Friday, March 14, 2008

Will the real Marinelli please stand up, please stand up?

Don Banks,
New and improved (cont.)
Posted: Friday March 14, 2008 1:25PM; Updated: Friday March 14, 2008 2:01PM
5. Detroit Lions
Since starting last season 6-2, the Lions haven't had much good news to chew on, so it's a stretch of sorts to put them on my most-improved list. But I still see some encouraging signs. First off, for whatever reason, Mike Martz's two-year stint as Detroit's offensive coordinator was an ill fit from the start, and now it's over. He's in San Francisco, and Jim Colletto has been elevated to OC. He's going to bring a more simplified, straight-forward approach to the playbook, and balance out an offense that had largely forgotten the run.
Detroit has also had some much-needed success in remaking its secondary, getting a solid starting cornerback in Leigh Bodden in the Shaun Rogers trade with Cleveland, as well as signing cornerback Brian Kelly and safety Dwight Smith. Lions head coach Rod Marinelli has history with both players from his days in Tampa Bay, and thus may get something out of them. Another ex-Buc, defensive tackle Chuck Darby, adds bulk up front that helps offset the loss of Rogers.
This week, Detroit cut two more of its failed top draft picks in running back Kevin Jones (who can't stay healthy) and defensive end Kalimba Edwards (who can't play). Throw in the trade of Rogers and letting the likes of Damien Woody and Boss Bailey walk in free agency, and the Lions are at least coming to grips with the dead wood on their roster.
Now if they can continue to squelch the idea that receiver Roy Williams is on the trading block, find a way to protect quarterback Jon Kitna a little better, and re-commit to a running game led by Tatum Bell or a rusher to be determined later, the Lions might still deliver on some of that first-half promise of last season.
What they still need: More defensive help has to arrive via the draft. Another cornerback could be in store with Detroit's No. 15 pick, although an offensive tackle such as Vanderbilt's Chris Williams or Pitt's Jeff Otah might be too valuable to pass on. The Lions need a solid hit with that extra third-rounder that they obtained from the Browns in the trade for Rogers.
How much better?: From 7-9 to 9-7

Good evening all! I had to work late into this evening and have to hit the office again in the morning, so this will likely be brief (by my standards anyways).

There are a couple of points to be gleaned from this article. First of all, intelligent Lions fans are not the only ones who like the moves that Detroit is making this off season. The first step is always acknowledging you have a problem. The second step is to begin to do something about it.

Bill Parcells came to Miami this year, he and the Media made a big fuss about how he was "cleaning up the mistakes" and "blowing up the roster" -- he parted ways with longtime icons, previous starters, you name it if they could take the cap hits. Then, he brought in "his" guys -- a handful of players he could pry away from Dallas that weren't under contract. Same with assistant coaches. He signed a bunch of mediocre players to over sized contracts to get them to come to Miami of the 1-15 record last year. (Even the Lions managed twice that many wins in their worst season -- but still didn't get the first pick in the draft.)

This season, as of right now, Rod has approximately a dozen players who were on the team when he started. This off season, he let go a first and 3 second round draft picks (one through trade), so third round picks, FA that were overpriced versus their utility, and guys who were hard workers, but could be upgraded versus the cost. Then, he brought in a handful of "his" guys from Tampa Bay to mentor his young players -- and the ones he will be acquiring in this draft and next. He signed solid players to decent contracts that are friendly to the cap in FA. He dropped players of equivalent talent who cost more, and who didn't buy in to his system.

See what I'm getting at? Without making a lot of fuss, or a big "look at me" scene, the Lions have quietly done what Rod couldn't do year one because of the salary cap. The number of failed high picks, and non-performing players was so great -- coupled with how close to the cap the Lions were -- that his hands were tied.

Rod spent two years pretty much "making do" with what he had. Now he has taken over "his" team -- and done what many fans have been clamoring for:

He BLEW IT UP! -- not in headlines and announcing with press conferences what he was doing, but with his actions. And the guys he is bringing in shows that right now, it's Rod's way or the Highway. It certainly can't be any worse than Millen's way.

As a fan, it can be difficult to take, but when I looked at all the guys who left or were let go, or just plain not invited back -- I think "jeez, we complain for years all the Lions have is backups. Then when they cut those guys, and bring in the same caliber talent and/or upgrade, we moan like it's the end of the world without so-and-so."

LMAO -- He has a plan in place that is well thought out. There is one huge risk, however, that can not be overlooked:

It is entirely dependent on a successful draft, not just this year -- but in coming years as well. Those Tamps Vets will need to teach the current crop (including this year's class) how the systems work, a winning attitude, pound the rock, etc. They will be around for a couple of years while the first class of youngsters mature...and then the old Tampa vets who knew Rod before will be gone. And it will be up to the players they have drafted and developed to pass on knowledge to the guys they are adding as the veteran mentors.

The problem with the Lions has been twofold: Too many coaching changes and different systems, but more importantly:

Little development of talent.

If Rod is going to succeed, he needs to hit on not just his first round pick, but his picks in the first three, and some depth from the last 4. If the guys he drafts now don't work out, when the Tampa players start to leave in two years due to age, declining talent, etc. -- then there will be no one to sell the system, and Rod will be totally done for.

And he knows it.

I've put a lot of analysis up here, and will likely look at a lot more scenarios. But it really comes down to what the Lions actually do. What Rod actually does.

I'll end with a favorite story form Bill Cosby (paraphrased):

He was a young comedian, and knew he was good. He was starting to get a bit of a name, and was finally playing an important club had been wanting to since he started. He told the announcer to introduce him as "An up an coming young comedian, Bill Cosby!".

But as he sat in his dressing room the night of the show, and his time approached - he started to doubt himself. He said he knew he was good, but somehow, he managed to convince himself that he wasn't. By the time he went on, he was feeling so insecure that he ran through a 35 minute show in under 18 minutes. He ended with saying goodnight and the audience just said goodnight! - No clapping, no jeers, no cheers -- just a curt "get the hell off the stage" --

He went upstairs and the owners came to see him. He was saying keep your money, don't worry -- I'm packing my bags, I'm going back to school...and the owner looked at him and said "What did you do with Bill Cosby? I thought we hired Bill Cosby. You see him, you tell him to get the hell down stairs and do his own show. I don't know who that hack was that you sent downstairs last time wearing his suit, but it wasn't Bill Cosby."

At this point he said he'd love to say that it made him realize he was being foolish, and that he was good and he new he was good- but it didn't. He still stood waiting in the wings for his second show and was still convinced he was awful when the announcer introduced him in a lackluster tone "Ladies and gentlemen, Bill Cosby." Without thinking he stalked right over to the man introducing him and said "What happened to the introduction I gave you?" And he looked right back at him and said "Man, did you see the first show??"

At that point he forgot that he was bad, and started going back and forth with the guy, and then ad libbing and being himself. And he said as the show was about halfway through and he got more comfortable, he realized again -- hey, I am good!

At the end of the story he said hey, listen, no matter what you do -- interview, a job, a project - whatever -- be sure that YOU show up, not this guy that looks like you, but is no good. Don't ever talk yourself out of being you.

I think that in his first two seasons, Rod forgot he was good at times. He forgot why he got the head-coaching job in the first place. That he had worked to get in a position to build the team he had envisioned - the dream he sold Millen on (not difficult, I know). He gave in to Martz and pandered a little, and didn't stick totally to his convictions for a couple of players, or for the offense since that wasn't his strongest point. He sent this guy that looked like Rod Marinelli at times, but wasn't him.

I think that as the Lions trudged through that losing streak, Rod looked around and had the "What the heck am I doing?" moment. What he saw wasn't his vision -- it was too much compromise. It wasn't his players -- it was guys sluffing off and not contributing. It was guys not trying. It wasn't "His" team.

He canned Martz because he knew that Martz would never balance the offense like Rod wanted to without being ridden constantly, so he had to go -- that kind of friction was unnecessary. He kept the playbook, and I'll go into my opinion on that another time. He cut everyone he could possibly cut that didn't fit into "His" team. Millen listens to whoever is talking -- and Rod made darn sure by the beginning of the off season that there was one coach on the Lions doing the talking -- Him. Now, we know he gets input from his assistants and the scouting department -- that is what they are there for. But he has them all looking at/for what HE wants now. So far, he seems to be doing well.

Rod Marinelli finally, to me, showed up as himself ALL offseason, not just at times. I'm hoping that when the draft rolls around he doesn't talk himself out of showing up -- because we've seen how Millen drafts.

If I had one piece of advice for the Head Coach of the Detroit Lions it would be this: Please be sure to send the real Rod Marinelli to the draft -- the Detroit Lions and their fans need him.


Anonymous said...

We usually agree on most subject, but let me shed a little different light on the Martz situation, and why it wasn't a failure. Rod took over the Lions and new his limitations. Rod was a defensive minded coach, and he needed somebody to put in an up to date offense (in NFL terms). That is why Martz was hired. Rod new he might only have Martz for one year, before the marriage would end. The divorce was going to happen, it was just a matter of when.

Rod always new Joe Barry would be his D-Coordinator, but he was going to have to wait a year to get him. So the first year he taught the Tampa-2 defense and turned the offense over to Martz. The problem was once Joe Barry was in place as the D-Coordinator, Rod started being the head coach and now there was more friction with Martz. Part of the firing of Martz, was to establish the chain of command again.

Then came the purge of some veterans. There is now no doubt about the chain of command.

But with Martz, Rod got what he expected, and I suspect he always knew it wouldn't last more than two years.


jreffy said...

Good thoughts. I saw that article on today and before I even started reading it I said "ha, the Lions have made big moves and I think they've gotten a lot better, but what are the chances someone else notices that?"

...imagine my suprise!

Now, without re-hashing all the moves that were made, I'm going to assume that most of us here can agree that the Lions HAVE improved themselves. The free agency moves have been good, and they've brought in talent that can help the team next year.

Now, the missing part here is, like DetFan said, THE DRAFT. I'm willing to give Marinelli a pass on his first draft. He's coming into a new team, trying to get his staff settled, and for the most part I'd say he relied more on Millen's scouting and evaluation more than he should have. Sims is going to be a stud for the next decade, so at least there's some light.

Now, last year's draft isn't too shabby. You bring in Johnson who is likely going to be at worst, the same as Roy (barring injury knock-on-wood). Stanton, your future QB. IAF if he pans out is another solid pick. Alexander is your starter, plus Ramirez is a second-stringer, good depth.

This year, look for Rod to have full control. He won't have Martz in his ear, Millen has finally learned to be hands-off, and there's a lot of talent at the positions the Lions need. Again, I'm still dreading the first round RB pick (unless it's McFaddden, HA!), but as long as it's OT/MLB/DE those first few picks, I think we're looking at a much improved Lions team.

Anonymous said...

Sweet post tonight. I love the Cosby..go to bed!

You are exactly correct again. Rod needs the draft picks to step up. Alexander and Bullocks, 5-0 and Jon Scott are going to have to hit. Stanton will need to go when his number is called and not look back.

Tonight I'll chat about RB's.

The small, quick guys like Darren McFadden (6'1" 211 lb and 4.27/40) and Felix Jones (5'10" 207 lb and 4.47)(both from Arkansas).

Then the big guys. Mendenhall (225)and Stewart (235) could be the backs the Lions were seeking, but Mendenhall is a kid that is short (5'10") and only showed up for half the season. A virtual unknown until this past season at Illinois, he started peaking when Zook's team started peaking. The second half of 2007, there was no better college back. He SHOULD be gone when the Lions draft.

Stewart is a big back, but is now injured and off with toe surgery. Supposed to be out 4-6 months according to ESPN. Both ran around 4.40 at the Combine.

Chris Johnson (East Car.) is 5'11" 195 lb and fast. A 4.2 40yd. He can catch, too. Kinda like Reggie Bush or Michael Turner. He very fast, but won't be able to be an every down back.

Jamaal Charles (Texas) is smallish, too. 5'11"/200 and 4.35 40 yd. Quick, not durable. Doesn't always hit his holes; likes to cut back and seems to have good vision.

Matt Forte (Tulane) 6'1" 215 pounds and a 4.46. Senior bowl looked good, decent Combine.

Ray Rice (Rutgers) 5'8" 200 lb 4.45 Small, not elusive for a small guy. Decent speed. But he played for the Scarlet Knights. Got to watch how bad the competition is when you see him on the highlights and

Tashard Choice (Ga Tech) sleepily the best back no one is talking about. Smaller 5'11" 215, but had a really good Senior Bowl. Smash mouth type back in a smaller build.

Kevin Smith (UCF) 6'1" 220 4.43 40 This guy can play. Even though he was at UCF, he tore up Texas. Must look at injury history; if he is clean..he could be THE real steal in this draft.

After this there are still a few smaller backs.

Steve Slaton (WVU) 5'9" 197 4.44
Jalen Parmele (TOL)5'11" 224 4.47
Allen Patrick (OK) 6'0" 200 4.5
Mike Hart (UofM) 5'8" 205 4.65
Justin Forsett (CAL) 5'8" 195 (around 4.5) another sleeper didn't play last year (2006) because of Tashawn Lynch)

Cory Boyd (SC) is the last guy worth spending much time on. 6' 215 4.5 Can run and catch. Decent blocker. Looked good in the East-West Shrine Game.


Peyton Hillis (ARK). Nuff said. He blocked for McFadden and Jones.

Owen Schidtt (WVU) Reminds me of Schlesinger (but with a mohawk).

Brandon McAnderson (KAN) 5'10" 240 4.9 Averaged over 6 yards per carry and went off for over 1,000 yards. He's a slow, pounder

Jerome Felton (Furman) 6' 245 4.75
was quite a threat at pounding the ball and scored 51 touchdowns in college. A short-yardage Mike Alstott, but DII.

Jehuu Caulcrick (MSU)
6' 250 lb 4.7 A pounder. Most in-state fans are familiar with him. Can be a load and may be a decent find in the 5th or 6th to be a change of pace/short yardage back. Don't know how he'd do as a straight-up fullback.


JJLions20 said...

One possibility behind these moves is to clear cap room to move up. ESPN is saying KC is in a bad spot in the draft, and they want out. They don't want McFadden because they have Johnson. They could take Ellis, but it is not a real need. They really want the OT, but they figure STL will take Long. So they would like to trade down and get Otah or Clady. Now Carolina would be in the same position as Detroit, but where are they on CAP space? If they don’t deal with Detroit and they deal with Carolina, then that leaves the lions either taking Mendenal (who I don’t think is their back), Otah if he is still there because Clady went to KC via Charlotte, taking a CB, or trading back.

The Lions have said they need a runningback that can make people miss. I think that means McFadden in the first, or Johnson in the 3rd (maybe move up to the late 2nd).

Personally I'd like to see the Lions move down a few slots and pick up an additional late first (Dallas # 22 & #27, but that seams to be a steep price for the #15 pick) or somebody else’s #1 and #2. By trading back a few slots the Lions could still get one of the better CB's or maybe one of the DE's depending how far down they go. Then with two 2nds and two 3rds they could get the MLB, OT, CB or DE, & RB they need.

CHIEFGER139 said...

has cleaned house, but nowhere was it done to totally gut the team,all of us have lost favorites now be it woody or duckett or rogers or jones,kennedy,baily,edwards-the guys were use to-but none was great by no means except maybe rogers,and he had questions on how much longer he could hold up,weight problems,knees,attitude-i think darby is an ok replacement for him and most have not even mentioned drafting a dt because of it.i think some key scrub player signings-like bell and foster could be key too as both have some capability and will at least be good backups-im excited about next years team if they dont crush my hopes in the draft.

Anonymous said...

I think Detroit sports fans got spoilt when the Tigers went from last to first. Or maybe they see teams like the Packers go from 8-8 to 13-3 in a span of one offseason and think/hope the Lions will do the same. I mean it was the same euphoric feeling when Maglio hit the homerun to put the Tigers in the World Series, again, as it was when Rogers ran that interception 66 yds for a TD. Nothing wrong at all with winning, its just that there are differing ways to get there.

Our Lions are so broken after years of chaotic management that there simply is no quick fix. No signing of 1 player this offseason will put them over the top, its going to be a slow go, mature patience will be required.

With coach Marinelli we have a coach thats more concerned with the Lions winning than how well groomed his hair is for the cameras (read Mariucci). Coach Marinelli is going to build this team from top to bottom to his standards, including players, and coaches.

To those who reference in their posts coach Marinelli being "Elmer Fudd-ish" I say "bull" because there is just no way of being in coaches meetings with the likes of Jon Gruden for a decade to not know all aspects off pro ball top to bottom, except for a year or two of learning from on the job experience on the sideline from the headcoach position.

Now that the learning from the sidelines from the headcoach position is behind him, he's making the difficult decisions required to turn an organization around, the deadwood is being pruned. We are definitely headed in the right direction, but going from last to first isn't going to happen overnight.

Go Lions