While I was having offensive line discussions with Bryan Douglass (Managing Editor at Fanball, who also analyzes offensive lines, and writes about the Broncos), the topic of course turned to the Lions’ current offensive line, and the starters that they have in place. Here is what he had to say about the Lions’ offensive line and their players, including some remarks on Mayhew/Schwartz and the Lions’ current (and past) front office:
Backus has a great season… it is impossible for local fans to keep perspective. This is true in any true football town. Denver, Pittsburgh, Chicago, New Orleans, Green Bay, Dallas… all of the truly passionate fans of those teams will never fall in the grey. That’s why a guy like Backus gets criticism. It’s not enough to be good because anything less than great just isn’t enough.
Consider the situation. The guy is 32-years-old entering his ninth season in the league and it seems like he’s endured a new coach and new system in nearly each and every one of those year. EVERY YEAR that team is changing, and it’s changing significantly. If there is anything an offensive lineman craves it is stability and a lack of change. Detroithas been nothing but change, and it’s been bad change. Which coach do you want to point at in the last nine years as a worthy leader of men: Mornhinweg, Mariucci, Marinelli, toss in a bit of Jauron, Schwartz?
That’s nothing compared to the turnstile approach at quarterback. Three different quarterbacks over the last three years coming off Kitna (the only bright spot on the resume), Joey Harrington, and Charlie Batch.
With that said, the Lions threw Washington castoff Jon Jansen next to him this season (he’s carding an age of 33). They put another quarterback behind the line who had never thrown a professional pass coming into the season. He was learning yet another system… and there are signs of progress for the Detroit Lions. Four of the top five rushers on the team averaged 4.1 yards per carry or more (two going over five) while the leader of the effort, Kevin Smith, averaged just 3.4 but did so on a stunted number of carries (217). They held the opposition to a respectable 24 sacks against Stafford (Oakland surrendered 33 against JaMarcus Russell and he has over 100 fewer pass attempts). Are the 43 overall sacks surrendered good? Of course not, but (a) eight other teams gave up more (for Detroit, this is improvement), and (b) it is hard to gauge how horrible Daunte Culpepper was for this numbers (14 sacks on 157 attempts).
Backus was, in modest review, fine… but he’s also reaching an age when tackles (especially on the left side) can find sudden and significant fall. Ask those fans in Dallas about Flozell Adams and they’ll tell you all about it.
If I am a fan of the Lions I would be resting on these three facts as inspiration for hope…
1) We finally have management and coaching that views the offensive line as a necessity, not a luxury. This crew was ignored for so long… this year they added Jansen as well as Melvin Fowler. The move to relese Ephraim Salaam (worthless, there just in case) for Maurice Williams (released by Jacksonville) was sneaky (and wise). They took the smart approach, loading up with savvy vets at a discount to get things moving in the right direction. That certainly indicates it is a concern for this new regime, unlike the others that came before.
2) Gosder Cherilus stepped up his game this season and he appears to be putting forth an effort that indicates reason for hope. The kid is a great talent with tons of upside, and if my memory serves he was noted as one of the top men on the scene in training camp and he continued to play well throughout. It’s not the biggest step in the world, but there is no denying it was a step.
3) The team is so poor it cannot afford to fire/pay this coach if the team sucks and that’s as much of a blessing as the team has since… since… I guess since Barry Sanders. The team is typically expected to suck these days, so it would seem Schwartz is in for the long haul and a long-haul answer is what they need. The offense should stabilize and the work of the offensive line should improve as a result, especially if they continue to count it as a top priority (unlike previous regimes).
If those same things can be stated as fact at this time next year, the Lions should be moving in the right direction.
If Raiola has one thing, it is age and experience… but as we mentioned with Backus, he is reaching an age when you have to start worrying and watching for the inevitable downturn.
I would add this, for what it is worth (was thinking about this on my commute to the office this morning… pondering your team versus my own and how I would likely admit a bit of envy in how Detroit will go about rebuilding versus Denver). We know Ndamukong Suh is going to St. Louis. You can wrap that in a bag now, the Rams are off the clock. I would suggest that any number of players could be viewed as viable candidates at #2 and that should relieve public pressure on Detroit to go a certain way. Of course, your town is likely to pick a favorite coming towards draft day but I would expect those voices to be split… and I tend to believe that environment could give Detroit, for the first time in a long time, a prime opportunity to trade down, amass picks, and stock up.
That may not happen (most teams are afraid to spend money these days) but at least you have the option and market to work in that direction if you desire. There are some great talents available via free agency if you want to spend some money there… if this new management teamis going to improve, in any way, shape, or form, over the last, they NEED to be better in talent evaluation and in spending money. Millen was absolutely atrocious at this and, in the end, that’s as lethal as any fault in professional football. The Lions have been at or near the top of the draft, they have wasted a TON of money in those draft picks, and that needs to be rectified. This may be the year that it could happen… and with guys like Bryan Bulaga out of Iowa, Anthony Davisout of Rutgers, and even Vladimir Ducasse out of the always-inspiring UMass-Amherst (that name in Mel Kiper’s Big Board and I thought I had inadvertently gone to the NHL page) moving BACK in the expected order of the draft this season, it is fair to suggest that your team could address these particular needs at a reasonable cost if they can find a trade partner.
As you noted, Eugene is rumored as the big FA target in the Big D… The current line isn’t that bad but a simple move like this (the signing of Amano alone would represent a substantial upgrade… but if you do this AND get Peterman healthy, that’s a tremendous move that also improves depth and opens the door for choices on the depth chart behind them), while adding depth via future starters in the Draft (nothing against Backus or Raiola… you just need to get some youth behind them and get them learning now), could make a significant difference in how this offense operates next season.