Gameday Post, 2010 Preseason: Lions at Broncos

>> 8.21.2010

02 NOV 2008: Coach Gunther Cunningham of the Chiefs before the game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.

With the return of real, live, honest-to-God, sort-of Lions football, we all happily delved into the old familiar cycle of preview, review, and analysis.  We hashed, re-hashed, debated, and rebated all of last Saturday’s happenings.  We sat down at the pigskin feast, and we gorged ourselves like gluttons until we couldn’t have another bite.  We were presented with heaping helping of not-quite Lions football, so we loosened our belts, rolled up our sleeves, and tucked in.  Hours later, we collapsed back onto the couch, fat and sated, and happily drifted off to sleep.  There’s only one problem:  there’s more football.

As the Lions take on the Broncos, they’ll be taking on their second straight 3-4 defense—great, because they’ll play quite a few during the regular season.  Basically, all we want to see is more of the same: Matthew Stafford completing lots of passes, Jahvid Best running like an NFL starter, the defensive line getting lots of push, the secondary not totally horrible, and—most of all—our ones outplaying their ones.  If we get that, again?  Everything else is gravy.

One of the great things about the NFL is that the games take place on Sunday, the day of rest, the day when most people either have nothing going on, or can easily carve out time.  I will be at the wedding of a close friend on Saturday night, so I’ll be watching a replay between then and 11:00 pm Sunday night—the new time of the Fireside Chat podcast!

That's right, I’ve slid back the broadcast time by an hour.  Why?  I realized that everybody’s watching Mad Men then—and when the season starts, that’ll be right in the middle of Sunday Night Football.  11:00, though, should be right when the game stops being interesting.  So, stop by at 11:00 pm EST, and be ready for some almost-really real Lions football analysis!  In the meantime, hit up the comments.


Something’s Rotten in Delmas

>> 8.20.2010

Louis Delmas, Detroit Lions safety Sometime during OTAs, Louis Delmas injured his groin.  He missed June minicamp completely, and started off training camp on the PUP list.  With lots of rest, and a little rehab, it was presumed that Delmas would soon be back to normal, running all over the field and making plays as usual.  All seemed to be going according to plan, with rumblings of Delmas returning to practice soon—when out of nowhere, published a rumor that  Delmas’s injury might not only be serious, but season-threatening:

Though he's widely expected to hit the practice field soon -- indeed, a source with knowledge of the situation insists that Delmas will be ready to go when the regular season begins -- we're hearing that there's quiet concern within the organization regarding the possibility that Delmas ultimately will need surgery to repair the injury.

If you parse the story carefully, you realize something interesting.  Mike Florio and/or the PFT staff heard the rumor about the Lions considering surgery for Delmas, and attempted to confirm with a source—and instead, that source insisted Delmas would be ready to go!  Apparently, the intial rumor was strong enough to run the story anyway, with this foreboding prophesy at the end:

Expect the team and the player to deny the possibility that surgery is needed. But then pay attention to Delmas' health throughout the year -- and whether there's eventually an "aggravation" that results in the player being placed on injured reserve in advance of a procedure aimed at fixing the situation.

This story sent Lions writers scurrying to their figurative Rolodexes:

  • Chris McCosky of the Detroit News declared the PFT rumor debunked, citing sources calling the report inaccurate.
  • Carlos Monarrez of the Freep quoted Schwartz as saying "Louis is a short-term guy. We're erring on the side of caution," though The Grandmaster admitted surgery had been discussed at one point.
  • Tom Kowalski of dismissed the "internet rumor" as well, noting that when Delmas was asked if he had any concerns about starting the season, he said: "Not at all, not at all".

    With all the various stories and angles, a picture was emerging: Delmas had seen a specialist, surgery had been discussed, but rest and rehab was thought to be the best option, and everything was on track.  Nobody was worried, it was a short-term thing, and as soon as his conditioning was up to speed, he’d be going full-bore in no time.  But PFT’s story haunted the situation like a specter, filling our heads with terrible knowledge:

    Expect the team and the player to deny the possibility that surgery is needed. But then pay attention to Delmas' health throughout the year -- and whether there's eventually an "aggravation" that results in the player being placed on injured reserve in advance of a procedure aimed at fixing the situation.

    This grim prophesy weighed on me as I read this week’s practice reports.  Delmas was constantly in and out of the sessions—though Schwartz claimed it was all according to schedule.  But, when Delmas missed practice on Thursday, and admitted he’d be missing today’s session as well, it became clear that he’s not nearly ready for a full slate of full-speed practices and games.  Delmas admitted to the Freep’s Dave Birkett that it’s something that’s going to affect him for quite a while, possibly into the season:

    “It’s a groin injury, so the more you beat it up, the more it’s going to affect you in the long run,” Delmas said. “Take one day on, two days off, one day on, two days off; that’ll be the best treatment for it.”

    And how long does Delmas expect to follow that schedule?

    “The groin injury is never going to heal if you keep aggravating it, so I guess that’ll be something I have to deal with,” he said.

    The Lions and Delmas are absolutely right to be cautious with the injury.  Further, if the specialist Delmas saw didn’t recommend surgery as a first course of action, then why do it unnecessarily?  But this is clearly more serious than “a short-term thing.”  I don’t believe that limited practice reps are going to seriously harm Delmas’s play in 2010—but if going full-speed sporadically isn’t “restful” enough for the groin to completely heal before the season starts, Delmas may not be able to go at full speed all year.

    Delmas’s impact on the defense last season was immediate, and dramatic.  Given the state of the rest of the secondary, his importance cannot be overstated.  If his groin can’t take the punishment, if he goes under the knife and on the shelf—if, indeed, his noble heart were to crack . . . the rest would be silence.

  •

    Tinderbox: It Never Fails! Lawrence Jackson Trade

    >> 8.19.2010

    When Twitter exploded with the news that the Lions had traded a late 2011 draft pick to the Seahawks for 2008 first-round DE Lawrence Jackson, I slapped my forehead.  Of course, it never fails; I wait for the wheeling and dealing to stop so I can summarize and analyze the changes from an intelligent big-picture perspective, and the instant the post goes up the Lions pull off a trade.
    “Lo-Jack,” as he’s been called since his days at USC, stands at 6’-4”, and goes 271 pounds—precisely the same stature of the man he replaced, Jason Hunter.  Jackson, as he put it, was the only guy between 260 pounds and 280 pounds on the Seahawks roster; he was a misfit there, but is prototypical here.  I’ve written several times before that this exact phenomenon—scooping up talented young players cut down for not fitting The Scheme—seems to be a specialty of Martin Mayhew’s.  Again, the Lions profit.
    If you want to know what Seattle fans thought of Lo-Jack, what they think of the trade, and what his future prospects are, Phil Zaroo pointed out an excellent post by the Seahawks blog Field Gulls, “The Slow Exit of Lawrence Jackson”:

    Detroit wins this trade because the Lions have bought low on a still very good, very young and very volatile talent. Detroit wins because Jackson still has much better potential than a mid- to late-round draft pick. Detroit wins because Seattle had schemed Jackson out of its defense and had to either sell low or burn a roster spot on a misfit.
    Besides the gradual, inexplicable Sehawkening of the Lions’ roster, this spells doom for longtime Lions end Jared DeVries—one of only two pre-Millen Lions left on the roster.  When DeVries was re-signed, much of the money was tied to the condition that he make the final 53—a hedge against both injury and lost performance.  It looks as though that hedge was wise, as DeVries’ knee has been keeping him out of practice—and having only Turk McBride and Willie Young behind Avril and Vanden Bosch would not have inspired confidence.
    I won't engrave DeVries' epitaph, not yet--but I'm polishing the granite.


    One Roster, Well-Scrambled

    >> 8.18.2010

    In the past two days, the Lions have:

    Got all that?  No?  Don’t worry, neither did I.  The most significant move is the release of Jason Hunter, a young guy who contributed significantly last year.  As a perfect physical fit for the Lions’ intended scheme, Hunter was a low-cost, high-upside player.  However, Willie Young looked great against Pittsburgh, and there are only so many long-term developmental DEs you can carry on a roster.  With no future in Detroit, the Lions did the stand-up thing and let Hunter go while he can still catch on somewhere else.

    The confusing thing was that they turned around and signed Korey Bosworth.  Bosworth is a DE/OLB ‘tweener, a guy who’d be a great fit at 3-4 OLB—and in fact, had been a camp invitee of the Broncos.  I immediately presumed he’d be slotted as an OLB in the Lions’ system, given that he’s the exact same height and weight as Zack Follett, and about thirty pounds lighter than the just-released Hunter.  But, quoth the Grandmaster, Jim Schwartz:

    “We had a need at defensive end,” Schwartz said. “He’s a guy that we had interest in from college scouts, a guy that was able to get here and looked like he was in shape and would be able to give us some work.

    “He’s a tough guy, plays hard, he’s got a good opportunity here. I mean we threw him right into the fire. He got reps right away."

    Last season, the acquisitions all fit the long-term picture—but Hunter is a guy who could have helped if he’d stuck around, and Bosworth flatly has no place in a scheme that requires the ends to contain the run on the outside.  Let’s change perspective for a moment: if Willie Young is now the developmental end, the long-term picture doesn’t have a Jason Hunter in it, does it?  Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril, Jared DeVries, Willie Young . . . no, no Hunter. 

    Knowing that Hunter's long-term future is elsewhere, they let him seek it.  But, just carrying your top four ends through half of training camp is going to work them too hard—the Lions needed a fifth body out there to burn reps.  They asked the scouting department for the next best DE on the list, and the scouts said “Korey Bosworth.”  So, Bosworth is here, and Hunter is not.

    Let’s hope that the injury bug takes no more bites out of the roster, and the panicked acquisitions stop.  There’s a long way to go, though, before the Lions get down to 53 + practice squad—and of course we know that Martin Mayhew never stops churning the bottom of the roster, never stops scouring the waiver wire, never stops looking for the diamond in the rough.


    Three Cups Deep: Preseason Week 1

    >> 8.16.2010

    Last year at this time, I started a regular Monday post I called “Three Cups Deep,” and the rationale went a little something like this:

    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 tingle; 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.

    For the first time this season, there was Lions football over the weekend—so Three Cups Deep makes its triumphant return.  I spoke at length about my impressions on last night’s Fireside Chat podcast, but a good night’s sleep—or in my case, a bad night’s sleep and three cups of coffee—always provides valuable perspective.

    In my guest Gameday post over at The Steelers N'At, the first sentence I wrote was, “On offense, I want to see a lot of completed passes.”  I got what I wanted on an impressive scale: Lions quarterbacks combined to complete 23 of 32 passes.  Stafford was 8-of-11; two of those were attempted TD strikes to Calvin, and one was the ill-fated swing pass to Jahvid Best.  Other than that, Stafford was nearly perfect.  The Lions spread it around a lot, too: those 23 passes went to 15 different Lions, with no receiver catching more than two balls each.

    It was bizarre to watch the offense simply work.  Dropback, pass, complete.  Dropback, pass, complete.  Handoff, run forward, gain yards.  Dropback, pass, complete.  It was practically boring.  I thought to myself, “This is . . . easy.  Just, you know, complete the passes.  Why didn’t they just do this before?”  After all the wailing and lamentations, after decades of quarterback purgatory, duh, just throw and catch!  It didn’t hurt that this was the preseason, where the reaction from the Steelers crowd was a combination of silent puzzlement and total indifference.  The whole thing felt surreal.

    What was even more surreal was every single end-zone replay showing a perfect pocket for Stafford to throw from.  I don’t know if the Steelers were just laying off, or what—but there was no heat on Stafford whatsoever, and he was getting rid of it quickly anyway.  Kudos to the line for keeping him clean, regardless of the pressure.

    Save for the unfortunate swing pass (assigning blame is irrelevant), Jahvid Best was very impressive, and absolutely looked like an NFL every-down back.  Speed, moves, vision, yes—but strong between the tackles, and fast to the hole.  I’ve said for quite some time that the questions about his size and toughness were unfounded, but anyone who watched Best run this weekend came away knowing he’ll be just fine.

    Defensively, Cliff Avril made his presence known immediately, and the starting defensive line looked every bit as impressive as advertised.  The linebackers weren’t quite as impressive; Zack Follett looked like he was a step slow to react on a lot of things, but at least looked credible out there.  Of course, the loss of Jordon Dizon is unfortunate—but at this point in his career, I can’t tell you how much better he is than Vinny Ciurciu, which says a lot about both him and Ciurciu.

    In the secondary, I was impressed by the ball skills of Chris Houston and Eric King, and undrafted free agent safety Randy Phillips.  We’ll see how long that lasts once things get a little more “for real”, but the starting secondary held their own out there, which is a fantastic first sign.  I still anticipate some real struggles in the back seven over the course of the season, but I’ll take any reason for optimism I can get.

    And now, for the fourth cup . . .


    Fireside Chat Reminder

    >> 8.15.2010

    Don’t forget to tune in to tonight’s Fireside Chat.  Up for discussion: the Lions’ rain-addled loss to the Steelers, the loss of Jordon Dizon, and the loss of people’s ignorance about how good Jahvid Best will be.  Don’t forget to pop in the chat room, and chat with me during the podcast!


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