hold the power to generate that same kind of goodwill and rejuvenation on an ongoing basis.  With the on- and off-field renaissance of the Detroit Lions, you can bring that celebratory atmosphere back to Ford Field from autumn through winter.  You can create joy, create jobs, and create a legacy for yourselves as foremen of the rebuilding of a city.

The first overall pick of the NFL draft becomes, for good or for ill, the avatar of that franchise.  For years, the success or failure of the franchise that selects first will be chained--on the field, in the ledgers, and in the mind of the public--to the success or failure of that player.  In interviews and commercials, on the field and off, whomever you choose with that first overall pick will wear the first face anyone pictures, and speak with the first voice anyone hears, when people think of the Detroit Lions.  This selection is absolutely crucial to your rebuilding efforts; there is no room for error.

When Jim Schwartz was introduced to the media as the new head coach of the Lions, he spoke about finding the "right person", not just the right position, to take first overall.  My heart rose when I heard that, because I believe he spoke the truth.  The franchise you two now control cannot afford to bind itself to the player with the best workout numbers or the most gaudy statistics--not unless that player is also committed to being as impressive in the locker room and in the community as he is on the field.  Of course, you two have each personally investigated every aspect of these young men to a far deeper level than I could.  Between the two of you, you've watched hours of film of these players, sat and broken bread with these players, watched them in public and private workouts, spoken with them many times . . . all I have to go on is their public faces: what their agents would like me know, and what the media have been able to find out.

That having been said, I know I speak with the voice of many, many fans when I say that Aaron Curry should be the cornerstone of the new Detroit Lions.  His heart, his desire, his character, and his selflessness are all well documented.  His bringing a 12-year-old leukemia patient along with him to the draft is a perfect example of what the #1 overall pick should be to this franchise, to this city, and to this state.  His deferring of his NFL dream one more year, with his family facing homelessness, so that he could go back to school and ensure he'll be able to take care of that family for generations, proves that his priorities are in exactly the right place.  His leading a basement-dwelling Wake Forest team to the ACC championship proves he knows exactly what it means to be the heart and soul of a resurrected football team.  His once-in-a-generation combination of size, speed, agility, desire, and intelligence will immediately bolster a Lions' squad that was, just last season, arguably the worst NFL defense ever assembled.

Not long ago, the Lions' players were well known for being great leaders in the community, providers who put down roots in Detroit, and gave back to the city as much as the city had given them.  As you know, Robert Porcher won the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year award multiple times; Aaron Curry will surely follow in his footsteps.  Look out the window, gentlemen; read the papers on days when they can afford to be printed.  On the heels of the news that Michigan again leads the nation in joblessness, it would speak volumes about the class, the character, and the priorities of the Detroit Lions organization to ignore the hype.  To ignore the pundits and the shellacked talking heads.  To ignore the common wisdom and the conventional thinking.  To forget value charts and stopwatches, "big boards" and salary slots.  To yoke your franchise to the shoulders of a bold young man who will help Lions fans to their feet, on the field and off, again and again and again.  To restore pride to the Lions.

To draft Aaron Curry.

Forever a fan,

Ty Schalter



By the way, everyone, if you haven't followed my Twitter feed yet, I suggest you give it a whirl.  I just acquired my first BlackBerry (the Curve 8330, for the technophiles out there), and I'm determined to put the thing through its paces.  I'll still post notifications of new posts on the Twitter feed, but I'll also be posting quick hits, passing thoughts, and re-tweeting the best of the Lions-y stuff I get sent.  So, please follow me, and let me know what you think.  Thanks again to everyone for allowing me this space and time inside your mind (or, at least, your browser)!


kassim osgood?

A regular poster on The Huddle says he met the Chargers' Kassim Osgood last night, while filming a commercial for the Can Cancer campaign.  Osgood then told him the Lions have made Osgood a very nice contract offer.  Ordinarily, this would constitute tampering, but according to Pro Football Weekly, Osgood's been on the trading block, and the Chargers are only looking for a late-round pick.  Osgood is a very tall, fast return specialist who's been dying to get a chance to play wideout.  Last season he held out for a bigger contract and better playing time--and didn't get either.  Osgood would be a very nice fit, indeed--see the "Lions should look at tall wideouts who can return" post immediately below--and nicely take care of one more need heading into the draft.  Osgood would also be a better option than, say, blowing a third-round pick on a returner like Brandon Tate, because there'll be no learning curve.  Osgood could step in and immediately provide a huge boost to the return game--and, if the talking he's done to the media about how good of a wideout he is is even remotely true, he'll step right into the slot WR role, and could even challenge Bryant Johnson for the #2 gig.


popping up for air

>> 4.13.2009

As anyone who's watched ESPN desperately try to keep eyeballs tuned to its marathon coverage of Day 2 of the draft has been told, franchises can be destroyed by bad drafting on Day 1, but dynasties are built by great drafting on Day 2.  Great late-round drafting makes an immediate impact on special teams play, and in some of the less-flashy positions like offensive guard, tight end, and safety.  Also, you'll see value when players change position--like when Bills signed an undrafted free agent tight end from Arkansas named Jason Peters and a few years later had a franchise left tackle.  Great late-round drafting makes a long-term impact by building depth that lets teams excel through six months of violence--and by building depth that makes losses to age or free agency sting much less.  The Patriots, Colts, Eagles, Chargers, and Steelers are all great examples of this; players in the late rounds will, after two or three years, either challenge for starting spots or go on to start elsewhere.

The Lions, thanks to trades that brought them Cliff Avril and the Cowboys' first and third-rounders, have traded away their fourth-, fifth- and seventh-round picks--but added the Cowboy's sixth-rounder, and received a compensatory seventh-round pick from the league.  So the Lions are working with the 6.1, 6.20, and 7.46.  Of course, the Lions needs are so great that rookies from almost any round, in almost any position, will have a chance to see the field.  Still, I think that there are couple of positions that the Lions will have in mind going into the latter rounds of the draft.

After three years of Rod Marinelli not keeping special teams specialists around, that cupboard is almost bare.  Look for the Lions to look hard at the safety/OLB 'tweeners with speed and who love to hit . . . guys like Ohio University prospect Michael Mitchell.  6'-1", 220 pounds, ran a 4.4 at his Pro Day and benched 22 reps of 225 pounds.  He wasn't invited to the combine, so he's just now starting to climb up team's radar.  He could be an impact gunner right away, and possibly take the roster spot of whichever of the Lions' many question-mark-surrounded safeties flame out this training camp or offseason.  In a couple of years, this kid could be out of the NFL, or a valuable starter, but I look at him, and other players with a similar skill set, as a strong possiblity for one of the three late-round picks.

Another type I think the Lions will look hard at--if not addressed in the earlier rounds--is wide receiver/kick returner.  The Lions need lots of help at both WR and CB, and they desperately need all the experienced returners they can get.  A wideout that's caught my eye--and the Lions' eye--is Washington State senior Brandon Gibson.  A big target at 6'-1", 210, he's very strong and physical, has great feet and body control, and runs excellent routes.  In his junior season, he led the Pac 10 in receptions and yardage with 67 grabs for 1,180 yards.  His production took a step back his senior year, as he was essentially the only worthwhile offensive player on the field for Washington State, but he still hauled in 50 passes for 793 yards.  He returned kicks well in both high school and college, once earning a nomination for Pac-10 special teams Player of the Week.  He was unable to attend the combine, or Wazzou's Pro Day, due to a hamstring pull.  But, he held a repeat workout day at a local high school.  The Lions had scouts in attendance, as he worked out in the wind and rain.  Partially thanks to the conditions, he didn't put up great numbers; his 40 run was timed in the high 4.5 to low 4.6 range.  Since his deep speed was really the biggest question on his resume, having subpar times in iffy conditions didn't really help.  Still, going into his senior season, he was on the preseason Maxwell award(given to the nation's most outstanding player) watch list--the kid has first-round talent.  Did I mention that Lions OL coach George Yarno was coaching at Wazzou during Gibson's freshman and sophomore years?  Gibson's not going to sneak past the Lions.  In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see them make a move into the low fourth or high fifth to get him, if he's there.

Finally, I think the Lions could be looking at tight end in the later rounds.  Whether or not they surprise everyone and take a TE early, the Lions' depth at tight end needs to be rebuilt.  Casey Fitzsimmons hasn't shown any NFL ability since his rookie season, and that was five years ago.  Michael Gaines was neither a great blocker nor offensive weapon, and John Owens is gone.  Free agent signee Will Heller looks like a pure blocker.  It's well known that one of the greatest crutches for a QB is a tight end with great hands, who can get open quick and catch the ball reliably, especially on third down--and whether or not the Lions draft Stafford, the Lions's QBs will need all the crutches they can get.  A guy I really hope might be there is N.C. State's Anthony Hill.  At 6'-5", 262, Hill's a really big, strong guy with a long frame.  He's a great inline blocker, but he's got really nice hands and can get open in traffic.  I think the Lions desperately need this kind of TE, a big blocker who can get open and make the catch on 3rd-and-6; move the sticks, over and over and over.  I don't think the Lions are really in need of the field stretching, Gates/Winslow type.  Johnson and Johnson are both deep threats; there should be plenty of space underneath for a TE like Hill. 

These by no means represent my "list of guys I think the Lions should take", and definitely isn't my projection of who I think the Lions will take with any specific pick.  These some of the kinds of players I think the Lions can and should pursue with their second-day picks: big, fast safeties who can tackle, polished receivers who can return kicks, and big blocking tight ends with great hands.  All of these kinds of players could have a tangible presence on the Lions' roster from day one, and any of them might develop into solid role players down the road.  


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