First of all, welcome to all new readers -- be sure to check out and comment on past stories on here. Secondly, I'd like to thank everyone who has been posting their mocks, and for the extra analysis. For those who haven't there is plenty of time before the draft. Remember, this is all in fun.
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I really liked reading Ross Tucker's article on SI.com the other day on which O-Line positions were actually the hardest to play, and thus often the hardest to find quality players for. It really opened my eyes, I must admit. Before going on, the article is here:
It has also changed my priorities a bit on finding another player to compete at RT, I think. Scott has been fighting injuries the past two years, and Foster - who played fairly well minus the false starts, is still a weakness that can be attacked. Notice that Kampman, from the Packers, whom we play twice as a division rival, is listed in regards to teams that field an elite pass rusher on the strong side.
Please note as well that Martz almost NEVER gave the RT either a "chip" block from the RB, OR kept a TE in to block on the right -- which are 2 of the 3 factors mitigating what Tucker says is a close tie between Left and Right Tackle. The only factor left is that the QB can see the rusher coming at him, and throw a hot read (which Kitna didn't have the luxury of), Run (which Kitna isn't good at, and only buys a second or two for someone to get open -- who was usually still running full tilt down the field for a ball that had no chance of being where they would end up), throw it away, heave-ho and hope like heck it doesn't get picked off, or hold it - hope the guy down the field got open and the play developed in time and likely end up with a sack. I gotta hand it to Kitna -- he usually went for the last option, and it nearly got him killed last couple of seasons.
I think when you look at that story in relation to the Lions' play calling last year, and the assertion that the O-Line wasn't as bad as it seemed by Colletto seems to hold a little more water. Basically, Martz needed at Least two Left Tackles. (In case you hadn't noticed, one is difficult to come by in this league.) -- even then, due to the predictability of knowing no TE or RB will help the RT -- they send one additional guy in on the Right, or put the best DE over there, and you end up with a mess. The Lions didn't start losing until they had the gaping hole at RT. Even after Woody started playing at least average over there, they still got hammered because teams like the Giants, with a strong situational rotation on the front, and the Packers, with Kampman on the right, and the Chargers with Castillo on the right, were able to really hammer the pressure in on the Lions because then KNEW that the RT would not be getting any help -- unlike the LT. When the Lions finally did try to slide Raiola to the right, versus the left (which he really wasn't used to) it left Backus alone against premier DE's with the same predictable results as on the right...funny how this story really made a lot of things click for me in regards to the Lions last season. Think about it...all it really would have taken to stop the sacks would have been to keep the tight end the Lions weren't throwing to anyway in to help; or a RB to chip block a bit. Even with the 7 step drops, this slightly-extra protect would likely have given the Kitna and the O the extra bit of time it had earlier in the season to pull out those few extra plays for the win. I seriously think that if Martz had adjusted his blocking scheme just a bit instead of steadfastly saying "it's the tackles' jobs to block 'em" when they obviously couldn't -- the Lions win 2 more games last year and go to the playoffs.
Below is how I rate the Lions' Oline right now, based on the criteria for difficulty Tucker laid out, and the changes I perceive will be happening along the line:
LT: Backus is currently the only real LT on the roster. That is a scary thought. Don't get me wrong, I think that Backus started out as an above average LT, and has settled into average as he has aged. I can think of at least a half dozen teams off the top of my head that would love to have him starting on the Left side of the line for them, and a bunch more who would take him to put him elsewhere on the line as an upgrade over what they have. When you look at his contract compared to what Linemen seem to be getting now, what looked like highway robbery at the time is actually quite reasonable. That being said, I think that getting someone who can play LT an have some time to learn the position then take over in a year or two would be good. Someone who could beat him out now would be ideal, but not too likely where the Lions are drafting -- unless they get super lucky and Williams falls to them, which I don't think will happen. If Albert falls to them, I am almost thinking take him...almost.
RT: Scott and Foster are competing here, which is kind of scary. I love the way Scott played, and his injury was a broken thumb - but combined with his leg sprain he was coming back from, they didn't want to take any chances so put him on IR. Personally, I think it is a move they regretted no matter what they say as he was playing well at the time. He and Foster competing will likely create some improvement on that spot, but I am still leery -- the Lions have not had 2 OT start the entire season in further back than I was willing to research tonight. They need Depth -- Scott has shown promise, and if he can stay healthy into camp, I would like to see him compete with Backus for the LT spot. Not so sure it will happen. A rookie is needed, however, somewhere at the tackle position. 3 OT is not enough -- they need 4.
RG: This is actually a position of strength. Peterman beat out Woody to play the position, and I think he did great job there last season. They currently have Frank Davis (coming off IR) as the backup RT, although I think Ramierez may be there right now too. As long as Peterman stays healthy, they will be fine at the RG position. Has anyone heard if he signed his tender yet as an RFA? If he's not coming back, that would change everything, and create another glaring need on the Oline.
LG: Again, the Lions are very well off here. Mulitalo has done a superb job here, and I expect him as well to do even better in 08. Ramierez seems to be the most natural fit on the left, and with the relative age of him and Mulitalo, I think it is just a matter of time before Ramierez wins the starting job -- until then, I feel both starter and backup are in good shape.
C: Back-up center is my biggest concern. Tucker's piece was very revealing about the Center position -- they are usually helping one of the Guards, getting plays called to the line, adjusting to which side pressure is coming from. The ability to "throw people back" (which Raiola really can't do), pull (which he does okay at), and block in space (which he does superbly) are all considered gravy. Since coaches and teams value the intellect and ability to adjust properly to the play the most, it gave me a great picture as the why Raiola is considered a top Center around the league. I know a lot of you may feel like blasting me for this, since I know there are a lot of Raiola haters out there-- but seriously; who is better? maybe 4 or 5 out of 32??? Again, what I don't feel good about is the ability of the back-up G and tackles currently on the roster to play center -- they can't. So I think Davis may lose out to someone who can back-up both the center and both G positions, and possibly even a T position in a pinch. A guy like that would really be worth a mid-round flier. any suggestions?
So in essence, after breaking it down, the Lions really do need a tackle who can start -- but whether he is best suited to RT or LT is not as important as I thought it was. I think they can get an exceptional RT in round 2, with possibilities at LT, they will really solidify the line and depth at T with Scott and Foster as backups. Foster is on a one year deal, let him go after 08 and draft either a RT or LT in 09 -- whichever they didn't get from the 08 draftee.
I also think that the Colletto statement that the O-line wasn't as bad as Martz made it look must be taken more seriously when you take a look back at the season in regards to how this article, written and researched by a lineman, breaks down the positions and responsibilities.