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.


Going back to Cali?

Two reports out of California today have Lions offensive coordinator Mike Martz resigning or being fired at season's end and landing at different places on the west coast. The San Diego Tribune reported Martz, a San Diego native, would be the next football coach at UCLA. The Los Angeles Times reported Martz will be the next offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers.

While the Tribune report was proven inaccurate by Rick Neuheisel's hiring, the Times report has some validity considering Martz's agent Bob LaMonte is also the agent for 49ers coach Mike Nolan. A Lions source said Saturday "nothing's going on yet" when asked about Martz's future in Detroit, but coach Rod Marinelli and president Matt Millen will meet Monday to plot the course for 2008. In all likelihood, that includes life without Martz.

Receivers coach Kippy Brown could replace Martz and keep some continuity in the offense, but I'd at least explore a candidate like Cam Cameron, who's expected to be fired after one bad season in Miami but transformed San Diego into the NFL's highest-scoring offense last year.

This is an important offseason for the Lions, who have holes to fill defensively at linebacker, cornerback and defensive end (depending on Shaun Rogers' future, maybe tackle, too), and offensively at right tackle. As well as he's played recently, Sunday is likely Damien Woody's last game as a Lion. Weight continues to be an issue with him — he lost 40 pounds last offseason, then gained 16 back earlier this year — and there's reason to suspect his play will deteriorate again once a new contract is in hand.


Going bowling

Sunday's Lions-Packers game won't be much of a looker. The Lions are out of the playoffs, the Packers have the No. 2 seed wrapped up and weather could be a factor. Still, there's plenty of football to watch over the next week if you're a Lions fan. It's bowl season, after all, and that means the draft is right around the corner.

Here's four names and games the Lions might be interested in so you can adjust your viewing schedule:

OT Sam Baker, USC (Rose Bowl, 5 p.m. Jan. 1): The Trojans are loaded with potential Lions. Linebackers Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing and Keith Rivers are all possible first-rounders, and defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis would be perfect for Rod Marinelli if he fell out of the top 10. But Baker is the guy to watch. He's a dominant left tackle who might be a mid-first steal after injuries impacted his senior season.

LB Dan Connor, Penn State (Alamo Bowl, 8 p.m. Saturday): His teammate junior Sean Lee might be a better pro, but Connor is the typical tough, play-making linebacker you'd expect to find at Penn State. He led the Big Ten with 136 tackles this year, and could start immediately at the middle position. Keep an eye on cornerback Justin King, too, as a possible second-rounder.

CB Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State (BCS title game, 8 p.m. Jan. 7): Linebacker James Laurinaitis will be long gone by the time the Lions are on the clock, but Jenkins is the type of physical corner who'd start immediately in the Cover 2. Also watch Kirk Barton, who could be the answer at right tackle if the Lions don't nab someone like Baker or Boise State's Ryan Clady in the first round.

RB Jonathan Stewart, Oregon (Sun Bowl, 2 p.m. Monday): Don't laugh. Kevin Jones' injury history (season-enders the last two years) and contract situation (he'll be a free agent after next season) means the Lions are in the market for a running back. Stewart is the type of productive, skilled back who might be available early in Round 2. Oregon's opponent, South Florida, has another potential Lion in cornerback Mike Jenkins.

For good measure — and since you'll be watching the Michigan and Michigan State games anyway — also keep an eye on Boston College left tackle Gosder Cherilus and Florida defensive end Derrick Harvey. Cherilus has made 50 straight starts for the Eagles and is a big reason why quarterback Matt Ryan threw for 4,000 yards. Like Barton, he'd be a nice addition in the second round. (The Lions will take a lineman somewhere early in the draft.) Harvey might be the best pure pass rusher available. The Lions probably can't afford to wait and develop him, especially since they took Ikaika Alama-Francis in the second round last year, but pressing the quarterback is crucial to their defensive success so Harvey merits consideration.


Lucas the X-factor

Drew Neitzel and Raymar Morgan are Michigan State's best players, Goran Suton may be its most talented, but freshman point guard Kalin Lucas is the X-factor who holds the keys to the Final Four.

Lucas was brilliant in MSU's 78-72 win over Texas Saturday, a victory that leaves the Spartans a Big Ten title away from a No. 1 seed at Ford Field. He scored a career-high 18 points on 8-of-18 shooting and made several clutch baskets, including an amazing twisting layup between two defenders in the paint.

For the season, Lucas is averaging just 8.1 points and 4.0 assists per game, but his importance goes far beyond numbers. He's the jet that flies MSU's fast break, a better defender than anyone could have thought as a freshman, and his shot has shown remarkable improvement in his month-and-a-half as a Spartan.

Lucas told me last week he's taking about 500 extra shots a day trying to perfect his form. He's also gained confidence since hitting a big 3-pointer late in MSU's 66-61 win over Bradley, though he's still just 3-of-17 from distance on the season.

"I'm trying to be consistent," he said. "Just trying to flick my wrist a little more and it's coming along great."

For Michigan State's sake, let's hope it continues. The Spartans are headed for a lull in their schedule. They don't play another ranked team until Indiana in mid February. By that time they could be 23-1 and ranked No. 1. Even if they're not the best team in the country, it'd be tough to argue otherwise then.


Martz still head-coaching material

The Lions parted ways with defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson a day after the season ended last year. While the same fate could befall offensive coordinator Mike Martz this year — Lions coach Rod Marinelli didn't want to discuss any potential coaching changes after practice Friday — Martz remains a strong candidate for a head-coaching job elsewhere.

The Lions have underperformed offensively this year, and though Martz deserves at least some of the blame for that, he still is recognized as one of the game's top tacticians. His playcalling can be maddening at times — eight rushes against Arizona, seven at Minnesota and nine last week in San Diego — but his overall body of work remains strong. He won a Super Bowl as offensive coordinator in St. Louis, and some will chalk his lack of success as a Lion up to being handicapped by a bad organization.

Martz has hurdles to overcome for sure. His abrasive personality led to a sour end with the Rams. But he could emerge as a viable candidate to replace Bobby Petrino in Atlanta and for potential openings in Baltimore, San Francisco and with the New York Giants. In all of those situations, he'd have a young quarterback to work with or a high first-round pick to mold as his own.

Martz declined to discuss his future two weeks ago. "That's something I don't want to get into," he said. And a person close to him told me yesterday that Martz has no intention of stepping down at season's end. With one year left on his contract, it's certainly possible he remains a Lion, though a mutual parting of ways — especially if Martz returns to the head-coaching ranks — would seem to benefit all.

One another coaching note to watch. According to the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun, Lions receivers coach Kippy Brown is believed to be a leading candidate to replace David Cutcliffe as University of Tennessee offensive coordinator. The move would make sense for Brown, a Tennessee native who previously coached receivers at the school and could be out of a job in Detroit if Martz does indeed leave at the end of the year.


Eye towards '08

The charade is over. The Lions were officially eliminated from playoff contention with Minnesota's 20-13 win over Chicago Monday night. The Vikings (8-6) host the Redskins (7-7) this week, and the Lions (6-8) cannot pass whoever wins in the standings. That means it's time to start looking towards the future.

Chances are, the Lions will field a dramatically different team next year. Defensively, Dewayne White, Cory Redding and Ernie Sims are the only guaranteed starters in the front seven, while Gerald Alexander and Daniel Bullocks should anchor the secondary at safety. Beyond that, Boss Bailey will be a free agent, Kalimba Edwards likely will be released, Shaun Rogers' future is cloudy and Detroit's cornerback situation is in disrepair. There are too many holes to count, and that's not including the offensive side of the ball (where right tackle and running back need upgrades).

The first and most important order of business is determining what to do with Rogers. The overweight defensive tackle remains one of the best pure talents on the team, but the Lions can't live with him taking another half season off. He's due $4.25 million next year, and likely won't fetch much in a trade considering his bad knees, spotty production and previous drug suspension. The Lions almost certainly will shop Rogers, but it'd be better for their immediate future if they could get him in a weight-loss clinic and coax one more season from his out-of-shape bones.

That would allow them to target an impact free agent at another position, with their two most pressing needs being cornerback (New England's Asante Samuel, Seattle's Marcus Trufant and Oakland's Nnamdi Asomugha all could hit the market) and pass rusher (can Baltimore's Terrell Suggs be an every-down end?). In the draft, the Lions almost certainly will have another top-15 pick. While that won't net them a Jake Long or James Laurinaitis (assuming he comes out), they should be able to land starters at linebacker and offensive tackle in the first two rounds.

Of course, next year's schedule includes nine games against potential playoff teams (Minnesota and Green Bay twice each, plus Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Tennessee, New Orleans and Tampa), so all the upgrades in the world might not prevent an eighth straight losing season.


Should Woody have been a RT sooner?

As well as the Lions' offensive line has played the last two weeks, it's a wonder Damien Woody wasn't tried at right tackle sooner. While that may end up costing the Lions (6-7) a playoff spot — if they beat the Giants or Cardinals, they're in the wild-card driver's seat heading into Sunday's game at San Diego — offensive coordinator Mike Martz said it's not that easy.

"That's a hard deal to do," Martz said. "You just don't make that transition. You just don't do that. That's like saying, 'OK, you're a linebacker, we're going to play you at free safety today.' It's that big of a difference, so it's hard."

Martz said Woody has excelled at tackle after spending his entire NFL career at guard and center because of his natural athletic ability, something that was stifled at times as an interior lineman.

"It's just a different world inside," Martz said. "It's a real fast and violent game inside and the more stout you are and the more physical — he's all those things. But what he can't demonstrate inside is his quick feet and his athleticism. And outside, boy it really shows up."


MSU chasing No. 1 seed

Michigan State capped off its biggest week of the young college basketball season Saturday with a 68-61 win over No. 20 BYU. The Spartans are now 8-1, ranked in the top-10, and should be favorites in every game they play for the next two months. That doesn't mean they'll win them all, of course. Texas, perhaps the nation's hottest team, visits The Palace in two weeks, and January includes tricky home dates with Ohio State and Illinois.

But it's not unreasonable to expect MSU to go undefeated until it visits Indiana for an ESPN Gameday game Feb. 16. In fact, looking at the remaining schedule — and barring injuries — there's no reason MSU can't finish the regular season somewhere in the 27-4 neighborhood, which should be good enough for a No. 1 NCAA tournament seed at Ford Field.

The Spartans aren't one of the top four teams now. North Carolina, Texas, Kansas, Memphis and Duke are all playing a shade better. They may not even be at the end of the year. But a four-loss season (or something of that nature) will help shape the perception of a program as annually competitive as MSU. Tack on a Big Ten championship (it's either MSU or Indiana) and at least one win the Big Ten tournament, and the Spartans have a resume built for March.

Kalimba, Boss to sit

As expected, Kalimba Edwards will not play today. Rookie Ikaika Alama-Francis will see plenty of work at both defensive end spots and maybe even some tackle in place of Edwards, who may have played his last game as a Lion. The team wants to see what it has in Alama-Francis over the next month before venturing into free-agency, where it needs to address the defensive line.

Boss Bailey also is out today after he woke up sick Sunday morning with flu-like symptoms. Alex Lewis, who has played well on special teams most of the season, will start in Bailey's place.


Alama-Francis up; Kalimba down?

Lions coach Rod Marinelli said rookie defensive end Ikaika Alama-Francis will play this week for the first time since Sept. 30. A second-round pick out of Hawaii, Alama-Francis is healthy after missing the last three games with a pulled hamstring.

He should play plenty over the next four weeks as the Lions try to determine what sort of contributor he'll be next year. The team has three or four positions it desperately needs to address this offseason: Right tackle, linebacker, cornerback and maybe defensive end. If Alama-Francis proves a capable pass rusher — and by all accounts he's made big strides in practice — scratch one need off the list.

Marinelli said Alama-Francis is among his top seven linemen this week and he'll decide Saturday whether to dress seven or eight. The most likely candidate to sit is Kalimba Edwards, who's disappointed all year and could be a salary-cap casualty come June. With Dewayne White and Jared DeVries starting at end and four tackles likely up, there's a good chance Edwards and his three sacks could be a healthy scratch.

As poorly as he's played the last four weeks, there's no reason to sit Shaun Rogers Sunday. He's woefully out of shape, but the Lions (6-6) are still in the playoff hunt and if Rogers has one big game left in him it's bound to come against the Cowboys, his home-state team. Alama-Francis has worked everywhere on the line in practice, including nosetackle, so it's possible Rogers could be benched later this season. But for now, keeping him — and Alama-Francis — up gives the Lions their best chance to win.


Martz, Kalimba and a tackle

The Lions aren't out of the playoff hunt yet, though it's unrealistic to expect this reeling team to win more than one game the rest of the year. There are reasons to keep watching however, including these storylines that will shape the offseason:

- Will Mike Martz return as offensive coordinator? Head coach Rod Marinelli has defended Martz's playcalling on numerous occasions, but it's clear something isn't working. Jon Kitna gets beat up every game, the offensive line and running backs want to run more, the veteran receivers were peeved at their underuse last week, and Calvin Johnson was nowhere to be found in the gameplan again Sunday. One school of thought says this offense gets better the longer you're in it and with core players like Kevin Jones and Roy Williams nearing free agency and Kitna closing in on a point of diminishing returns it'd be foolish to blow it up now. Another school says the offense has been this season's biggest disappointment.

- Will Kalimba Edwards be back for a seventh season? A chronic underachiever, Edwards has three years left on the $20-million deal he signed in 2006. He hasn't started the last two games, and makes a lot of money for someone who's contributed six sacks over the last two seasons. Of course, the Lions also have to beef up their shoddy secondary and add a linebacker who can tackle (Boss Bailey will likely find a new home as a free agent). Spending big money on a defensive end a year after you drafted Ikaika Alama-Francis in the second round may be too much to ask.

- What's the rebuilding plan on the offensive line? Edwin Mulitalo has been a solid addition at left guard, Dominic Raiola is entrenched at center, and for better or worse Jeff Backus is your left tackle. But the Lions must do something about the right side of their line. There'll be a handful of free-agent options available (not including the soon-to-be-departed George Foster and Damien Woody), but the most logical place to look will be the draft. The Lions haven't spent a top-three-round pick on a lineman since taking Backus and Raiola in 2001. Michigan's Jake Long will surely be off the board by the time they pick in April, but USC's Sam Baker and Boise State junior Ryan Clady are potential options.

Sunday best

Lots of little things on my mind today, so I'll get right to it:

First, I picked the Lions to win today against Minnesota, though I've been going back and forth on my pick all week. After the Thanksgiving loss to the Packers I thought they were cooked. There were a lot of dejected faces in the locker room. By Monday though, the frowns were gone, replaced by a sense of "We're lucky to be here. Let's take advantage of this." The NFC is decidedly mediocre (every team chasing the Lions lost last week) and Detroit remains in the playoff driver's seat despite a three-game losing streak. If the Lions win today, I think they back their way into the playoffs, beating Kansas City at home then Green Bay at Lambeau when the Packers, with nothing to play for, rest their starters.

Second, had to file my final AP top 25 ballot this morning and I put Ohio State one, followed by: Oklahoma, Georgia, LSU, Virginia Tech and USC. I gave Oklahoma the nod at No. 2 because of how well it played against Missouri and I can somewhat forgive its loss last month to Texas Tech when it played without its starting quarterback for three quarters. Either Georgia or LSU would also be a worthy BCS opponent in my mind, it's just too bad we don't have a playoff.

Finally, how Michigan lost to Harvard in basketball Saturday I don't know. I didn't see the game. I'm in Minneapolis right now. But Harvard is 4-4 with wins and in the Ivy League. I know the Crimson was fueled by playing for coach Tommy Amaker, who was fired by Michigan after last season, but at 3-5 Michigan is just a bad basketball team right now. John Beilein is a good coach, but he's got lots of work to do with that program. Unfortunately for the Big Ten, the league is down again this year. Michigan State and Indiana are top-notch programs that will battle for the title, but the league will be lucky to get more than two other teams in the tournament. Illinois should get there, but Ohio State and Wisconsin aren't playing well right now. Purdue is about the only other bubble team I see, a testament to Matt Painter's coaching acumen.