martin mayhew mercantile

>> 7.23.2009

Yesterday, the St. Louis Dispatch reported--and expounded upon (in a brilliant article authored by a true gentleman)--a trade between the Rams and Lions.  The Lions sent recently-signed WR Ronald Curry to the Rams--which, according to my last count, makes for eighteen wideouts on the Rams' camp roster.  In return, the Lions got DT prospect Orien Harris, a two-year vet who's seen five different NFL rosters.

Harris, unfortunately, is not the answer to the Lions’ prayers at defensive tackle.  According to a beautifully in-depth scouting report done by the Sports Xchange on, Harris possesses the wingspan, hands, and frame to be a two-gap nose tackle, but lacks the bulk needed to truly anchor the point of attack.  He also doesn’t play with great technique, not using his long arms and big hands to their full potential.  It notes that while he’s not a firebreather, he’s a “competitive type” who was the “heart and soul” of the Hurricanes’ defensive line his senior year.

Why, then, can’t he keep a job?  He was drafted in the fourth round of the 2006 draft by the Steelers, a 3-4 team who’ll eventually need a nose guard to replace Casey Hampton.  Unable to make the stacked Steelers roster, he was signed before the season by Cleveland, and he saw action in a couple of games there.  Brought in by first the Bills, then the Saints in 2007, he made a huge impression in the 2007 preseason.  Saints head coach Sean Payton:

”He's been one of those guys that's been durable. He's been steady. He's a try-hard guy that gives a lot of effort on each play. Even today, he made some plays in practice. So he's caught the attention of a lot of us, the guys on defense and myself included. He comes to work every day, and he showed that last week in the game."

In the first two preseason games, Harris had 11 solo tackles and a sack . . . and yet, on a team where there ought to be an opportunity on the defensive line, Harris wasn’t retained.  He ended up with the Bengals, and he saw 14 games’ worth of action, starting twice and garnering 14 tackles.  Earlier in the offseason, the Rams—in a similar depth-for-depth move—dealt RB Brian Leonard to the Bengals for Harris’ rights.  Before Harris ever donned pads as a Ram, however, he’s become a Lion.

All of this is more evidence of the Lions’ 365-day strategy of improving the roster.  Every single chance they get, they’re going to make a move to get the best 80 in camp, and the best 53 on the roster.  They’re scouring other teams rosters, anticipating possible cuts, and—just like in the days leading up to free agency—negotiating player-for-player trades.  These trades nullify the Lions’ chief offseason handicap: a player who has a choice of signing anywhere is unlikely to choose a team coming off an 0-16 season whose stadium is north of Canada.  Moreover, they wring blood from a stone.  With the arrival of Dennis Northcutt—a veteran slot WR who could also return kicks—Ronald Curry was likely to be cut.  Rather than simply let him walk away, the Lions brought in a player who’ll have a chance to contribute. 

Harris is a young DT with the raw physical tools—short wide frame, big wingspan, big hands, lower body strength—to develop into the player the Lions so desperately need right now.  Maybe the Lions’ coaching staff is the catalyst he needs to reach his sizable potential, and he starts the season as a starter.  Maybe he flashes enough production in preseason to hold a rotational spot while the Lions wait for the return of Grady Jackson from suspension.  Or, maybe, he simply makes the team over a Marinelli holdover who didn’t fit the plan, and an Ikaika Alama-Francis or Landon Cohen gets shipped off to another team, to improve the roster yet again.


three cups deep

>> 7.20.2009

Those of you who’ve been reading since the very beginning—or, incredibly, crawled back through the archives--know of my abiding love of coffee.  I love nearly everything about the stuff.  I love the steam rising out of a hot mug of joe, and I love the smell wafting up out of a porcelain cup of espresso.  I love the taste of a nice clean cup of brewed preground, and I love the taste of a meticulously prepared macchiato.  I love the crema surging to the top of a shot of espresso, and I love the absolutely singular smell of fresh roasted coffee beans.  Out of everything I love about coffee, one of the qualities I treasure most is the warmth. The relaxing, soothing, radiation from a thick porcelain mug, the jolt of heat from a thin paper cup, the bracing flood of warmth rushing over my tongue, and the hot weight in my gut, warming me from the inside out like a little liquid furnace.

On Mondays, it takes little bit more of the good stuff to get me going.  The first desperately-needed cup is often not until nine o'clock or so, often because I’m such a complete zombie that I forget to go get coffee.  I’m lucky to make it back to my desk with that first cup before I’m trekking back to the office Bunn—desperately hoping I won’t be the sucker who kills the joe, and therefore beholden to make some mo’.

The second cup I down steadily, solidly, workmanlike.  By the end of that second helping, I’m starting to get the tingl; my eyes aren’t drooping quite so much.  I realize I’m slouching so badly in my chair that the backrest is supporting my head instead, and move to an upright position.  But the third cup . . . ahh, the third cup.  The initial sip of the third cup is like Zeus’s lighting; a bolt from the heavens igniting my nervous system!  I lean forward in my chair, attacking the problems of the day with emphatic keyboard strikes, pummeling my dreary to-do list into submission.  It is now, at the beginning of that third cup, that I write this.

Today marks the first day of an experiment.  I’ve written serial posts before (“Meet the Cubs”, “To Whom It May Concern”, etc.), but those get posted as I complete them, never on a regular, scheduled basis.  With training camp looming, and the preseason after that, and—no way—the regular season immediately after that, the flow of information will soon widen from a trickle to a torrent.  Since I often write over the weekend, but rarely post, and since the analytics show that a majority of you folks only check in Monday through Friday, I—and you—are in need of a rundown of everything that happened in Lions-land over the weekend.  And so:

  •    Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote an extremely scary piece comparing Matt Stafford with the last multi-year starter at Georgia, David Greene.  This is every Lions fan’s worst nightmare: that Matt Stafford can’t translate his success in the SEC to the NFL.  That his arm, such a great weapon against college defensive backs, will be nullified by the fiercer pass rushes, the nightmarish blitz schemes, and the complicated coverages.  That the dramatic quickening of the game, the dictionary-thick playbooks, and the blizzard of new terminology and nomenclature snow him under before he even has a chance to warm up.  Unfortunately, there’s no silver lining to this story.  Outside of the fact that more NFL teams fell in love with Stafford’s physical tools than Greene’s (Greene was a third-round pick), and the Lions' coaching staff’s glowing initial reports, there’s nothing that points to Stafford succeeding where Greene so completely failed.  In fact, as Football Outsiders’s Bill Barnwell pointed out before the draft, Greene actually outproduced Stafford’s numbers at Georgia—same system, same coaching staff, Greene was better.  Yikes.
  •    New Lion Jon Jansen spoke to Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press, and spoke, very candidly, about the upcoming labor situation.  He dropped some serious wisdom with the following quote:  
    "I don't think we're heading for anything like that. Yeah, we're going to threaten it, they're going to threaten. At some point everybody's going to be like, 'Oh, my gosh. This is going to happen.'  But when it comes down to it, if there's a strike, the owners are in this, obviously they're in it for winning, but they're all also in it to make money. And if we're not on the field, no one's making money. ... If we're not on the field, we're not making money. We don't want that. When it comes down to it, we'll figure it out."
      I dearly hope that the movers and shakers of both sides figure this out sooner rather than later.  One of the NFL’s greatest strengths has been the ongoing labor peace—alternately blamed on and credited to a close working relationship between former Commission Tagliabue and former NFLPA President, the late Gene Upshaw.  Now that Roger Goodell sits so strongly at the commissioner’s desk, and trial lawyer DeMaurice Smith heads up the NFLPA, I hope both sides can reach this common understanding: that the fans’ love of football is what pays all of their salaries, and they owe it to their employees/members to work together in a spirit of not killing what might be America’s last great golden goose.
  •    The Lions are finally starting to knock out a few of these rookie contracts, with TCU RB Aaron Brown getting locked up on Friday afternoon.  With a lingering hamstring problem keeping third-rounder Derrick Williams on figurative and literal ice throughout OTAs and minicamps, Brown has a great chance to establish himself as a valuable return option.  He’ll compete with Williams and the newest Lion, WR Dennis Northcutt, throughout training camp.


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