It’s been far too long since the last mailbag, and since preseason is all about answering questions, I took some questions via email and Twitter, and I’m going to try to answer them. First up:
Casey, sent from his or her iPad--
The bengals have a relatively strong d line. Do you think we'll see how well staffords protection will be tomorrow, even with backups? Also I keep hearing sims is taking snaps. Any insight on that?
The quick answer is no; Jeff Backus will provide Stafford’s blindside protection this season, but he won’t be playing tonight. Per Dave Birkett’s projected two-deeps for tonight, Corey Hilliard will get the start at left tackle, with Johnny Culbreath backing him up. That having been said, the remainder of the offensive line is intact. Rob Sims was getting some snaps at left tackle purely out of a lack of bodies.
At the outset of camp, Hilliard and Ugoh couldn’t play because the new CBA hadn’t been ratified. You need two complete units to rotate “ones” and “twos,” so someone besides the only healthy left tackle had to play left tackle. The Sims experiment, or “necessity” as Schwartz called it, lasted just one practice.
To the greater point, "protection" is more than just the left tackle; only one of Stafford’s three shoulder separations came on a blindside hit. The others were during broken plays, not from a straight-up failure of the left tackle. Without Backus and Pettigrew, protection may indeed be shaky. Most of all, I’m looking for a great night from Stephen Peterman. He was outstanding in 2009, and awful in 2010, and his play will either be a great boon to Jahvid Best, or spell another season of “one yard and a cloud of dust” up the middle.
From @Jimbocity84 - If our patchwork O-Line lets stafford get rocked on the first series, does he see a second one?
Yes. As much as they want to protect him, subconsciously I think you want to see Stafford take a hit and bounce back up.
From @KrisWD40 - Could Rayner actually unseat Hanson as our kicker? He seems like a good option and he's got much more tred on the tires.
Rayner played well enough last year to start somewhere this year, and I’d love to see him take over whenever Hanson is done. But Hanson’s one of the best kickers of all time, and he hasn’t lost much off his leg or his accuracy. Two years ago, he had the best season a kicker’s ever had, on worst team of all time. If nothing else, Hanson deserves to stick around for the playoff run. Who knows? Maybe Rayner waits around for the gig to open up.
From @anthonytimlin - Who should we be keeping our eye on outside of the starters?
I kinda-sorta answered this yesterday:
The Lions’ strongest unit is quarterback; while I hope we’ll see at least two series from Matthew Stafford, I’d also like to see Drew Stanton in the whole second half. I doubt Shaun Hill will be interested in re-upping as a long-term backup, so the Lions have to find out if Drew Stanton is capable of taking his place. Elsewhere offensively, I’m hoping to get a long, long look at Johnny Culbreath at LT, and Derrick Williams at WR. Don’t think I won’t be watching the tailback situation with interest, too; I expect Harrison to get a lot of work.
On the defensive side, I hope to see very little Ndamukong Suh. I want Sammie Hill, Andre Fluellen, and Quinn Pitcock in and causing havoc. I want a BIG dose of The Great Willie Young. I hope to see the starting linebacker trio in for as many snaps as possible. I hope to see a lot of Aaron Berry working against A.J. Green. I want Amari Spievey in there as much as possible, too; I’m convinced that more reps will help him develop quickly into a force.
Berry likely won’t play, so instead I’ll just say “the cornerbacks.” To specify a little more on the tailbacks, I want to see the Jahvid Best we saw last preseason, then a 50/50 mix of Aaron Brown and Jerome Harrsion.
From @AdamantiumAC - Do you think Harrison is capable of moving to HB2 on the depth chart, even with a healthy Morris? (FTR, I do)
Honestly, they’re pretty similar backs. Harrison isn’t nearly as young as everyone seems to think, and Morris has proven himself a very solid #2 for two years running (pun intended). I could see it, but I don’t think it’ll affect the bottom line that much. Neither is Leshoure, so neither will really replace him. It’s going to be up to Best to prove he can be that every-down back.
From @Dustin_aka_D - Our offense is going to need a nickname soon. I don't want any rehashing of "great Lakes offense" or "silver stretch" either
Eh. I'm a fan of nicknames, but they have to be organic. Schwartz picking one from a contest isn’t the same as an actual nickname. “Megatron” was Roy Williams’ honest attempt at describing Calvin Johnson’s ridiculous abilities, and it stuck. Since the Lions’ offense isn’t unique systematically, it’s more about execution and the players. If a nickname for the offense is in the offing, it’ll become apparent during play.
From @johnweeast - Which RB's you have them keeping right now? and WR?
Yikes. I often avoid roster projections, because I'm often wrong. I thought John Wendling had only the most extreme long shot to make last year’s roster, and he made the first 53 in style. Best and Morris have roster spots, and after that it’s up for grabs. Aaron Brown will likely have tonight to prove he’s worth keeping around. If he can’t, Harrison likely gets the third spot—though if they need to keep six wideouts, Harrison may have to fight Felton for that spot. I DO think Derrick Williams makes it, one way or another. One last thing: the “final 53” is anything but; the last few spots will still churn like crazy after other teams release useful players.
From @Dustin_aka_D - do you think the lions will try anything resembling the old Chicago 46 this year on defense?Seems like we have players for it
A: No. B. My gosh, you’re right, they totally do. Check this out:
The NT is a two-gap tackle; think Sammie Hill and/or Corey Willams there. On either side, Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh each directly over a guard, holding the B gaps down. KVB rotating with Lo-Jack at the DE spot. Avril and Levy/Durant at the two upfront LB spots, with Tulloch and Delmas as the back two (Delmas would play the “46” role). Amari Spievey would play centerfield, and Chris Houston and Eric Wright would be in charge of preventinging all pass catching.
The first little bit sounded really great, but by the end you got to see why the 46 just isn’t used much: modern precision short-range passing offenses would just carve this up, unless you did a LOT of zone blitzing—and what’s the point of putting eight in the box and bringing everyone if you don’t bring everyone? As a change-of-pace run-stopping look, I love it. As an occasional blitzing front, why not? But ultimately, I’m not sure it makes the DL enough more effective to make up for how dramatically you’d be exposing a secondary with question marks.
Finally, I want to share with you an email from Bob R. He responded to the Mikel Leshoure piece with some intense memories:
I am fifty three years old and I remember watching a game involving the NY Jets back in the 70's. In this particular game Emerson Boozer, I believe it was, ruptured his Achilles. Back then they didn't have the "in stadium" medical facilities they do now so they helped him off the field to the bench where the team doctors examined what appeared, to the commentators, to be his Achilles region. As the cameras kept cutting back to Boozer on the bench we could clearly see he was sobbing...and not from the pain. Which lead the "Color Man", a former player, to somberly intone, " If this is an Achilles Tendon, then we have just seen Emerson's last play. His career is over." And it was.
So back in the seventies an Achilles rupture was a football players death sentence.
I experienced this first hand when my father back in the 70's ruptured a disc in the lumbar region of his spine. "L5" to be specific. The surgery he endured left him with two vertebra fused together, which limits his movement and causes pain to this day, and left him with a ten inch scar down the center of his back. He spent a week in the hospital after surgery and then two more weeks flat on his back at home in a great deal of pain.
In 1993 I had the pleasure of enduring the same injury to my L5. But the difference in my experience versus his was like night and day.
I went into the hospital at 8am, had surgery at 11:30am and was walking down the hall of my ward by three that afternoon. The scar from my surgery is two inches long and I was back at work , pain free, in seven days.
Now, I know we're talking about apples and oranges when it comes to the demands Mikel's body will require, as opposed to mine. But I think it's safe to say that had Emerson Boozer's injury occurred now, he most certainly would have played again.
Like yours, my heart goes out to him and his family as they face the beginning of the long road back.
All this is to say, I think your right. I think Leshoure has an excellent chance to be a top RB in this league for years to come.
What can I possibly add to that? Leshoure’s injury is a “gut punch” to him, his family, Jim Schwartz, and the franchise—but it isn’t a death sentence. Orthopedic surgery and treatment have advanced tremendously in the past few decades—and NFL stars aren’t getting the same therapy that weekend warriors are. Josh at Roar of the Lions posted how his own shoulder rehab contrasts with what’s known about Matthew Stafford’s regimen; the difference is astonishing.
To wrap this all up, I’m glad to say I’ll be at the game tonight; please follow @lionsinwinter on Twitter for my real-time updates. I hope whatever TV you’re watching isn’t too tape-delayed—and no matter what, GO LIONS!