Monday, September 1, 2008

Johnson Tolls Final "Bell" to End Ifseason

Take the afternoon with the kids, do some swimming, no Lions news of interest today after all, Rudi Johnson isn't signing anytime soon, good day for R&R before heading into the fall and school starting tomorrow, fall sports for the kids, etc.

Oops. Wait. Strike that -- Rudi Johnson signed a 1 year deal with the Lions this afternoon -- the first team he visited since being cut by Cincinatti -- using the cap dollars freed up by cutting Tatum Bell.

It's not surprising to me that they cut Bell in favor of a back whom they felt would make a better contribution. Not only is he a punishing style runner, but should be able to stay healthy with limited carries due to Smith being the starter. If Smith does go down, Rudi has certainly shown the capability to carry the load -- even if it is for shorter periods now. Similar to Jerome Bettis and Fast Willie for the Steelers the two years heading into the SB.

In the end though, the Bengals cut him and we picked him up for the same reason the Lions cut KJ and Chicago picked him up -- dollar ninja prices. (Honolulu Blue Light Special, Aisle Ohio.)With the cap space the Lions had, even with cutting Bell, they got Rudi for a good price comparatively speaking considering his limited injury history, potential, and roster impact.

In other words, both teams needed a cost-effective veteran back as #2 behind their Rookie starter. As far as attitude, I think they both did well as both Rudi and KJ will be running "angry" this year, out to prove they should have been kept -- and attempting to pick up one last good contract or chance to start. (Notice that I didn't say "pot of gold", "big payday" or any other such nonsense. Teams have figured out that having 2 or more backs carry the load extends their career, and that you don't pay a RB a huge contract if they are 28 or older -- depending on how many carries they've had.)

Is he the Rudi of last year, or the Rudi of 2006? Most likely, somewhere in between. Which is still better than Bell. Add in that he can pick up a blitz, and blocks above average -- and we have ourselves a bona-fide 3rd down/#2/Change-up back. He knows he is coming in as the backup to Smith, but that he will get a fair number of carries in relief. (The same offer they put out to Tatum Bell, only Rudi appears - at least in the eyes of the coaching staff - to have wanted it more. Considering his attitude of "I'm a roster lock" the whole ifseason, it shouldn't have been too hard.)

Here is the question: If Rudi is almost/is healthy (they were projecting him to be healthy enough to start just last week, remember -- and he passed his physical with the Lions who have been pretty stingy and careful with FA signings this ifseason.) why choose the Lions?

He didn't visit with any other teams, so it wasn't his best offer, it was his only. So Far.

He had interest, according to PFT, from the Jets to compete with Thomas Jones, Houston (see below) and even Cincy who would have liked to have him, but just not at the price they were paying for him at the time (sound familiar?)

He signed after his first workout -- and the Lions are slim on cap and haven't broken the bank for anyone this ifeseason -- even when they really wanted a guy -- so it isn't the money.

Houston, considered an up-and comer to the playoff picture this season, wanted a veteran back after putting Brown on IR, and have a heck of a lot more cap space to give him than the Lions.

There are other teams who could have used him at RB, would have given him a chance, likely more money, and are considered to have better chances than the Lions.

So why come here? He must have seen something he liked when the Lions played Cincy in the preseason and he was standing on the sidelines. O-Line? The aggressive D ready to make the Lions a factor in the NFC? The commitment to running the ball, and knowing they didn't want to depend on a trio of rookies -- Smith, and 5th rounders Felton and Thomas this year?

My guess is a combination of all of the above, coupled with Rod's reputation as a fair dealer in regards to playing time and earning a shot, and a heavy dose of that last point.

Right now, Allen Ervin (who is also a returner) is on the practice squad. They prefer to keep 3 RB and a FB, and 4 wide right now. Anyone see where this is going? They have Moore and Ervin -- neither of whom is likely to get a contract offer due to limited exposure and tape -- and they can keep looking at them practicing PR/KR til the cows come home.

Next season, goodbye Rudi if they want -- 1 year deal -- and if Thomas, Smith, Felton and Ervin are working out Thomas moves to #2 - Evrin comes in at #3 and KR/PR. With Mac and/or Roy gone, they bring back Standeford, Middleton, Ellis, Moore and some competition possibly -- and we have another roster battle next year with guys pushing guys trying to make the squad, and talented individuals being let go once again. A beautiful thought the options.

And the Bell Tolls no More. As if it tolled much in the first placed -- more kinda like a dull thud. No resonance for me.

Kudos to the Lions for getting waivers/cuts right this year. Keep the guys who'll get picked up, and pick up guys that other people wanted to slide under the radar or got caught up in the cap numbers game.

Interesting article: Indianapolis Colts sign FA DT. All 9 rookies make roster. The COLTS had all nine rookies make the roster. Remember, Rod coached under Dungy and is using a similar model in building the Lions. Even as much as they are Tampa North, they are Indy Jr. Moreso because of the style of Offense Marinelli has gone with compared to the WCO in Tampa. They also only kept 3 RB and a FB. the DT was to shore up the run D at the NT -- where they have been a bit weak, needing S Bob Sanders in the box a lot to stop the run, sometimes leaving their corners more exposed than they would like. Anyone still think keeping 11 DT was silly? No way was Cohen making the Practice Squad. Moore or Cody were even likely candidates to be picked up by Indy --- either way, had they released Cohen to keep that extra WR or RB the Lions would have Pinner or Middleton, or Standeford --- and Indy would have Davis AND Cohen.

Something to keep in mind here is that there are 4 teams running a really pure version of the T2 -- Chicago, Indy, Tampa, and Detroit. Detroit has moved closer to being a contender in the NFC -- especially on Defense. Chicago tends to skip out on a lot of FA most of the time on D lately -- which will bite them as their D ages. However, with Tampa, Indy and Detroit look for them to be plundering each others' practice squads and cuts defensively for the next few years. It is a sign that

A. Tampa and Indy feel Detroit players will be well-trained in the T2 and worth a look at. and
B. If A is true, the Lions D could surprise a lot of people this year. Indy had a top 5 D last year, and picked up one of Detroit's cuts, and would have picked up Cohen if Detoit let him go.

What all three teams know, and people overlook, is that while they all run the same base D they have different personnel needs, and are weaker/stronger in different areas. Did you think our LB were strong enough that a guy who was on the bubble headed to Indy? Indy has had some injuries and losses the last couple of years to their LB and Dline (DT in particular) and were a bit weaker than Detroit. By the same token, they are pretty strong in other areas, and some of their cuts could end up here or TB. Same goes there. Where one has an abundance of talent, look for the others to be waiting for cuts. While it will take the players a bit to catch the Nuances of the different styles of T2, they already know the base D which is huge.

Not just with Rookies, but with $1 Ninja veteran FA as well on D. Same reasons.

Thus far I like the Lions Ifseason moves -- they gambled they could upgrade the RB Corps more after the cuts, and so far it looks to have paid off. We'll see how it plays out on the field. For being so conservative at times, Marinelli appears to have a bit of the dice-roller in him.

I also have confidence that there were 4 or 5 guys -- at least one of whom would get cut -- that they had their eye on. Forsett in Seattle I think would have been their first choice, as he is also a returner and looked good in preseason -- but Seattle pulled a Cohen on us and kept an extra RB.

While a lot of this credit is going to Marinelli, we have to give Millen his due. He has a coach he sees eye-to-eye with. It's his kind of football, and he seems to be having a better time understanding -- and making his scouts understand -- exactly what type of players this team is looking for. Coupled with Marinelli's recognition of where their roster is weak at any given point, and they put together what could potentially be one of the best Ifseasons since Barry fell into their lap. Millen is still GM - but I believe in now. Ask me after Atlanta if that is still the case when then is now. Same for the end of the season. Til then, one game at a time.

Your thoughts on the ever-evolving roster? Like it, hate it, would have done different?


Dreamer 1955 said...

I like the roster moves so far. I agree that if we had cut any of our DL's they would have been picked up by some one else.
I think that Cody may be on the hot seat right now, I could see him being cut to make room for a KR/PR specialist if they find one they like. (I think that may still happen this week)

Isphet said...

I love the roster pick ups. I think the Lions have done a hell of a job getting guys that can play.

Rudi is a pretty smart gamble. Worst-case scenario, he's not going to be worse than TinkerBell.

Ifseason is all about taking the best available avenue to attempt to shore up positional issues. Major issues the Lions had at the end of last season were:

RB- they're much better there I would think now. Hard to be worse.

O line- Foster seems to have turned the corner a bit, but Gosder is good insurance. Admittedly it will still probably be a weak point; but hey; we don't have Saipaia(sp) anymore as a backup, which is huge.

D Line- Rogers is a big loss for a few plays a game, but honestly I'd rather have what we have now- lots more depth with the 11 guys we have and a much more consistent line. It was adressed at least

Secondary - should be better, for sure.

LBs- new guys should be better here, also.It will be similar to last year's group at first, but we have more depth and a chance with Dizon to have him come on strong at the end of the year.

KR/PR: this is still a problem, I'd like to see something done here, as would a lot of people. They tried Moore, but he's just not ready.

All around, I think the Lions did a great job addressing big need areas; with maybe the O line (right tackle specifically) and KR/PR being the only areas that weren't seriously focused upon. You really can't complain about that though; there are only so many moves you can make in any given year. Still, it's been a very encouraging Ifseason.

Let's hope it all comes together and we don't have too many growing pains this year early on. There are a lot of new faces on the Lions, it would be understandable if it takes some time for the team to gel.

Anonymous said...

Well, Green Bay cut Scorpio Babers (really, a pure return guy, not a very good CB from what I saw). He was the kid from San Angelo State or somewhere that ran a 4.18 40 yd.

It's pretty obvious the Lions are worried about getting good coverage in teh return game, and are going to use it with Thomas, Pearson, Furrey, and Alexander as the gunners. Rod doesn't mind using average return people to get average returns as long as they serve dual purposes on the roster.

With the exception of QB's and Rudi, everyone on this roster starts at some position. Whether it be "O", "D", or special teams. That is why you don't see the extra backs, WR's etc. (Example: if Cason and Middleton were on the roster, what would McDonald do? Sit around until (if) the Lions need to go four receivers. They basically trimmed all the fat from the bench personnel, and if you don't contribute as a special teamer, and you can't start, you're gone. Rod would rather have McDonald return kicks than Middleton because McDonald is a better value with more experience, and it would make no sense to have both and let one sit (taking up a spot on the roster) while Indy snags Cohen.

The "D" Line next year may see that Darby is too old and wants to retire, and that Cody wants to try earning more money somewhere else. Now, Rod is a genius because he still has Redding, Moore, Fluellen, and Cohen at the DT. Just a thought


JJLions20 said...

I also like this roster. It has some quality at the starting positions and a lot of youth in reserve roles to be developed. There are 8 rookies on the team with the addition of Marcus Thomas. You really can't expect to win if the lions have to count on playing time from all 8. So that means the Lions have to stay relatively healthy in order to win.

Look for Rudi Johnson to be used inside the 30's. He is a punishing runner and can spare Smith from taking some of those hits. Even though Tatum Bell ran for 1000 yards in a zone blocking system, he was not a punishing runner that Marenelli said he wanted. Also, there have been a lot of backs run for 1000 yards behind that Denver line. 800 yards is pretty much guarantee.

A lot of people expect Cody to be the next cut, but I don't think so. Lets remember, Cover-2 defenses are typically built with smaller quicker front 7 players. It makes them susceptible to the big power running football teams. Cody is our biggest D-Lineman at 310 lbs. That's not huge by NFL standards. There are going to be times he gets moved off the ball. The key for the nose tackle in this defense is to get penetration. If you get doubled then somehow hold your ground and plug the hole, so the linebacker of safety can make the tackle. The nose tackle doesn’t have to make the play, they just need to plug things up, and disrupt things so others can make the play. It’s typically the under tackle that makes the big plays in the interior of the D-Line. If you disagree, name the nose tackle when the Colts, Bears, and Buc’s last made the Super Bowl.

What we need to be focusing on is the play of the safety’s. What typically makes this defense work are two things. A good pass rush and a real hard hitting safety. A safety that plays like that 4th linebacker. When you think of the Tampa-2 you think of John Lynch. Indy has Bob Sanders, and Chicago when they had that Super Bowl run had Mike Brown. I have not seen that Safety on the Lions roster yet. Surely it's not Alexander, he’s still playing a little soft. Bullocks has potential, and made a couple of big hits in the last pre-season game, but I don't see him in that Sanders/Lynch category. Once again Smith is decent, but not a pro-bowler.

CHIEFGER139 said...

should of went,didnt do anyting hopefuli this rudi guy brings us sometthing cause it doesnt look like the line is opening any holes so need power running-hopefully felton still gets some carries-i want to use him on my fantasy team but will wait and see if they even use him against atlanta-who's the lucky lottery winner who plays me on the lions/colts bye week??

jreffy said...

Been a while since I've commented around here, and there's a lot to comment on, so here's hoping I don't make this too long.

The last couple days with cuts and the recent pickups really shows us two things.

1) The Lions have improved their talent. The pickups of Johnson, Nece, and Thomas provide depth and experience (especially with Nece and Rudi) in positions where the Lions have a lot of youth (LB, RB).

2) Rod Marinelli not only talks the talk, but walks the walk. He constantly preaches to this team about being tenacious, loves guys who "have a motor", and now he's showing that he's got one too. After the last couple days when teams are finalizing their roster and getting ready for their opening game, Rod was still out looking for players to improve his roster. He was 1$ ninja shopping, and personally I think he hit big. Not necessarily with guys who are going to make the team better with their on-the-field play, but guys who will help coach and groom this team into what Rod wants it to be while also bringing some depth to the roster.

Nece provides excellent experience in the Detroit Deuce defense and bolsters the depth of the LB core. He can also help develop Sims and Dizon (and the Lions 2009 pick) provided they keep him longer than this season. And heck, the guy ain't that old, he can definitely be a Detroit Lion for the next couple years at least.

Lastly, two things I really love. Cherilus is going to be PISSED that he isn't starting, and I like that. Get him fired up over the first couple weeks and having him coming in with a fire in his belly.

Also, keeping so many D-lineman, especially a bunch of young ones, is going to make them all fiercely competitive to make a name for themselves. Avril, Cohen, Fluellen, all those guys are going to want to show up on the game film, so hopefully that helps keep our D-line fierce and ready to play.

Anonymous said...

I'm ecstatic about Rudi being a backup. The analogy to Bettis is accurate. He is no longer starting material, but should excel as a 10-12 carry guy.

Any chance that the Lions are eyeing Cherilus as a long-term LT? I tend to agree with those that say Foster is starting because he improved his game and is a better zone-blocker, but the love affair with Backus continues to baffle me. Does Cherilus have the athletisism and technique to learn the LT position in 1-2 years?


Anonymous said...

It's been awhile, but I too like this roster. I like this roster {although kick coverage is still a concern} from two perspectives.

1. From where we are today. I feel more confident in the 45 who'll be suited up game day, than at this time last year. It's coach's third year, the progress in weeding out malcontents and underachievers has taken time, but the nucleus and supporting TEAM players should yield dividends in improved play this year. Will that translate into more victories? It's a brutal schedule, but not as brutal as it would've been if we were entering the season with the roster coach Marinelli inherited. Playoffs are a definitely a possibility. We need to win in our house, and it would be a good thing to pick up a couple or road wins vs. NFL-North teams.

2 - I like this roster from another perspective also. That being the future. Not only from rookie projected improvement benefitting the team, but more importantly is building on the team in next year's draft and free agency. Kudos must be give to the Lions scouting department and if this same quality of scouting happens next year.... we will be all that much better. We aren't elite, we'll probably be middle of the pack this year but if this preseason is any indicator the improvement is noticeable, very noticeable {outside the kick coverage}.

This is getting long, I don't want to take up too much of your time, but want to discuss an intangible that hasn't been talked about since coach Martz was fired and coaches Colletto and Brown{? memory is bad} were named co-offensive coordinators with coach Colletto calling the plays. Early opinions were negative, but I like this co-coordinator setup. Coach Colletto is up in the booth, coach Brown is on the field and with this setup I think the offense can and will be maximized. Obviously Colletto and Brown are on headsets communicating, and with Colletto up in the booth who can see the whole field, and Brown on the sideline who communicate with the players the whole offense will be optimized.

Not ready to comment on Johnson other than its not all that different than making a stock trade in that in order to sell (Bengals} there has to be a buyer {Lions}, and the seller wouldn't be selling without cause. Let's see what he does gameday.

Go Lions

Anonymous said...

mlive has now posted the PFT article.

It seems Tatum Bell was caught red-handed stealing Rudi Johnson's bags while he (Rudi) was negotiating his contract on Monday in Millen's office. It is a must-read, and just a big indicator that Tatum needed to go.

DetroitSims said...

I couldnt believe this when i saw it. Killer on M-live wrote an article about the overall team, mostly bout defense and said that he is standing pat that the Lions go 5-11 this year!!!!! Are u F-ing kidding me!?!?!? They look a lot better than last year. How does he figure they'd be worse?

JJLions20 said...

DetroitSims, I can understand Tom's prediction with a caveat. Look at it objectively, and understand how much could not work, but if all goes will the Lions could be much better than his prediction.

#1, Williams and Johnson were not dominant last year. Even though there is hope that this year will be the break-out year with Martz out and Colletto in. Lets remember It's Colletto's first shot a being an OC in the NFL. The O-Line is the same starting O-Line as last year's week-1 O-Line. They have implemented a new blocking scheme, that everybody says will take some time to get right (maybe a full year). The Running game is what is supposed to change this team, yet we are starting a rookie halfback and fullback. It's not like these were high first round back's. A third and a 5th rounder. You add on to this the fact that they have not really been able to run the ball in the preseason, it's just not good odds that it will be great week one.

So there are a lot of question marks in that offence and your trying to beat the odds with some of these things. But it’s not typical to make all these changes and be effective over night. If the Lions can beat the odds and they run the ball good enough that the opposing defense has to drop a safety to help, then this offense could click.

#2, once again there is a lot of change. Unlike the offense there were indicators in the pre-season that this unit was more effective. But what has to happen? Darby, Cody, & Moore need to play better than Shaun Rodgers did last year when the Lions won those first 6 games. But also remember that 2/3 of that trio were also part of the collapse last year. Is by removing Rodgers really making Moore and Cody better? Maybe it is addition by subtraction.

Lewis, Lennon, & Sims, were on the team last season. Lewis never un-seated Bailey as a starter. What makes this crew that much better than last season? Until Dizon takes over for Lennon, and Lennon is moved to SLB, there really isn't an upgrade here. The secondary is definitely upgraded. But Bodden is new to the Cover-2, and everybody says it takes at least a year to really learn it. Smith and Kelly are upgrades. Alexander is more experienced, and if Bullocks is really back to where he was before injury last year then watch out.

#3, we have no reason to believe that the Special teams will be better than last season. It's hard to tell in the “If-season”. What we can hope is that Martz did not allow Furrey and McDonald to be used much on ST because he needed 4 receivers sets. So maybe they are better than what we had last year. Special teams are still a big question mark.

So all Tom is saying the Lions got some breaks when starting off 6-2 last season. With out a couple breaks, and a lot of these question marks being answered, this season could be worse than last year. But if in particular, the defense plays better, giving to offense more opportunities, then they could be better.

At this point I don't want to get caught up in this preseason hype. A better prediction can be made by the Lions bye week after three games. If they are 2-1, then it could be a good season. I hope for 8-8 or 9-7, but I certainly can understand why 5-11 is a reasonable prediction at this point.