Wednesday, July 30, 2008

State of the Team: LB

To Teddy Lehman: Welcome veteran dollar ninja. Are your joints just a little loose or were you electrical taped? Considering when he suffered the lisfranc injury, he should be fully healthy again at this point. I noticed on Hondo's blog that their camp observer mentioned he looks more like his rookie self than his post-injury self. If the Lions have a rookie-form Lehman for vet minimum, then he is definitely an upgrade of Fincher, and more likely to make the squad.

As the camp cut merry-go-round among the bottom of the rosters has begun, the Detroit Lions.com piece on the state of the LB is a bit out of date -- particularly the bit about Fincher competing for a roster spot since he was just cut to make room for Lehman on the roster.

Current Depth Chart at LB:

99 Cannon, Anthony LB 6-0 228 23 3 Tulane
55
Davis, Buster LB 5-9 239 24 1 Florida State
57
Dizon, Jordon LB 6-0 229 22 R Colorado
54
Gardner, Gilbert LB 6-1 228 25 5 Purdue
41 Joe, Leon LB 6-1 235 26 5 Maryland
58
Lehman, Teddy LB 6-1 238 26 5 Oklahoma
53
Lenon, Paris LB 6-2 235 30 7 Richmond
59
Lewis, Alex LB 6-0 230 26 5 Wisconsin
46
Pruitt, Tyrone LB 5-11 220 22 R Boston College
50
Sims, Ernie LB 6-0 225 23 3 Florida State

Last season, on the final 2007 roster the Lions had 7 LB's. They kept 3 at the middle, and 2 on the SLB and WLB. As I look at the guys on the roster, I came up with a few hunches and thoughts:

1. Buster Davis could be in trouble of finding himself either on the practice squad, or cut after the Lehman signing. Lehman was able to beat him out last year, and if he is back at his rookie form, then he makes a solid backup to both the SLB and MLB positions.

2. If Dizon really steps up his game, this could also mean that the Lenon-getting-cut scenario plays out IF B. Davis has a HUGE camp. The Lions would have Dizon, backed-up by Lehman and Davis, both of whom would be strong ST contributors. They could then keep Lewis as the starting SLB, backed up by Lehman and Sims as WLB backed up by whoever wins between Gardner and Cannon. Both play ST so it could be a tight battle. Most likely, though, Lenon would start at SLB and Lewis could find himself the odd man out.

How will it play out?

This is a situation that I again don't have a really good feel for at this point. Really, the entire LB corps, and who plays where and even who makes the roster is dependent upon how/if Dizon takes the starting MLB job in camp.

Lets assume he looks like he'll be starting at MLB, and that Lehman is playing at his rookie level. If Lewis is still playing solid, they could keep Sims and Gardner/Cannon on the WLB, Lenon and Lewis at SLB, and Dizon backed up by Lehman/Lenon in the middle. They would have 3 LB that could, if need be, play the middle. Granted, if Lehman is in at MLB then the situation the team is in injury wise is not good, but considering the position group it could very well happen.

As of this moment, I would say that this is my earliest guess at the LB Depth to start the season opener:

WLB: Sims, Gardner
MLB: Lenon, Dizon, Davis
SLB: Lewis, Lehman

and by the middle of the season:

WLB: Sims, Gardner
MLB: Dizon, Lehman, Davis
SLB: Lenon, Lewis

HOWEVER: Depending on how bad Langston Moore's injury is, they may keep an extra Dlineman and one less LB. In that case, I don't think Buster makes the cut. If Moore's injury is moderate even, I expect they may put him on the pup to hide him til later in the season as a replacement for injury, or to push away playing time from Cody if he ends up being a "practice warrior" and once again gets lost in traffic when it matters -- game day. If he's on the pup, it frees up a roster spot and keeps him in reserve. After what he showed last year, Moore is not likely to clear waivers.

In addition, the Lions have a lot of talent at S. Depending on how many they keep there, that could also effect the number of LB they keep. A Spikes signing would also impact this. [in regards to Spikes, the fact that no other team has tendered him an offer is a little more than worrisome to me. I think fan expectations of him are way too high right now.]

I must admit, that while the signing of Spikes could be interesting, I voted for Mike Bell -- thought he would add more zone running experience to the camp field, and may be a good injury replacement, or a better roster value than say, an Aveion Cason if Ellis wins out as the 5th WR and return man.

I'm hoping Middleton makes it to the practice squad if he loses the 5th WR position battle so that he can be brought up to the 53 man roster to replace McDonald next ifseason, or if there is an injury in the WR corps.

At the end of the day, the LB position is the only position on the team that has the once perennial Lions problem: Good depth, but lack of starter quality players. Worst to 1st at all but WLB is much too interchangeable. While Dizon has plenty of the dreaded "p" word.

Your thoughts??

12 comments:

jreffy said...

First off, I love that "dollar ninja" is being added to the DF1979 blog vocabulary. Furthermore, Lehman fits that description to a T. I really liked him as a draft pick and thought he showed a lot of promise in his rookie year, but sometimes we as fans underestimate the impact an injury can have on the ability and mindset of a player (C. Rogers).

I think you hit the starting lineup on the nose. I think we'll see Dizon start to get more and more playing time at the MLB spot as he learns the Detroit Deuce and also "earns" his spot like Rod likes to do.

jreffy said...

First off, I love that "dollar ninja" is being added to the DF1979 blog vocabulary. Furthermore, Lehman fits that description to a T. I really liked him as a draft pick and thought he showed a lot of promise in his rookie year, but sometimes we as fans underestimate the impact an injury can have on the ability and mindset of a player (C. Rogers).

I think you hit the starting lineup on the nose. I think we'll see Dizon start to get more and more playing time at the MLB spot as he learns the Detroit Deuce and also "earns" his spot like Rod likes to do.

ClusterFox said...

I agree that you got the starting lineup nailed.
Here is another thing to consider on this subject. The inherent value of these position groups in the league as a whole.
LBs-guys like Z.Thomas, Vilma,etc. that have age or injury issues got scooped up rather quickly.
DT-We all know other teams seem to always being looking for additional help.
RB- is a different story, there is a boat load of FA still available.
I see them putting Moore on the pup like you mentioned giving Cody and Flu a chance to progress early. And I'm hoping they keep as many LBs as possible to let the cream rise to the top. I'd even like Davis to stick around. My feeling is FSU guys are never the smartest players but they are athletically gifted, so once he gets a better grasp of what he's doing he'll be an asset as well. To summarize, keep all the D you can under wraps. We can always short our Rbs, knowing there is a stocked pond just over the hill we could go to if need be.
I maybe the only one, but W's are not the most important to me, especially this year. I like to see hemets rolling, and It sounds like we are starting to get the right people for the job.

CHIEFGER139 said...

i love it
YOU MENTION THE SCENERION OF LENNON
being cut then have him starting all year. for some reason lion nation just cant forgive the guy for not falling on a fumble-i agree hes not what we want in the middle-we want someone who mows um down flat-hopefully dizon becomes that man-but i am reasonable enough to realize he's at least one of our top 3 backers and should be starting-heard already he made a spectacular interception in practice. made one during the season last year for a td too!!

DetFan1979 said...

Clusterfox -- I'm with you on the W's this season -- I just want to see good football.

Also, good point on keeping all the D-Players you can. I would also add good Olineman to that priority.

Chief -- I'm actually in the "don't blame Lenon" camp. It would have been a miracle if he coudl have fallen on that ball with where he was, how he was moving, and how the ball was moving/bouncing. The enitre D let them get down there in the first palce, and had McDonald not stepped out of bounds earlier when they Lions were trying to run out the clock, it wouldn't have mattered either.

Lenon is, as I've said before, an average to above average starting MLB. But he is at his peak in the middle, and is better on the SLB.

Dizon is more talented, and thus has a higher upside in the middle. Lets not forget that SLB is Lenon's natural position, and that he would be an updgrade at that spot over anyone on teh roster right now.

Essentially, when Dizon surpasses Lenon in the middle, 2 LB spots will be upgraded. Gotta love 2-for-one-specials.

Note: always be sure to go back and read past comments. I posted a funny (becuase it's martz speak) article link on the prior camp post that is worth a read.

Anonymous said...

detfan1979

I cringed. I thought it was incredibly funny (split my gut and peed my pants), but I cringed. Good czarism; right choice.

I like Lehman. I made the bold prediction last year that he was going to take the middle spot away from Paris. I don't know that the team will ever see that now.

jreffy, Charles Rogers had a lot more going on in his mind than worrying about injuries. That's the reason they call it dope.

clusterfox and detfan

"Show me a good loser and I'll show you a .....loser."

It's all about the "W's". You can have moral victories, and there are reasons for that. Hell, there is even a need for it. As I sit here and type this my boys are on the couch watching MARSHALL.

But bottom line is, Win, Baby. And this team needs to show progress from last year. It needs to be better. Now, if some catastrophic injury (or series of them) were to occur, the "W" total goes down.

But if the wheels stay on this machine, there is no reason there shouldn't be more "W"'s than losses. I'll even say this is a playoff team if they stay healthy.

CHIEF - You are always hit and miss with me. Sometimes you even backtrack what you say in the same post. Today. HIT. Lenon is still the #3 linebacker on this team. I hate Paris's lack of hands in certain circumstances, but yes...he is the third best backer on this team.

-nubs

ClusterFox said...

Nubs-

Don’t get me wrong, I believe we should be between 8-10 wins. But my point is I don’t want to see games like WAS, PHI or SD games from last year. If we lose 8 games and they are to the good teams on our schedule (which there are at least 8 games against good teams) and we lose in a battles like Dallas last year. Suck, it will. But improvement, it is.

Don’t know if you’ve ever coached, but a common thread. (One that I’m sure Rod agrees with) Is that you don’t go get a “W”, you go physically beat and demoralize your opponent. The W’s take care of themselves.

Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff on Hondo's blog yesterday, especially about Davis and the Mike LB situation:

(the quotes are from Marinelli if you're unfamiliar with the blog)...

On the possibility of Davis playing more than one linebacker position: “You know what, when you play that MIKE, you’ve just got to learn MIKE - it’s just such a hard position to learn because of the keys in it. You start moving him around, and I just want to get him - let’s see how far we can take this guy.”

On not being able to keep three true middle linebackers: “No, but when you’re competing right now, you want to make sure in one sense eventually somebody’s got to have some position flexibility.”

***

Hondo did a good job of calling Marinelli on this one. In one instance he's saying that you have to SOLELY focus on Mike, then in another he's saying that AT SOME POINT you must have positional flexibility. What it comes down to is that if Lenon doesn't start at SLB, B. Davis is going to spend another year on the practice squad (in my mind at least). I think Lehman will probably be the 3rd MLB, at least for the first half of the season (although I'm willing to venture a guess that he'll remain their barring injury).

As everyone has already mentioned, the LB situation is really going to be dependant on Dizon. I'm doubtful that Dizon is going to bring much to the table this year as a starter, because I think he's going to be a liability in coverage; there's so much space to cover, especially for an inexperience player and a lot to learn as well. But his instincts and knack for tackling make for some exciting possibilities, especially as a run-stopper. In two years (maybe even as soon as next year) I think our LB core will be one of the better ones in the league, especially in a division that seems to be tending toward the run very heavily.

-StreetWorm

DetFan1979 said...

Nubs - I'm not okay with losing, unless there is a reason (injuries) like you cited.

If the team plays good football, the wins will come. I don't want to see the blowouts like last year. I'm still on 7-9 to 9-7 at least depending on how the ball bounces.

I just don't want blowouts -- I want good, well faught ballgames.

DetFan1979 said...

Oops -- Clusterfox beat me to it, and said it better. Improvement will be there this year.

As for Davis, because Lehman does have the flexiblity (having played on SLB and the middle, and is a stout ST player) he may beat out davis for a roster spot.

I agree nubs that I thought Lehman had potential for a breakout year this season -- so did TB, but I think they gave up on him too early for cap reasons. They drafted a LB and Jon "I can never make up my mind about my roster" Gruden cut him before even giving him teh chance to earn that FA contract. Unforteunatly for Teddy, his injury history had a lot to do with that. Foretuantely for hte Lions, they were able to get someone who can start in a pinch back at a $1 Ninja price.

JJLions20 said...

DetFan1979's scenario on LB's is probably the most likely. But there are others. Spikes is a big unknown. I think he wants more then the Lions are willing to pay, and feels he can get it when somebody in the league goes down. If he should sign with the Lions it throws the mix in the air.

Assuming Spikes does not come to Detroit then Dizon is the key. If he grabs the starting job (and I don't think Marinelli will allow it to happen until the final preseason game, then Gardner could be in trouble, and that is because of Position Flexibility if the other LB's. I think Lewis is the #4 LB, and I also think he would be the first in as a replacement on the strong side or week-side. So if Sims goes down, in comes Lewis. If Dizon goes down Lennon moves to the middle and Lewis goes in on the strong side. If Lennon goes down Lewis plays the strong side. Lehman can back-up on the strong side or MLB. So it really comes down to special teams. Lewis and Lehman give you something there, but it will come down to who gives you more Davis or Gardner. I think Cannon will clear waivers and be on the practice squad. If anybody goes down he will be brought up to fill in on special teams. I don't think Davis will clear waivers for the practice squad.

So it could come down to Davis or Gardner, and who lights people up on special teams. Then again one injury could find somebody on injured reserves for the first 6 weeks, freeing up a roster spot. I agree that the sprained shoulder could land Moore on injured reserves for 6 weeks. It’s a good way to hide a player at a position you have depth at.

Anonymous said...

BLOWOUTS

I agree. They kill your team's heart and really cause self-doubt. But it is still a "L". That's how you teach your team. Doesn't matter if it's one or fifty; it's a "L".

I had a really great coach (actually, many) for Varsity Football. Tim Furno (Millington H.S.) who just got into the HS Hall of Fame. He and Steve Barbeau had this-look yourself in the face speech.

The gist was play as hard as you can, leave it on the field, and if you can look yourself in the face win-or-lose, it was good enough. Coach Barbeau also had a play as hard as you can and "Let the Chips Fall where they May" speech.

But at the high school level, you are building charecter, and teaching kids about life not just football.

In the NFL, LIFE is FOOTBALL; FOOTBALL is LIFE. There are no moral victories; most guys don't get into the rah-rah. Vets have seen the mind games. That's why after five-seven years, football players turn off the best coaches (like Belichek in Baltimore).

Again, you don't like seeing blowouts, but the Lions got to find ways to win more than last year. If they lose 10 games by a total of 12 point, what good does that do?

If you look back at a few of the blowouts-Eagles, Redskins. It was the right time because the Lions were getting a little "too high". They needed the kick in the arse. A few Lions were getting cocky in the press and feeling "unrespected". They didn't realize why they weren't respected and the fact the press knew the back side of the schedule was stronger. Charecter shows in times of despair, and the Lions lacked a little down the stretch. They couldn't stop the little ball of momentum.

What they really needed was wins against Arizona and the Cowboys. Those were games that were in the paw.

There's the old saying that you should win a game you shouldn't; lose a game you shouldn't and the rest is up to you.

-nubs