Old Mother Hubbard: The Defensive Tackles

>> 1.21.2010

*NOTE: VIDDLER HAS TAKEN DOWN ALL MY FILM CLIPS AND BANNED ME.  WORKING ON IT.

Here are my “bottom line” summaries of each of the defensive tackles on the roster, as of the end of the 2008 season:

Cory Redding: The Lions are committed to Redding, money-wise, for at least 2009 and maybe 2010.  Look for him to be starting as a 4-3 UT or 3-4 DE/NT in '09.
Shaun Cody: the Lions' interest in retaining Cody will probably depend on the chosen defensive alignment.  If they choose a 3-4, they may pay to keep him as an end. If they stay in a 4-3, he could be allowed to walk.
Andre Fluellen: a talented natural one-gap player who could blossom into a force as he goes through NFL training and nutrition. In 2009 I see him as a 4-3 SDE/UT, or a 3-4 DE.
Landon Cohen: Cohen is a true 4-3 one-gap nose tackle who was born a little too small. If he could add a lot of bulk he could stay at NT--otherwise, he's another 4-3 UT/3-4 DE project.
Chuck Darby: Darby could make a good 3-4 end, but would be a liability at NT. No matter the alignment, Darby is a valuable rotational player who brings emotional leadership on and off the field--and comes at a low cost. If he'll stay, we should keep him.
Langston Moore: Moore will probably be the first guy cut . . . if he sticks around, he'll be 4-3 DT depth.
It’s obvious that Mayhew and Schwartz saw the exact same thing that you and I do in this list: six players who have no business starting in the NFL, all of whom barely flirt with 300 pounds.  Of these, only Fluellen and Cohen remain on the roster.  Redding, of course, was flipped for Julian Peterson in a truly excellent trade.  He played 15 games for the Seahawks, starting only 3, and managed just 18 tackles (16 solo) and two sacks.
I had very high hopes for Andre Fluellen—but they still can’t figure out if he is an end or a tackle.  He was cycled between the two spots constantly, filling in wherever needed.  I said in last year’s breakdown that:
I see him as a replacement for Cory Redding: a big, lean defensive tackle with a motor and tackling skills . . . I think if he could add 20 or 30 pounds over the next several years and work on his strength and technique, his short, wide frame and high motor could allow him to be a pocket-collapsing nose tackle.
Shockingly, Fluellen’s 2009 production was almost identical to that of Redding’s: in 14 games (3 starts), Flu garnered 18 tackles (9 solo) and 1.5 sacks.  I no longer think he has NT potential in either alignment; he lacks the natural bulk to be a run-stopper.  His body may yet mature, but he’s just not built like a natural 1-technique DT.
We saw evidence of this in Week 8, against the Rams.  Here are two plays where Flu is asked to line stop the run as 1-technique:

On the first play, we see Flu get good burst and initial penetration.  He follows Jackson’s first steps, to the strong side of the field (bottom of the frame).  Unfortunately, it’s a counter.  Jackson cuts back to the weak side, the guard easily seals Fluellen off, and Andre can only crane his head around as Jackson runs past.  Compounding matters, the weakside end took a very wide path upfield, leaving a five-yard-wide hole filled only by 188-pound Kevin Hobbs.  The results are predictable.
On the second play, it's a simple affair: he gets blown off the ball.  Flu’s manhandled by the guard, technically doubled by the tackle—who hardly needs bother—and keeps getting pushed back until Jackson slams into him, seven yards downfield.  Not what you want from your nose tackle on a first-and-10 run up the middle.
On the other hand, Fluellen’s athleticism tantalizes:

This is a wide receiver screen, a play where a defensive tackle almost cannot make an impact.  However, we see him use that burst to shoot through the gap the pulling guard just vacated, getting in the backfield before the center can lay hands on him.  The quarterback has already released the ball, so Flu turns to the sideline without slowing down.  He pursues to the end of the play—and, if the receiver had shaken the corner and cut inside, he might have made the tackle.  A sideline-to-sideline DT?
Here're a couple of very interesting clips from the Redskins game:

This is the 3-3-5 nickel alignment that, when discussed in the preseason, sent Lions fans into a speculative tizzy.  These were on the Redskins’ second-to-last drive, and the Lions used this alignment almost exclusively—drawing a delay-of-game the first time they deployed it.  Sammie Hill, however, was on the sidelines with an ankle sprain, so Andre Fluellen was called upon to play nose tackle.
On the first play, Gun has the linebackers do a presnap dance all up and down the line, suggesting several different blitzes.  When the snap does come, the linebackers all drop back into coverage, and Fluellen ends up mostly one-on-one with giant guard Derrick Dockery.  After a decent initial push gets stymied, Flu keeps the motor going, and manages to get upfield—even forcing a mild hold!
On the second play (and other plays on that drive that I didn’t clip), the ‘Skins took no chances.  Flu is triple-teamed, while the ends are merely blocked one-on-one.  Though the third guy is mostly there for moral support—the center and right guard pretty much neutralize Fluellen—it’s nice to see another team make absolutely sure Flu doesn’t get free while the QB is waiting for deep routes to develop.
This is the duality of Fluellen: he's a very interesting inside-outside prospect, an undeniably talented player who’s far more athletic than a man his size has a right to be.  However, he’s a very, very long way from being a complete defensive tackle.  He cannot consistently hold the line against big guards, and is consistently neutralized by double teams.  However, the Lions’ lack of depth along the defensive line is such that his versatility and potential nearly ensure his roster spot for 2010.
Bottom line: Fluellen is a very versatile, high-effort player only two years removed from being a third-round draft pick.  Whether he plays inside, outside, or both in 2010, Flu should get plenty of rotational snaps next season.
One of the biggest surprises of training camp was Landon Cohen. Coming out of college at 6’-3 1/2”, 278 pounds, the Lions picked Cohen in the seventh round of the 2008 draft, and immediately threw him on the Rod Marinelli Under Tackle Pile. A year later, he added over twenty pounds of pure muscle, proved he could bench 225 pounds fifty times in a row, and earned a spot in the rotation.
Cohen is extremely lean, and very athletic—he ran track during all four of his years at Ohio University—and yet he’s powerful enough to play DT in the NFL. I happened to bump into him at the “Lions Uncaged!” fan event, and I was completely blown away by his physique. At his bigger weight, he’s not just lean—he’s cut, especially in the upper body.
Let's bring up my scouting report from last year again:
Cohen is a true 4-3 one-gap nose tackle who was born a little too small. If he could add a lot of bulk he could stay at NT--otherwise, he's another 4-3 UT/3-4 DE project.
Up to a listed 300 pounds from his original 278, Cohen has indeed "added a lot of bulk", and the Lions have used him as both a 1-tech nose tackle and a 3-tech under tackle in their 4-3 alignment this year. I'm not sure he'll ever have the junk in the trunk needed to be an immovable run-stopping 1-tech, but if he hasn’t yet maxxed out his frame, his potential is great.
What I like from Cohen is his patience—much like a tailback who waits for a hole and then explodes, Cohen has a great sense of where and when a crease in the line will open up.  Watch these two runs from the Rams game; see how he first moves laterally, then bursts past the center:

That motor and burst is great, but he's still got to be able to win one-on-ones in order to be more than a situational player. Here are a couple of clips that show him getting a lot of upfield push--even if he doesn’t make the play, he beats his man and limits the offense’s options.  He’ll have to do this more consistently, and actually make those plays, to win a full-time starting gig, but for now, this shows a lot of progress:

Here's one more I liked. This is the 4th-and-1 goal line stand from the Redskins game. Cohen's lined up as an end, and again he shows that knack for rushing through the gaps opened by center or guard motion.  If you’re wondering which Lion is Cohen, he’s the one who gets a couple yards into the backfield.

The run was designed to go outside of the OT, so Cohen couldn't make the play.  But again, we see his quick feet, upper body strength, and instincts making up for what he lacks in bulk.  Unlike Fluellen, he’s not a straight-line runner who could play outside.  He’s a true DT with good short-area quickness.
This is a good example of how you can't scout body types by listed size: Fluellen is theoretically 6’-2”, 302, and Cohen is listed at 6'-3", 300.   But look at Cohen in that last clip: as the camera zooms in from behind the Lions’ line, you can see Cohen’s shoulders are so wide, his jersey has to crease to stretch over his pads.  He’s built like a DT, he’s just not yet a finished example of one.
Bottom line: Cohen is rapidly developing from a seventh-round flier into a useful rotational DT. While he'll never be a 320-pound line-clogger, he's only 23.  If he focuses on lower-body development, improves his leverage, and continues to hone his technique, he’ll be a very nice complement to/backup for/situational replacement of Sammie Hill.
The Lions’ biggest free agent signing—in at least three senses of the word—was former Raiders, Saints, Packers, Falcons, Jaguars, and Falcons DT Grady Jackson.  Standing 6’-2”, 345 pounds, Jackson’s picture may as well hang in the dictionary next to the word stopgap:  “something that fills the place of something else that is lacking”.  Obviously, there was a big, empty space in the middle of the Lions’ defensive line—and Grady Jackson, at least partially, filled it.
The excitement when the Lions snagged Jackson was palpable.  Jackson was an immediate infusion of legitimate run-stopping ability, something the Lions had absolutely none of in 2008.  I gushed that he’d be worth a half a yard-per-carry all by himself!  Actually, this might have been true; the Lions’ opponent’s gross YpC for 2009 was 4.42, down from 5.14 last season (-0.72 YpC).
Jackson was brought in explicitly as a situational player, not a full-time starter.  As a line-clogging run stopper, he really isn’t much use in passing situations anyway.  He was even deactivated for the Seattle game, because their running scheme is mostly draws and stretches—as Schwartz put it, "That's sideways chasing, and that's not his forte".
Unfortunately, even in his specific niche, Jackson wasn't an instant hit.  He was in and out of training camp--first battling an illness, then dealing with his brother's stunning, bizarre, depressing murder case.  Grady also had a four-game suspension hanging over his head, thanks to the well-known tale of the NFL and StarCaps.
Right up until the end of the preseason, it was unknown whether the Lions would have Jackson available.  Fortunately, Jackson wasn’t forced to serve that suspension at the beginning of the season.  Unfortunately, he didn’t help all that much either:

The first play, we see something that looks depressingly like 2008: both Grady (NT, towards top), and Sammie Hill (UT, towards bottom), are both driven way, way, way off the ball—Grady’s even being singled here!  Depressingly, this happened quite a bit in the Saints game.  The Saints' LG, Carl Nicks, absolutely owned Grady in this game.  He goes 6'-5", 343, but I was apalled by how a second-year 5th-round draft pick just pushed around one of the more prolific run-stoppers of recent NFL history.
The second play on that clip is a little more like it--Grady's briefly doubled, and gets pushed back--but then he stands his ground, gets an arm out and ends up making the tackle.  This is hardly an amazing play, but it's one that would never have been made if Cory Redding and Andre Fluellen were our starting tackles.
While reviewing the film, I found a disturbing tendency: a positively Rogers esque tendency to be unblockable when the Lions are already winning.  Check out these two plays from the Redskins game:

Seriously, this is heroic one-on-one domination, in both plays.  Look at the explosion Jackson gets off the line!  He sends his man reeling and flailing backwards with just his initial punch, then rushes, re-engages, and gets up in Campbell's grill.  In the sescond play, we see Jackson go low--real low.  He dives down underneath the right guard, gets into the backfield untouched, if on the ground, then does a push-up and makes an ankle tackle.  That's an incredible hustle play--and one I don't see on film when the score is 0-10, opponent instead of 10-0, Lions.
Here are two clips that are exactly what the Lions expect of Grady--no more, and no less:

In the first clip, we see Grady hold the point of attack.  Unfortunately, he doesn't make the play, but he at least gets a little push and fights off the block.  In the second play, he's initially doubled.  When the guard releases, Grady sees the tailback come back his way, and he gets an arm free to make the tackle.  Again, no world-destroying, just exactly what the Lions got him for.
The Rams game also bolstered my play-when-he-wanna-play theory.  Here are two plays, both classic DT situations with the Lions still in the game:

In the first one, it's a critical 3rd-and-1, with the Lions down 2-10.  The Rams make the critical mistake of trying to block Grady with one man. Not only does he blow that dude up, when Steven Jackson runs around Grady, he turns and pursues.  Like, he runs downfield!
In the second one, the Rams are backed up on their own 1-yard-line.  It's a tie game, and Grady smells two points.  Again, inexplicably, the Rams try to block him with only a guard--and if their tailback was any less of a juggernaut, Grady'd have gotten his man.
It's clear that the 10-to-15 snaps per game that Grady Jackson can contribute will not make for an effective run defense.  However, he was absolutely critical to the improvement the Lions’ run defense made this season—from “apocalyptically terrible” to merely bad.  Grady’s under contract for two more years, and as a situational/rotational guy, he’s still useful.
Bottom line: Jackson turned in a B- performance in doing exactly what the Lions asked—stop the run on 1st and 10.  Even if the Lions draft or sign a three-down starter, Jackson can still contribute in that role.  I expect to see him back on the roster in 2010, though hopefully not as a “starter”.
Outside of Matthew Stafford, no 2009 Lions draft pick was more talked-about, or more important to the future of the team, than DT Sammie Hill.  A 6’-4”, 329-pound man-child from tiny Stillman College, Hill came to the NFL a tabula rasa, a natural born defensive tackle with zero coaching or technique base. 
Jim Schwartz immediately compared Hill—and scouting hill—to Leon Lett, the small-school big man who helped anchor the Dallas Cowboys dynasty of the mid-90s:
He was playing teams like Northern State and some of these others; I can't even remember some of the schools. The film was real grainy. You don't have the nice sideline and end zone (views), you got end zone that looks like it was filmed from the moon. And you just saw one guy that was twice as big as everybody else and then there'd be a pile and then you'd see somebody get knocked out of the pile the other way and you'd know that Leon was there.
With Sammie, it was a lot of the same thing. Part of the film – literally, they took it from the booth and you can see the reflection of the guy filming it more than you can see down on the field. But then again, you see guys get knocked backwards a lot. You see him show up around the quarterback. He played end in a 3-4 and they used him to sort of shut down half the field.
The consensus was that Hill was a 2-3 year project, an intriguing prospect with the tools to, someday, with the right coaching, develop into a special player.  Instead, the desperately undersized Lions plunked Hill into the starting lineup from Day One.
Hill—despite never having attended an NFL game prior to being drafted—walked onto the field and did pretty well for a rookie.  He still took his lumps, though:

One thing I noticed all season long was Hill's susceptibility to trap blocking, downblocking, reach blocking, zone blocking, or really anything that wasn’t straightforward one-on-one or two-on-one.  It’s like it didn’t occur to Sammie that anyone other than the guy directly across from him might exist.  As strong as Landon Cohen’s instincts were about the offensive line’s intentions, Hill’s were that weak.
To be fair, this is to be expected from a guy who was playing 3-4 end at a D-II school against guys half his size nine months before the above clip was shot.  To be fairer, the guard doing the blocking in that clip is 2010 Pro Bowl starter Jahri Evans; it's not like Hill was getting dominated by a scrub.
Even having taken his early lumps, Hill's natural talent was apparent.  Here's a beautiful clip of him holding his own against a true double-team, fighing them off, and then contributing to the play.  This isn't a chip, or an assist, this is a center and guard both blocking Sammie with everything they've got.  Yet, after initially getting pushed back, he recovers, and holds his ground:

Unfortunately, Hill "had an ankle" in that 'Skins game (to use The Grandmasters' parlance).  He missed the next three games, plus the bye, then came back against the Rams . . . strong:

Here we see two run plays where Hill proves he's too strong to block with just one guy.  Unfortunately, he seems a little more concerned with beating his man than actually tackling the runningback—but that much penetration forces an offense to adjust, and that’s what you need from a DT.
Frankly, folks, I think Sammie Hill is going to be seen as one of the sharpest late-round picks since Cortland Finnegan—a Schwartz-polished seventh-round diamond in the rough.  Hill is the Lions' only quality tackle, and we're only seeing the beginnings of what he could develop into.
He only mustered 14 solo tackles, and 12 assists, in his 12 starts.  He’s no pass rusher—he didn’t have a single sack—but he showed strength, power, and athleticism in a perfectly-sized package.  My hope is that a full offseason of NFL nutrition, strength training, and technique coaching with DL coach Bob Karmelowicz, the man who tutored Jared Allen in Kansas City, will help him take that next big step.
Bottom Line: Sammie Hill is already the Lions’ best defensive tackle, and should prove to be much better in 2010 and beyond.  He has the size, strength, and athleticism to become a perennial Pro Bowler, and his steady improvement from preseason to the end of the season shows the effort and coachability he’ll need to get there.  He’ll start for the Lions this season, and for many more to come.
Summary
The Lions are still desperate at this position.  They started with six players who, as I said, have no business starting in the NFL—and now they have a young, three-down starter on the rise, an aging situational run-stopper, a young, rotational, three-down NT/UT with upside, and a young inside-outside ‘tweener.
In order to continue building the defense that Schwartz and Cunningham envision, they'll have to acquire another starting defensive tackle, one with some real explosion and pass-rush ability.  Cohen is showing that he could develop into that player—if a little too small—but he won’t be that player next season.  Fluellen just isn’t built big enough to be an every-down DT in this system—and though the tools and potential are there, I haven’t yet seen anything from him that shows he can actually rush the passer, from either the end or tackle spot.
Reader SomeChoi commented that there’s a disconnect here between the highlights and warm fuzzy words above, and the apparent lack of production from the defensive tackle spot during the season.  As I said in the comments, this is because you’re seeing highlights and lowlights; it wasn’t feasible to show you all hundreds of snaps of our defensive tackles failing to be awesome.
Another factor, however, was that apparent weakness in the defensive line play turned out to be errors by the linebackers or secondary.  Yes, Julian Peterson, Larry Foote, Ernie Sims and DeAndre Levy are all massive upgrades from last season, when street free agent Ryan Nece was arguably our best linebacker.  Still, the LB play was wildly inconsistent throughout the season—often playing well when the line did not, and vice versa.
All that having been said, the run-stopping is still inadequate, and the interior pass rush is nonexistent.  Though flawed linebacker and safety play exacerbated the insufficiency up front, the insufficiency is real.
Bottom line: There’s no doubt that the defensive line is much stouter this season than last—that 0.72 YpC improvement in the run defense had to come from somewhere!—this is still a D+/C- line.  The Lions absolutely must add an impact starter.  Whether that is an elite DT talent in the draft—as in, with the #2 overall pick—or, by trade for a veteran starter, or by making a splash in the free agent market, it must be done.

26 comments:

David January 19, 2010 at 3:47 PM  

Im starting to think that drafting a player like Suh could be a risky venture for the Lions (if they have a shot at him). Although he is very strong, he doesnt have the frame to bulk up much more. And I question whether he will end up weighing in closer to 285-290 at the official weigh ins.
This article got me thinking that do we want another sub 300 pound DT when we are trying to get bigger on the D-line? I know Suh is super talented, but could he be a better 3-4 end than a true defensive tackle?
However, I reclal you mentioning the possibility of drafting Suh with intention of lining him up outside. This could be an intriguing possibility because he is quick and athletic. But again, its a projection.

By the way, I was reading pro football weekley yesterday, and I ran across this quote from their NFL draft dude: (paraphrased) " Gerald McCoy is receiving higher grades from NFL evaluators than Ndamukong Suh, and stands a legitimate chance at being drafted first overall."

Something to think about....

A Lion in ViQueen territory,  January 19, 2010 at 4:41 PM  

hmmm. Maybe we should hire Luther Ellis, I heard he was having some money issues....

I miss that line: Ellis and Porcher, backed by Steven Boyd.

Hyperion Ecta,  January 19, 2010 at 5:32 PM  

Excellent work Ty. Seriously, this is the best positional review post I've seen.

Weston Corbitt January 20, 2010 at 12:30 PM  

Very excellent work sir. I always felt we had a lot of depth at the DT position with some upside. Sure I am not saying we should take a WR with second overall but another good young DT (Suh, McCoy, Suh) we could really some improvement with our youngsters getting playing time. I think we need pass rush more than good DT play, but nobody is good enough to take at 2. Very good work.

Anonymous,  January 20, 2010 at 12:50 PM  

The lions defensive yards per carry stat would have been a lot lower if they had not allowed quite a few long runs (say greater than 20 yards), often at the most critical times. Hence, I think the Lions run stopping was much better than last year but the YpC stat doesn't show it. The real question becomes why/how did their opponents get those long runs (seemingly at will) and what position(s) needs to be improved so they don't occur next year? I have to wonder how many of these long runs were due to poor play by the linebackers or the secondary, but in any case, an analysis of these long runs may reveal what position the Lions really need to draft on defense.

Ty January 20, 2010 at 1:17 PM  

David--

I agree with a lot of that. Remember, my initial take on Suh:

http://thelionsinwinter.blogspot.com/2009/12/ndamukong-torpedoes.html

I really do see him as a 2-3 year project, with more upside at DE than DT. You're absolutely correct about the 3-4 thing; he'd have a ton of potential as a 3-4 end. However, I think his explosion and pursuit speed would be a little bit wasted there.

I've been saying this whole time, I don't watch very much college football, so I have no opinion on Suh/McCoy, other than that they're both great prospects, neither of them is anything even vaguely resembling Albert Haynesworth, and until they get measured and worked out at the combine, trying to project who is a better fit for the Lions would be pure hypotheticism.

I have heard from some armchair/DVR scouts (like myself, only with more time and more interest in the college game) that McCoy is a more NFL-ready prospect and a more consistent player.

FWIW, I really really really don't think that splitting hairs between #1 overall, #2 overall, #5 overall, etc. is worthwhile until the combine. I am comfortable at this point knowing that: A) the Lions aren't taking a quarterback, B) there doesn't appear to be a Jonathan Ogden in this draft, C) there are a few defensive linemen that might merit a #2 pick, and D) there are a couple defensive backs that might merit a #2 pick.

Peace
Ty

Ty January 20, 2010 at 1:22 PM  

ALiVQT--

That totally and completely depressed me, reading about Luther. He's a classy dude, and killed himself working for a team that didn't deserve him.

I miss that DL, too, though I miss Spielman a lot more than Boyd. Hell, I still carry a torch for Reggie Brown.

Peace
Ty

Ty January 20, 2010 at 1:24 PM  

Hyperion--

Thanks, man! I actually feel like I'm letting you all down. Slow, incomplete . . . and I still feel like I should do three or four times as much on each guy.

Peace
Ty

Ty January 20, 2010 at 1:39 PM  

Weston--

Yeah, the good part about keeping 11 defensive linemen on the initial 53-man roster (as Marinelli did in '08) is that some of those dudes pan out. Hill is a starter going into next season, Jackson is still useful situationally, Cohen is useful and still getting better rapidly. Assuming the Lions draft a DT in the first or second round, and/or add a veteran starter, Fluellen is probably the only one on the bubble.

I think Fluellen will stick around, but his best chance is probably wherever the Lions don't add an immediate starter--he can play DE full-time if they add a starting DT, and DT full-time if they add a starting DE.

For what it's worth, I do think they need to add a full time starter, to pair with Hill.

Peace
Ty

Ty January 20, 2010 at 1:44 PM  

Anon--

I think you saw in some of the clips from the Rams game (I really scouted that game intensely for exactly this reason), the DL was doing its job, but the linebackers and safeties weren't tackling for beans. A lot of this had to do with Steven Jackson, but a lot of it had to do with a general lack of talent.

Be careful with the statistical manipulation, there. The Lions gave up far more long runs in 2008 than 2009, and for a reason--they were the worst rushing defense ever. I may look at this more specifically for a piece later--but can tell you right now that Louis Delmas is a huge reason, if not the reason, why the long runs were capped.

Peace
Ty

Anonymous,  January 20, 2010 at 2:59 PM  

I agree, throwing out those long runs for the YaC is statistical manipulation but my point was that reducing those long runs would significantly improve the defense statistically, and more important, keep them in games. If Delmas is the primary reason for the improvement between 2008 and 2009, then perhaps drafting Berry (or any other quality Safety or Corner similar to Delmas) first would pay bigger dividends in the pass defense but also the run defense, especially if a quality DL can be obtained in later rounds.

I enjoy reading your stuff -- keep up the good work!

Anonymous,  January 20, 2010 at 4:28 PM  

Ty-

Good to see you on MgoBlog. My two favorite football personalities on the same site.

Ty January 20, 2010 at 4:43 PM  

Anon--

Oh, I definitely agree. The really long runs are usually a missed gap by a linebacker (an Ernie Sims-style freelance job), or a whiff by a safety. Delmas and Will James are the only DBs who regularly made open-field tackles . . . You saw how many safeties played back there next to Delmas this year; bolstering that spot is going to be a big defensive priority.

Peace
Ty

Ty January 20, 2010 at 4:52 PM  

Anon--

Wow, thanks! That's about the highest praise I can think of. I've been reading MGoBlog for a couple-three years now, and Brian's been an occasional sounding board for me via email.

I'm not going to lie: "MGoBlog For The Lions" has been my goal from the get-go. Brian even gave me permission to rip off the UFR and "Hennechart"--but with a wife, three small kids, and a day job, it's just not possible to do that while also doing regular writing pieces.

Unfortunately, I'm a third-generation Spartan, so I "hate" Michigan--but Brian's stuff is so damn GOOD that I can't help but lap it up.

Peace
Ty

SomeChoi January 21, 2010 at 12:47 PM  

"the linebackers and safeties weren't tackling for beans. A lot of this had to do with Steven Jackson, but a lot of it had to do with a general lack of talent."

I thought LB was our strongest position defensively. What gives? Maybe you'll address the LBs later.

And why are all the clips from the Rams game? Is it because you picked one game to review, or is it because that's the only game where the DTs looked competant? I certainly don't expect you to review all 16 games, but just curious.

And I feel a little disconnect. Your write-ups make me feel good about our current DTs, yet a voice inside asks "if our DTs are good, then why so little pass pressure on our opponents?"

Peace

Ty January 21, 2010 at 12:56 PM  

SomeChoi--

LB might be "our strongest position", but in the Rams game, they weren't tackling for crap. They were much, much, much better in other games, like the Bengals game.

. . . you bet your sweet bippy I'll be doing the linebackers.

I used the Rams clips pretty extensively for the DTs, because Jackson went absolutely crazy on us. I figured there would be a lot of Run-Stopping Fail on the part of the line--and I was really surprised to see that that wasn't the case.

I'm targeting games like that for each position group--I've looked at the Saints, first Vikings, Redskins, and Rams games for the DTs.

The reason you feel a disconnect is that I'm mostly showing you extraordinary plays, both successes and failures. If I show you 50 snaps of Andre Fluellen sort-of doing good but getting blocked anyway, you'll get a sense of his lack of awesomeness--but you won't get a sense of what his real strengths and real weaknesses are.

If Andre Fluellen had had 8 sacks this year, you'd know of his awesomeness, and these clips would just be highlight reels! Instead, I'm showing you why he has potential, and why that potential hasn't been realized. Does that make sense?

Peace
Ty

Anonymous,  January 21, 2010 at 7:27 PM  

Ty, Thanx for the in-depth breakdown, really out-standing work. Can't wait for the rest of the positions! If the two top DT prospects don't have the frame to play at 300 lbs. plus, then I'm gonna go out on a limb and say our 1st-rounder should be a great DE or CB. I say corner because I don't feel we can afford Berry along with Delmas. We need a shut-down corner badly and generally the great ones are drafted pretty high(1st-2nd rd). Besides, I thought Ko Simpson was working out OK before he got hurt. There alo seems to be some bigger DTs going a little lower, like the guy from Tennessee, to name one. Thoughts? (I post on mlive as late58) Again, thanx for the great work! The little blue flame is growing. Can ya' feel it?

Neil January 21, 2010 at 8:22 PM  

Well done, Ty. Although I should expect nothing less than your usually thorough excellence.

The good news, I think, is that this year's edition of the line should be the low point for the Schwartz era, and really, it wasn't all that bad. It was certainly much better than we anticipated it being going into the season when we were both moaning the word death over and over again whenever we looked at the line.

The fact that Hill emerged as the team's best defensive tackle despite being what was essentially the equivalent of a Detroit Public School League high school player in terms of technique say a lot about his potential. If he can grow into a reasonable facsimile of Lett and if the Lions can land another top flight prospect to stick next to him, then the backbone of Schwartz's defense might be in place quicker than a lot of people imagined. It will be exciting to see what happens next.

Ryan,  January 22, 2010 at 5:31 AM  

Great work as per usual.

Hopefully Mayhew can pull some more gems out of his...pocket in the later rounds of the draft. God knows this defense is going to need it.

Isphet,  January 22, 2010 at 12:54 PM  

Good analysis, I love the in-depth stuff you bring to your blog.

Talking shop for a moment - Sammie Hill is not the answer. He's a good guy, but I sure as heck don't want to count on him as "the" anchor to a D-line. Rather, it would be good to see him be the compliment to an even better, bigger type guy next to him, like a Haynesworth-Rodgers type dude.

I still can't get the idea that the Lions are wanting Terrance Cody from Alabma. I mean, the dude only is like 360+ lbs, anchored the best run defense in college this year, and was agile enough to be a lead blocking fullback in goal line situations for the offense. He might even fall to them in the second round. I can only imagine Eric Berry in round 1 then picking up Cody in round 2... man that would be killer.

jpoptoday January 22, 2010 at 5:58 PM  

Ty, good point about Marinelli keeping so many defensive linemen in '08. Many of us were ticked that we didn't keep Buster Davis. Surely he would have taken Cohen's or Fluellen's roster spot.

Yes, we don't have to draft a QB and that is a great feeling! No tight end as well. I'm with the cat above.. grab Berry and take the best available DT in the 2nd round. I'd be happy with Mc Coy though. We're going to get some nice players.

I can't wait to read your comments about our receivers in the coming days I'm wondering if it's too early to label Derrick Williams as a bust. I was disappointed in him but I don't really want to draft a WR in the upper rounds this year.

Isphet,  January 23, 2010 at 12:51 AM  

My bad,
I meant to say that I can't get Terrance Cody out of my head as a guy that the Lions will be targeting.

I called the Sammie Hill selection early on Detfan's blog last year, maybe I'll get lucky again this year.

Ty January 25, 2010 at 11:09 AM  

Anon--

I'm not casting my lot with any of the apparent top-few pick prospects, because the combine can, and will, swing a lot of this around.

Berry, from what I've heard, has linebackeresque size and corner-like coverage ability . . . which would make him a great linebacker or corner. A lot of armchair scouts are saying that Berry made a lot of overzealous mistakes when playing in zone or against the run, something that Delmas has struggled with, too. The scuttlebutt is, when you consider that the Tennessee defense was pratically designed for him by Monte Kiffin, he didn't make as many plays as you'd think.

While Berry would be a major talent upgrade over the parade of scrubs that have held down the other safety spot, I worry about building the defense around two ranging, gambling, playmaking do-it-all safeties. It just doesn't make a lot of sense. Unless Berry could switch to corner--or, heaven forbid, the armchair scouts are wrong--I don't think he's the guy.

Suh or McCoy might not be perfect fits. But everything I've read says that they're the two best prospects on the board, and it's our position of biggest need. Unless they both weigh in at like 275, I don't see the Lions passing on both.

Peace
Ty

Ty January 25, 2010 at 11:21 AM  

Neil--

Yeah, the line was much better this year. Still relatively terrible, but much better.

I'm chomping at the bit to see what happens with Hill next season. I think he'll take huge strides over the offseason . . . but they DO need to add someone else to take heat off of him. Whether it's a DT with explosion up the middle, or a pass-rushing three-down end, Hill can't be our only competent lineman.

Peace
Ty

Ty January 25, 2010 at 11:27 AM  

Ryan, Isphet--

Thanks for the kudos!

First off, Hill is pretty stinkin' big. He's really lean for 330, and has plenty of growin' left to do. I don't think we need a pair of 350+ pound behemoths--two 3-4 NTs--to have an excellent defensive line.

Unfortunately, those guys are vanishingly rare; with everyone and his brother switching to a 3-4 these days, the Terrance Codys of the world command more of a premium than ever. Moroever, I think the Lions would rather have more balance and versatility with their two tackles. A 330-pound Hill and a 315-pound Kevin Williams makes more sense in that system than a than a 360-pounder and a 295-pounder.

Peace
Ty

Ty January 25, 2010 at 12:39 PM  

jpoptoday--

Right on. If I had to hear one more time about how Millen let Buster "Currently Unsigned and Hasn't Ever Made an Active Roster" Davis, our future at MLB, walk, I was going to scream.

You're right that no matter how it shakes out, the Lions will be in position to add some very nice talents that address big needs. It's a good feeling.

Peace
Ty

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