the norseman of the apocalypse

>> 5.09.2009

Everyone is decrying the possibility that Brett Favre will return--and then play for the filthy Vikings--but I offer a list of reasons to embrace it:

1) The Vikings have a legitimately elite defense, and arguably the best running back in the game. Favre would have an excellent chance to contend for and win a second Super Bowl, cementing his rightful legacy as one of the very best to ever play the game.

2) If the Vikings win it all this year, and Brett hops onto his tractor and rides off into the sunset, the Vikes will happily sign up for four more years of Rosenfels, Jackson, and Chillyball.

3) The NFC North will boast four of the strongest arms in football. All the teams may or may not suck, but they'll all be entertaining.

4) If Favre falters, it will completely torpedo what would surely otherwise be a deep playoff run for the Vikes--and it might get get Childress fired. Schadenfreude!

5) It will really, really, really irritate Packers fans.


meet the cubs: sammie lee hill

>> 5.07.2009

Easily the most interesting prospect the Lions drafted, the selection of Stillman DT Sammie Lee Hill sent Lions fans into a Tweeting frenzy: Who was this guy?  A DT?  Sweet!  But, from a DII school?  Along with everyone else, I started scouring the Internet for information.  He's 270?  290?  300?  320?  330?  I saw all of those weights, and more, listed for him at various websites, in those first few minutes after the selection.  It seemed like there was practically no real information on this cat . . . was he a colossal reach, or a brilliant off-the-radar pickup?

With a little more Google-fu, I started stumbling upon article after article calling the 6'-4", 328-pound Hill one of the best of the small-school prospects.  Website after website saying he's a raw talent quickly moving up the draft boards.  An interview where, in between "yes, sir"s and "no, sir"s, he tells the story of a time when he helped save a man from a burning building.  And in all of them, I saw one word over and over and over: "raw".

Not heavily recruited out of tiny West Blocton, Alabama, Hill went to the best school that offered him a full ride scholarship: tiny Stillman College.  In order to leverage his outstanding size and athleticism, Hill was actually played on the outside, at DE.  This prevented opponents from double-teaming him--or even running the ball toward his side of the field.  As he told the Tuscaloosa News:

"I learned a little bit at Stillman, but I was just bigger than everyone else," he said. "It was just a man amongst boys. They didn't really know how to teach me. I didn't get a lot of teaching. I just went out there and played how I know how to play."

In both his junior and senior years, he was named first-team All-SAIC--and that senior year, led the SAIC in sacks and tackles for loss.  He was invited to the East-West Shrine Game--which could have really spotlighted his ability--but he tweaked a hamstring, preventing him from really showing his stuff.  Still, it got him on the radar.  When he was allowed to work out at Alabama's Pro Day, Lions DL coach Bob Karmelowicz got the chance to personally put him through drills.  This allowed the Lions to avoid bringing him in for a private workout, thereby keeping their interest in him quiet.  When the Lions moved back out of the first pick in the third round, they added the 15th pick in the fourth--the perfect place to grab a risk/reward pick like Hill, who many sites had graded as a third-round selection.

Many fans are already pencilling in Hill as a starter, as if Grady Jackson is the only other defensive tackle on the roster.  The thing to remember is that one word: RAW.  Sammie Hill is a naturally big and athletic man, but that's it.  He's not an NFL defensive tackle; he's not even really a DI defensive tackle.  He's essentially a blank slate in terms of technique; far closer to Ikaika Alama-Francis than B. J. Raji.  While it's true that Hill's a rare physical specimen, "Five-O" is, too.  Whether that raw potential is ever forged into the real impact player Sammie Hill could become depends equally upon Hill and the Lions' defensive staff.

The outlook for now is that Hill will get a chance, like everyone else on the roster, to prove he's got it.  Then, he'll likely serve as Jackson's understudy while Darby and Fluellen rotate at the three-technique spot.  I imagine we'll see more of Hill on a rotational basis late in the year, as the losses start mounting and Jackson starts to wear down.  2010 is where we'll really start to see Hill either command some playing time--or not.


larry foote, finally home

>> 5.06.2009

As Dave Birkett reported--and I subsequently Tweeted--last night, Larry Foote is officially a Detroit Lion.

The subsequent celebration throughout the Lions blogosphere has been predictable.  From speculation that Mayhew and The Grandmaster had this move in mind throughout the draft, to joyous shouts of "Aaron Curry who?" on forums (yes, really), the verdict from Lions fans is in: the signing of Larry Foote is an unqualified home run.

It's not that I disagree.  Foote is a veteran inside linebacker, a proven run-stopper, and has been one of the leaders of the best defense in football--a defense which boasts two Super Bowl titles in the past three years.  In those same three years, the Lions' roster has been completely turned over; only a handful of players were even here for the Mariucci days.  At this point, the Lions' defense is a clean slate--player-wise, extremely young, and scheme-wise, they're starting from scratch.  A "thumper" DeAndre Levy might be, but he has no idea what day-to-day life in the NFL is like.  He's never had to take on a NFL fullback, get an NFL guard's hands off him, or square up and wrap up an NFL tailback.  Foote, however, has been to the mountaintop--twice.  His understanding of how to play, how to practice, how to expect victory, and how to execute under pressure, all of that will be absolutely invaluable to the young Lions linebackers.  In the locker room, in the film room, on the practice field, on the gridiron, and in the huddle, Larry Foote will not only be a leader of and example for the talented greenhorns this defense is being built around, he'll also provide legitimacy to the other veterans who've just been added.  Grady Jackson, Julian Peterson, Anthony Henry, and Philip Buchanon are not going to prick up their ears when DeAndre Levy speaks.  However, when Larry Foote flashes his rings, you can bet he'll have their undivided attention.

That all having been said, let's be realistic.  Foote is a very good player, but he has limitations.  He'll be strictly a two-down linebacker here; he's notoriously weak in pass coverage.  At 29, he's hardly over the hill, but the Steelers drafted Lawrence Timmons to replace him--and that's exactly what Timmons is doing.  Moreover, Foote is on a one-year deal, reportedly at his request.  This is a 'prove-it' deal, where Foote is going to try to make a big impact, and then get paid.  Will the Lions be the ones who give Larry Foote a lavish deal which he'll retire on--in what might possibly be an uncapped year?  Not if they stick to their plan of building through the draft and financial prudence, they won't.  No, this will almost certainly be DeAndre Levy's job in 2010.  Foote will enjoy being at home for a year, and with luck we'll get everything he has left while he pads out his free agent resume.  He has all the incentive in the world to have a career year . . . let's enjoy that fact, hope Levy and Sims and Dizon and Follett all learn everything they can from him, and move on.

Like Jackson, Henry, Buchanon, et. al., Foote is a stopgap; an older player who fits a need.  He's a smart, cheap, temporary acquistion.  The kind of player that he is, is the kind of player the Lions are trying to draft.  He was available, the price was right, he filled a need, and Mayhew pulled the trigger.  Today, we are not celebrating the cornerstone of the new Lions' defense being set--we're celebrating the raising of a really sharp-looking "Coming Soon" sign.


meet the cubs: aaron brown

>> 5.05.2009

When the Lions drafted TCU running back Aaron Brown in the sixth round, there was quite a bit of consternation.  Given the third-round pick of Penn State WR Derrick Williams, and the presence on the roster of pass-catching/third-down/kick-return RBs Maurce Morris, Aveion Caseon, and (at the time) Brian Calhoun, it seemed like the 6'-1", 196-pound Brown would be lucky to make the roster.  Any pick spent on a longshot to make an 0-16 team had to be seen as a pick wasted . . .

After some research, it looks as though there are deeper concerns about Brown than the depth chart.  In high school, Brown was suspended for his senior year following a "graffiti incident".  Even more worrying was his senior year in college: a three-game suspension for "violating school policy".  I haven't been able to discover the exact nature of this infraction--and apparently, this was by the design of TCU coach Gary Patterson.   The fact that Brown's official bio doesn't list any of his accomplishments for his entire senior season is either a grave oversight, or an intentional wiping of the history books.  Since this is being characterized as a 'violation of school policy', I'm willing to bet that it's something analagous to the old 'violation of team rules' line.  That usually means a discipline problem like a fight, or was caught excessively drinking/smoking weed/etc.  Alternatively, we could be looking at an academic problem like cheating on a test, or skipping too many classes.  TCU, apparently, is notoriously tight-lipped about issues like this, so apparently no one has any information.  Beyond that, there are some mild injury concerns, like an ankle injury shortening his junior season.

Still, there are no doubts that Brown is a talented athlete.  Rivals didn't have him listed as a high school recruit, but he was a track star; he cut a 10.45 100-meter dash time in 2004.  According to most scouting reports, he plays a bit like that too: extremely quick and fast--but too upright, and doesn't maintain his speed through cuts well.  By all reports, he has outstanding hands (at least one team, the Cowboys, has worked him out as a wide reciever).  For what it's worth, he seemed to headline every "How Was This Guy Not Invited To The Combine?" list.  

He made an instant impact as a freshman, blowing up Utah for 163 yards on 17 carries on a nationally-televised Thursday night game.  He ended the season with 758 rushing yards--and the Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year award.  His sophomore season was his coming out party; with 801 rushing yards, 9 TDs, and 34 receptions, he was named second team All-Conference.  Going into 2007, it looked like Brown was ready to explode.  Named the Preseason Mountain West Player of the year, Brown instead struggled with various nicks and bruises all year long.  Finally, Brown tweaked an ankle against UNLV in the second-to-last regular season game.  This, combined with TCU's unconventional ground attack, meant Brown only had 107 carries to work with--but managed to crank out 490 yards anyway.  Adding in his 24 receptions and his kick returns, Brown managed to eke out 995 all-purpose yards on the season.  Finally came his senior year and the Mystery Suspension; by the time Brown got on the field, he was rusty, and fighting for touches with his backup Joseph Turner, as well as the Horned Frog's athletic quarterback, Andy Dalton.  Brown, however, used his last game to make a statement.  Facing Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl, he rushed for 102 yards on just 14 carries (7.2 ypc), including a 16-yard TD run that put the Frogs on the board just before halftime, keeping their hopes alive.  TCU used the momentum to come out rolling in the second half, en route to a 17-16 upset of the ninth-ranked Broncos.

There isn't much video out there of Brown, but I did unearth a few clips, mixed in with other TCU highlights:

Sports Videos, News, Blogs

Brown's offered the media a few blurbs about the vibe he got from the Lions in pre-draft workouts:

"I visited with Sam Gash, the running backs coach, and some of the player personnel guys and they made me feel a lot more welcome than a lot of teams did," Brown said. "I felt good about my experience there. There was a lot of hands-on work."

He also addressed the character concerns:

"I'm not the same person I was in high school or college," he said. "I talked to the Lions about all of that and they know that I'm remorseful for the things I did wrong."

The Grandmaster, in defense of the pick:

“He averaged almost 32 yards a kickoff,” said Schwartz. “That brought big value with Aaron Brown.  At that point, that was who we liked,” he said. “Let me say this: everybody we drafted, we liked and we saw a role for. So it wasn’t like we were just drafting just blindly to take guys. But I thought we did a really good job of balancing high-rated players with how we were going to use them.”

With that quote, and the release of Brian Calhoun coming immediately after rookie minicamp, Brown's role is clear: there's an opportunity for him on the roster--but in order to make the most of it, he must immediately make an impact in the return game.  The rest of the stuff: third-down back, slot receiver, etc., that can all come later.  But if Aaron Brown is going to prove he belongs in the NFL, and prove the combine scouts wrong for snubbing him, he has to hit home runs in the kick and punt return game.  The Lord knows the Lions need them.


larry foote released -- yes, actually

>> 5.04.2009

Sam Farmer of the LA Times just Tweeted that Larry Foote has been really, truly, actually released.  Kudos again to Martin Mayhew for standing strong and not giving up a fifth- or sixth-rounder, and also taking on a bad contract.

Clock's ticking, Mr. Mayhew.

PFT's got a story up, now.


meet the cubs: the first minicamp

The rookie class of 2009 had their first reps in Lion uniforms (sans the logo on the helmet, which, ever since Parcells made rookies "earn the star" in Dallas, has become the de rigeur move for the entire NFL) over the weekend.  Following Tom Kowalski, Dave Birkett, and Nick Cotsonika's updates over the weekend left us with a few notable impressions:

* Matt Stafford came out throwing--overthrowing, in fact.  Appearing anxious to please, his first few passes were a little wild.  This echoes the scouting reports of his Pro Day performance: he was rocketing balls as hard as he could on that day, too; overthrowing to try to impress.  However, he quickly settled down on Friday, and ultimately earned the praise of his fellow rookies.   As Killer noted, Stafford was (correctly) throwing before the recievers broke, so that when they made their break and turned around to look for the ball, it was already there--and moving fast.  A lot of Stafford's passes bounced off of hands that were either rusty, unused to such velocity, or both.  Former Georgia WR Sean Bailey, at rookie minicamp on a tryout, took a Stafford pass off the facemask on the first day.  Said Penn State WR Derrick Williams: "My impressions were, please don't take my head off today.  I tried to make sure that I had my head around. He's really good. He's going to be a great quarterback.”

* Brandon Pettigrew had arguably the easiest time catching Stafford's fastballs on Friday.  He was then held out of Saturday practices with a tight hamstring.  Honestly, the pass catching is nice--but we knew he had soft hands.  What I'm most anxious to see is his blocking, and that won't happen until the pads go on.

* Louis Delmas appears to be the real deal, flying all over the field, breaking up (and intercepting) passes, laying some hits, talking lots of trash, and (apparently) forming an early rapport with Matt Stafford.  Every reporter there  When the Grandmaster was asked if Delmas stood out, he said,"Yeah, he stood out. I think that's obvious to you, me and the American people."

* According to Killer, Zack Follett and DeAndre Levy appeared to be largely similar to Jordon Dizon, in terms of "size and appearance".  The difference, I would like to point out, is that Dizon neither led his conference in tackles for loss, as Follett did, nor boasted legit 4.5 speed, as Levy does.  Follett was a jaw-dropping playmaker all over the field for Cal, and--according to Schwartz himself--Levy's the "thumper" Schwartz was looking for in the middle.  Until the pads go on, we won't know if Levy'll be able to man the middle, but Levy's already put on a few pounds of muscle, and says he's looking to get up to a lean 240.  If he does that, he'll be the same size as Larry Foote, and much faster than Foote's ever been.  As sure of a tackler?  No.  A veteran leader?  No.  But just as big, and much faster--and, thereby, possibly a better fit for Guntherball?  Yes.

* Derrick Williams dropped a few passes on Friday, and struggled to field punts cleanly on Saturday.  Most reports from minicamps around the NFL noted that their rookies looked quite rusty, so I'm going to give Williams the benefit of the doubt there--though, it should be noted that Williams was drafted not for his hands, but for what he does once the ball is in them.

* Sammie Hill looked as advertised: raw but big.  His weight has now creeped up to "330" in the latest Killer article about him.  By training camp, one wonders if he'll be a "lean 400".  All reports were that Hill looked legit amongst his peers out there, but that he wasn't that well-conditioned; he was the first to be sucking wind on Friday.  None of this should come as a huge surprise, seeing as he was used to effortlessly mauling DII competition.

* I didn't hear much about TCU RB Aaron Brown's performances, though Mayhew did say that he can "help us on returns and help us on third downs" over the weekend.

* I've helped stoke the Lydon Murtha flames a bit, but he was held out of practices with a tweaked hammy.  This is not good news for a player whose biggest knock is his inability to stay on the field.  Here's hoping that NFL trainers and conditioning can keep him loose and limber for training camp and the preseason.


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