Don Banks, SI.com
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.