Do the Lions Need To Cut Kevin Smith?

>> 9.01.2010

2009 September 13: Detroit Lions running back Kevin Smith (34) is hit by New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma (51) during a 45-27 win by the New Orleans Saints over the Detroit Lions at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana.Being a sports fan in 2010 is much, much different than it was in 2000, and much, much, much different than in 1990.  Our access to surging torrents of information, in real time, all the time, everywhere, has shrunken our attention spans and shrunken our perspectives.  Not too long ago, our sports information was found only in agate type on page D7, and our sports opinions were informed only by beat writers, columnists, and Jack the Sales Guy who you always see at the coffee pot on Mondays.  If you wanted to know which camp bodies the Lions had released—and you wouldn’t know who they were to begin with—you’d have to wait a day, and bring your magnifying glass.

It’s no wonder, then, that this time of year always strikes me as odd; great raging debates are had over who deserves the last few spots on the roster—when the last eight guys on the roster, by rule, can’t even dress for games.  Moreover, if there’s anything we should know about these Lions, it’s that being on the final 53 doesn’t mean you’re safe for any length of time.  Literally, hundreds of players have worn Honolulu Blue since Martin Mayhew took over as GM; Guy #53 might be out on his tail the instant some other team cuts a slightly more interesting player.

Imagine my surprise when, in the wake of his lackluster performance against Cleveland, people started calling for Kevin Smith’s job.  He’s done, they say.  He’s hurt, they say.  DeDe Dorsey looks really good, they say.  What good is he?  Why waste a roster spot on Kevin Smith?  I’m reminded of a famous quote from Charles Babbage, when asked if his “difference engine” would produce a correct answer when given incorrect inputs:

"I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question."

Yes, it’s true, Kevin Smith does not look like his typical self—and yes, it’s true that his “typical self” was just a step short of being a complete feature back.  Kevin Smith might be four-to-eight weeks away from being the back that ran 238 times for 976 yards—on the worst team of all time, just two years ago—but a sense of perspective on what that means, please.  Smith ran for more yards in the first five games of his rookie year than DeDe Dorsey has in his first four years in the NFL.

It’s true that the Lions won’t carry five tailbacks and Jerome Felton; as I believe Felton’s a lock at least one, and probably two, tailbacks must go.  Dorsey is an easy cut.  Yes, he’s looked good in preseason, but then so did Tristan Davis; you can sign a DeDe Dorsey during the season if you need to.  For that matter, they may be able to re-sign Dorsey himself!  Aaron Brown is a great special-teamer, and shows true explosion out of the backfield; he’s more than worth keeping around to see what he becomes.  However, he’s far too unreliable in protection to serve as a true #2 tailback.  The question then, is do the Lions cut Smith, cut Morris, or carry four?

I’ve championed Maurice Morris for quite a while; I even argued that his running last year obviated the need to “waste” a high draft pick on a co-starter for Kevin Smith.  However, Morris isn’t the blocker Smith is, and doesn’t have the vision Smith does.  Morris runs hard, and is an underrated athlete—but when Smith’s at his best, he’s a complete tailback;  he runs like a slower, stronger Jahvid Best.

As I said during my guest spot on “The Knee Jerks” internet radio show, Jahvid Best is probably the best reason to keep Smith around, because they run in a similar fashion.  There’s no need to custom-tailor the offense around each back, or change up the playcalling.  When both are healthy, they can simply spell each other, complement each other, sub in and out without skipping a beat.  Best will always be more explosive and more dangerous, Smith will always be stronger, and likely the better blocker—but over the next few years, I see them as an excellent complement to each other.

The question, then, is whether or not the Lions want their #2 tailback to simply be a Guy In Case Of Emergency.  If all they need is a guy they can run out there when Best is too tired to continue, or (God forbid) hurt, Morris will do just fine.  If they intend to have Best be 1A to someone else’s 1B, a cohabitation that would keep Best fresh and explosive for 15+ carries while also keeping a rookie off the field when Stafford needs protection most, then Smith should be that back.

Ultimately, though, every choice is weighed against another.  With Jack Williams’ PUP listing, and Amari Spievey’s switch to safety, there are eight cornerbacks and six safeties on the roster.  If Kevin Smith is kept, one member of the pile of bodies that is the defensive secondary might be yanked out from underneath the others.  Seriously, ask yourself: who will provide the most value to this team?  Kevin Smith, or Ko Simpson?  Kevin Smith, or Dante Wesley?  I know what my thinking is in that situation, but I can’t be so sure of The Grandmaster’s—or even Smith’s.

The Free Press’ Carlos Monarrez quotes Jim Schwartz like so:

"Kevin's a very, very smart football player, and he's going to do the right thing," Schwartz said. "He's got a lot of trust from those things. He just needs -- and it's not so much earning our trust -- he just needs to get his own trust with his knee and everything else.”

“I've known a lot of people to come back from knee injuries and they need to get to the point where it's not even on their agenda anymore; they don't think about it when they're out there. That's a long process. That's not an overnight thing. So he's still working that way."

It sounds like the problem at this point isn’t whether or not his knee is healthy, but whether or not he trusts it yet.  That’s good: once Smith regains that confidence and stops thinking about the knee, he’ll be the Kevin Smith that should be that 1B tailback.  That’s also bad; he might never regain that confidence—and for a tailback whose value is in running hard and blocking strong, playing hesitantly means not playing at all.



17 comments:

NorthLeft12 September 1, 2010 at 1:18 PM  

Ty, So your opinion is ........?

I guess I see Kevin Smith as semi-injured right now and not ready for the season. Given what you have already said, is there a big problem in keeping both he and Morris until some point later this season, say when Jack Williams must be activated, and making the decision then?

Clusterfox,  September 1, 2010 at 1:37 PM  

I don't Disagree with your opinion of Smith. But I can't help flashing back to the miraculous recovery of KJones(picture acupuncture, whacked out doctors basement, running golf course hills)we all bought into him being back. Then traded, we were shocked and dissapointed in some instances. Now he has disappeared.
So to my point,In my mind, planning is always for the worst.(If everything goes well, than great nothing matters)However If J Best is held out week 2 because of the Beating the bears gave us. Who do you want in our backfield? I'm sorry but I can't confidently say Smith. I'd like Browns speed with MoMo's dependability, maybe a sprinkle of DeDe's slipperiness. I don't have the answer but if someone offered a CB/LB for Smith right now I think i'd jump all over it.

Clusterfox

Andrew September 1, 2010 at 1:54 PM  

I don't know how I feel, but my gut feeling is that he's getting cut. No real basis for that though.

I trust whatever Schwartz does though and that's more than I could say for the past few regimes.

Ty September 1, 2010 at 2:51 PM  

NorthLeft12--

I left it a little open-ended on purpose, but I intended this comment to make my position known:

"Seriously, ask yourself: who will provide the most value to this team? Kevin Smith, or Ko Simpson? Kevin Smith, or Dante Wesley?"

Giving up on Kevin Smith at this point would be completely nuts. He blew out his ACL, MCL, and PCL like eight months ago; the fact that he can even run and cut is nothing short of amazing. Releasing him would only make some other team better.

Peace
Ty

Isphet,  September 1, 2010 at 11:24 PM  

We all think that K. Smith isn't 100% due to lingering effects of his injury. Let's be honest: he hasn't been 100% healthy for a long time, if ever.

If I were the Lions, I would put him on the PUP list and give him time to heal up a bit more instead of just letting him go. Roll with Aaron Brown and Maurice Morris, and hold on to Smith if you can until he is ACTUALLY 100% healthy and has been for a while before you throw him out with the dirty Millen bathwater that remains on the roster.

Unless I am mistaken, putting him on the PUP list might make him eligible to be claimed by another team... but if he is, don't the Lions get a compensatory pick in the next draft?

NorthLeft12 September 2, 2010 at 5:57 AM  

Isphet, someone else may correct me but I don't think Smith can go on the PUP list due to his participation in the practices and preseason games.

Ty, I agree. Sorry but the comment about Ko and Dante gave me pause as some people do believe they have value.

Anonymous,  September 2, 2010 at 1:21 PM  

Kevin Smith always looked the same as he does right now. He has always been slow and never had a good quick cut. He just cant make plays. He gets what the offensive line gives him. he cant even brush off arm tackles. plain and simple the guy is not nfl talent. we would get no trade value out of him. if a rb has no speed then he has to be able to put his head down and knock some people over. and with the 4.7 40 he ran out of college he obviouslly doesnt have that so what is it that we should keep him around for. he is the least talented player(u notice i said player not running back) on the whole team. Its not hefney or simpson that i care about him replacing its one of the other talented running backs on the team that are all more capable than kevin smith. open your eyes and see it, kevin SUCKS and has no business playing football in the nfl

Ty September 2, 2010 at 1:26 PM  

Clusterfox--

The chatter is that they may trade MoMo instead of Smith; I think I'd prefer that, long-term. If there's a few games where Best is tweaked but Smith can't handle 20 carries yet, I wouldn't mind seeing Brown get some of the load.

The bottom line for me is that a three-man group of Best, Smith, and Brown could be a tidy little trio for 2-4 years . . . Best, MoMo, and Brown seems like a very temporary arrangement.

Peace
Ty

TimT September 2, 2010 at 1:26 PM  

Ty, thanks for putting in a good work for Smith. He's a valuable member of the team.

Not coincidentally, McCoskey posted an article on the backlash against Suh's play against Delhomme.

Maybe the fanbase has a sort of "cabin fever". I've scratched my head more in the last week over comments about players more than at any time in any sport. Well, I take that back. The annual "Shanny's on the trading block" Redwing comments got under my skin, too.

Ty September 2, 2010 at 1:26 PM  

Andrew--

"I trust whatever Schwartz does though and that's more than I could say for the past few regimes."

You're spot on with that. Here's to Schwartz! *clicks cider mug*

Peace
Ty

Ty September 2, 2010 at 1:34 PM  

Isphet--

Yeah, Michael Schottey was saying on Twitter he's heard the Lions wish they'd PUP'd Smith to save the roster spot. I don't believe it's true that another team could claim a player on the PUP list--remember, Shaun Rogers started off on the PUP, and if all someone had to do was put in a waiver claim for him that would have happened in about two seconds! I'm trying to confirm that, though.

Peace
Ty

Clusterfox,  September 2, 2010 at 2:30 PM  

Ty if I may help you with this one.
Anon,
The fact that Smith would quickly get picked up by someone else shows how very wrong you are. I believe as do most others that it is a thought provoking decision to be made. Not nearly as cut and dry as your implying. Plus posting such banter under the ANON label, is more than a bit trollish.
So thanks for trying.

Clusterfox

Ken September 2, 2010 at 7:52 PM  

If K.Smith went to another team, Im not so sure he would make them so much better. I dont believe it would make the Lions any worse.

I think this article is a little misleading about Smith in the way it keeps calling him a stronger runner. Where does this come from? Smith has a reputation of being tackled by the first guy to reach him. He is brought down by more arm tackles than he breaks. As soon as he hits traffic, it is as if he stops moving his legs. He thinks he will go down, so he just pushes forward and falls forward.

Smith has good vision but without speed to break away or power to break tackles, he cant take advantage of that vision.

If the Lions can get even a 5th round pick for him, I would be happy.

NorthLeft12 September 3, 2010 at 9:39 AM  

Ken, I don't see anyone giving us anything more than a seventh round pick for Kevin....right now. This is the lowest value that Kevin will have, recovering from injury, poor preseason, it just does not make sense to trade a guy that is so undervalued.

I don't disagree with some of your comments regarding Kevin, but I feel like most of that relates to 2009 and this preseason. He was a much different runner in 2008. I would give him a shot to work himself back to health this year and reevaluate at the end of the year. He played pretty well all of 2009 hurt, more than he and the Lions let on. That kind of confidence from the coaches will not disappear overnight.

Neil September 3, 2010 at 8:06 PM  

A guy can conceivably come back from an ACL injury much more quickly than most people think. HOWEVER, it can take up to an extra year for the player to really trust his knee again.

And that's where we are with Kevin Smith now. For a player who already lacks ideal explosiveness/top end speed, even a split second of hesitation can be the difference from adequate running back to Yo, this guy just doesn't have it.

Add in the fact that Smith tore everything in his knee and I'm guessing he won't be back to his old self for quite a while, even if the doctors pronounce his knee completely healthy. I can just about guarantee that every time he plants, every time he pushes off, every time he runs out onto that field, his knee is at least in the back of his mind, and as long as it's there, that will always cause that half a millisecond delay that is the difference between hitting the open hole or getting swallowed up after only a yard or two.

Will he come back? I don't know. Knee injuries are tricky, if for no other reason than the mental part that I just talked about. Physically, he'll be fine. He probably already is. But, before, in his mind, he was immortal. Now, he knows his knee can blow up like that. It's a tough thing to get past.

Should the Lions roll the dice and hope that he does get past all that? You would like them to, if for no other reason than he looked so promising as a rookie. But reality is unsentimental. It's cold and it's harsh and the truth is that if he can't get past that mental hurdle - and get past it soon - he can't really help the Lions.

I would like to say wait and see, but unfortunately, it's time for football to start. If they think he's far enough long to help, then great. But if he's not, well . . .

Matt,  September 4, 2010 at 10:55 PM  

Well, the cuts are in an apparently Kevin Smith is, at least in the eyes of the Lions coaching staff, more talented/valuable than a few players (DeDe Dorsey, Ko Simpson, Dante Wesley, Caleb Campbell, Dre Bly, and Jon Jansen to name a few). While I do think Ty's opinion of Smith might be a little too generous, Anon's is clearly much, much too harsh. Football fans on the lower end of the knowledge spectrum always discount the importance of receiving and blocking ability to a runningback's value. Smith excels in these areas. In fact, of the three areas, running may be his worst. And that's certainly a problem. While I agree with Ty that Smith is a very "complete back," he will never be a "feature back." He just doesn't have "it," in my opinion. He can only go as far as the OLine will carry him. On the other hand, that's true of the vast majority of running backs. I can only think of one guy off-hand who was truly great without a solid line, but his name escapes me. Wore #20, I think. :)

My bottomline opinion: I'm glad to have Smith on the roster. If/when he comes back fully physically & mentally healthy, he will be, at the very least, a solid complement to Best. Best case scenario, they pull a Chris Johnson/LenDale White-type of thing. Worst case scenario, he doesn't come back healthy and the Lions dump him (one way or another) during the season. This is a pretty low-risk, high-reward situation, in my opinion.

I am kinda' surprised and disappointed that neither Campbell nor Jansen made the team. Campbell was simply a great story and I would have loved to see him stick. Jansen is very puzzling to me. I guess he's just gone very downhill because, from my perspective, he seemed to be at least an extremely versatile back-up. I figured he had enough utility, and locker room, value to warrant a roster spot, but I guess not.

Finally, I don't "know" the PUP List rules, but it can't possibly be the case that other teams are allowed to claim those players. The Ravens' Ed Reed is on the PUP List right now. If other teams could claim those guys, there'd be 31 claims on Reed right now. The whole point of the rule, as I understand it, is to let teams hold on to players with serious, but not necessarily season-ending, injuries so they can continue to evaluate their progress while not taking up a valuable roster spot. At the end of the 6 weeks (or maybe the team has to make the decision after 4), the player is either healthy enough to be added back to the regular roster or gets IRed (or, I suppose, cut). Anyway, the whole point is to allow the team to keep the player in some capacity. Allowing other teams to claim these guys would completely defeat that point.

TimT September 9, 2010 at 9:04 PM  

To clarify my comment...

"Not coincidentally, McCoskey posted an article on the backlash against Suh's play against Delhomme."

The "not coincidentally" is in reference to McCosky being overwhelmed by the same negativity that you, I and some others have been. Negative to the point of being completely un-supportive of the players.

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