change is coming!

>> 6.12.2009

This morning closes the deal on a decade of handwringing over the FCC's mandated national transition to digital television.  After years of speculation that all but the most tech-laden homes would go dark today--prompting our government to spend over a billion dollars on converter-box vouchers--it sounds like the biggest transitional hurdle has been explaining to seniors that hooking up the new HDTV they bought to their cable or satellite service doesn't require the converter box you and I paid $40 for.

It's a part of human nature to fear change.  We are creatures of habit--we love routine, we love the familiar, we cherish the nostalgic.  When we see change on the horizon, we get flustered and frazzled.  We blog and Tweet, we rant and rave, we chat over water coolers and dinner tables alike.  We cling desperately to what has been, finding any available option to slow or stop the inevitable.   We take sides--arguing over how to accept this brave new world, how to deal with the irrevocably butchered life we now must lead, how to cope with the agony and suffering sure to result from whatever's going to be different from now on.

Frequently, it ends up being no big deal.

You see, change is happening all the time.  It's happening in the world around us, whether we want it or not; whether we notice it or not.  Bit by bit, byte by byte, the way things "always have been" are decaying while "the way things are" are under construction.

In the sports blogging world this week, that natural evoultion manifested itself in the latest skirmish on the "MSM-Blog War" front lines.  At this point the story is old news to most anyone reading this, but to recap: a blogger, Jerod Morris of Midwest Sports Fans, wrote an article exploring Raul Ibanez's curiously fast start--and what might be fueling that unusual performance.  After a more widely-read blog, Hugging Harold Reynolds, linked to the story, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist John Gonzalez found it and absolutely savaged Morris for his "cheap shot".  ESPN's Outside the Lines took the surprising step of putting Morris, Gonzalez, and's senior MLB writer, Ken Rosenthal on the air for a three-way panel discussion.

What transpired on the air that day has stoked great debate.  From Seattle Times columnist Geoff Baker's passionate testimony of the power of journalism--and condemnation of those who wield it irresponsibly--to Phillies blogger David S. Cohen's sober observation that Ibanez has hit for streaks like this many times before, to Deadspin's AJD's even-handed (and hilarious) assessment of all parties involved.

I'm not going to give "my take on it", since I'd be not only the last to the party, but probably the least eloquent.  This battle is as old as the digital TV handwringing; quality sports blogging has been around for a long, long time, as has the established media's distrust of it.  It took several years for most sportswriters to notice that their readership was going elsewhere for the non-double-sourced, non-vetted-by-the-legal-department, possibly-offensive-to-primary-sources  information they craved.  Grudgingly acknolwedging this market, the TV and print giants were harvesting scoops garnered by bloggers, and sending them to everyone with the credit "according to internet reports . . ."  The tables continued to turn as established journalists began blogging, and were often really bad at it.  From whiffing on basic Web conventions like linking to sources, to blatantly making stuff up to round out their 'rumor mill' section, many professional journalists blogged as they percieved "the bloggers" did: with a total lack of responsibility, and a total lack of professionalism.  And you know what?  Bloggers torched them for it.

This latest Ibanez dust-up is a tempest in a teapot.  The lines between "journalist" and "blogger" and "fan with a computer" started blurring a long, long time ago.  The best credentialed writers straddle all mediums with equal aplomb--knowing where and when to file raw rumor, hard news, idle thoughts, Q&A, and rampant speculation (e.g., Bill Simmons from ESPN writes both in print and online, blogs, chats, Tweets, and podcasts, all compellingly).  And the rest of the lot, be they J-school laureates or bloggers in their mother's basement, will be judged not by the color of their banner, but by the character of their content.  We don't need to wait for a world where bloggers can be quality reporters and analysts, and nationally syndicated columnists can personally interact with their fans on a direct and instant basis--that day is already here. 

However . . . what about the readers?  Sometimes I fear that those who read sports media have been conditioned to the morning paper, the beat writer and the columnist, the pure hard news and the unfettered opinion, the idea that anything they see in print is either double-checked fact or purely philosophical musing.  Time and again, I see re-posting or re-Tweeting that misconstrues the original report, like a worldwide game of "Telephone".  Thousand-word blog posts with stats, graphs, and analysis are shorn of their evenhandedness, boiled down to 140 characters or less, and blasted all over the Interweb in seconds.  I can't tell you how many times I've seen blogs cite a local radio show or insider team source and go, "We can't believe this is true, but [source] said [story], and we just heard an independent whisper backing it up, so we're going to let you all know what we've been hearing, but please take it with a grain of salt" only to see that report touted across forums everywhere as "[Blog] reported [story] as fact, what muckrakers they are!"

New rules and new conventions about how to consume and redistribute information must, and will, pop up to prevent things like Morris' inconclusive exoneration attempt being twisted (by a "real journalist") into "HEY RAUL, SOME BLOGGER SAID YOU'RE JUICING, WHADDYA THINK?"  Yes, bloggers are going to have to be more careful about the impact of their words on the ever-bigger audience they're addressing--but that audience must be more thoughtful about how they consume their information, too.  The old ways of passively accepting everything they see on their doostep in the morning are dying; they must learn to parse information online with critical thought.

Too bad they don't make a digital converter box for that.


the secondary is dead, long live the secondary

>> 6.10.2009

Ever since the brutal injuries to cornerback Bryant Westbrook and safety Kurt Schultz during the 2000 season, the Lions have been absolutely desperate for help in the secondary.  With the possible exception of the offensive line, the defensive backfield has been the most consistently disappointing Lions unit on the field over the past decade.  However, unlike the offensive line, disappointment has been the only thing consistent about the Lions' secondary.  While the offensive line has had the same left tackle and center for nearly a decade, it seems as though every year brings a new "secondary overhaul" . . . and every year brings more disappointment.

2001: Signed CB Todd Lyght, CB/S Robert Bailey, and S Chidi Iwouma.  Subtracted S Corwin Brown, CB Darnell Walker, and CB Marquis Walker.

2002: Drafted CB Andre Goodman and CB Chris Cash; signed S Corey Harris, S Brian Walker, CB Eric Davis, and S Bracey Walker.  Subtracted Terry Fair, Ron Rice, Kurt Schultz,  Robert Bailey, and Chidi Iwouma.

2003: Signed CB Dre' Bly, CB Otis Smith, and drafted S Terry Holt.  Subtracted Todd Lyght and Eric Davis.

2004: Signed CB Fernando Bryant, S Brock Marion, S Vernon Fox, and drafted CB Keith Smith.  Subtracted Brian Walker and Corey Harris.

2005: Signed S Kennoy Kennedy, CB R.W. McQuarters, and S Jon McGraw; drafted CB Stanley Wilson.  Subtracted Brock Marion and Chris Cash.

2006: Drafted S Daniel Bullocks and signed CB Jamar Fletcher.  Subtracted Andre Goodman, R.W. McQuarters, Bracey Walker, and Vernon Fox.

2007: Drafted S Gerald Alexander, CB A.J. Davis, and CB Ramzee Robinson; signed CB Travis Fisher.  Subtracted Dre Bly, Terry Holt, Jamar Fletcher, and Jon McGraw.

2008: Traded for CB Leigh Bodden, and signed S Dwight Smith, S Kalvin Person, and CB Brian Kelly.  Subtracted Fernando Bryant, Kennoy Kennedy, and Stanley Wilson . . . and Brian Kelly.

2009: Drafted S Louis Delmas, and signed CB Philip Buchanon, CB/S Anthony Henry, CB Eric King, and S Marquand Manuel.  Subtracted Leigh Bodden, Travis Fisher, and Dwight Smith.

That is an extraordinary amount of roster churn.  Lest you think these are mostly bottom-feeders, I made sure not to mention any player that didn't play at least 10 games in a season for the Lions.  If you look closely, the Lions brought in two or more new starters in the backfield almost every single year since Millen took over.  There was absolutely zero consistency.  Outside of Dre' Bly and Fernando Bryant, I don't think any player on this list started more than two consecutive years . . . and thanks to injuries, Bly and Bryant were almost never on the field at the same time in four seasons!

Unfortunately, it looks like this year's overhaul is D.O.A.  After jettisoning most of the depth chart at cornerback, the Lions traded Jon Kitna to Dallas for Anthony Henry, signed Philip Buchanon from Tampa Bay, and signed Titans nickel/dime guy Eric King.  The Lions then drafted Louis Delmas in the second round to make a very talented young trio of Daniel Bullocks and Gerald Alexander.  Veterans Kalvin Pearson and Stu Schweigart made for solid depth.  Then, oddly, the Lions added journeyman safety Marquand Manuel . . . it seemed to make no sense.  Wasn't there already a logjam at safety?  Bullocks should be pencilled in next to Delmas, Alexander is allegedly healthy, Pearson is an adequate SS, and Schweigart is a talented enigma . . . where would Manuel fit?  Even if Pearson's too limited to play in Schwartz/Cunningham's symmetrical defense,  and Schwiegart is strictly depth, shouldn't Manuel be trapped firmly beneath Bullocks and Alexander?

Apparently not.  According to Tom Kowalski, Bullocks regressed badly throughout the season, "missed even more time during this off-season" (?!?), and is "way behind the rest of the veterans".  This is dismaying, to say the least.  If Bullocks is not only not reminding people of 2006, but way behind guys like Manuel, Pearson, and Schweigart?  He'll honestly have a fight to make the team.  In fact, he almost surely will, because Killer then went and penned another major bummer of an article . . .

If Henry slides back to safety, that means that he, Alexander, Bullocks, Manuel, Pearson, and Schweigart are all fighting for one starting spot, and maybe two reserve positions.  Pearson, the most obvious cut, is a special teams ace, so maybe not.  Schweigart's a local-ish product and a fan favorite, but unless he returns to his '05 form, I don't see him escaping the axe.  That leaves Henry and Alexander as the most likely prospects to start next to Delmas, with the loser of that battle fighting Manuel and Bullocks for the third-safety spot.  That's a nice mix of youth, talent, experience, skill, and depth at the two safety spots, then.  But, what about the corners?

Oh my stars and garters.

If Henry slides back to safety, the #1 corner is Philip Buchanon.  My take on him at the time of the signing included a fair bit of optimism--as a young veteran, he possessed all the talent in the world--tempered with a good bit of realism: his production in Tampa made him a legit NFL starter, but little more.  There's no doubt that at his best, in a man-to-man scheme, he'd be a top 20, top 15 corner in this league.  However, he's never consistently played at his best, and he's always had a bit of at attitude problem, whining his way out of first Oakland, and then Houston.  That appeared to be a non-issue for the past two seasons, but attitude-problem leopards seldom change their spots.  Combine that factor with the uncertainty that is evaluating a cornerback in the Tampa Two, and you have a complete mystery as your #1 corner.

The #2 at that point would be either Eric King, or Keith Smith.  King was a sort of Plan C for the Lions.  It had been noted, almost from the day Schwartz took over, that Titans nickel corner/return specialist Chris Carr would be an ideal fit, and a priority target.  When the Lions feared missing out on Carr, they signed Eric King as insurance--another Titans corner, and also a nickel back, depending on what you read.  Titans HC Jeff Fisher:

"He played real well for us as a special teamer, he played corner for us at times and was a nickel back. He's a tough guy and a good locker room guy and a good person. Those are the kinds of players you want on your team. Eric will be successful there with whatever they ask him to do. Eric, coming in, can get the job done as a starter if that's what Jim wants to do."

I kind of find it difficult to believe that the Titans had two young corners that were good enough to start for other teams on their bench, so I kind of find it difficult to believe that the Lions are going to be okay if they're starting this King guy and Philip Buchanon at corner when toe meets leather in New Orleans.  Then there's Keith Smith, 2004 draftee who flashed some promise initially, and then languished under Marinelli.  I am consistently advised that Smith is for real, has great talent, and was simply ruined by bad coaching.  Be that as it may, ruined by bad coaching is ruined by bad coaching, and I am taking a firm believe-it-as-I see it with both of these guys.  After that is former Mr. Irrelevant, Ramzee Robinson, and depth guys Chris Roberson, Antonio Smith, and Dexter Wynn.

Right now, things are looking extremely shaky back there.  I like the safety pair of Delmas and Henry a lot--but I'd much rather have Henry be able to stay at corner with Buchanon, and Alexander or Manuel starting next to Delmas.  No matter how things shake out, though, there's no doubt that the Lions are still in desperate need of true skill and talent in the defensive backfield--and nothing will be able to change that until the snow melts in 2010.  Don't forget, this is when things look their best--heaven help the Lions' defense once injuries, fatigue, and/or underperformance cut down the Lions' DBs like weeds once more.


going further meta

>> 6.08.2009

Folks, please bear with me for a bit of blogging about my blogging:

* Despite the painful probability that there's no absolutely no demand for this whatsoever, I have made TLIW available via Kindle on  I myself don't hold a Kindle to my name, yet it's the kind of toy I'd definitely go bonkers for if my "toy budget" were robust enough.  If you have one, you'll get this blog automatically delivered to your device, as frequently as I can manage to post here.

* Secondarily, the Blue Blog is up and running at nearly full speed; the site's template has been finished, comments are on (for now), and the contributors (including myself) have settled into a nice little groove.  You'll find all the best Lions news from around the Web, plated up piping hot right there--with a dollop of analysis on the side.

* Tertiarily, I am eagerly Tweeting as always; it's here where I like to branch out a bit.  Along with #lions news and analysis as it happens, you'll get my abbreviated musings on #redwings, #tigers, and #beer--as well as personal/family stuff that doesn't fit here.  I also Tweet just about whenever I do post here, so if you #follow @lionsinwinter you'll never miss a TLIW post.

* Quartiarily, my e-mail mailbox is always open; feel free to ask questions, send comments, or berate me; the address is

* Finally, I've been working behind-the-scenes to iron out the wrinkles on the site's template.  right now, the minimalist thing works okay, but it's just not as good as it could be--and I've gotten some helpful notes from pro Webslingers about the rampaging XML and CSS errors that are probably Blogger's fault.  Stupid WYSIWYG; it's what you don't see that crashes browsers!  So, if you come here at an odd hour and everything is all freaky, just whip out your Kindle and read it there while I correct whatever I've broken.

I appreciate your continued patience!


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