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.


Lions going national?

The Lions are becoming something of a national story with their 5-2 start. Executive vice president Tom Lewand said Monday FOX has "protected" games against the Giants (Nov. 18) and Chargers (Dec. 16), assuring they'll be Sunday afternoon affairs. FOX and CBS, the NFL's primary broadcast partners, get to lock in at least one game each week before others are made available to NBC under the league's flexible scheduling guidelines.

One game that could potentially shift to primetime is the Lions' Dec. 30 trip to Green Bay. The Packers draw national interest, the game could be dripping with playoff implications, and there's always a chance it could be Brett Favre's last game (though it doesn't look like it the way he's playing). As it stands, the Chiefs-Jets game is penciled in that Sunday night. New York is 1-7 and basically out of playoff contention in the AFC, while KC (4-3) should have a better read on its postseason future after games against Green Bay, Denver and Indianapolis the next three weeks.

Don't hold your breath waiting for a decision. Game time can be changed up to six days before kickoff.


MSU the favorite at Big Ten media day

Quick report from Big Ten basketball media day before I head over to the Lions-Bears game later this afternoon:

Michigan State was picked to win the conference by a poll of 22 media members, with Indiana second and Ohio State third. MSU guard Drew Neitzel also was named preseason Player of the Year. Indiana's D.J. White, Illinois' Shaun Pruitt, Penn State's Geary Claxton and Ohio State's Jamar Butler round out the first team.

Spartan coach Tom Izzo isn't usually one to shy away from expectations — and he certainly isn't this year — but he called Indiana the conference favorite at MSU's media day two weeks ago. Along with White, the Hoosiers return guards Armon Bassett and A.J. Ratliff and have the expected Freshman of the Year in Eric Gordon.

"They got a lot of guys back," Izzo said. "They maybe have one of the only legitimate, proven inside post players that can score in there and he had a heck of a summer on the USA team in White."

With exhibition play tipping off next week, I think we're in for a banner Big Ten season. I have MSU, Indiana, Ohio State, Illinois, Wisconsin and Penn State making the tournament, and Minnesota and Purdue in the NIT. My all-conference team is Neitzel, White, Pruitt, Claxton and Ohio State's David Lighty.


Cason back, more Tatum talk

Not to rehash a blog from last week, but the Lions' decision to resign Aveion Cason Wednesday furthers my point that Tatum Bell should have been traded for whatever second-day pick the Lions could finagle out of some NFL team.

Bell, as everyone knows by now, did not play in last week's win over Tampa, and coach Rod Marinelli confirmed Wednesday there's a chance he could be inactive for this week's game at Chicago. As I reported last week, Bell does not play on any special teams, and Marinelli prefers position flexibility from the backups on his roster. Cason is both a solid return man and decent in coverage. The Bears, of course, have the league's best returner in Devin Hester.

Marinelli said Kevin Jones will once again get the bulk of the carries this week with T.J. Duckett No. 2. If Jones re-injures his left foot, Bell likely would replace him as feature back. Frankly, that's a big if, and I'd rather have the draft pick.


Calvin Johnson starting

It looks like Calvin Johnson will make the first start of his NFL career today against Tampa. Johnson is penciled into the starting lineup, ahead of Mike Furrey. The No. 2 pick in April's draft, Johnson was limited two weeks ago against Washington by a lower back bruise. He has 11 catches for 192 yards and two touchdowns this year.

Also, cornerback Stanley Edwards (groin) and tight end Sean McHugh (hand) are inactive for Sunday's game because of injuries. Nickel back Travis Fisher will start in Edwards' place and Rudy Sylvan, elevated from the practice squad Saturday, gets the nod for his blocking prowess at tight end.

Other inactives are: linebacker Anthony Cannon, offensive linemen Damien Woody and Manny Ramirez, defensive end Ikaika Alama-Francis and newly-signed cornerback Dovonte Edwards.


Tatum should have been traded

Just want to get this on the record before anything happens to change my mind: The Lions should have traded Tatum Bell at Tuesday's deadline.

I know there wasn't a ton of interest in Detroit's now third-string running back, but part of that can be attributed to a lack of shopping/exposure by the Lions. Bell rushed for 1,000 yards in Denver last year and can be a productive back in this league if given the chance. He didn't get that in Detroit and never will. A free agent after the season, he'll sign for more money and more carries elsewhere.

Clearly, Bell, who carried 44 times for 182 yards in the season's first five games, is unhappy with his new role as basically a third-down back (Kevin Jones will make his first start of the season Sunday, and T.J. Duckett is No. 2 in the rotation). He's not the type to cause problems in the locker room, but weighing that risk (he and Jones did trade verbal spars during camp over who should be the starter) with the potential trade payoff (a fourth-round pick?) with the likelihood Jones gets injured again (not something I dismiss considering the severity of his foot injury), the right thing would have been to give Bell a fresh start elsewhere.

Running back is commodity position in the NFL, and the Lions are well stocked numbers-wise at the position. Had they moved Bell, Aveion Cason would have slid back into the rotation at No. 3. Bell is clearly the better runner, but Lions coach Rod Marinelli always talks about position flexibility and getting the most out of every player on your roster. Well, Cason contributes on special teams and Bell said he won't be playing anything other than tailback Sunday.

Jones has run hard since his return and gave the Lions a boost in the second half against Washington. But Bell is still averaging 4.1 yards per carry and did nothing to lose his job. The Lions erred by not getting more out of him — on the field or in a trade — when they had the opportunity.


In defense of Backus

Jeff Backus has caught some undeserved flack in recent weeks. Admittedly, the Lions' left tackle has struggled since suffering a rib injury in warmups before the Philadelphia game. He gave up two sacks against the Eagles before leaving in the third quarter, and allowed a key safety in the Lions' last game Oct. 7 at Washington.

But tight end Courtney Anderson was more detrimental to the Washington loss than Backus. Inexplicably, Anderson, who took over after Sean McHugh broke his hand in the second quarter, was left one-on-one with Redskin defensive ends several times during the game, and he committed two false-start penalties in the second half.

Offensive coordinator Mike Martz said Backus "was playing at a Pro Bowl level" before he got hurt. I don't know if I'd go that far — really, who's Pro Bowl caliber after two games? — but he has received an unfair share of criticism for the Lions' recent struggles.

Backus said he's back at close to 100 percent, and the results should be evident this week against Tampa Bay (4-2).

"He's a prideful guy and a competitive guy and I think that he does not want to feel like, because he's nicked, that it's going to affect his performance," Martz said. "It's hard for him, but he's back and we feel real good about where he is right now."


Lions-Bucs tickets remain

For the second time this season, the NFL has given the Lions a 24-hour extension to avoid a blackout.

As of 1 p.m. Thursday, several hundred tickets remain available for Sunday's game against Tampa. If the Lions do not sell out by 1 p.m. Friday the game will not be available on local television for the first time since they moved to Ford Field.

The Lions (3-2) sold out their home opener against Minnesota after being granted a similar 24-window. Tampa is 4-2.

Tickets can be purchaed at, the Ford Field box office, all TicketMaster outlets or by phone at 248-645-6666.


Neitzel, MSU hoops

Michigan State's basketball media day is Tuesday, so I figured I'd get the hoops talk cranking early.

Drew Neitzel, coming off an all-Big Ten season, could be poised for an even better 2008. Neitzel averaged 18.1 points per game as a junior, and spent the summer traveling the globe. He took part in the Steve Nash and LeBron James basketball academies, played in the Pan-Am Games, took a few weeks off to recharge in August, and still enters the season in some of the best shape of his life. Neitzel told me Friday he weighs 182 pounds, about 10 more than he started last year at and 14 more than he weighed at the end of last season.

"This is the heaviest I've ever been. Ever," he said. "And I feel good."

Neitzel said he packed on the weight in part by changing his diet to include a more balanced breakfast. Instead of the doughnut or bowl of cereal he used to eat, he now scarfs down some combination of eggs, pancakes, bacon and toast every morning. He's no Kevin Durant in the weight room, either, bench pressing 185 pounds (the standard NBA combine lift) "14 or 15 times."

Talked to F.O.B. (Friend of the Blog) and former Spartan Thomas Kelley last week, too, and Kelley had high praise for MSU's three freshmen, Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers and Chris Allen. Kelley said Lucas is a jet and better finisher than some thought (he'll see plenty of time at the point as MSU looks to get its transition game going), Allen is already one of the team's top shooters, and Summers is the sleeper of the group.

"He's like Mo Pete to me," said Kelley, who played summer league ball with and against all three freshmen. "I don't even think he understands how much game he's got."


Lions in heat?

One last slam on the Lions' 34-3 loss to Washington as we head into the bye week comes from Redskins tight end Chris Cooley. On his weekly radio appearance on "Elliot in the Morning" the day after the game, Cooley said heat was a contributing factor to the Redskins' win (game time temperature was 88 degrees) and a "dead" performance by the Lions in the second half.

"They didn't even care," Cooley said. "It seemed like they didn't care what happened. Sometimes that goes on in a game and when you're tired fatigue kind of takes over."

Asked if he thought the Lions' heads weren't into playing the second half, Cooley said "definitely."

"For example, we come out,, we're trying to run the ball and they're real physical, they're playing solid, it's tough to get yards, everything's high speed. And then a couple plays in the second half and I get into blocking a guy and they pretty much just stop and let me block them. So it's like, 'Well, thanks buddy. I'll just hold you here, you just stay here and we'll run away from you.'"

Watching the game live, I must say I didn't get that impression on the field. Still, that's not the sort of damning thing you expect to hear about a team that's preached mental toughness from the start of training camp.


Pepperoni, please

Roy Williams hadn't heard of Pizza Hut president Scott Bergren's offer to deliver pizzas when a reporter asked him about it Friday, but the Lions' all-pro receiver said he'd gladly serve up a few pies if they could work out the details.

"I'd be up for it," he said. "Anything for me, man."

Williams made headlines last week when he told WDFN-AM (1130) that he didn't tip his pizza delivery guy. On his radio spot this week, Williams said he pulled up next to a Pizza Hut driver at a stoplight and asked what would make an appropriate tip.

"I roll my window down and I say, 'Pizza dude, how much am I supposed to tip you?'" Williams told the radio station. "He said, 'Three, four, maybe five dollars.' And I said, 'Thank you." So now ... I'm going to start tipping the pizza man."

In a fax sent to Williams' agent Thursday night, Pizza Hut challenged Williams to "work as a delivery driver for Pizza Hut for just one day in Detroit, and we'll forgive all your previous tipping transgressions." All the tips from Williams' work would be donated to the World Food Programme as part of World Hunger Relief Week, which starts Oct. 14.

The Lions are on bye next week and Williams, like most of his teammates, will head out of town once practice breaks. Still, Pizza Hut spokesperson Chris Fuller said the company would "love to have (Williams) as a delivery driver" once his schedule permits.

"We thought let's give the guy a break," Fuller said. "He's doing the right thing (by tipping) now."


Beckham back, Middleton back down

For the second time in four weeks, the Lions have cut Brandon Middleton and resigned him to the practice squad. Middleton, the Lions' No. 6 receiver, returned three kicks and forced a special-teams fumble in the Lions' 37-27 win over the Bears Sunday. He was promoted from the practice squad last Saturday, when it became apparent Calvin Johnson would not play.

Johnson continues to rehab from a bruised back and should return this weekend in Washington. Cornerback Tony Beckham was re-signed Tuesday, also for the second time this year.

"It's been a little frustrating but when you look at it, last year around this time I was substitute teaching, I was out of the NFL," Middleton said earlier this week. "You go out there and you want to stick, but then you look at it and I'm fortunate. Just keep doing what I'm doing, just keep pushing and everything will work itself out."

With Middleton back on the practice squad, Brian Calhoun should once again handle kick return duties for the Lions. Once Devale Ellis is healthy enough to come off the physically unable to perform list (as soon as after next week's bye) and T.J. Duckett is fully recovered from his high ankle sprain, the Lions will have to make a decision on Calhoun's future.