Saturday, May 06, 2006

Where the holes are

Now that the draft and most of free-agency is over, it's time to take a look at where the Lions still have holes in their roster. Since they are switching both O and D philosophies this year, the difficulty will be in determining exactly how the current players they have will fit in to the new schemes. I've tried to think it through, and based on what we saw last year and the new additions, I've come away with 3 positions that I believe will be the problem areas for the Lions this year - DE, LG, and potentially the most problematic of all - LT.

At LT, we have slapped the franchise tag on Jeff Backus with the intention of his being our LT for this season and possibly beyond. While I understand the reasoning behind the move, it doesn't mean that Backus is a top-5 LT, and doesn't mean that the Lions are set there. In fact, I'm more worried about this position than any other on the roster. Due to the new scheme, we have to look at how Backus has played the last two years, and then compare his production to Mike Martz's old team's LT - Orlando Pace. And that's what has me so worried.

The reasons for my concern are more than just Jeff Backus. The O that is being installed is very different from the one that the Lions have run the last few seasons. It places a great emphasis on the QB holding on to the ball with the ability to make a big play. By the nature of it, the O also subjects the QB's playing in it to taking a lot of hits. In the last few seasons, the Rams have had at least 4 different QB's get knocked out of games. And that's with Orlando Pace at LT.

It would be foolish to even suggest that Backus is at a level near to that of Pace. Pace is a perennial pro-bowler and easily one of the 3 best LT's in the NFL. Yet the Rams OL gave up 41 sacks last year - 10 more than the Lions did. As I just mentioned, the Rams O emphasizes holding the ball and throwing long passes. The Lions O the last few years was a dump-off and throw-away machine which as we all know artificially skews the sack total down. When we put Backus in the same position as Pace, knowing how many times Backus got beat in the quick dump-off O last year, I sense impending doom.

I know that there really weren't any good options out there for a starting LT that the Lions could have acquired. But that doesn't mean that the position isn't an issue. I only hope that Martz is creative enough and Beightol is a good enough line coach to keep our QB's alive. But with how many of Martz's QB's that seem to go down, we may be looking at Dan-O starting by turkey day.

DE is my next big problem area. IMHO, we have 4 DE's that if we were somehow able to graft them together, we'd have two complete every-down DE's. Here's the problem - James Hall and Kalimba Edwards are both pass-rushing smallish DE's. Jared DeVries and Cory Redding are both run-stuffing power DE's. None of them is an every-down DE, and because of that, opposing O's look at the personnel we have on the field, and attack the weak spot. If we have DeVries and Redding in, teams will throw. If Hall and Edwards are in, they run. If we mix it up - say Hall and Redding - they run their plays to the side of the field where they have the advantage. It's good strategy, and it's all the more effective because of how limited our DE's are. The team needs at least one every-down DE in the worst way, and IMHO the new D will suffer until that weakness is solved.

LG is the final problem area. We have brought in a bunch of journeymen, apparently with the hope that one of them pans out as a starting LG. We also drafted a rookie in the 7th round that a lot of people seem to be high on. I can't get too excited about Matua because he was drafted after a developmental CB project. It still leaves that side of the line with a huge question mark. If that question mark is answered by switching Woody to that side, it just opens a hole on that side of the line. Neither situation is ideal.

Hopefully, the Lions can show up in pre-season and show us that the guys we've brought in can actually do the job and quench my fears. A lot of people point to the Rams when Martz came on as O-Coord going from 4-12 to 12-4 and the Super Bowl in a single season. But Martz also had a young Pro-Bowl LT on that squad, the Lions don't. I'll keep my fingers crossed, but right now, I'm not expecting the world...

Monday, May 01, 2006

Missed opportunities

Let me go on record here with my opinion of this draft. I'm not against the draft picks the Lions made this year. I think Ernie Sims will be a good LB for the Lions if he can stay healthy. I think Daniel Bullocks is an instant upgrade at FS. Brian Calhoun? Well, he's an interesting pick, to say the least. I do like him better than Pinner, and if he's even half good at returning kicks, then it may be time to say goodbye to Eddie Drummond. Jonathan Scott appears to have been a decent value in the 5th round. So the players picked aren't that bad. What I'm disappointed about was what I deem to be missed opportunities.

With each pick the Lions made on Saturday, I think they missed out on even better deals that could have been had. It started right away with not trading the #9 pick. When Leinart was sitting there at 9, everyone on the planet knew Arizona would take him at 10, and that there were a few teams behind Arizona that would have been salivating to get him. I mentioned this in my pre-draft post as well. This was an ideal trade situation for the Lions - at the worst, they could have forced Arizona to trade up one spot to get Leinart. Instead they took Sims, who I'm still a bit leary of, and who I think they could have gotten down around 15 - Denver's pre-draft spot. They missed out on the chance to pick up an additional pick, and the trades that happened a few picks later - Denver moving up to 11 to get Cutler - only proved that there were trade possibilities to be had.

Let me be clear here, In no way am I saying that the pick of Sims was a bust. He could turn out to be Derrick Brooks II for the Lions. I'm just saying that I doubt what some other people are saying that he would have gone #10 to the Cards had the Lions traded the pick. No way. The Cards have too many other more pressing needs, and had Leinart not been there, Winston Justice could have heard his name called 29 spots earlier than it was. And no way should the Lions have taken Leinart there. The last thing they needed is another rookie QB to sit on the bench and develop while ignoring other needs on the squad. The team needed other positions a lot more than they needed a QB, even one with the kind of pedigree Leinart has.

Of course if Lions history continues the way it has, Leinart will make his first NFL start agains the Lions and make them look foolish, while Sims will be injured. Leinart would then go on to lead the Cards to a Super Bowl before the Lions get to one, and become a Hall of Fame QB. Of course if the tables were turned and the Lions picked him, he'd be yet another first round bust, while Sims would become the reincarnation of Lawrence Taylor. It just seems to work that way...

The pick in the second of Bullocks also smacked of another missed opportunity, involving the same player I mentioned earlier - Winston Justice. Once again, this is not bashing Bullocks, just that a player the Lions had talked about taking at 9 was still there at the end of round 1, and into the early second round. In previous drafts, we've seen Millen make a move up to get the player he wants. Somehow, I find it very odd that they didn't make the move to get Justice. And for Philly to make a move to jump in the pick in front of Detroit to take him just smacks of how badly that pick was fumbled. You'll never hear anyone from the Lions say differently, but had Justice lasted one more spot, or the Lions picked 10 spots earlier, they would have taken him in a nano-second.

As we've been hearing, the pick in the third of Calhoun may have been due to some other happenings. I've long been surprised that the Lions have kept a kick return specialist on the roster who can't play WR effectively, and who gets hurt every year. And if Pinner is moping, then maybe it's time to broom him as well. That pick now sounds like it make a lot more sense, although my initial reaction of why they didn't take Max Jean-Giles there is still sticking. I would have loved to have seen the Lions trade up to the end of the third to get him as they still need a guard.

Of the remainder of the picks, I only have any interest in Jon Scott in the 5th round. At various times pre-draft I heard him going as high as late first round, so getting him in the 5th is decent value. If he pans out, it could be a steal of a pick. But I promise not to get too excited about a guy who slid to the 5th round as being a potential replacement for a 3rd year guy who supposedly slid to the 6th round. It could very easily be history repeating itself there. The pick of Matua in the 7th should not be confused as being the 'Guard they need'. If he was that great of a guard, they would have taken him before the developmental CB - McCann - they took in the 6th. Cannon in the 7th only hopes to make the squad for special teams play, and maybe get on the practice squad.

In all, I'm not unhappy with the players they picked up. They did fill two needs with Sims and Bullocks. In my humble opinion, they still have a glaring needs at LT, LG and DE. Based on that, I'm not expecting too great of strides this year because of these deficiencies. But we now know who the new guys are. Hopefully the new regime won't let them become accustomed to the old Lions ways.