Sweaty Men Endeavors

The sports blog with the slightly gay name

Monday, April 30, 2007

Help Us, Calvin - You're Our (and Millen's) Only Hope

I don't think anyone jumped off the Ambassador Bridge in response to the Lions' 2007 draft. At least I haven't heard any such reports. But I wouldn't be surprised if anyone got onto I-96, pulled the car over, and leaned on the railing a bit to peer down to the Detroit River. I'm not saying I did on Sunday morning, but if I had, this is what would've been going through my mind:

For approximately six hours, from 12:30 p.m. EST to 6:30 p.m., the Lions draft looked A-OK to me. Matt Millen did exactly the right thing; he knew he had the one player (and draft slot) other teams wanted, and took advantage of that to try and get the best trade offer he could. Maybe he asked for too much in return, and teams like Tampa Bay and Atlanta called his bluff.

But when the Lions end up with the guy everyone says is the best player in the draft, the one with the most athletic gifts and fewest question marks, it's difficult to say that they lost out. (Even when I still wonder if maybe they should've taken the best offensive tackle on the board.) It looked like it was going to be a good day.

It's what Millen did the rest of the day, however, that I have a problem with. As the first round reached its end, and it was apparent that several linebackers would likely reach the Lions when their second-round pick at #34 came up. Paul Posluzsny, probably the top-rated linebacker after Patrick Willis would be there. So would Michigan's David Harris and Hampton's Justin Durant. And if they really were serious about getting a defensive end, as most of the rumors about Gaines Adams seemed to imply, LaMarr Woodley would be there, too. Millen would continue rebuilding the defense, especially the faster, younger front seven that he and Sgt. Marinelli envisioned. Things were looking good.

But then, as Mr. Big Ten Hardball and I were on the phone, wondering how Alan Branch slid out of the first round like he was covered in butter, the graphic on ESPN's screen changed from the Lions' logo to the Buffalo Bills'. What was that? What the hell happened? And just as we were trying to figure out what the Lions could've possibly gotten in return to justify such a move, the Bills selected Posluszny. Apparently, the Lions thought they were set at outside linebacker across from Ernie Sims, with Paris Lenon, Alex Lewis, or Boss Bailey.

That third-round pick better have been worth it, because two offensive tackles and a cornerback were taken off the board in the subsequent eight picks. But the middle linebackers were still there. So was Woodley. And then the ESPN cameras showed Drew Stanton on the phone, next to Drew Rosenhaus, and you just knew what was going to happen. Seconds later, he's putting on a Honolulu Blue hat and crying the tears of a kid who was just told he's not only going to play in the NFL, but for his hometown team.

I'll admit that I was okay with this pick at first. I knew the Lions were interested in Stanton, I thought it would be kind of cool to see them pick up a local guy, and I hoped that they'd consider him if he was available in the second or third round. Mr. BTH, however, was nearly apoplectic on the phone when he saw that Millen passed up Harris. And after the sweetness and charm of the hometown story passed, I began to agree with him.

Stanton might be a good NFL quarterback. And the Lions likely will have a need for one after Jon Kitna's contract runs out (or maybe even before that). But on ESPN, they were calling him a project. Steve Young, in particular, was questioning his throwing mechanics. Ron Jaworski thought Mike Martz was just the coach to mentor him over the next two years. The underlying subtext to all of that noise, however, is that the guy isn't going to play right now. And with a second-round pick, the Lions needed someone who will be a starter next season. Stanton isn't that guy.

I liked the principle of taking a quarterback to groom during Kitna's remaining two years in Detroit. But the second round wasn't the place to take him. Well, you might say, then the Lions would risk losing a guy they liked. So be it. What happened to building that defense? Millen showed once again that he seems to think all of his high draft picks are luxury picks. That was fine when Calvin Johnson was on the board. The best player didn't fill the immediate need. But when the best players available can help you out immediately, you have to take them.

I wasn't as upset as Brian about passing up Harris, because I don't know if he's the right kind of middle linebacker for the Tampa Two defense. Believe me, I love Harris and have enjoyed the hell out of his last three years at Michigan. The guy was the Wolverines' run defense. But if you need your middle linebacker to drop straight back into coverage on most pass plays, I'm not sure Harris is your man. Durant, however, looked like he had the speed (if not the ideal height) for that kind of role. If they were interested in London Fletcher as a free agent, I don't understand why they wouldn't want Durant for that same role. Again, the Lions must think their current roster has that covered.

The only thing that makes sense to me is that the Lions think they can sign Shelton Quarles, who was recently released by Tampa Bay, as a free agent for that middle linebacker spot. Or the Sarge and staff still think that another year of coaching will somehow get through to one of their present linebackers and they'll be able to fill that role. If that's the case, I really hope they get Quarles.

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  • At April 30, 2007 11:18 PM, Anonymous Evan said…

    I think, more than likely, that Marinelli and Martz are -- unlike most of us fans -- looking at this as "year two."

    Millen's prior record has left so many gaping holes, it's insane. The picks that were his and his alone never panned out, and the picks that were his plus Mooch's all turned out to be lazy asses as well.

    So why draft Stanton? Probably because Martz thinks that his track record with Green, Warner, Bulger, Fitzpatrick, and Kitna (who, let's not forget, had some pretty impressive numbers before his shaky line got 60% injured) shows he can turn a guy like Stanton, who has reasonably accuracy, mobility, and distance, into a great QB.

    Why draft those other guys? Because they'll hustle and work their ass off learning how to play. In many respects, that makes them less risky than taking a LaMarr Woodley, whose work ethic was questioned EVERY year up until his senior year and who disappeared in a couple big games. Are they going to be starters for years to come? Hell if I know. But the coaches seem to think that they'll be competent and tough, and that's more than we've had in the past.

    So who the hell knows?

    This thing could be awful. It could end up being a joke. But there are a lot of cuts that will be made between now and training camp, and if the Lions sign a linebacker and a corner, they'll be better off than they were last year, to be honest. That's a big if, but so what? Even if their defense sucks this year, it seems likely that the offense will put up decent numbers again and that they'll have competitive players to build on and to attract free agents.

    At least, I hope.

    The bottom line to me is that it's simply impossible to tell how a lot of these guys are going to pan out, and when you have needs at literally EVERY position, you take the guys who your coaches feel can help the team in the next 2-3 years, because no number of 2nd round picks are going to make up for the fact that most of your starters sucked.

    The only attitude I can take is, "Wait and see."

  • At May 01, 2007 12:32 AM, Anonymous Sparty On! said…

    From Peter King:

    "Happiest kid in the draft? Drew Stanton grew up wearing a Barry Sanders jersey in a grassy suburb of Detroit, and he lives to revive the Lions. 'I can't begin to tell you how happy I am right now,' he said."

  • At May 01, 2007 9:09 AM, Anonymous Evan said…

    I read an interesting, albeit hopeful, take on the team this morning. In the Free Press, Nicholas Cotsonika broke down each area of the team, and I certainly concur with each of his assessments.

    In short, the Lions have improved or stayed the same among the starters in all areas except defensive back, where they'll obviously miss Dre Bly's playmaking. That said, I think Bullocks will make up for some of that because he'll be better than Holt was.

    Anyhow, other than a lack of depth at QB and a downgrade at CB, the players are almost certainly better overall than they were last year, and the percentage of hard-working guys seems to be much higher.

    The coaching change on defense will be most telling: Can Barry get the defense starting with the same energy and potency the offense showed early in the season before all the injuries?

  • At May 02, 2007 11:14 PM, Blogger Ian C. said…

    Evan, I totally agree with you about this being "year two," and I've tried really hard to look at the Lions through that lens over the past year or so. Unfortunately, as you alluded to, it's damn near impossible, since it was Millen who demolished the team to near-expansion team talent levels.

    I hope I'm not presuming here, but it seems like you're more of a believer in Sgt. Marinelli's ability to "coach 'em up" than I am right now. I was on board with it last season, but only to a point. It became apparent very quickly how much of a talent gap the Lions had to make up. By the end of the season, the Sarge had that same all too familiar look that we've seen on Lions coaches before. And frankly, I think we have yet to see whether or not any of "his guys" can actually play.

    Like you said, we'll have to wait and see. What choice do we have? But my faith's been tested the last couple of years. I'm close to losing it.

  • At May 03, 2007 9:08 PM, Anonymous Evan said…

    Ian, did you catch the article in SI this week about the Lions' draft? The guy from the magazine rated them as a top two draft in the entire NFC and a top 3 draft in all of the NFL.

    There was an interesting series of quotes in there talking about the immediate impact of Johnson on the offense: Apparently, Martz drew up a formation and series of possible plays for the writer right on the spot. It was a 4 reciever set with Williams on one sideline and Johnson on the other, with Furrey and MacDonald also on the field. Because the two middle guys are threats, it guarantees a top tier reciever with good hands and great size to be one on one with a corner -- unless they're going to guarantee a first-down pass over the middle to one of the other two.

    Then Marinelli chipped in with some quotes about how that opens up running lanes, which is perfect for a north-south lane running back like Tatum Bell.

    Maybe it's all hocus pocus.

    But as usual, it's pretty friggin enticing.

  • At May 03, 2007 10:36 PM, Blogger Ian C. said…

    I'll look for that SI article. I definitely want to see those draft ratings. Plus, stuff about receivers and pass routes gets me all flighty inside.


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