Frequently, when I’m at work, I forgo going out for lunch; instead I walk down to the corner store and pick up a pop, a banana, and maybe a sandwich. The other day, I was at said store, waiting in line to use the ATM, and I saw a dude wearing a black Ernie Sims jersey—just like the one I'd started saving up for in the middle of his rookie season. At first, I felt a pang of regret--I never did sock away enough cash to pick up that jersey. Then, I was alarmed: this guy was in a beat-up pair of denim shorts and work boots, and the jersey wasn’t in great shape either. Being a weekday, this guy had almost certainly been working outdoors, and was just stopping in for a pop. Was this guy wearing his Sims jersey . . . as a work shirt?
Of course, the Lions have changed their uniforms--the more recent jerseys are neither new enough to be cool, nor old enough to be throwbacks. Further, they’ve done away with the black jerseys entirely—wearing a black jersey is both dating yourself, and repping the very darkest days of the franchise. Then, of course, there’s the final piece of the puzzle: Ernie Sims has not exactly been the linebacking terror he promised us he’d be with his monster rookie season.
Coming out of high school, native Ernie Sims was rated the #1 overall recruit by Rivals, and the #1 LB by Scout. After the native Tallahasseean terrorized people at Florida State for three years, the Lions drafted “Cinnabon” #8 overall. Garnering 125 tackles in his rookie year, Sims immediately made an impression on his teammates—and left his impression on opponents. This is about when I started saving my pennies. A young, fire-breathing, game-changing linebacker? Yes sir, jersey please!
However, his second season was kind of a mixed bag. His statistical production went up, but he was clearly freelancing more and staying within the system less. In the Tampa 2, that’s not just a problem, that’s a liability. The T2 run defense absolutely depends on every single player being exactly where they’re supposed to be; if someone freelances, the potential to give up a huge play is . . . well, huge. In the midst of the disastrous 0-16 season, it was painfully obvious that he’d tuned out the coaching staff. Neither playing within the system, nor exploding to the ball on his own, it looked like Sims had officially checked out—and not buying a jersey looked like a mistake avoided (and in a house currently stocked with Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, Mike Furry, Kevin Jones, and Charlie Batch jerseys, I need to avoid mistakes as much as possible!).
However, this season promises to be different for Ernie Sims. The Tampa 2 is long gone, replaced by Gunther Cunningham’s highly anticipated blitz-heavy hybrid defense. The linebackers will be asked to blitz constantly, both to disrupt the pass and defend the run. The operative word will be “downhill”. Running downhill, attacking attacking attacking. Running to the ball with maximum speed and maximum explosion; laying lumber to whomever’s unfortunate enough to be in the way. This, it should be obvious, dovetails nicely with Ernie’s strengths.
It’s been repeated throughout the offseason, though most fans haven’t paid much attention: Ernie Sims is primed to be an incredible force in 2009.
- Back in May, Gunther Cunningham tried to tell us.
- Shortly thereafter, Ernie himself tried to tell us.
- Just recently, Tom Kowalski penned an article trying to tell us.
You know it occurs to me . . . all offseason long, we’ve been so obsessed with the Lions acquiring new talent, “filling” all of the “holes”, replacing all the 2008 starters with different players. Here, Killer says that in Cunningham’s system, Sims will be a different player—and it really makes sense. During the minicamp sessions, The Grandmaster said that in the 14-week offseason lifting program—which changed from an emphasis on strength without mass to an Olympic-style explosion- and mass-building program—team upper body strength increased 21%, and lower body explosion increased 14%. Given the 95% participation rate, that means that some of the players have undergone serious transformations. Now, Cinnabon is unlikely to be one of them, given his current physique. However, a lot of players we think we know “the book” on might yet surprise us—players like Ikaika Alama-Francis, who’s been getting a lot of reps at DT, or Stephen Peterman, whose power hasn’t always matched his big frame. I’m not saying that the team that went 0-16 is suddenly going to be stocked with Pro Bowlers . . . but don’t be surprised if guys you’d written off suddenly look somebody you’d never seen before.
Ernie, however, might look like the guy we all saw in 2006—and that guy I saw last week might want to take better care of that jersey.