With the 2010 draft in the books, the UDFA signed and everyone heading off to rookie camp it is time again for the Lions Congregation! While some of the panel members were not so thrilled with particular members (*cough* J. Best Tony? *cough*) the congregation agrees that the team as a whole is better after the draft, and are feeling good about where the team is headed.
Two Questions from the Congregation Mailbox this week, followed by a general Congregation Question. (Do you have a question or topic for the Lions congregation? Whether it’s who our favorite player of all time is, best game experience, or how we really feel about the Linebacking unit email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org !)
This Week’s Panel:
1. From Scott M: My question is about the defensive line. Mayhew and Schwartz have always talked about wanting to get bigger and stronger on the line. And that they wanted a line like Minn, with two big tackles in the middle to stop the run and push the pocket backwards They drafted Sammie Lee Hill (330 + lbs) last year to back up Grady Jackson (345+ lbs), who is now cut from the team. After trading for Corey Williams (320 lbs), we are paying him to start, but not at nose tackle where Sammie will be starting. So my question is, why did we draft Suh who is only 300 lbs, when it seems we should have been drafting a 330-340+ lb DT to backup/compete with Hill. Now that they drafted Suh, what does our starting D Line look like?
Ty: First, here’s my extremely long (pre-draft) post on the Lions’ defensive line, and my understanding of its concepts and philosophies.
The idea, basically, is that Hill, Williams, and Suh will rotate as the situation calls for it. Hill and Williams, Hill and Suh, Williams and Suh. Hill is a run-stuffer, not a penetrator. Williams and Suh are penetrating pass rushers–but both are big and strong enough to play the run pretty well. All three will see a “starter’s” level of snaps, and all three will be able to concentrate on what they’re best at. Also, don’t be surprised if you see Suh play a little end in short-yardage situations.
Steve: Obviously, talent and character played a major part in the Lions decision-making, during the draft weekend. So, even with Sammie Lee Hilland Corey Williams, and backups like Andre Fluellen, Joe and Landon Cohen, Ndamukong Suh’s immense talent and impeccable character made it impossible for the Lions to pass on him.
Another idea to consider is that the Lions value depth and talent along their front four, even if that means adding a player who doesn’t necessarily fit the profile of the team’s stated organizational plans for the position. In other words, even if Suh doesn’t set the world on fire immediately, the Lions defensive line is much better with his presence, than without him.
Defensive lines are formed more out of a rotation, rather than players being etched into starting and reserve roles. Regardless if Suh, Williams or Hill are nominallly starters, or not, they will play and serve pivotal roles on what hopes to be an improved Lions defense next season.
NetRat: You said it yourself, “bigger and stronger”… Well, Suh may not be bigger, but he is most definitely stronger. He is versatile enough he can play some plays at DE and he can play either DT spot. He will be the starter by game 1. Corey Williams was good once upon a time, but will he be good now? That is not certain. Sammie Hill was okay last year, but he was not dominating. He may become that, but he isn’t there yet. Both Gunther and Schwartz like to rotate the DTs (and DEs and DBs) to keep them fresh and keep up a constant attack on the opponent. For that, you need more then 2 starters. As for who will be called the “starters” and who will make the roster and contribute, well that’s up to the players to win the jobs available. To help me keep track as things change, I keep a depth chart http://www.thenetrat.com/depthchart.html
Al: Compared to 2009, the defensive line is going to look pretty damn good. Oh, you’d like something more in-depth?
Suh may be a little undersized (though I have a hard time thinking a 300+ lb man being considered undersized, which shows you how crazy big NFL players are today) but I’m positive the Lions will bulk him up some. There will be a limit, as the Lions want Suh to keep his speed. And that’s a big reason Suh was considered the prize prospect in the draft, his speed. It was always the first thing mentioned in any evaluation of his skills, his rare combination of both speed and strength.
Suh may be one of those once in a decade type of lineman. You just don’t pass up those kind of players. The Lions apparently agreed.
As to what the starting defensive line will look like, you can expect Williams and Suh in the middle, with Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Averil manning the ends. Hill will get plenty of time in the tackle rotation as the run pluggeralong with the Cohens, Joe and Landon, as part of the mix. Jared Devriesand Jason Hunter should be the primary backups as part of the end rotation. It’s make it or break it time for , who is another of Matt Millen’s picks who has never lived up to his 3rd round status.
Overall, the defensive line is vastly improved (on paper) over last season. Hell, the line is vastly improved compared to the last decade.
Blades: Great question here! The reason I like this question is because I found myself wondering the same thing and after doing some research I came up with two answers. The first is that Mayhew and Schwartz always said they would draft the best player available and not only was Suh the best player available, he was the best player in the draft. Secondly, if you look closely at player. He did a great job as a rookie but there were plenty of times he would miss assignments or get pushed off the line. (see the Green Bay game) Williams on the other hand, is an established player who suffered from injury last season. He was franchised by the Packers a few years ago meaning he obviously has some talent. However, he’s had a couple ”so so” years. By drafting Suh, you’re going to see him and Williams start probably with Hill rotating in. With the style of Gunther’s defense, the DT’s need to be active and play 100% all the time. The fact the Lions have three good (with the potential to be great) DT’s, it allows for who ever is in the game to be fresh at all times. There is no excuse to getting tired, there is no excuse not to give it 100% at all times and there is no excuse why these three shouldn’t cause havoc on offenses for the next five years., he still has a ways to go before he proves himself as a real good
*Depth is also KEY in the NFL and the Lions haven’t had any depth at any postion for the last five years. I love the fact they have depth now at one of the most importand positions on the football field*
DetFan1979: I have 8 words to answer this one: Depth, Talent, Depth, Talent, Depth, Talent, Depth, Talent. It seems at times that as fans we are obsessed with who is “starting”, and someone who isn’t “starting” is wasted. In actually looking at games, the best teams use their roster to its fullest. Schwartz (along with many other NFL coaches) has alwys been a huge believer in a heavy defensive line rotation. It takes a lot of energy to burst off the line, fend off a couple of Olinemen and/or TE’s, RB’s, FB’s — some of them coming at you with a head of steam from 5 – 10 yards back — play in and play out while still penetrating the backfield to stop the run, all while leaping up to attempt to block passes.
Defensive Tackle Ain’t easy. Add in having to anticipate what the offense is doing (run/pass) and work to keep the LB clean on plays while trying to stop plays and there really are no “every down” defensive tackles. In order to keep them fresh you HAVE to rotate. This means that not only do the “starters” need to have talent - so do the “backups”. Last season Sammie Hill was a marginal NFL caliber starting defensive tackle. After that was…ummm…yeah. Hence the reason that the Lions were beyond awful into double-facepalm territory (to use one of Al’s favorites) in run defense AND pass defense last season. The Lions will have Williams, Suh, and Hill in rotation for rest and also to take advantage of certain down/distance situations. They will keep 1 or 2 more Defensive Tackles, or maybe a tweener (DE/DT) + 1 DT. No more than 9 – 10 guys will be kept on the Dline. At defensive tackle, at least, the Lions have found strength going from one starter to 3 — and not just names on a list, but 3 starters who can go all out, every play and know a breather will be coming — but that the pressure on the opposing offense won’t let up.
2. From Will K: Last year the DL was awful, but the additions in free agency and trades should really improve the DL. With the addition of Suh, the DL could go from one of the worst position groups last year to one of the best in 2010. My question to the Lions Congregation is this: Given the changes that have been made to the Lions roster so far in the off-season, what do you think are the strongest and weakest position groups?
Ty: Great question. Defensive line is a great place to start, because there’s both quality and depth. However, with the left end situation still unresolved (Avril, Hunter, and DeVries will all figure heavily), I can’t say the DL is the strongest position on the roster. You could make a good solid argument for nearly any offensive position, but I’m going to take a bold stance on this, and say quarterback. Matthew Stafford, I believe, is a franchise quarterback, and if he takes the kind of step forward I believe he will, he’ll be one of the best QBs in the NFC this season. Behind him is a solid veteran, , with a lifetime positive winning percentage as a starter, and an excellent career TD/INT ratio (23/11). Hill also is a veteran of Scott Linehan’s system, and is young enough to still have plenty in the tank. is the perfect kind of developmental, change-of-pace QB you want at a #3 when you have an entrenched starter and veteran caretaker–though, going into a contract year, he needs to prove he’ll be worth re-signing.
Steve: The Lions strongest position groups are the receivers, tight ends, linebackers and the defensive front four. They are also a lot more talented at running back, with the addition of high-ceiling, yet unproven first round draft pick, Jahvid Best.
Only time will tell if Matthew Stafford will emerge as a reliable, productive talent, and whether the addition of Shaun Hill, heaven forbid that he is actually called upon to play, will make the Lions quarterbacks a team strength, or not.
The Lions offensive line (Rob Sims) and secondary (Amari Spievey, Jonathan Wade, and Chris Houston), even if the Lions have attempted to address them, likely will remain the weakest and most worthy of concern among fans.
NetRat: The Lions are adding talent, real talent, one player at a time. Last year there was Delmas, Levy and to a certain extent Hill. This year there appears to be even more added. How they work out and how they work together is yet to be determined. While Delmas is certainly looking like a game changer type safety, who will play the other safety spot adequately? All the cornerbacks are somewhat questionable, so that has the potential to be the weakest. The Linebackers got a tiny bit thinner with the Sims trade, but I don’t disagree with the trade. Now the other LBs need to step up. It’s possible the LBs could be the weakest position group if they do not. The strongest group is probably the DTs, but even that remains to be verified. Can they all step up? Perhaps, if they do, this could be a very good year. However, I think the Lions are still a DE, a LB, a Safety, and probably a CB away from having a playoff caliber defense.
Al: The draft went a long way in fixing one of the weakest position groups, running back, with the addition of Jahvid Best. So as things currently stand, the defensive backfield, and specifically cornerback, remains the Lions weakest link. The Lions blew out the majority of last season’s corners, for good reason. They couldn’t play.
There was some help in the draft. But when a 3rd round pick out of Iowa,Amari Spievey, is being immediately plugged in as a starter by NFL “experts,” you have a positional depth chart with major issues. Off season pickups like Chris Houston (via a trade for a 5th round selection) andJonathan Wade (signed as a free agent) will help, but they were available for pocket change for a reason. Fixing a long broken cornerback position has started, but it will take time…which is something NFL coaches don’t have the luxury of getting from fans and ownership.
Good thing for the Lions the best pass defense is often a good pass rush from your defensive line, which, amazingly enough, should be a position group of strength. But a position in even better shape is on the offensive side of the ball, tight end.
Brandon Pettigrew is a Pro Bowl level talent who was just scratching the surface of that talent when his season ended with a knee injury. Will Helleris a very solid backup, though he’s more of a blocker than receiver. And the recent addition of Tony Scheffler, a true playmaker who knows how to find the end zone, puts the position over the top. The Lions will be running lots of 2 tight end sets, as there’s too much talent there to keep on the sidelines.
Blades: Strongest- DL (see answer 1)
TE- I love the depth here. You’re going to see alot of two WR sets with Nate and CJ on the outside. This is Linehan’s bread and butter and don’t be surprised if Pets and Tony Schef each get 500 yards receiving this year.
LB- I know, I know..”How is LB considered a strength???” Well, hear me out. The guy no one is talking about is Jordan Dizon. Sure he’s been pretty much written off by Lions fans but watching him in the last four or five games last year he was one of our best players. He’s already an above average back up and if he continues to develop, don’t be surprised to see him start on the weak side. I also won’t be surprised if they go out and sign a veteran LB before training camp which will only strengthen the position. Think about it, with Follet, Levy, Peterson, Dizon and a player to be named later, that’s a darn good LB corp.
Weakest- Secondary-I think this is going to be an area of concern all season like it’s been for the last few years. Sure Chris Houston is ok, hopefully Spivey can come through, hopefully can find his game again. But in all honesty, I think the Lions are going see ALOT of passes thrown at them. Expect teams to pass, pass and pass some more against us.
WR- I know people will disagree with this but Bryant Johnson. When he wants to play, he’s darn good. Hopefully Timmy Toone is as good as advertised otherwise it could be another long year for Calvin.plays, at most, eight games a year and is not the answer. I still like
DetFan1979: I’m tempted to say defensive line. I’m also tempted to say quarterback. The defensive tackle situation is at least as good as any team could hope for it to be. But, with Defensive end unsettled and aging at both spots (DeVries and KVB are your starters right now Lions fans) and young guys behind them who haven’t yet stepped up. Quarterback looks good with Stafford starting, Hill at backup and Stanton at #3. Still, I wouldn’t call it the strongest unit as Stafford has a lot of growing pains to go through yet and Stanton has one more season to make some kind of dent or the Lions will be bringing in a new developmental QB.
RB came to mind, and with the addition of Best, it actually looks quite solid even with Kevin Smith’s injury. Smith is more of a workhorse type back, as is Maurice Morris. Felton is a bruising short yardage back (who I hope to see get more carries this season in that role.) With the addition of Best they finally have a home-run threat that has to be accounted for. Once Smith is back, you have a very strong versatile stable of backs — all of whom are good enough catching passes out of the backfield to kill in the passing game as well. Still, this position is a close second.
Strongest is the TE position — Pettigrew was on his way to setting rookie TE records before he got injured. Once back, the Lions now have the dual blocking-catching threat of Pettigrew, the blocking specialist with decent hands in Heller, and the pass-catching expert Scheffler in the slot and over the middle of the field who can take it to the house and must be accounted for. Look for a LOT of two TE sets this season.
Weakest by far is the secondary. Your tentative starters are Chris Houston(acquired for a 5th round pick) who has lots of potential, but hasn’t put it all together on the field yet. The other side is Amari Spievey, a 3rd round draft chice out of Iowa. Delmas is at one safety spot, but with Simpson out due to microfracture surgery, the other starter is the seemingly injured forever Daniel Bullocks at this point. Behind the starters? Lets not get started… Thank goodness for the improved defensive line, because an improved pass rush should help cover some of the glaring weaknesses in the Lions secondary which will be mediocre at best. Can’t fix everything in one ifseason, or even two, right?
3. Which Undrafted Free Agent(s) do you feel have the best shot to make the team, or even to camp?
Ty: Matt Clapp, the FB from Oklahoma. I think the Lions are happy with, but he’s better suited to the Kleinsasser-y H-back role in this offense. They don’t have a meathead fullback yet, and one is absolutely needed if Jahvid Best is going to be a three-down back in this power-running offense.
Steve: In my opinion, CB Aaron Berry, DB Randy Phillips, and LB Ryan Stamper, as players who could compete in personnel groups that represent a position of need, stand a chance of competing for a roster spot.
In all likelihood, none of them will make the Lions 53-man roster.
NetRat: Many if not most of them could make camp. To make the team, look at (or make your own) my depth charthttp://www.thenetrat.com/depthchart.html and see who it is that each would have to beat out to make the final roster. I think the punt / kick returner spot is still wide open. I think wide receiver is pretty open. I think that other then the DLine, all the defense has possible openings for a guy who proves too good to cut. It’s now ALL up to them.
Al: I’m going to cheat a little, and say it’ll be a former Follett-like headhunters on special teams, and that’s where I believe Campbell will make his NFL mark. draft pick who was just re-signed as a free agent, . Since he was drafted as a safety out of Army couple of years ago, Campbell has bulked up to linebacker size. As the Lions are making noises about possibly starting on the outside, there’s a need at the position. There’s also a need for more
If I were to bet on one kid to make it through rookie camp and then full blown training camp, it’d be Campbell. It’ll be nothing compared to what he’s already been through as a member of the armed services.
Blades: I haven’t had time to examine all the free agents as deep as I’d like too so I’m going to take a pass on this question so I don’t give wrong or bad information. However, I do know about Aaron Berry, the CB out of Pitts and this guy is good. I’ve watched him play on numerous occasions and was really surpirsed he wasn’t drafted. He is real good at man to manand isn’t afraid to hit people. I think he has a great chance to make the team and be a good player down the road. The only downside is he needs to mature.
DetFan1979: Lets start by looking at who was at the recent rookie Mini-camp:
Ryan Stamper, LB, Florida
Aaron Berry, CB, Pitt
Jessie Hester, WR, USF
Randy Phillips, S, Miami
Mike Moore, WR, Georgia
Rob Calloway, DT, Saginaw
Matt Clapp, FB, Oklahoma
Sam Scroggins, LS, W. Virginia St.
Richard Dickson, TE, LSU
John Jacobs, LB, Saginaw (Tryout)
Mike Hicks, OL, UConn (Tryout)
Chima Ihekowaba, DE, Wilfrid Laurier (Tryout)
Aaron Higdon, RB, Charleston (Tryout)
You can also add in Caleb Campbell, LB, Army who will essentially be and UDFA rookie. Ihekowaba has a shot at DE (the only tryout I’m thinking makes it. Higdon might have a shot), but the practice squad – not the roster. Of the rest, I think special teams will be key. Any of the defensive players could make it. As for specifics, I like what I’ve seen about Berry (CB) and Clapp (FB) and will go out on a limb and say both of them make the final roster. I also think that Stamper has an outside shot of the roster or practice squad. Campbell I’m thinking makes the final roster. Moore or Hester will have to beat our Toone et al at PR and/or KR to have a chance…
The Congregation will be back on Friday again this week. Be sure to email those questions to email@example.com. Thank you once again for stopping by!