The Lions in Winter is a Blog of Note!

>> 4.16.2010

Nearly Blog of Note I've ever viewed's most recent entry has been a screencap of their browser, viewing, with some sort of message like,

Whoa!  I'm a blog of note!

Well, the time has finally come, and I would be remiss if I didn't do my duty.


Seriously, it's a really cool honor; huge ups to Brett Wiltshire, who hooked me up.  More thanks to the whole Blogger team.  They were there for me when I had a lot to say, and needed a way to say it.  Their free, but excellent, publishing platform has grown right with my blog, enabling me to do everything I’ve envisioned.  With the Blogger platform, I’m able to focus on the writing, the art, and the look and feel—without relentlessly slaving over the nitty gritty, or paying through the nose for enterprise-class hosting.

For folks walking in the door, I invite you to check out the “About” page (courtesy of Blogger Pages!), and you’ll know exactly what I’m this blog is all about.  For returning visitors, check out Blogs of Note regularly and be amazed at what people are doing out there.

Technorati Tags: the lions in winter,blogging,writing,blogspot,blogs of note


Weston Corbitt’s 3rd-Prize Writing Contest Entry

Weston Corbitt, who writes the sports blog Season Tickets With Weston Corbitt, penned this piece as an entry to the AXE Hair/TLiW Writing Contest—and won third prize.  Enjoy.

I was most proud of being a Lions fan after they defeated the Washington Redskins, week 3 of the 2009-2010 NFL Season. With the win, I saw the end of one era and the beginning of a new one. I felt the most pride in this moment, because after growing with the good and the bad, the Barry Sanders years and the Millen debacle, I saw improvement, I saw we found a leader, I saw we found direction.

I don't have to explain the pain and shame of the 0-16 season to Lions fans. I took it hard because how much I love and follow this team. But with this one win, the future seemed brighter for the first time since before Barry Sanders retired. Sure, the firing of the worst GM in the history of sports helped but that is putting a band aid over a hemorrhage. The real problem wasn't addressed yet.

My best friend came down for the game, and he asked me before the game if we were going to win. I said, "without a doubt, the streak will end today." I watched the game on the edge of my seat, with the Lions taking the lead later in a game than I would like to remember. The Redskins, down by 5, drove down the field, trying to the lead. I was afraid this would go like season and the Lions would come up just short again.

Campbell threw short, hit his man, and he ran up field. The lateral was thrown, and soon, the man was tackled and the game was over. I jumped up and down for minutes, screaming with joy. I sang "Gridiron Heroes" about fifty times. You could hear other people in my apartment complex going nuts too. I loved seeing the players coming out and shaking hands with the fans. I was happier than I ever have been watching the Lions. The relief, the happiness, the excitement the future held was all overwhelming. I was so proud because I was a real fan and stuck by the team I grew up with. I was rewarded for my loyalty just for a little bit that day. I went to class the next day with my brand new Calvin Johnson jersey on. I wore it with so much pride. I heard from a lot of people "congrats" or "way to hang in there" or "they really impressed me yesterday." That was the proudest moment in my life when it comes to the Lions. I will never forget that day or that game.

Technorati Tags: nfl,detroit lions,axe hair action challenge,writing,blogging,season tickets with weston corbitt


Casey FitzSimmons Forced to Retire

>> 4.15.2010

Yesterday, seven-year veteran tight end Casey FitzSimmons was forced to retire.  A little Googling will bring up his semi-well-known tale: having played 8-man football in high school, FitzSimmons starred for the . . . wow, Fighting Saints of Carroll College.  Yet, the Lions signed him as a free agent—according to Tom Lewand, strictly as a camp body—and he went on to capture the hearts of Lions fans everywhere with an eleven-start, 23-catch, 160-yard, 2-TD rookie season. 
He started eleven  games that year, and it looked like he was on his way to being a very viable receiving threat for the Lions.  Somehow, thought, he was never quite able to build on that rookie magic—in fact, 2009 was as close as he came to even duplicating that initial effort.

You'll find a lot of people who'll tell you about how the Lions will miss his effort, his heart, his competitiveness, and his play on special teams.  What you’re not going to hear a lot of is how much the Lions will miss him as an option in the base offense.  Here’s an article I did breaking down Scott Linehan’s offense through the first few games.  Note the bit on FitzSimmons:

Okay, this is a single-back, 2-TE set. Both TEs are lined up tight against the right side of the line. The Flanker, Megatron, is lined up tight to the outside of the TEs. This gives the look of a trips bunch, but the "trips" are 2/3rds tight ends. The furthest outside of the TEs, Fitzsimmons, motions out wide to that side. Now Fitzsimmons is the Z, Johnson is the X, and Megatron is the Y.

The defense now has a massive dilemma on their hands. They're going to blitz both outside linebackers, and leave the MLB to play shallow centerfield. The CB takes the bait, manning up on Casey Fitzsimmons. The middle linebacker is now the only one responsible for covering both Heller and Megatron. After the snap, you can almost hear him going "Uhm, uh, uhm, uh" as he tries to figure out what on Earth to do. He wisely gives chase to Megatron--and after Stafford hits Megatron in stride, he even gets close enough to tackling Megatron to be easily shrugged off by the great wideout.

I believe this was the exact same play that was called back by the "Phantom Chop Block" in the Vikings game. It worked just as well then, too.

Linehan loves to start with vanilla run formations, and add clever wrinkles and motions and layers until they’re fiendishly clever pass plays.  Fitz, while he didn’t catch a lot of balls or score a lot of points, was nonetheless a very useful toy for Linehan to play with in those situations.  Fitz could motion outside, forcing a cornerback to cover him instead of a receiver.  Fitz could also beat many outside linebackers one-on-one, creating a mismatch that the defense would have to adjust for.  Fitz wasn’t a load as a blocker, but he’d give it everything he had when asked.

Brandon Pettigrew, I’m convinced, is developing into a two-way force at tight end.  Will Heller proved that he has softer hands than commonly thought.  Dan Gronkowski’s a high-effort guy.  But Casey FitzSimmons had a unique role in this offense, and his build, his athleticism, his length—and yes, his heart and grit and motor and effort and blue-collar Montana underdog white guy mojo—were a unique package, and it’s a shame that concussions forced him out.

On the other hand, good for Casey for making the right choice.  Good for the doctors for having the temerity to give it to him straight.  Good for the NFL for making this a point of emphasis.  As difficult as it is to cope with a failing, broken body, I can’t imagine how difficult it would be for me, and my family, if I suffered from severe mental illness in the prime of my life.

I'm sad, as a fan, that we didn't get to see Casey's underdog story reach its deserved conclusion.  But I’m much sadder as a man.  To see a strong, hardworking man my age lose his livelihood because of circumstances beyond his control?  It’s heart-rending.  You can just read it in his quotes, the frustration he feels at having his life derailed.  I can only imagine what it would be like, and frankly I don’t want to.

So, here’s to you, Casey; best of luck in whatever you do from here.  I know you’ll land on your feet.

Technorati Tags: nfl,detroit lions,casey fitzsimmons


Jared DeVries Returns; Depth Chart Deep Six'd

>> 4.13.2010

UPDATED! Check the bottom for more.
It’s officially official: Jared Devries has returned to the Detroit Lions.  With 16.5 sacks in 32 starts over ten seasons, nobody’s going to confuse DeVries with Kyle Vanden Bosch.  However, DeVries did have a bit of a ‘breakout’ season in 2007, when he racked up 6.5 of those sacks.  He’s also been a player who gets pressure and forces hurries much more often than he actually closes the deal.
Listed at 6’-4”, 275 pounds, DeVries is another prototypical Schwartz defensive end: big, strong, tenacious, snap-to-whistle effort guy, contains the run well and can get after the passer a little bit.  When he left, he was the starting left defensive end, and he made clear to the local media he wants to start again:

"My vision is to be the starting left end, but obviously, I'll have to compete for that like I do every year. That would've been my role last year had I not gotten hurt but, like I said, it's good to be back around the fellas and the competition is good and I look forward to it."

Unfortunately for Devries, Iowa’s all-time leading sackmaster, the LDE spot is a little more crowded than when he left.  Besides Cliff Avril and Jason Hunter, who took turns being #1 and #2 throughout 2009, returning DE/DTs Turk McBride and Andre Fluellen took snaps at left end, also.  As cloudy as the Lions’ DE depth chart was, it’s now opaque.

What’s interesting here is that beyond Kyle Vanden Bosch, the Lions don’t have much financial commitment to anybody.  Cliff Avril and Andre Fluellen are both on the third years of their third-round rookie deal, Hunter’s on a one-year RFA tender, DeVries is now on a one-year deal, and McBride was a street free agent.  The draft will almost certainly fetch at least one defensive lineman—possibly an inside/outside penetrator like Ndamukong Suh (and McBride/Fluellen)--who’d presumably take snaps away from the pure LEs as well.

So, who's the odd man out?  I cannot believe that the Lions will carry three full-time left ends, plus two (or more) DTs that kick out to left end, nor can I believe that they’d bring a veteran like DeVries, rehabbing from something as brutal as an Achilles rupture, if they weren’t considering keeping him around. 

Here are some possiblities going forward:

  • The Lions either have no interest in Suh, or have no plans to flex Suh outside.
  • Cliff Avril will see 20-30 rotational snaps a game, splitting time between right and left.
  • Cliff Avril will be traded to a 3-4 team, possibly on draft day.
  • Turk McBride and Andre Fluellen will be competing for a roster spot.
  • Either Jason Hunter or Jared Devries will be switched to the right side, and their role will be purely to spell KVB.
  • The Lions draft a 270-something-pound pass rusher like Northwestern's Corey Wootton, and all of these guys are put on notice.
When I say these are "all possiblities", I mean it: the Lions could draft Suh and Wootton, trade Avril, cut Fluellen, and put Hunter on the right side. Any or all of the above could happen in any combination, and I'd believe it (except, of course, the Lions both trading and rotating Avril).

By the way, I didn't pull Wootton's name out of the air. He is the prototypical Schwartz DE: size, strength, intelligence, speed, toughness, it's all there. He's going to be available at a bargain, thanks to an injury hampering his senior season. Keep an eye out for him.

Tom Kowalski over at confirms that KVB will be playing the right side, Hunter and DeVries will be competing to be the two-down "starting" left end, and Avril will see situational/rotational snaps on both sides.

Technorati Tags:
nfl, nfl draft, ndamukong suh, jared devries, corey wootton, cliff avril, detroit lions


2010 NFL Draft enters the “Silly Season”

>> 4.12.2010

Stop that! It's too silly.

Last Thursday marked the the endpoint of sanity in the NFL League Year, and the beginning of what Tom Kowalski calls “The Silly Season”.  Every NFL team employee either shuts their mouth tightly, or begins speaking out of both sides of it.  From now until April 26th, every statement a GM or Head Coach makes is at best a half-truth; at worse a vile lie.  You will encounter increasingly ridiculous trade chatter, mock drafts, hot rumors, late risers, and falling stocks, culminating in a fever pitch of ridiculous scenarios where black is white, up is down, and the Lions are locked on to Dez Bryant.

I've always used this rule of thumb: whatever the "consensus" is two weeks before the draft is most likely what will happen.  Therefore:

  • The Rams will rectify their smoking crater at quarterback, and draft Sam Bradford.
  • The Lions, despite clearly wanting to trade down, won't have a partner. They'll happily take Ndamukong Suh, they just won't be happy about his contract.
  • The Buccaneers will giddily take whichever of the DTs makes it out of the top 3.
  • The Redskins will draft Chris Samuels' eventual replacement, and Jon Jansen's next temporary replacement, at 1.4--either Okung or Williams, whomever they fancy.
  • The Chiefs will either continue rebuilding their incredible offensive line of the past decade with a left tackle, or address their odious secondary with Eric Berry.

. . . and on and on, throughout the rest of the first round.  There might be some tweaks—Washington could take a quarterback for the future, the Seahawks are probably hoping Trent Williams falls, etc.—but essentially, what most reasonable people think is the ‘standard take’ is what’s most likely to happen.  If you want to see a great example of what this two-weeks-out snapshot is, look at the beat writer mock draft that Sam Farmer of the L.A. Times put together.

Note: I am not talking about what each team’s fans want to have happen, I’m talking about the national football hivemind.  As an example, the national media wrote “Matthew Stafford” next to the Lions’ name, in ink, in January 2009.  All of us Lions fans spent five months ranting and raving and frothing at the mouth about Andre Smith, Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe, Aaron Curry, and everyone’s favorite player, ‘Trade Down’—but the national groupthink was right the whole time.

The Lions have already had a spate of the “silliness”.  As if on cue, word began to break on Thursday that Albert Haynesworth was interested in coming to Detroit—and according to Michael Schottey and several others, the interest was mutual.  Amist talk of the Redskins sending the 1.4 and Haynesworth to Detroit for the 1.2, I gleefully speculated that the Lions would then trade again with the Seahawks, in a spectacular double-move.  The Redskins would get Suh, the Seahawks would get Okung, and the Lions would get to pick from  Spiller, Haden, Williams, Morgan, or Bulaga—plus pick up some mid-round selections!  Everybody wins!

Though Neil from Armchair Linebacker's . . . eyes . . . engorged at the thought of Mayhew pulling it off, it's purest fantasy.  When was the last time a team moved down out of the top five, then again out of the pick they acquired?  Don’t say “last year”; the Browns don’t count.  Seriously, though: while the possibility of a double move is nonzero, there are way too many moving parts for me to consider this scenario likely.

For starters, the Redskins would be giving up on a pass-rushing 4-3 DT with a huge contract, why would they then take Suh, and get another one?  They’d more likely take Okung—but then, if the Lions are taking Suh, and the Bucs are sitting on McCoy, the ‘Skins don’t need to move up.  Even if we suppose that they’re just that desperate to get rid of Fat Albert, I’d think the Lions would be more interested in simply trading with Seattle, and getting a better pick package out of them, than taking on Haynesworth’s deal in addition to the 1.6 contract.

This feeds into my latest theory: with Bradford a clear-cut #1 overall, and Jimmy Clausen failing to push his stock up to match, the Lions are trying to get people to believe that they’re going to draft Russell Okung.  Just as Mayhew spent the two weeks prior to the draft trying to create leverage by negotiating a deal with Aaron Curry, I believe Mayhew is going to spend the days up to this draft convincing the hivemind that he’s going to take the best LT on the board off the board.

If Okung is gone, Washington will have to settle for Willams or Bulaga. If Okung and Williams are gone, Kansas City might go Berry—or, they might take Bulaga, and leave no tackles for Seattle.  Further, Seattle would vastly prefer the athletic  Williams to the powerful Bulaga—they’re implementing the zone blocking system, remember?—so if the Lions take Okung, they’ll likely lose out on their man either way.

Of course, the Lions might really be interested in taking Okung.  They might really be completely put off by spending $70M on a defensive tackle, regardless of how awesome he is or how desperately they might need him.  They might really be willing to elevate money over need, to take a lesser prospect who offers better positional “value”, and to pass on a smart, hardworking, once-in-five-years talent at the position around which Schwartz has built his defense and his reputation . . .

But that would be silly.

Technorati Tags: nfl,nfl draft,russell okung,ndamukong suh,detroit lions,washington redskins,seattle seahawks


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