[I'm only briefly online and discovered this post I put up Friday posted to the 8th, versus 18th. My apologies! Have a great weekend all! I'm heading back out on the lake to see if any more fish are hungry.]
The Detroit Lions website has been running a series on the "state of the team." I decided to take a look at each aspect of the team heading into camp, springboarding off of these articles. I've already looked at the Dline. Next up is the other side of the Trench: Oline.
Below is the current roster from detroitlions.com:
51 Raiola, Dominic C 6-1 295 29 8 Nebraska
62 Butler, Matt G 6-4 306 23 R East Carolina
61 Davis, Frank G 6-3 325 26 3 South Florida
71 Hulsey, Corey G 6-4 325 30 6 Clemson
65 Madison, Carroll G 6-2 308 23 R Syracuse
64 Mulitalo, Edwin G 6-3 345 33 10 Arizona
66 Peterman, Stephen G 6-4 323 26 4 Louisiana State
63 Ramirez, Manny G 6-3 326 25 2 Texas Tech
76 Backus, Jeff T 6-5 305 30 8 Michigan
77 Cherilus, Gosder T 6-7 319 23 R Boston College
74 Dunn, Jon T 6-7 324 26 2 Virginia Tech
72 Foster, George T 6-5 338 28 6 Georgia
68 Patrick, Chris T 6-4 280 23 R Nebraska
73 Scott, Jonathan T 6-6 318 25 3 Texas
I have said before I don't think you can judge this O-line on its' past performance. It would be like taking a boxer and judging him on how well has been doing kickboxing. They are both kinds of "boxing" -- but completely different styles. I know Nubsnobber disagreed when I said there were questions on the line. My questions on the line, however, I don't think coincide with many of the others I've read. My question isn't "how good are the oline players", or "how good is the oline", or "can the oline do the "new" blocking scheme" -- My question is how big a jump upward are they going to make this year??
Last season's O-Line was not as bad as the stats make it out to be. First of all, the number of sacks -- cited in every story on the Lions' O-Line -- has to be taken with a grain of salt. The full-on Martz offense always has generated a larger number of Sacks than average. However, the more he progressed to a long-passing game, and the more he moved away from the quick-deadly-accuracy game he played with Warner and Faulk with long shots thrown in to keep the defense off balance -- the more the sacks skewed above average.
Since this is the case, we need to look at those players likely to be on the final roster and consider the Oline as the sum of its' parts.
LOT: Jeff Backus has this spot wrapped up for now. I advocated drafting a new LT in the next year or two -- but I didn't explain why. I don't think the Lions need to replace Backus at LT. When used properly, he is an above average LT. He will never be Jon Ogden -- but neither will 100's of other starting LT in the NFL. I think the necessity of drafting a LT is directly linked to Jon Scott: How healthy is he, and how far will/can he progress? He is more suited to the speed and finesse of the LT, as is Backus. If he is not a future starter at LT, I want to see the Lions draft an understudy to step in and replace Backus. While Jeff is entering the prime years for Linemen, their decline can be rapid and unpredictable. The Lions are building a team for the long term, and if Scott is not going to be the future starting LT, then I would like to see them get someone in the 2009 or 2010 draft to start learning. Jeff himself will benefit from the zone scheme as he is more of a athletic tackle, versus a power clodster. But for now, the Lions have much greater weaknesses than LT.
LG: No problems at all here. Edwin Mulitalo was a steal coming off his pectoral injury and played excellently last year. He understands the schemes, and plays with toughness at at high level. Ramierez showed grit making the roster, and it appears he has continued to develop. He is a similar type of player to Mulitalo -- a massive beast with enough quickness to trap-block inside or out and get his guy off the line. With a couple more years under his belt, Ramierez shoudl be ready to take Mulitalo's spot when the time is right.
C: While the position of backup center is one that worries me, including taking into consideration the age of Raiola, at starting Center Raiola is excellent. Often overlooked by national media, he is considered among the top players at the position. If the Lions let him go, he would be starting elsewhere before the ink was dry on his release. Not an overly large center, he is excellent at getting out and blocking in space - especially pulling, and getting out to create lanes for a G-T gap run. He is an intelligent player (most of the time) who knows his own strengths and weaknesses. Teams may have penetrated the line last year, but the center was not the main problem. As for backups, Butler is an intriguing prospect I look to be on the practice squad this season, breaking into the 53-man roster next year as a backup G and C, and possible heir apparent for Raiola if he progress to his potential. No basis in fact for this, just a gut call.
RG: People forget the Woody lost his starting RG job last year not due to laziness (which he was until his contract year last season), or poor play -- but for play that wasn't good enough to hold off Stephen Peterman. He got a shot at the starting RG position, and never let it go. While Frank Davis this season, and Butler eventually, will press him for time -- and Ramierez, if they try him on the RG could pressure him as well -- I don't see him losing the starting Gig this ifseason. he played well above average, and is developing into an excellent G. Despite the deficiencies in scheme in relation to the performance of the line, he still did an excellent job. Going into his first full season as a starter look for him to keep improving. The competition from talented guys behind him will keep him motivated, and keep the G position strong if Mulitalo or Peterman are injured.
RT: This is where over half of the Lions sacks came from last season. ONE POSITION! It was an obvious point of weakness -- so much so, that teams including GB, Philly, Wash and Minnesota (that I noticed) moved their premier pass rushes, or put heavy pressure, on the right side of the Lions line versus getting their premier rushers matched up against Railoa. The Lions refused to leave a TE or RB in to block, so the RT was left on his own, and in most incarnations was unable to handle it. Foster played OK, but the false starts and penalties were just killing the offense (although I would have preferred them to "here, let me open the door to the QB for you Saipia). Scott did well enough to earn the starting nod, did well, but was injured once again. Already thin at the position, and without any good backups, that left the Lions in the lurch playing a hurt Backus on one side, and whoever the hell they could get to take a beating before allowing someone to crush Kitna again on the other. The coaching staff played it to thin at the T position heading into the season and, in my opinion, it cost them a playoff spot.
While most now, with hindsight, question why Woody wasn't tried at T earlier, it was more of a desperation move (that was highly ridiculed by all the pundits who listed Woody as a T heading into the ifseason gushing about his "greatness" at the position for a whole third of a season, and by most fans at the time it was made) Woody hadn't played T since high school. That was a looong time ago in football years. While he did well, I don't think he was special enough, or consistent enough as a player and person to be paid big money -- as I'm sure the Jets are going to find out.
Getting a RT was something I had as a priority heading into the ifseason not because I doubted Scott's ability to play it, but because he A. had not stayed healthy, and B. was more suited to the LT spot. I was pleased when they took Cherilus at 15 because he immediately upgraded what, to me, was the one weak point on an otherwise very solid line that worked together for 12 games last season. RT will be fine, and they will be able to integrate him into their scheme and gel well, I think.
Final Analysis: State of the Oline
Some of you fellows may disagree with my choices for roster spots, but after last year I see them keeping 9 O-Linemen, just to be sure they don't get caught with their pants down again. Foster was a band-aid, but will be an adequate backup if Scott and a starter are hurt. Other than that, he will find himself inactive most games since Scott can play both sides. He'll be their insurance policy. A few false starts are better than a dozen sacks.
This line is, as the sum of its parts shows, a talented motivated line with a lot of potential for growth. IF they continue to gel as they doing into the end of last season, really tightening it up all across the line for the last 6 games, despite the losses -- then this O-line, and by extension the running game, has the dreaded "P" to explode next year. Even if they don't take it a couple of levels up, with the more friendly scheme placing them in a better position to make plays instead of make like the French army (retreating constantly) then they will still be a good, if not dominating line. But the possibility of domination is there. IF...
I'm heading out for the weekend Internet free up to Houghton Lake. See you fellows again on Monday. I'll check in if I can find WiFi somewhere.