Blogs > Lions Lowdown

One thing you can count on with the Detroit Lions is that they are never, ever boring. Follow the latest news including injuries, roster moves and more here daily from Oakland Press beat writer Paula Pasche. Plus you'll find regular commentary about the team.


No BTN for WOW subscribers

While all the focus has been on the Big Ten Network's fight with Comcast, local WOW cable subscribers should know they won't be getting the network to start the season, either.

"Discussions are still ongoing," WOW senior vice-president and general manager Mark Dineen said Tuesday. "The root of the issue is we are attempting to negotiate a deal that's fair and equitable to all customers that would allow it in our digital tier."

Much like Comcast, which wants to place the channel in a pay-for package of sports programming, WOW is resisting the network's attempts to include the channel as part of its basic programming. BTN has come off its price of $1.10 per household throughout the Midwest, but for good business reasons the network won't yet budge on its level of carriage.

Discussion between BTN and WOW seem more amicable than those with Comcast, and placing the channel on a digital tier is more acceptable than forcing customers to pay additional for a sports package. But if you're a WOW subscriber the only way you'll be able to see Michigan's season-opener against Appalachian State or Michigan State's Week 2 game with Bowling Green is to head to your local watering hole or change providers.


KJ's PUP decision looming

Lions running back Kevin Jones said he'll visit Dr. Robert Anderson in Charlotte Thursday to get another progress report on his injured left foot. Anderson's diagnosis should help determine whether Jones, who underwent Lisfranc surgery last December, can play in the Lions' season opener Sept. 9 at Oakland or if he'll spend the first six weeks on the physically unable to perform list.

"My body's telling me to go, get out there and play," Jones said before practice Tuesday. "But it's not my decision, really. It's up to the doctors and the guys upstairs."

Jones had been running and cutting for weeks, but has not worked out in pads or in any contact situations. The Lions have struggled running the ball in his absence this preseason, gaining just 192 yards in three games. De facto starter Tatum Bell has 64 yards rushing on 15 carries, an average of 4.3 per.

Also Tuesday, the Lions announced their first round of cuts, the most notable of which was offensive lineman Rex Tucker.


Rogers out

Shaun Rogers will not make his preseason debut for the Lions tonight. Rogers is in street clothes — a white T-shirt and black shorts — on the sidelines as the Lions go through their pre-game stretches at the RCA Dome. He came off the PUP list earlier this week but is still recovering from knee surgery and woefully out of shape.

Two other injured Lions, quarterback Jon Kitna and receiver Mike Furrey, remain game-time decisions. Kitna threw some during warm-ups, in full uniform but without a helmet. He has been suffering from back spasms, while Furrey is dealing with a sore knee.

I know the third preseason game is the most important, but if I'm in charge I'd sit Kitna and let J.T. O'Sullivan play the first three quarters. Kitna is the one player the Lions can't afford to lose this year. It's pointless to risk losing him in a meaningless August game.


Drummond released, other Lions news

Three quick Lions notes from practice today. First, the team released kick returner Eddie Drummond. A Pro Bowler in 2004, Drummond's release was not a huge surprise since he was limited as a receiver and Lions coach Rod Marinelli has said all preseason he wants flexibility out of the final 10 players on his roster. In two exhibition games, Drummond had no catches and was averaging a modest 6.5 yards on punt returns and 19 yards on kick returns. Troy Walters, Aveion Cason and Kevin Kasper are candidates to handles returns now that Drummond's gone.

Second, quarterback Jon Kitna did not practice again today, but he said he expects to play Saturday against Indianapolis. Kitna has missed the last 2 1/2 days with back spasms. He threw on the side for about five minutes today and came away pain free.

Finally, linebacker Paris Lenon hobbled off the field after banging knees in an 11-on-11 drill with safety Kenoy Kennedy. The injury looked serious at first as Lenon lay on the ground wriggling in pain. As underappreciated as the former mail sorter is, the Lions cannot afford to lose Lenon, their starting middle linebacker, for any period of time. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry said Lenon was fine after practice and will play Saturday.


Backup battle

Finally had a chance to talk with the two candidates for Michigan State's backup quarterback job today, Connor Dixon and Nick Foles, and it really is too soon to say who'll hold the position this year. It's always been expected that Dixon's eventual position would be somewhere other than quarterback. He said both this staff and the previous one have discussed that possibility with him, but for now he still hopes to make it under center. His passing acumen has improved since last year — he's making better reads and has shown more arm strength this fall - and part of that may be due to better health. Dixon said he missed more than a month of practice last year with mononucleosis last year and suffered from a stomach ulcer after the season.

As for Foles, he was quite engaging in his first media appearance as a Spartan. The big Texan said he's completely healthy after offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right (throwing) shoulder by the renown Dr. James Andrews. Last year, Foles estimates he played 12 games with the injury. He could barely throw at times because of the pain, threw sidearm at others to compensate, and said anytime he threw more than 50 yards his shoulder would "explode".

"It was pretty much falling off," he said.

While Dixon adds a rushing element to the position, the smart money is on Foles as Brian Hoyer's successor. Even if he redshirts this year (along with fellow freshman Kirk Cousins), it's likely he takes over in 2009 after Hoyer, who's had some interception issues this spring, is off to the NFL.

One other note from practice today. Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi was asked what his biggest concern was a week and a half before the opener against UAB.

"Don't have any," Narduzzi said. "I could sit here and worry about everything but I'll give you a concern after the UAB game. Right now I feel pretty good. We're right where we need to be."


The Big 10: Defensive linemen

Back to the best-of lists, this time with our focus on the top defensive linemen in the conference. Last year's bumper crop included early NFL draft picks Alan Branch and Anthony Spencer. There's no one quite as good this year, but there's plenty of underclassmen pushing for pub.

1. Ken Iwebema, Iowa: Iwebema had a disappointing 2006, when he was troubled by a shoulder injury that eventually required surgery. So far this fall reports have been positive, and that's good news for Iowa. He's the best pass rusher in the conference when healthy - he had 10 tackles for loss and seven sacks as a sophomore - and is pretty good on special teams, too. He blocked two kicks in a game against Illinois two years ago.

2. Vernon Gholston, Ohio State: A former linebacker, Gholston made tremendous strides last season after sitting out all of 2005. His 8 1/2 sacks are second most among returning players, but with Quinn Pitcock and David Patterson gone at defensive tackle Gholston will draw more double teams this year.

3. Terrance Taylor, Michigan: Finally some love for the defensive tackle position. Sure, Taylor's a little undersized at 6-foot, but he moves his 310-pound body with such force and leverage he's a future NFL noseguard. Flat out engulfs the run.

4. Matt Shaughnessy, Wisconsin: Shaughnessy was dominant as a freshman before injuring his knee against Iowa. His numbers were a little disappointing last year (just four of his eight sacks came in conference games), but he and Nick Hayden are the best end-tackle tandem in the Big Ten.

5. Lawrence Wilson, Ohio State: Going by last year's numbers, Wilson doesn't belong anywhere near the top five, but he's the most physically gifted player on this list. The 6-foot-6, 270-pounder should have a breakout 2007 across from Gholston. I'll go out on a limb and say he leads the conference in sacks.


August hoops fix

Had a chance to talk with DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright the other day. Wainwright coached the U19 national team in the World Championships in Serbia last month. The team overachieved in winning a silver medal, especially when you consider eligible players like Greg Oden, Mike Conley and Kevin Durant were already off earning NBA money and one of its best tryout players, Kansas' Darrell Arthur, missed the tourney with a stress fracture.

Michigan State's Raymar Morgan was among those who did play. He started five of the nine games, and though his numbers weren't spectacular (9.2 ppg, 4.3 rpg) he more than held his own while playing out of position at times because of Team USA's comparative lack of size.

"These guys are always worried about how they're going to be viewed, 'I need to be a three man,' " Wainwright said. "I told him, I said, 'Ray, all these (scouts) over here that are just watching from the NBA, they know, and if they don't I'm telling them.' Here's a kid that, he's giving up stuff, he'll go in and guard, rebound. And he said, 'Coach, I'll do whatever.' "

Arkansas guard Patrick Beverly, a recruit Michigan just missed out under Tommy Amaker, was among the most impressive players in Serbia. He averaged 13 points and made a team-high 31 steals. Under-the-radar North Carolina big man Deon Thompson (10 ppg, a team-high 6.1 rpg) looks primed for a breakout 2007-08, even with Tyler Hansbrough still in Chapel Hill, and incoming Kansas State freshman Michael Beasley (12.3 ppg) is a lottery pick for sure. He averaged 12.3 points in 17 minutes a game but routinely found himself in foul trouble.

Games, it should be noted, were played in less than optimal conditions: A gym without air-conditioning and with a decidedly anti-American crowd.


The Big 10: Top 10

Had to file my first AP top 25 vote this morning — the poll won't be released until Aug. 18 — and my No. 1 isn't much different than everyone else's: USC. The Trojans are so jam-packed with talent it's hard to see them not winning the title this year. In fact, I had them No. 1 going into last season and believe they would have won the national championship if not for that late slip against UCLA.

The rest of my top 10 is filled with very good teams. Michigan is the class of the Big Ten, I expect LSU or Florida to survive the brutal SEC, either Oklahoma or Texas could go undefeated in the Big 12, and if West Virginia doesn't escape Hostess-ville with at least 11 wins I don't know the Mountaineers ever will.

We'll get back to the rest of my best of Big Ten lists later this week, but for now here's my top 10 teams in the nation. The rest of my poll will run next week in the paper and as always the Associated Press puts all votes on line.

1. USC
2. Michigan
3. West Virginia
4. LSU
5. Texas
6. Florida
7. Virginia Tech
8. Oklahoma
9. Florida State
10. Louisville


Calvin and Drew

The two big stories out of Allen Park today deal with the Lions' first two draft picks, Calvin Johnson and Drew Stanton.

Johnson signed a six-year deal early Friday morning worth about $27 million guaranteed. The No. 2 overall pick out of Georgia Tech took part in the Lions' morning workout and got immediate reps with the first team.

"I kind of expected it," Johnson said of his No. 1 reps. "They brought me out here for that purpose. They didn't pick me as high as they did for no reason, so I expected to be going in there with the ones cause that's what I did with the OTAs, so I expected to pick up the same spot."

While Johnson was the toast of camp after an eight-day holdout, Stanton had his season ended prematurely when he was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury. The Lions' second-round pick out of Michigan State, Stanton had surgery to clean up a previous ACL reconstruction earlier this week. He was only expected to miss a month, but the emergence of NFL Europa quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan — who continues to run second-string ahead of Dan Orlovsky — forced the Lions' hand.

Rather than lose O'Sullivan or Orlovsky, Detroit decided to keep both veterans as backups for Jon Kitna. The move makes many question why the Lions, with pressing concerns elsewhere, would spend an early second-round pick on a quarterback who now won't be ready to play until 2009 at the earliest. Per NFL rules, Stanton cannot practice with the team this year but is allowed in classroom sessions. He'll need at least a year of seasoning, probably two, before he's ready to run the team.

Stanton said his goals for the year haven't changed, though he's disappointed he won't see any field time.

"This is going to be a really instrumental year for me to get an understanding of playing this position at this level," he said.


Cardinal sin

Michigan running back Mike Hart made waves at Big Ten media day Wednesday, saying he has "no respect" for Stanford coach and former Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh after Harbaugh made headlines in May for criticizing his alma matter's admission policies.
"Honestly, that's a guy I have no respect for," Hart said. "You graduate from the University of Michigan and you're going to talk about your school like that, a great institution that we have, to say that we're not true student-athletes? It's coming from a guy that, I don't know, maybe he wants to coach here and he's mad he didn't get a job here. But I have no respect for him."
Harbaugh, who left San Diego for Stanford in December, told the San Francisco Examiner that many schools with good academic reputations make exceptions for borderline students who are promising athletes.
"Michigan is a good school and I got a good education there," he told the paper. "But the athletic department has ways to get borderline guys in, and when they're in, they steer them to courses in sports communications. They're adulated when they're playing, but when they get out, the people who adulated them won't hire them."
Hart said he found it amusing, in light of Harbaugh’s comments, that Stanford accepted former Michigan quarterback Jason Forcier as a transfer earlier this year.
"He obviously wants guys like us at his school," Hart said. "He's mad because he can't get them.
"I don't know if he was doing it from a recruiting standpoint, if he wants to recruit more guys to come to Stanford. I don't know what his take on things are, but you can say what he said and not talk about Michigan. That would have been the smart thing to do, but obviously he doesn't think."
Check The Oakland Press tomorrow for more coverage from media day.