Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Oh!-Line or Oh No!-Line?

(as a point of reference, when I make the content jump to Fanball, I will merely be picking up wherever we are at on here. As I said before, it is merely a location, not content change. I will link back to pieces on here for the newer readers I am sure we will pick up along the way!)

Sooooooo - lots of O there; as in Offensive Line. Now, while I won't disagree that there has been some really offensive line play the last few years, I think we need to take a couple of factors into consideration:

1. The Martz Offensive has always been a pass happy, O-line on an Island with no real RB or TE help. This, of course, has lead to large numbers of sacks, hits, and hurries wherever it has been implemented. This makes any offensive line look bad.

2. Thanks in equal parts to horrid defense and a pass-happy offense to begin with, the line has been playing "back on their heels" for the better part of three years. This is NOT to be underestimated.

Lets take an example from an exercise I recently took part in at my ATA (American Taekwondo Association) class. The point of the exercise was to mimic intense self-defense situations (especially for the women) where someone is trying to use mainly their body to pressure you back into a wall or corner. To make a point, the instructors had our group rush from the other side of the room (with large body-shield pads) to essentially knock over the waiting females (trust me they were/are far from defenseless -- they are studying martial arts as well. no pansies there, trust me.). Those that met the charge aggressively in some way -- sidestepping, moving up and positioning punches, kicks, or shoves utilizing balance and momentum were able to do very well.

Those that tried to shy back, not so much. An attacker is expecting and wants you to step back on you heels, backpedalling away -- because your balance is compromised, as is your strength. You have almost no frontal strength when backpedalling -- and stopping from getting pushed backwards when already moving backwards means inertia is fighting against you. You need to be stepping into a block to have the greatest chance of success.

The last few years, the opposing Defensive Lines have been the aggressor, while the Lions Offensive line has been literally backpedalling while trying to stop them. That combination is a recipe for disaster -- as we all got to witness first hand.

Now, we also did this exercise where we were defenders, and the higher-ranks were the aggressors. When my first Sparta-style charging Spartan came rushing at me, I met him slightly to the side full force and used his own momentum to propel him to the side, and into the punching bags on the wall. (he was fine) and proceeded through to the next opponent.

When the Offensive line is blasting off the snap count, and hitting the defensive line that makes them the aggressor, instead of the defender. They are playing from a position of strength. Opposing defensive lines are ready, when playing that style, to set in and "stop the charge" -- so when the Oline does drop back a bit into pass protection, they can actually catch them by surprise -- taking advantage of the aggressive back and forth to pull them into the backfield some, and out of position to make a play. It also keeps the O-Line pumped and confident -- which is a factor that cannot be overlooked.

The main point of this is that the Lions O-Line has been playing from a position of weakness for years. This isn't to say it was stacked with pro-bowlers who were getting jobbed by any means -- it wasn't. But the players there were set up to fail.

3. Confusion among the Coaches. There was a great interview Jon Scott (former OT for the Lions) gave after being signed to the Buffalo Bills. His words say it all:

"Chaotic fragmentation. The shoddy separation of powers triggered
on-field breakdowns. Scott said the linemen became “chickens with
their heads cut off.” Who was supposed to block where was a play-
to-play mystery"

Jon Scott is not a future hall of famer, but he is in the mix to replace Jason Peters in Buffalo, and that means he is good enough to play in this league.

So what does it all mean? It means we don't know much about most of the Lions O-line. However, you know me -- I'll take a crack at it anyways.

First, lets look at the depth chart as it now stands: (from DetroitLions.com as of 7-14-09)

# Name Position Height Weight Age Years College
65 Gandy, Dylan C 6-3 290 27 4 Texas Tech
64 Gerberry, Dan C 6-3 302 23 R Ball State
51 Raiola, Dominic C 6-1 295 29 9 Nebraska
73 Fonoti, Toniu G 6-4 340 27 7 Nebraska
66 Peterman, Stephen G 6-4 323 27 5 Louisiana State

71 Ramirez, Manny G 6-3 326 25 3 Texas Tech
76 Backus, Jeff T 6-5 305 30 9 Michigan
75 Barton, Kirk T 6-6 300 24 1 Ohio State
77 Cherilus, Gosder T 6-7 319 24 2 Boston College
74 Cook, Damion T 6-5 330 29 9 Bethune-Cookman

68 Jansen, Jon T 6-6 297 33 11 Michigan
70 Loper, Daniel T 6-6 320 27 5 Texas Tech
71 Murtha, Lydon T 6-7 315 23 R Nebraska
72 Salaam, Ephraim T 6-7 310 32 12 San Diego State

At first glance, you can tell Martin Mayhew went Tackle shopping this ifseason. A whopping 8 players listed at OT, with just 3 G and 3 C. So what gives?

Well, first off, here is your starting Offensive Line for 2009, game 1:

LT - Jeff Backus
LG - Daniel Loper
C - Dominic Raiola
RG - Stephen Peterman
RT - Gosder Cherilus

It is the backup positions where I feel there is the most competition among the line, no matter what way the Allen Park Rail Line is taking us with their statements. They don't want the "incumbents" to feel comfortable, but the reality is that the starting jobs are those 5 guys to lose.

Jeff Backus is still a long term investment for the Lions. As LT's go, you have better, you have worse. He's not pro-bowl caliber, and at this point in his career never likely will be. He is hard working, and can get the job done -- especially if the Lions actually scheme in some short throws, and TE help with the speed rushers off the edge. Having a healthy, solid LG in his prime next to him will surely help as well. If Backus doesn't show improvement at least back to average in 2009, look for that to be at the top of Martin Mayhew's wish list next ifseason (along with a DT and a CB).

Dominic Raiola just got an extension from the Lions and for good reason: If they cut him today, he would be immediately picked up and could start for better than half the teams in the NFL. End of story. You keep a guy like that around. Sure, he has weakness -- but what player doesn't? Scheming to move him into the second level while Peterman and Cherilus level guys on their side would be one good move, as Raiola is good at pulling, and great in space.

Daniel Loper is listed as a T because that was his position in Tennessee, although in reality he was the #1 backup LT, LG, RG, and RT -- and when he went in there was ZERO dropoff in line play. Tennessee was returning it's excellent starting lineup, and Loper was too expensive to hold onto as a backup. Good news is, he is here on a 1 year deal so if he doesn't step up to his opportunity to start, the Lions aren't "stuck" with him long term. My gut says he more than steps up to the challenge, and is signed long-term by the Lions.

Stephen Peterman wasn't brought back to ride the pine -- he was brought back to continue the progress he and Cherilus showed together as the season progressed, and the Lions did some more man-power-blocking (blowing people off the ball offensively, instead of stepping back and look offensive). Thanks to the big point deficits, the running game wasn't given a consistent chance but when Kevin Smith did run to that side, the Peterman-Cherilus tandem did their jobs well.

Gosder Cherilus showed some flashes last year when finally given a chance to play, and to take his lumps. Every rookies has some struggles, and Cherilus was no exception. Moving to the man-based power blocking scheme this year that Linehan favors will help him tremendously as he is the type of player that likes to be taking chunks out of guys, not stepping back and waiting for them. I look for him to take a big leap this year.

The rest: No Clue. I don't have a great read on how any of them are doing. Position flexibility will be key. I think Gerberry finds a spot on the practice squad, just in case something happens to Raiola so the team doesn't get stuck without a true backup center. Raiola is usually pretty durable, but better safe than sorry. I also think Murtha makes it to the practice squad as he will be good enough to stick, but not good enough for someone else to sign to the active roster. IF he can develop, he could be a replacement for Backus down the road.

Cook didn't look anything other than ordinary in his limited action, and I just don't see him on the final roster unless it is as the final backup G/T. Salaam was signed to pressure Backus and Jansen to pressure Cherilus and right now I have them pegged as the backup G/T, with one of the rest making the roster as the primary backup G.

The way I see it at this point is that Loper is really the backup LT, with many of the others having their strength at RT or a LG. Just my own hypothesizing.

Realistically, the Lions may make more moves to bring in young linemen as cuts are made, but all the shuffling is among the backups. Barring a horrendous camp or some other screwup the starters are set.

The big IF here is IF the line play was really a result of the three factors I listed, and IF the new coaching/scheme fixes that and helps hide weakness then the Line MAY be good in 2009. IF the players are really better than they looked...



nubsnobber said...

Jumping to fanball, eh?

Let's hash over this blog first.

Marinelli wanted to run teh ball and stop the run-his first presser. So he hired Mike Martz? Then he tried to run a Martz-like offense WITHOUT Martz. This is not like tae-kwan-do. The Lions' offensive linemen were doing a curtsey, while DE's were do-say-do'ing to our QB.

Marinelli was predictible on defense. And Martz was the same way. If you are taking a seven step drop, I know how to beat your OT's like a drum. If I'm not getting chipped, bumped, double-teamed, or anything--I should have a field day as a DE.

If you pass 87% of the time on 1st down, I bet you run on 2nd down. And if I guess right and stuff you, you will be in a seven step drop again on 3rd and 12.

Towards the end of the year last year, there was a shift. A Peterman, Cherilus "road-grader" shift. Salaam and Jansen will fit with this. So will Ramirez. The one that won't fit this mold is the slight Dominic Raiola.

I don't question much of the front office moves until we see them play out a little, but why re-sign Raiola now? A hot commodity? An up-and-comer who's next salaried contract will double? Dominic is the runt of the litter, a smallish center. 295 may be over by 10-15 pounds. Before the contract, I would've been willing to venture a guess that Raiola may be cut if a veteran lineman dangled on the wire. Now, I can't. And I do not know why this was done now.

Jeff Backus is alright by me. I don't buy into the turnstyle crap of chastising him during the Martz regime. Here's to thinking Backus is ready for a few more seasons.

Loper and Peterman should be good at guards, Ramirez should play into the blocking scheme better, and I hope he chews AJ Hawk's ring finger.

DetFan1979 said...

I almost cited "predictability" as the 4th reason beyond ability they looked horrid, but I think you've got that covered!

I disagree on Raiola -- when you look at the top centers in the, they are of similar size. Point of fact is finding a center who can go one-on-one with the motivated S. Rogers and A. Haynesworths of the league isn't going to happen. They are going to be helping one of the OG's handle those monster tackles, pulling, or moving into space and taking on a LB or DE one-on-one, which requires more agility and speed in space.

I can see reasons for and against keeping Raiola, but the main one is that by locking him up, they have at worst a top-half starting center for the next few years locked into place -- which allows them to focus on building other aspects of the team.

They can draft his replacement without having to rush into whatever is there at the moment. His contract didn't come with a huge bonus, (about a mil a yr, so a 3 million cap hit if they cut him next season -- unlikely.) so if the Lions do cut bait for someone else later on it won't cost them much.

nubs said...

Dominic Raiola will never be able to take on Shawn Rogers or Albert Haynesworth, that we agree on.

Two, Raiola is a very smart center who makes great calls while picking up blitzes and calling the right protection.

Performance. Raiola doesn't fire off the ball, and gets high often when pulling. The happy feet syndrome also is an occurance, meaning he misses his blocks when out pulling on the corners or a screen.

If the Lions truly want to be a drive blocking offensive team, it starts at point of attack in the middle. The center is the last spot on the offensive line they have yet to "challenge" by signing a veteran player to "push". The two centers on the roster are hardly a threat, or less of a threat than Jansen or Salaam to replace a tackle.

Garberry doesn't strike fear into me, isn't that where Andy and Aunt Bea are from anyway?

I know LeCharles Bentley has the knee issues, and others around the league (Birk) are past their prime and not worth the risk, but if a 310 pound center that has talent comes on board, you heard it hear first, and you know the reason why.

I wouldn't consider Raiola better than bottom half of starting centers, but agree the Lions have more-pressing fixes that need to be fixed or filled first.

The problem I have, and the thing I see is IDENTITY. That's why I pointed out what Marinelli said in his first presser, and then filled the paragraph with what the Lions actually did. If Schwartz is truly going to be a December-Green Bay, built-to-run offense, the road graders need to be brought in. Raiola isn't it, and when the switch is made, that is why.

I really have to see how the "Big Nasties" are coached in pre-season to get a feel about the offensive line coaches. I want to see good things (don't we all) in camp and pre-season, but remember...the Lions were 4-0 coming out of pre-season.

Grab the Kool-Aid, corn bread, and choo-choo trains, we have a few days left before camp. The pics that were snagged and posted from last year's camp were awesome. Is anyone going again this year (HINT)???

CHIEFGER139 said...

I never thought our offensive line was the problem. Why i still say they did the right thing-getting the top skill positions when you have the top picks-you can get the grunts 1st when your more in the middle of the pack drafting-love your link on this one-I kept saying keep the oc as a line coach but after reading your link so glad they didnt-my thinking was the trouble was they didnt have a offensiveline guru who could develop later round guys like the good teams do-I was right on that count but sounds like he had no clue to be the guy I wanted. hopefully the new guy is more of what I want. Once again great article and I finally posted my 30 locks-the next 10 and the final 10-today-check it out-sounnds like i should of read this article 1st-oh well its in fun anyhow-also im the 1st to post all 50!! figure the way my life is get it now or I may be left out-not happinin!! signed the wize chief!!

Weston Corbitt said...

I always liked Raiola and think hes pretty good. He is a tad undersized but has a nasty mean streak and is a leader. Peterman's resigning was a little strange to me, but after seeing him pave way for Kevin Smith I can see why. Godser was great last season as a rookie after he was allowed to play full time and Rod let George "False Start" Foster ride the bench. I loved how physical he was, and he took Jared Allen out by the knees, and that shows he has the confidence to take on (not so legally) a great player. Backus is solid and can help us at LT or maybe LG for a few more years.

nubs said...

C'mon. As long as Uncle Jared (the Wild Boar Hunter) isn;t engaged in a block with someone else, a lower shoulder-to-the-knee is perfectly fine. It's when a double-team has one of the guys rub low and take a swipe when a chop block is illegal.

Unless that changed with the new rules like "Thou shalt not try tackling a QB while on thoust belly." It's like modern day law enforcement--enforce the rules on the books, don't make new rules that lawyers get paid to write.

Oh that's right, congressmen have to justify their existence by making new laws so they can remain full-time, second-highest paid in the country, four years of work, insurance for life legislatures. Sorry, but blue collar workers, union-brothers are getting screwed worse than the Lions by NFL officials.

Call it the Curse of Layne, but NFL officials also love dumping on the Lions. A few games (Minnesota, for one) would've been close if not for phantom pass interference calls. Can WCF Jr. please join the competition committee?

And while we're on a rant tonight (too much caffeine after 11:00 p.m.) can fanball.com please suggest that the Lions will never be taken seriously until they get CHEERLEADERS. I am sick and tired of the baton twirlers and high school squads that come over from the Neverland ranch. I would even plop $20 down for the first Lioness' 2010 Calendar.

Can I get an Amen?

RIP said...

All you guys are right on.

Our O-line is better than advertised. Backus is a good balanced LT. He is not a pure run blocker or pass blocker. One thing not mentioned on Riola is his accational head nod before the snap that the D-Line sees, but not the OTs. Still would have him then half the Centers in the league.

And the Lions should have professional cheerleaders.

nubs said...

OK Det fan. I have an article for you (and all the guys). This proves we need cheerleaders, and we need to do so before the "Honey" comes home.


This is a factual story, very well written, which talks about the Honey Bear Super Bowl jinx. I think there is some truth to it. It may've kept Shaun Rogers out of trouble.

Weston Corbitt said...

Nubs, Amazing stuff! I don't like the National Flag Football League rules we have been getting lately. I saw nothing wrong with what Godser did, but I'm sure Roger God-dell did. Jared Allen is just a moron who is pretty good sacking the QB.

Arlen Spector was going after the NFL for his relationship to Comcast and their beef with the NFL Network. I am glad when we have two wars and a financial crisis, politicians can focus on sports.

The Lions NEED Cheerleaders. Call it a stimulus package (hee hee) to hire some big time lady lions fans to get the fans pumped for year 52 of our rebuilding plan. Put a calender order in for me too.

DetFan1979 said...

Nubs -- we'll have to beg Jreffy, and see if he and his awesome photography and documentary skills are going again this year. Either way, if anyone is going and could snag some pictures and do a short write-up, it would be awesome to do again! You can catch the link to Jreffy's piece last year at the very bottom of the blog page. (after all the current stories)

My Brother in law is getting married at Disney World in December, so my vacation time is pretty much used. (for good cause -- taking the little pink lions down there for a week since we'll be there anyways. Talk about fun!!)

As for cheerleaders... conceptually, I'm for it. But having three daughters, the older they get the more I begin to change my mind...

However, the Lionesses would certainly please the football gods and help the Lions gain the edge in luck...

nubs said...

I'm not asking for the semi-stripper cheerleaders like in "The Replacements". You can even make it collegiate to add legitamacy by sprinkling in the guys who throw the girls in the air. THAT would be an NFL first, and would keep my wife from bitching at me dropping the popcorn while watching the twirling girls.

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