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 back to work; Rudi to start

A couple quick post-practice notes as the Lions return from their bye week:

• The Lions have a new starting running back. Rookie Kevin Smith said he was told by running-backs coach Sam Gash that Rudi Johnson will start this Sunday against the Bears. Johnson had a big game against San Francisco, carrying 14 times for 83 yards, but Smith has never fully had a chance to show his wares. He had three carries for 14 yards against the 49ers and never got into a groove in previous weeks as the Lions fell behind big early. "If I do sit and have to watch the rest of the season, oh, I'm not going to be happy. At all. I'm not going to be happy at all," Smith said.

• Found it a bit odd that several players saw deposed president Matt Millen around the Allen Park practice facility Monday. Millen, of course, was fired last week. Apparently, he was still in the building cleaning out his office Monday. Roy Williams said he didn't find that curious, but I can't think of any other company that would fire perhaps its most visible employee and then allow that person to hang around six days later.

• I asked a few players about Rod Marinelli's status as a lame-duck coach, if they think he is (no) and more importantly if he's acting like one (no). Jon Kitna made the best point. "We're all lame ducks unless we start winning games," Kitna said.

• On the injury front, Stephen Peterman (hand) and Travis Fisher (groin) were held out of practice Monday, while Kitna practiced. Peterman, who has four screws in his broken left hand, said he hopes to practice later this week and will try to play with his hand in a club. Drew Stanton said he did little to nothing at practice Monday. Don't expect him to play in place of Kitna this week — and probably not in the next few.


Week 4 NFL picks

A little redemption last week with my first winning record of the year. Probably saved myself from the Matt Millen Memorial chopping block with that record.

No Lions this week, so we'll keep this short. All picks are against the spread and for your entertainment only. Home teams in caps.

Home covers you can't deny
CINCINNATI minus-3 over Cleveland
JACKSONVILLE minus-7 over Houston
NY JETS minus-1 over Arizona
NEW ORLEANS minus-4 1/2 over San Francisco
CAROLINA minus-7 over Atlanta

Home dogs that bite
CHICAGO plus-3 over Philadelphia

Road warriors laying with love
Buffalo minus-8 over ST. LOUIS
San Diego minus-7 1/2 over OAKLAND

Don't need 'em but I'll take 'em
Minnesota plus-3 over TENNESSEE
Green Bay plus-1 1/2 over TAMPA BAY

Points only, please
KANSAS CITY plus-9 1/2 over Denver
Washington plus-10 1/2 over DALLAS
Baltimore plus-5 1/2 over PITTSBURGH (Monday)

Record: 9-7 last week, 20-24-2 overall


Stanton's day as starter coming

I had a column planned for this week taking the unpopular stance (judging by my email, at least) that it's in the Lions' best interest to hold off on anointing Drew Stanton quarterback. It got interrupted by Matt Millen's firing, so I'll present my case here.

Stanton is going to get his chance this season, probably sooner than later, but his professional career right now consists of a month of training camp and two exhibition games. Can he win now in the NFL? Sure, other quarterbacks have done so with less experience. But the fairest thing to do, for him and the team, is to keep Kitna under center when the Lions return from their bye.

Kitna's off to a horrible start and doesn't look in tune with the offense. He's tied for the league lead in interceptions and he has a sprained right knee that might precipitate a move regardless. I don't expect his disposition or success to change much in October, but he still gives the Lions the best chance to win against the Bears.

Stanton hasn't taken an 11-on-11 snap in more than a month because of a sprained right thumb. He said earlier this week his hand was about 90 percent healed, but admitted "it's not quite there yet." To his credit, he spent the bye week in town working with quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler on his passing fundamentals.

Assuming he doesn't aggravate the injury in practice next week, I say elevate Stanton to the No. 2 quarterback spot ahead of Dan Orlovsky and give him a few weeks to work off the rust and maybe take a few late-game snaps as a backup. Thrusting Stanton into the starting lineup now does not give him the best chance to succeed (in the short or long term) and counteracts Marinelli's message of patience and staying the course. That's not to say Marinelli can't and shouldn't make some changes — he should, especially playing Jordon Dizon and some of the young defensive linemen more — but he risks losing Kitna (who he may need again) and other veterans if he demotes the only starter he's known right now.

I don't know if the Lions will get a post-Millen bounce and beat the Bears. It's entirely possible. As new general manager Martin Mayhew pointed out Thursday, "The reality is we have 13 games to play and we're two games out of first place. ... That's not scary to me."

Either way, I see Kitna starting at least three more games, against Chicago next week and road games at Minnesota and Houston after that. If the Lions are 1-5 or worse, then comes the time to play Stanton when they return home to face Washington. He'll invigorate the offense with his feet, add some excitement to an otherwise dull season and finally be ready to take over on his own merits with a real chance to succeed.

Lions Lowdown: More thoughts on Millen


Mayhew "a Millen guy"; Lions focused on Bears

General manager Martin Mayhew and executive vice president Tom Lewand, the new, temporary management team atop the Lions organization, met with beat writers Thursday. Here's some highlights of their session:

• Mayhew, who takes over Millen's duties as the Lions' chief personnel man, did not try to distance himself from his predecessor. "I'm 100 percent a Millen guy," Mayhew said. "But that doesn't mean that Matt and I think the same way about everything, and Matt and I have disagreed about a lot of things. And I think one thing Matt appreciated about me was that we could disagree, we could make a decision and then that was our decision and we just move forward. Matt and I have different viewpoints on a lot of things about football, but I'm a Millen guy because Matt is one of my guys."

Mayhew said he and Millen have known each other for 18 years. They won a Super Bowl together as players with the Redskins.

• Both Mayhew and Lewand, who's handling the day-to-day business operations of the franchise, disputed public perception that Rod Marinelli is a lame-duck coach. "Rod Marinelli is here for a reason and those reasons haven't changed one bit," Lewand said.

• When it comes to playing Drew Stanton, Jordon Dizon and other recent draft picks currently sitting the bench, Mayhew said, "that's a coaching decision how much those guys play. And the objective is to win games."

Lewand said the goal is to win now and the organization's decisions will reflect as much. "Rod's ultimate goal is no different than Martin's and it's no different than mine and it's no different than the Ford's," he said.

• Mayhew said he doesn't "anticipate trading anybody or making any calls or getting any calls" about receiver Roy Williams before the October trade deadline. He also acknowledged he would like the general manager job full-time and supported the job scouts have done in gathering information for the draft. "I think we need to make better decisions," he said.

• Asked what the plan is moving forward, Lewand said, "To beat Chicago."

"This is about beating the Chicago Bears and then going on the road to beat the Minnesota Vikings and then the next game and the next game and the next game," he said. "For everybody — myself, Martin, Rod Marinelli — are all in complete lockstep that we are going to create a culture immediately to support the coaches and players because we have a lot of football to play this year and my time horizon and my expectations are the same as Martin's and they're the same as Rod's. This is a 13-game season for us and we're going to make the most out of it."

Millen's firing a start

One NFL analyst I talked to yesterday summed up most Lions' fans feelings when he said William Clay Ford's firing of Matt Millen was "long overdue."

Millen led the Lions to a 31-84 record in seven-plus seasons as team president, abysmal by any means. I've heard stories in the last two days about decisions that were and weren't his on players, coaches, draft choices, etc. Some I believe, some I chalk up as his people trying to save his reputation after one of the most miserable periods any team has endured in NFL history.

Here's what I do know: The move was necessary for this franchise to move forward. Fans were so fed up with Millen and so enraged by this season's 0-3 start they were on the verge of abandoning the organization completely.

Now, Millen's firing is not a cure-all (as some of Wednesday's celebrators would have you believe). Blame runs deep throughout the organization. But it is at least a scalp of good will, a sign to fans that Ford and his son Bill Ford Jr. are intent on turning their team into a winner.

Chances are that means a complete overhaul this winter of coaches, scouts — everyone. That means Rod Marinelli and his staff likely are approaching their final 13 games with the Lions. Fans may cheer that. Marinelli's not perfect and he and his staff have some gameday and philosophical issues to sort through. But by and large they're a group of good coaches who've been operating one-armed and under a dark cloud for three seasons.

It's always possible Marinelli and Co. save themselves with a determined final three months — look at the NFC North standings; anything is possible — but a new GM cannot come to town without the full authority to put his own people in place or the Lions will continue down their same, woeful path.

A hire is months away. The Lions will take their time and conduct a thorough search. Hopefully, they make the right decision.


Millen fired

I posted my first story on Matt Millen's firing about two hours ago Click Here but now that I've talked to a few people here's some extra filling to flesh it out:

William Clay Ford and Matt Millen spoke earlier this week or over the weekend and then again last night, when Ford made the decision to fire Millen after seven-plus years as team president. Millen is the only casualty. Rod Marinelli and the rest of his staff are here and likely will finish out the season. Tom Lewand will run the day-to-day activities the rest of this year.

Ford's decision was reaffirmed this morning and announced in a staff meeting around 10 a.m. From what I've been told, neither the owner nor his son, Bill Ford Jr., have met with Marinelli yet, though they are expected to talk within the hour.

On one level this could be good for Marinelli and his staff. It allows them to distinguish themselves over the final 13 games without the cloud of Millen hanging over their heads. Players, too, were put on notice that any and all of them could be approaching their final season with the Lions. I'd expect them to play hard over the final 13 weeks.

As for where the Lions go from here, it's way too early to tell. By making the move now, they have three full months to conduct a thorough interview process and find a qualified candidate, one I'd expect to come with much more personnel experience than Millen. Two names to throw out — and these are not off an organization short list, just my own two cents — Eagles general manager Tom Heckert, an Adrian native, and Nick Caserio, the Patriots' director of player of personnel.

Ford Jr. and others in the organization like Marinelli and realize the rebuilding job he had, but that does not mean for sure he'll be back next year. A new GM could very well want his own people in place.

Either way, the scene at the Allen Park practice facility is sort of surreal. A parade of fans has been driving by all morning honking their horns and waving Lions flags as if they've been liberated.

Strahan's comments partly wrong

Fox analyst and former Giant Michael Strahan made some pretty damning comments about the Lions at halftime of Sunday's loss to the 49ers that I think were a little off base.

"You can teach technique, you can teach a guy to catch, you can't teach heart," Strahan said. "They don't want to play. You watch it, they don't want to play."

Here's where I think Strahan's wrong. The Lions still do play hard, especially early, but their effort sometimes appears lacking when a game's outcome is well in hand. It's human nature. And it has more to do with talent than heart.

Here's a comparison to amplify my opinion: I play in a rec basketball league. We have a pretty good team. There's another team in the league that's close to awful. They try hard. They always come out aggressive, play good defense, make a few baskets early. But in the second half, when we're up 20 or 30 points, their defense is less intense, they throw up more bad shots and get back on defense a little slower.

It's not because they don't try hard. They do. They're a generally scrappy bunch. But at the end of the day when the game's over (even if the clock's still ticking) they're resigned to their plight again.

Same goes for the Lions. When Jon Kitna throws a fourth-quarter interception after the Lions squander a late lead, it's almost reflexive that the defense gives up a touchdown. Another loss in the books. When the team falls down three touchdowns early for the third straight game, there's a little less zip in everyone's step. That's not an excuse, but that's the way it is.

Kitna was asked about Strahan's comments Tuesday and while he disagreed he made a very salient point.

"I think to say that a team isn't giving effort, that's an awfully big accusation," he said. "But when you're 0-3 you leave that door open to be scrutinized like that as a football team and that's where we're at so we have to accept all criticism."


Is the end near for Millen?

Not having talked to Bill Ford Jr., Matt Millen or William Clay Ford, the primary parties involved in the day's major sports story, here's my two cents:

Ford Jr. is trying to affect change about an organization he cares deeply about but is no longer involved in the day-to-day operation of. He's never spoken publicly before about Millen's status, at least his desire for Millen to be gone, but that's been the common perception in media circles for some time.

Millen has been an abject failure as team president. The Lions' 31-84 record under his stewardship speaks for itself, though to be fair not everything has been his fault (Joey Harrington, you'll recall, was not his pick).

Do I think Ford Jr.'s comments will matter in the long run? Not really, and here's why. While it's certainly possible Millen survives another December, the Lions are heading down the path of implosion. As in, clean house and start new again. Ford the elder has to see it or risk his franchise becoming the absolute blight of the NFL.

You can argue whether that's good, whether the organization needs some stability in coaches or personnel or systems. But at 0-3, this season is already a disastrous wreck with little hope for a turnaround.

The bye week comes at a welcome time for players to recharge and get away from things, but it is not a cure-all. There are locker-room issues (Jon Kitna and Roy Williams do not appear to have bought into Jim Colletto's offense), personnel issues (the talent on defense isn't getting better with a week off), and fan-revolt issues (can't wait to see how angry and empty Ford Field is for the Chicago game).

The reality is, the Lions stand another early three-touchdown hole against the Bears away from the point of no return, though by finally speaking out it seems Ford Jr. is already there.


Lions-49ers postgame thoughts

Can I take it back? My post from the other day, the one where I wrote that the Lions aren't No.-1-overall-pick bad? Three weeks into the season, three horrible losses and three lifeless starts later, I'd like to change my mind.

Kansas City and St. Louis might be worse. Oakland could have a new coach by daybreak tomorrow. Miami's bad, but it just snapped New England's 21-game regular-season win streak.

The Lions? They'll find a way to win three games this year, NFL teams always do. But there's not a sure thing left on the schedule. Chicago at home in two weeks? Washington? Maybe Thanksgiving against a surprising Tennessee team or Oct. 19 at Houston?

I'm guilty of overestimating the Lions' talent. I didn't think they were world beaters by any means, but I didn't realize just how mediocre the defense is or how bland the offense can be.

Lions coach Rod Marinelli has no concrete answers for what ails his team, publicly at least. Deep down I'm sure he knows how bereft of talent his roster is, but he'll never admit as much. Instead, he's left repeating lines like this one he uttered Sunday: "We've got to make plays. Players and coaches both. We've got to make plays and we're not doing that."

Marinelli promised changes when the Lions return from their bye week, only there aren't a lot of moves he can make. At some point this year, Drew Stanton will take over as quarterback (Jon Kitna sprained a knee Sunday, but I think Stanton's day is still a few weeks away). On defense, Marinelli said the Lions will blitz more.

Truth is, the Lions lack the playmakers up front to be anything other than ordinary. They've forced one turnover and have three sacks through three games, and Sunday against a San Francisco team that ranked last in the NFL in both categories they had one sack and no takeaways.

After the game, receiver Roy Williams did his best to stay positive about what looks like a lost season, but even he didn't sound convinced.

"We got a chance to turn it around," he said. "We're in the NFC, maybe 8-8 will get you in."

A few more post-49ers thoughts to end the night:

• San Francisco quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan was sacked eight times last week. The Lions got to him once. "They moved the pocket, obviously," defensive end Dewayne White said. "And then he didn't look to throw the ball when we did put pressure on him. He took off running, which it's hard to get sacks when he's making decisions like the pocket collapses and I'm gone."

• How bleak are the Lions' hopes now? Just five teams in NFL history have started 0-3 and reached the playoffs. The Bills a decade ago are the last team to do it. The 1995 Lions — they finished 10-6 — also are on the list.

• Jordon Dizon missed Sunday's game with a neck injury, but there's no reason for the Lions to keep him on the bench now. Ryan Nece filled Dizon's spot as the backup middle linebacker against San Fran. He got burned down the middle by Delanie Walker for the 49ers' third touchdown.

• Right guard Stephen Peterman, who fractured his hand in the fourth quarter, on the Lions ugly start: "It sucks, man. It sucks. We start in like March 1, I remember coming back, starting workouts, go up through the whole damn offseason, doing the running, pushing sleds, OTAs, meetings, getting the new offense, feel excited and just now it just sucks because there's so much hard work a lot of guys have put in. Everybody thought it was the right chemistry here and for some reason we're just not winning, and it sucks because we put in the work. I don't know what to say."


Hellos from Martz

Mike Martz, the former Lions offensive coordinator now with San Francisco, just walked out of the locker room and on to the field. His first order of business? Saying hello to center Andy McCollum.

Martz, who coached McCollum in St. Louis, then made his way to the opposite end of the field and through a procession of more former players. He patted quarterback Jon Kitna on his back, slapped five with center Dominic Raiola, took a picture with a random fan, then got hugs and handshakes from Mike Furrey and Brandon Middleton.

As Martz stood at the 30-yard line with his back to the 49ers end zone watching the Lions go through warmups, Lions defensive coordinator Joe Barry walked over and the two exchanged a quick handshake and hug.

Of course, none of that changes how much he wants to beat the Lions.

Following up on my last post, Redding is active today and should start. The injury of note is rookie middle linebacker Jordon Dizon, who is out with the next injury he suffered in last week's loss to Green Bay. Ryan Nece is the No. 2 middle linebacker if anything happens to Paris Lenon today.

Redding looks good

Lions defensive tackle Cory Redding just got done with about a 10-minute pregame workout at San Francisco's Candlestick Park. Defensive-line coach Joe Cullen ran Redding through a series of drills testing his get-off and change-of-direction ability.

Not that you can tell everything from the press box, but Redding's sprained ankle appeared fine. He walked away from the drill without a limp and slapped fives with Lions coach Rod Marinelli, executive vice president Tom Lewand and a couple of teammates on his way to the locker room. I would expect him to start — as he said he would — when lineups are announced in the next hour or so.

Eitehr way, you might see a little bit of Dewayne White at defensive tackle today. White is a good player and the Lions' best pass rusher. By playing him inside on nickel downs, the Lions can get an extra pass rusher like Corey Smith on the field.

Week 3 picks

Not a good week with the picks last week, but like I said from the start these are for your enjoyment only (as in go ahead and laugh at me).

The Lions are 0-2 and a desperate team heading to San Francisco. If you read my last post you know I'm not picking them to win. They couldn't stop Michael Turner two weeks ago and when the game's on the line Sunday they won't be able to stop Frank Gore.

Maybe I'm hedging my bets, but if I was betting man I'd take the  4 1/2 points. As good as Gore is, I don't see the 49ers blowing anyone out.

Onto the rest of my picks (home team in caps):

Home covers you can't deny
• ATLANTA minus-6 over Kansas City
• BUFFALO minus-9 1/2 over Oakland
• NY GIANTS minus-13 over Cincinnati
• WASHINGTON minus-3 over Arizona
• CHICAGO minus-3 over Tampa Bay
• MINNESOTA minus-3 over Carolina
• SEATTLE minus-9 over St. Louis
• PHILADELPHIA minus-3 1/2 over Pittsburgh
• INDIANAPOLIS minus-4 1/2 over Jacksonville
• BALTIMORE minus-3 over Cleveland
• SAN DIEGO minus-8 1/2 over NY Jets (Monday night)

Home dogs who'll bite
• GREEN BAY plus-3 over Dallas

Don't need 'em, but I'll take 'em
• Houston plus-4 1/2 over TENNESSEE

Points only, please
• New Orleans plus-5 1/2 over DENVER
• Miami plus-12 1/2 over NEW ENGLAND

Record: 4-9-2 last week, 11-17-2 overall


Lions need a win - badly

Just landed in San Francisco, had a long flight in a cramped seat to think about Sunday's game and the week that was, and I'm not convinced things are as bleak as they appear.

The Lions were flat out awful in their opener against a team they should have beat. No excuses. But in retrospect, people tell me there was a sense something was wrong before the game. Whether it was a rigidness or general overconfidence I can't put my finger on, but it was gone last week against Green Bay and for a while the Lions actually played well. They stuffed the run early, stumbled into another big-play induced 21-0 hole, then chipped away until suddenly — surprisingly — they led, 25-24.

Then, bang. A big pass busts and they're down two. Get the ball back and Jon Kitna goes turnover crazy, the defense melts and everyone's in a uproar.

Should the Lions have won last week? When you consider the circumstances (quarterback making his first career road start) and comeback (momentum was on their side), absolutely. But at the end of the day the Packers are clearly a better team.

San Francisco is not. I'm not saying the Lions are better — they still have bottom-third of the NFL talent — but there's a reason J.T. O'Sullivan bounced around seven teams before he finally got a chance to start and there's a reason the 49ers lead the NFL in turnovers committed and sacks allowed.

Frank Gore is an excellent back and for me, more than any Mike Martz revenge factor, he's the reason I give the 49ers the edge on their home field. But would anyone really be surprised if the Lions won? (Admittedly, this is the Lions so no one would be surprised at another debacle, either.)

I'll revisit my preseason predictions during the bye next week and I'm sure to downgrade the Lions a few victories, but I don't think we're watching a first-pick-of-the-draft bad team.

What that means for the future remains to be seen, but bottom line is the Lions can take their first step towards salvaging the season with a win Sunday.


Lions Lowdown: Previewing the 49ers


Millen: "We're doing it the right way, that's why I know it'll work."

Lions president Matt Millen spoke with beat reporters at the start of practice Thursday. He voiced support for coach Rod Marinelli, said the foundation for success has been laid, and said he believes that will translate to wins this year. Here's some of the conversation straight from Millen's mouth:

• On fans jumping off the Lions bandwagon: "That's their choice. They're not jumping (the players and coaches)."

• On if he still believes in this team: "Just stay the course. It's a little bump. When you know that you're doing the right things, that you got the right people. When I say doing the right things, like we're practicing the right way, we're approaching it the right way, all the little things. When all that stuff's being done, just stay the course. It's not like you have — you don't have to panic, you don't have to make wholesale changes, you have to do all that stuff. It's all right here.

"I said at the beginning of the season, come on out and I think you'll like what you see. And I think the people who came out, they like what they see because they see discipline. They see the approach is right, they're practicing right. All the little things. Everybody has a different saying. Rod says pound the rock. (Joe) Paterno said take care of the little things, the big things will take care of itself. Al Davis said block, tackle and be right, baby. The successful ones all say the same thing, they say it differently. We're doing it the right way, that's why I know it'll work."

• On what makes him believe this is the right way: "Because I've watched it since they started playing football 80 years ago. It hasn't changed. It's not going to change. There has to be a foundation. The foundation's laid. Now you have to keep on doing what you're doing and then the transfer, take it to the game field. They will."

• On if he sees success coming this year: "Yes, absolutely. And the fact that you asked me that question bothers me because either you're asking it for your paper or you're asking it because you don't see it, and if you don't see it then you're not knowing what you're looking for."

• On how much blame he deserves for the 0-2 start: "Rod stands up there and says, 'It's on me,' it's on me. It's me. That's fine. I take full (responsibility). Personally. The guys who are out here are here for a reason. It's not happenstance. I believe in the guy I hired, I believe in the staff we put together and I believe in the players we have on the field. And if you want to point the finger at any of that stuff, that's on me. I'm fine with that because I believe in what's out there. Nothing else needs to be said."

• On what Lions owner William Clay Ford makes of the start: "You'd have to ask him that question, but my take on it is he's — He has high expectations. When you have high expectations you also get frustrated, too. There's answers you want, too. So ... He asks all the right questions, I'll just leave it at that."

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Cherilus to start, other Wednesday notes

George Foster's days as the Lions' starting right tackle are over.

Lions coach Rod Marinelli would not comment on any lineup changes after practice Wednesday, but Foster said "it's obvious what's going on to the eye" — that rookie first-round pick Gosder Cherilus will start Sunday's game at San Francisco.

"I'm not super-duper surprised," Foster said. "Most teams, 95 percent of the teams are not going to sit a first-rounder for the whole year. I was just hoping to hold off way longer than this."

Foster said he and Cherilus split reps at right tackle in practice Wednesday, with Cherilus going first in the rotation. Cherilus also replaced Foster for the second half of last week's loss to the Packers. Foster allowed two sacks in that game (and has given up three for the year), while Cherilus played penalty- and sack-free football.

"I think I've been playing good enough for us to win football games," Foster said. "That's all I can say. To me football is cut and dry, either you win the game or you lose the game. If you think you can make changes to win the game, so be it. But win the game."

To be clear, no one has told Foster or Cherilus a change has been made. Foster, who speaks highly of Cherilus' skills, said he'll continue to prepare like a starter and continue to compete for the job, he just hopes someone in the organization explains the move eventually.

"As a man, you want somebody to come tell you, this is what we're doing, this is why we're doing it," said Foster, who was called into Mike Shanahan's office in Denver the day he lost his starting job two years ago. "Ain't nobody said anything. I heard there were going to be some changes, but it looks like I'm the only change.

A few other notes:

• As was reported Tuesday, Shaun Alexander visited the Lions earlier this week, but don't read too much into that. The Lions aren't in the market for another running back right now, they're just doing what teams always do and keeping up to date with the available running-back inventory in case of injury. Lions coach Rod Marinelli is happy with the play of rookie Kevin Smith so far. If the Lions can ever avoid a 21-0 deficit, Smith might push 100 yards.

• Drew Stanton's right thumb is fine. I'll answer some emails one of these days when I get a minute, but I do want to clarify what I wrote in Monday's blog about Jon Kitna being the quarterback "all season." Marinelli said Monday he doesn't envision a circumstance, as of right now, where he'll change signal callers this year. Fact is, that won't change as long as the Lions retain some semblance of respectability. If this season spirals totally out of control — think 2-10 bad — the Lions would have no choice but to play Drew Stanton at quarterback. At some point they have to see what they have in Stanton, especially if they're faced with another high draft pick next year. Stanton is still viewed within the organization as the quarterback of the future, and the future — regardless if this season is salvaged — could be here as soon as next year.

• J.T. O'Sullivan didn't say anything of note in his conference call with local media Wednesday and players and coaches have been complimentary of his time in Detroit. He's got a quick release, he can throw any pass from any angle, he's heady, blah, blah. Truth is no one but former offensive coordinator Mike Martz thought much of him last year and there was no real chance he'd be back in Detroit, or for that matter, anywhere but San Francisco. To his credit, he's made the most of his opportunity, but the Lions should be licking their lips for Sunday.

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Monday musings

It was a contentious day-after press conference today, not from Rod Marinelli's standpoint but from media members prodding the Lions coach about his team's 0-2 start. Marinelli handled himself well, though I don't expect any of his answers to suffice a frothing fan base. As he has before, Marinelli said his team is doing things right Monday-Saturday, just not carrying that over to Sunday, the only day that matters.

"They perform very well in practice, all the things we're asking them," Marinelli said. "It's now being consistent on gameday. We've got to take it to gameday and we're not doing that. And that falls on me."

Truthfully, that falls on everyone in the organization, from president Matt Millen to Marinelli and his staff to a locker room full of players who, after digging themselves a second straight 21-0 hole, had Sunday's game against Green Bay in hand only to kick it away in a flurry of turnovers (three Jon Kitna interceptions) and one botched defensive play (a Dwight Smith missed tackle).

Marinelli didn't offer any concrete solutions for a fix other than staying the course. Kitna is still the quarterback (and will be all season), Joe Barry is still the defensive coordinator (rightfully so), and there's no "magic and mirrors" in Marinelli's playbook.

"I got great values in terms of what I believe in and it's a major test for me and people are doubting it and criticizing it, good," Marinelli said. "I have to get this team ready to go this week and get them to go. But (are the inconsistencies) hard to swallow? It's a big turkey going down my throat, a couple bones sticking in there. But I got to spit the bones out and move forward."

A few other notes from today:

• Kitna said he was still "bitter (and) mad at" himself over his performance Sunday, but he wasn't apologizing for taking his helmet off on the field as Nick Collins returned his final interception for a touchdown. "I didn't feel like I was going to be a factor in tackling that guy," Kitna said.

• Fine. He was frustrated. Understandable. But that's still not the image you want your starting quarterback to portray. One media member dubbed him Jon Quit-na. For the Lions' sake, that sentiment better not spill over to the locker room.

• Roy Williams had three catches for 48 yards against the Packers, three catches for 47 yards against the Falcons, and said Monday he feels like he's become a role player. "I'm a little ticked off right now because like I say, I feel that if I'm not involved in the game and we lose, I'm (ticked) off," Williams said. "If I'm not involved and we win, hey, great job. I've been like that since I've been here. I just feel like I can make some plays as well. Had a drop, OK, but rebound from that and I can go from there. But three balls a week, that's not OK."

• Williams is frustrated with the new offense. That's compounded by losing, of course, but I don't get the sense he's the only one. "This is the Mike Martz system but not really," Williams said. "But in Mike Martz's system I would have had at least 10 to 12 balls come my way." And, "Martz has the advantage (playing against the Lions this week; he was, of course, the team's offensive coordinator last year). He can manipulate where he wants the ball to go. That's what he did so good last year with the shifting and motion. This year we're wooden Indians. We're just standing there."

• Marinelli did not say who would start at right tackle this weekend against the 49ers, but rookie Gosder Cherilus should get the nod. Marinelli said Cherilus played well in the second half Sunday, though he wasn't asked to do much in the run game. "There's a lot more to it if the game is close and you're running your full offense," he said. "But what I really liked about him was how he competed."

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Lions fall to 0-2; postgame thoughts

How bad are the Lions? They're 0-2, they fell behind 21-0 for the second straight week, incited a chorus of boos and "Fire Millen" chants in their home opener, and worst of all the team they lost to last week, the dreadful Falcons, got walloped by Tampa Bay and a Tampa 2 defense, 24-9. The all-pro looking Michael Turner was human against the Bucs (14 carries, 42 yards a week after running for 220 yards against the Lions) and quarterback Matt Ryan played like the rookie he is (13-of-33, two interceptions). It could be an ugly season.

A couple leftover notes from Sunday before I leave the press box:

• Calvin Johnson is silly good. He had a career-high 129 yards receiving and two touchdowns. The first was a juggling grab against Charles Woodson, the second he pulled away from half of Green Bay's defense, galloped to the end zone and capped the score with a kiss-the-rim dunk on the crossbar. He's a modern-day Barry Sanders, a phenomenal talent on a lackluster team.

• Daniel Bullocks (12 tackles) and Dewayne White (a sack and fumble recovery) played well, and Cory Redding (two tackles for loss) led a mostly good day against the rush. White won't appear on the injury report and his presence may not have made a difference, but he did not play on Atlanta's go-ahead field-goal drive in the fourth quarter after he lost a cap on his tooth. Cliff Avril was on the field instead.

• Gosder Cherilus didn't start either of the first two games, but he's the Lions' best tackle right now. Right tackle George Foster gave up two sacks before being lifted for Cherilus at halftime, and left tackle Jeff Backus had two holding penalties. Cherilus should have started from the get go, but there's no way the Lions can deny him now.

• Two of the Lions' most prominent secondary acquisitions, safety Dwight Smith and cornerback Brian Kelly, struggled Sunday. Kelly had a bad day in coverage and missed a big tackle on a third-down run. He was lifted briefly in the first half for Keith Smith. Dwight Smith played a decent overall game, but he missed a tackle on Greg Jennings' big 60-yard catch that set up Mason Crosby's go-ahead field goal after the Lions took a 25-24 lead. Keith Smith had man coverage on the play. "I got outside leverage, ride him inside to my alert man, which was the safety," he explained. "Safety's supposed to be there, there to make the tackle."

• From Roy Williams on the fans, who started booing after Johnson dropped a third-down pass to stall Detroit's second drive and didn't stop until the game was over (they even ended the third quarter with an ear-catching rendition of "Fire Millen"): "I've been here five years. That's old news. They cheer that more than they do the first play of the game when the defense is out on the football field. (After we took the lead 25-24) was the loudest I've ever heard Ford Field in five years, minus the 300 empty seats" — there were several thousand, actually. "This was the loudest I've ever heard. If we can get that first play of the game with Aaron Rodgers under center, can't hear, it pumps up our defense. It all works hand in hand, but at the same time we have to win to get the crowd behind us."

• I don't know if he meant it as a guarantee, but Williams essentially gave one about next week's crucial game at San Francisco. "I think we're going to go across country and steal that victory and gear up for the bye week, relax, get our minds back together and get ready for the season."

We'll see.

That's all for now. More thoughts when after I watch the TV replay.

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Woodson, Grant to play

Both cornerback Charles Woodson (toe) and running back Ryan Grant (hamstring) are active today for the Lions-Packers game at Ford Field.

Grant averaged 7.5 yards per carry against the Lions last year and could be especially problematic for a Detroit team that allowed 318 yards rushing last week.

In the only change this week for the Lions, Ikaika Alama-Francis will play this week in place of Corey Smith, who's out with a hamstring injury. Cliff Avril is up as well, and will be used in pass-rushing situations if the Lions can contain the run.

As expected, Daniel Bullocks will start at safety in place of Gerald Alexander and Leigh Bodden at cornerback in place of Travis Fisher.

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Week 2 NFL picks

I know it goes against logic after the way they played last week, but I've got the Lions beating the Packers in their home opener Sunday. Here's my thinking: The Lions aren't as bad as they played last week — can't be — and I believe in their splits last year. They're a good home team with enough firepower on offense to take advantage of a banged up Charles Woodson, assuming Jon Kitna gets enough protection up front. Defensively, I'd be worried about Ryan Grant after what Michael Turner did last week. Grant averaged 7.5 yards per carry against the Lions last year. But he's still battling a hamstring injury and is playing on short rest this week after Green Bay's Monday night win over Minnesota. That's enough to give the Lions their first win of the year, 24-20.

Detroit's my only home dog who'll bite this week. The rest of my NFL picks on a rainy Saturday afternoon (all picks are against the spread and home teams are in caps):

Home covers you can't deny
JACKSONVILLE minus-4 1/2 over Buffalo: Jags rebound after Week 1 loss
NY JETS minus-1 1/2 over New England: Life after Brady ain't pretty
SEATTLE minus-7 over San Francisco: J.T. O'Sullivan 0-2 heading into Lions game
CINCINNATI minus-1 over Tennessee: No Vince Young might be good for Titans
KANSAS CITY minus-3 1/2 over Oakland: Two of the NFL's worst teams
CAROLINA minus-3 vs. Chicago: Are Bears for real? Wait and see for me
WASHINGTON pick vs. New Orleans: Clinton Portis headed for a big day
DALLAS minus-7 over Philadelphia (Monday night): T.O. still feuding in Philly
HOUSTON minus-4 1/2 over Baltimore (Monday night): Game might not be played

Road warriors laying with love
Pittsburgh minus-6 over CLEVELAND: My Cleveland peeps tell me the Browns stink
Indianapolis minus-1 1/2 over MINNESOTA: One good team starts 0-2
NY Giants minus-8 1/2 over ST. LOUIS: Rams will have trouble scoring all year

Don't need 'em, but I'll take 'em
San Diego plus-1 over DENVER: Chargers still team to beat in AFC West
Miami plus-6 1/2 over ARIZONA: Parcells can whip a franchise into shape

Points only, please
Atlanta plus-7 over TAMPA BAY: Falcons beat Tampa-north last week

Record: 7-8 last week, 7-8 overall

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Random Lions thoughts

Emptying my notebook on a Friday ...

• Jon Kitna said he saw first-year Atlanta coach Mike Smith's decision to throw two passes in the final 1:15 of the first half last week, when the Lions were out of timeouts, not as bad coaching but rather a sign of disrespect to the Lions. "They threw two passes with a rookie quarterback and we had no timeouts left," Kitna said. "To me, that's disrespectful. That's a disrespect to who we are, saying we can really work on this because we don't really think that it's going to bother us if we do turn it back over to them. I hope we all take it that way."

• Of the 14 snaps he played last week, rookie middle linebacker Jordon Dizon said none of them came with the new defensive speaker system in his helmet. Dizon and Paris Lenon are outfitted with the helmets on Sundays, but only one speaker-equipped helmet can be on the field at a time (the other is guarded by NFL security). Since he played only as an injury replacement, Dizon said there was no point switching helmets. "I didn't need it," he said. "I felt comfortable with (the hand signals)." Assuming he rotates in for a full series Sunday, not just individual plays — "there's no way in (heck) we're going to" rotate plays, Dizon said — Dizon said he will use the speaker system against the Packers.

• Lions coach Rod Marinelli on Dizon: "The instinctive part, the tackling is good. We just got to keep helping him grow in terms of how to run a system." The Packers use different personnel groups as well as anyone in the NFL. Dizon may not play more than a few series this week, but how he does against one of the most difficult offenses in the league — and for that matter, how much time he gets — could determine if he's ready to take over the middle-linebacker position full-time later this year.

• Left guard Edwin Mulitalo said Sunday's game is a must-win. "It's a must-win, but it's not a season-killer," he said. "We went 6-2 last year and even though we stunk it up at the end, it took to the last two games to figure out we were really out of it. That's the beauty of winning early instead of losing early and just trying to inch your way in somehow."

• The hamstring injury Dan Campbell suffered last week against the Falcons was not the same injury he incurred after he came off the PUP list during training camp. "This was a different injury to the same hamstring, way up where it attaches up in your rear end there," offensive coordinator Jim Colletto said. Colletto said Campbell's loss won't affect how much the Lions use multiple-tight-end formations.

• Lions receiver Roy Williams always likes playing against Green Bay's Al Harris, but Williams dropped Harris a notch to No. 2 on his list of top cornerbacks in the NFL. "I think Nnamdi's No. 1 over in Oakland," Williams said of Raiders corner Nnamdi Asomugha. "But Al's a good corner. Everybody knows that. We're not going to back down from him, we're going to go after him and see if he can make the play."

Lions Lowdown: Previewing the Pack


Barry 'confused' by defense's play; other Thursday thoughts

Offensive coordinator Jim Colletto and defensive coordinator Joe Barry met with reporters Thursday afternoon to discuss this week's home opener against Green Bay and last week's loss to Atlanta. Some thoughts:

• Barry was harsh in his criticism of the defense's play against the Falcons, when the Lions allowed three first-quarter touchdowns and tackled like a high-school team. "Yeah, it was disheartening," Barry said. "I was confused by it because I thought we really did, especially with the offseason we had, with the training camp that we had, even though the first group didn't play a ton in the preseason but the amount that they did play, they played fast and they played hard and they tackled and they swarmed, and we didn't do that (against Atlanta). It was a little shocking."

• In trying to put his finger on why things went so wrong, Barry repeated a word Lions coach Rod Marinelli used in his Monday press conference — tentative. "I think it's natural when, on the third, the seventh and the 13th play of the game they score touchdowns, and on the 14th play you look up and it's 21-0, I think it's just human nature to kind of freak out a little bit and we did," Barry said. "We just got to get back to playing fast and playing hard and swarming to the football. That's what we preach, that's what we talk about, that's what you have to do to be successful in this defense."

• Barry said the Lions didn't dramatically alter anything this week to account for their tackling woes. They went through regular tackling circuits in practice Wednesday and Thursday, and in meetings Monday he showed clips of "every guy in the room that missed tackles making tackles." "We all of a sudden didn't just become a bad tackling team over night," Barry said. "Now we had a horrendous day, no doubt about it. But I believe, these guys have proven to me in training camp and in four preseason games that they can tackle. They've shown that. Now they got to go out and do it Sunday."

• Also Sunday, Colletto said fans will get their first look at right tackle Gosder Cherilus, who should play as George Foster's backup. "We're going to probably try to get Gosder in the game some. He needs to play," Colletto said. "I don't know how much he'll rotate, but I'm going to try to get him in the game some."

• Cherilus said he doesn't know how much he'll play, but it doesn't sound like more than a series or two. I do think the Lions are being kind of disingenuous with their explanation of why their first-round pick isn't starting. "We're probably right now going a little bit more with the experience factor at this point," Colletto said. Fine. Understandable, especially against Green Bay defensive end Aaron Kampman, though I still disagree with it. But Colletto also said the Lions are worried about Cherilus' health considering he's their only lineman who can play both tackle positions. "If Goz is in there and he got injured and then one of those other guys got injured, then any of you guys can play tackle, you can come and play," Colletto said. Huh? Whether Cherilus starts or not won't change the bind the Lions will be in if any of their three tackles gets hurt.

• From last week's loss, Colletto said he wanted to see the Lions play with a faster tempo on their only fourth-quarter possession. They took over with 10:23 on the clock, ran six plays, and punted the ball four minutes later never to see it again. "I was yelling through the phone, 'Faster, faster, faster,'" Colletto said. I do think the Lions were right to not go hurry-up in that situation. They were down less than two touchdowns, and as Marinelli explained Monday, "We were struggling playing them (on defense) and you wanted to hopefully eliminate another possession on their part."

• Last Colletto thought for the day, on rookie running back Kevin Smith, who should get his second start Sunday. "He played well," Colletto said. "The opening play of the game he really was excited and he cut the ball back way too soon, which is typical of first-year running backs in this offense. But as the game went on he did a nice job. He really carries himself well. He wasn't seeing ghosts and he knew what was going on and all that. he did a nice job."

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Bullocks, Bodden to start vs. Green Bay

The Lions made two lineup changes on their first full day back to work Wednesday, inserting safety Daniel Bullocks and cornerback Leigh Bodden in the starting lineup for Gerald Alexander and Travis Fisher.

Alexander and Fisher were two of many goats in the Lions' season-opening 34-21 loss to the Falcons Sunday. Fisher got beat by Michael Jenkins for a 62-yard touchdown on the third play of the game, when Alexander took a poor route to the ball in deep zone help. Both players had a shot but failed to bring down Michael Turner on his 66-yard touchdown run on the next series.

Lions coach Rod Marinelli acknowledged the Bodden-Fisher move after practice, but wouldn't commit to any other changes. Alexander said coaches told him that Bullocks will start Sunday against Green Bay. Jordon Dizon also is expected to get more snaps at middle linebacker as Paris Lenon's backup and Brandon Middleton will handle kickoff returns.

"Just didn't make the plays that came to me," Alexander said. "That's what this league is all about, making plays, especially making the plays that you're supposed to make. Coaches made a decision. I can only control what I can control. Just keep working hard."

On the offensive line, guard Manny Ramirez could see time at right guard in place of Stephen Peterman, but rookie first-round pick Gosder Cherilus does not appear to have passed George Foster at right tackle.

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Time to start Cherilus (and a Dizon addendum)

Eight offensive linemen were taken in the first round of April's NFL draft. Six started their season openers last week (Miami's Jake Long, Denver's Ryan Clady, Kansas City's Branden Albert, Carolina's Jeff Otah, Atlanta's Sam Baker and Houston's Duane Brown), one is injured and possibly out for the season (Chicago's Chris Williams), and one didn't play a single offensive snap. The unlucky soul? Lions' right tackle Gosder Cherilus.

Some felt the Lions reached when they traded down from the 15th pick (where Albert went to K.C.) and drafted Cherilus No. 17 overall. But, considering their glaring need at right tackle, it was hard to pan a decision that was supposed to net an immediate starter.

To that end, Cherilus played well in the preseason. He showed some of his trademark on-field nastiness and rotated with starter George Foster even as offensive coordinator Jim Colletto hounded him to be more consistent in his leverage, hand placement and pass sets. Foster, to his credit, had a solid preseason, too. He committed just one penalty — a problem last year when he was benched midway through the season — and seemed more at home in the Lions' new zone-blocking offense.

But Foster did not play particularly well Sunday. He was hardly the reason the Lions lost to Baker's Falcons, but he wasn't exactly confidence-inspiring either. John Abraham beat him with an inside move for his first of three sacks late in the first quarter, and Foster got manhandled into the backfield or whiffed completely on several other occasions. At one point, Lions coaches told Cherilus to get ready for action, then reconsidered and left him on the bench.

At the risk of making Foster look like a scapegoat for their Week 1 woes — and again, he's not; he had less of an impact on the loss than Jon Kitna, Roy Williams and nearly every player on defense — the Lions should turn their right-tackle job over to Cherilus in time for Sunday's home opener against Green Bay. The rookie will endure some growing pains, but at worst he's a wash with the man he'd be replacing, only with a higher ceiling and a competitive fire too hot to ignore.

I can't advocate the same for second-round pick Jordon Dizon. Not now, at least. I wrote here during training camp that I'd stick Dizon at middle linebacker and move Paris Lenon to the strong side, mostly because Dizon always seemed to make plays. He was at it again Sunday, notching five tackles in 14 snaps and playing error-free football when it came to setting the defense.

By not making that change in the preseason, however, the Lions tied their hands at linebacker until at least the bye week. Lenon is a good player though he had his tackling issues against Atlanta. He needs to be on the field. But his best position is SAM linebacker and Dizon is good enough to be in the playing group.

It wouldn't surprise me if Lenon took a few snaps on the strong side when practice resumes tomorrow, but the Lions don't need to make a panic move and realign their linebackers one week into the season. They'd be best served working Dizon into the playing group now and waiting until the Sept. 28 bye to make that important and complicated a change to their defense.

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Pass unhappy?

I kind of brushed off Rod Marinelli's postgame comments about keeping "your locker room tight (and) no finger-pointing" as preventative coach-speak, but the more I think about it the more I believe Marinelli really did want to nip something in the bud.

The Lions have a pretty good locker room. No real problems, plenty of vets, and powerful personalities like Jon Kitna, Dwight Smith and Cory Redding. But a day after their season-opening loss to Atlanta there was at least one sign of micro-fracturing. Nothing too concerning on its face — no offense vs. defense sniping — but nothing you want to see grow, either.

From receiver Roy Williams: "We want to run the ball, I love to run the ball, but there's nobody in this world that can stop our four-wide package and it wasn't in. We get in two-minute late in the (first) half and we go down and score. I mean, that's what we were supposed to be in. I look at those guys, (Atlanta's) secondary, they had to trade for a guy. So to me, I'm putting my four best wide receivers on the football field, bring out your four best corners. That's a mismatch all day long."

Williams, Calvin Johnson and the rest of the Lions receiving corps (Mike Furrey and Shaun McDonald) had a decided advantage on Atlanta's young, inexperienced cornerbacks. While most of the post-game attention was rightfully focused on the defense's JV-like tackling performance, it's legitimate to question why the offense wasn't better able to capitalize on those mismatches.

Williams clearly felt like the Lions should have passed more, and quarterback Jon Kitna seemed to agree. Kitna had a very visible and emotional outburst in the first half that appeared related to the Lions' new establish-the-run offensive philosophy, at least as it related to Sunday's game. He demonstratively motioned to the sideline to throw more during Detroit's 12-play, second-quarter touchdown drive, and later in the same series he stormed off the field screaming in the face of receivers coach Shawn Jefferson. To be clear, Jefferson was not the reason for Kitna's tirade, he just happened to be in the middle of it.

"You sit over there and you're down 21-0 and nothing's really going right for you and that frustration's building and then something else happens that kind of triggers the blowup," Kitna explained. "That's really what happened."

After barely attempting to run the ball in several games under Mike Martz last year, it was nice to see Jim Colletto with a balanced gameplan Sunday. But at the end of day, the Lions' strength is their receivers and they have to do more to take advantage of Johnson and Williams, especially against a team like Atlanta. Staying committed to the run is good, but winning is the ultimate goal.

Marinelli said Monday he doesn't believe the locker room is in any jeopardy of splintering. I would hope not after one game. Still, he cautioned players to ignore the negative "outside influences" that can drag down a team.

Back in the locker room, players said they already turned the page on Atlanta and will show their real selves in this weekend's home opener against Green Bay. Whether or not that includes a modified offensive gameplan remains to be seen.

"I think we have a better idea of who we really are on offense," Kitna said. "I think we're going to be able to make some pretty minor changes that should have a pretty significant impact for us as we move forward."

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Lions-Falcons postgame thoughts

Wow. That was ugly, and I sure didn't see that coming. The Lions showed some deficiencies stopping the run in the preseason, but nothing like the tackling problems they had in Sunday's season-opening 34-21 loss to Atlanta. Michael Turner ran 22 times for 220 yards — the second highest total by a Lions opponent ever (O.J. Simpson is No. 1) — and the Falcons set a franchise record with 318 yards rushing.

No one was immune from the defensive problems. Gerald Alexander had issues with poor angling (including on the third play of the game, a 62-yard Matt Ryan touchdown pass to Michael Jenkins). Paris Lenon and Alex Lewis blew their share of tackles. Even Ernie Sims and Dwight Smith whiffed noticeably on would-be stops.

"It was us, man," defensive tackle Cory Redding said when asked if the Falcons were that good or if the Lions were the root of their own problems. "You saw the missed tackles. It wasn't them, it was us. We just missed tackles and we weren't where we were supposed to be. When guys' numbers were called to make plays, we didn't make them."

Redding is half right. Turner is a bullish, physical runner, the likes of which the Lions weren't completely ready for. They added to their own misfortune, obviously, but Turner deserves credit for his role in the destruction, too.

If you're looking for positive signs, there weren't many. Calvin Johnson (seven catches, 107 yards) showed why everyone is ga-ga over his talents. Kevin Smith ran hard and blocked well in his NFL debut, though he didn't put up great numbers (16 carries, 48 yards). Nick Harris was locked in punting. And Rudi Johnson played sparingly but came away healthy after a hamstring injury cost him the entire preseason and much of last year.

"It felt great so that's a big lift off my shoulders," said Johnson, signed last week after being released by the Bengals.

As for the negatives (non-tackling division), there appeared to be communication problems on both offense and defense. The Lions ran one play with 10 defenders on the field and burned a timeout late in the second half over substitution confusion. I didn't think Jon Kitna played great. Roy Williams took the blame for Kitna's lone interception, but the Lions quarterback missed a handful of other throws and made two bad decisions out of the pocket (once he rifled a would-be touchdown pass high to tight end Michael Gaines when he could have ran for a score, and another time he took off running but slid just short of a first down). Lastly, the offensive line had a few issues with penalties (Stephen Peterman, Dominic Raiola) and missed assignments (Jeff Backus, George Foster).

I haven't had the benefit of watching the TV replay yet and won't until tomorrow, but I'll be interested to hear what Lions coach Rod Marinelli has to say at his Monday press conference about the play of Foster and rookie linebacker Jordon Dizon. Foster got beat for at least one sack, but the Lions never felt the need to play rookie Gosder Cherilus at right tackle. Dizon played a decent amount at middle linebacker after Paris Lenon left twice with injuries. Lenon said he'll be good to go next week against Green Bay. If not, Dizon's the man.

I'll leave you with a telling quote from Kitna that both puts the loss in perspective and sums up the urgency of Week 2.

"You cannot allow yourself to get into the mindset of 'it's the same old thing,'" Kitna said. "That cannot happen. It's one of 16 (games). Would you feel any better if we lost 10-7? You still lost the game. We have to bounce back and here's the adversity. This gives us a good opportunity early on in our season to see if we are a different team. That will be the mark of whether we are different is how we handle this adversity."

Lions-Falcons inactives

No real surprises from the Lions on today's inactive list. Defensive end Ikaika Alama-Francis is down, but that was expected as the Lions want to use Cliff Avril off the edge on turf against a pocket passer like Matt Ryan. Fellow defensive linemen Andre Fluellen and Landon Cohen are inactive, as are cornerback Ramzee Robinson, linebacker Gilbert Gardner and guard Manny Ramirez. Drew Stanton will dress as the third quarterback despite a cast on his right hand.

For the Falcons, new cornerback Domonique Foxworth will not play. Acquired earlier this week, Foxworth is still learning Atlanta's defense.

DB's keys - Lions-Falcons

Three things the Lions need to do to win their season opener today against the Falcons:

1. Pressure the rookie. First-round pick Matt Ryan was handed Atlanta's starting quarterback job not because of his draft status but because he was the Falcons' best passer in the preseason. He's strong-armed and heady, but at the end of the day he's still a rookie. The Lions insist they won't deviate too much from their four-man rush, but they want to put pressure on Ryan all different ways from all different angles. The more uncomfortable they can make him, they more likely they are to start 1-0.

2. Contain Jerious Norwood. Michael Turner is the face of the Falcons' running game, but Norwood might be Atlanta's most singularly dangerous weapon. He averaged 6.0 yards per carry as a running back last year — tops among NFL players with at least 70 attempts — and ranked 11th in the league in kickoff returns (25.3 ypr). The Lions had issues covering kicks in the preseason and last year, and can't afford to let Norwood get loose today.

3. Take advantage of Calvin. Calvin Johnson looked like one of the top five receivers in the NFL this preseason, and with his combination of speed, strength and athleticism there's no reason that shouldn't carry over to now. He's going today against a couple young cornerbacks (Chris Houston and Brent Grimes) and a just-traded-for veteran (Domonique Foxworth). Six catches a week should be expected, with a couple jump balls thrown his way.


Fearless predictions - Week 1 and the season

Sorry no blog yesterday. I flew into Atlanta a day early and encountered some massive travel problems. Sat on an airplane in Detroit for an hour with engine troubles, eventually switched planes and finally got to my hotel a couple hours later than expected. So this will be a combination of what was planned Friday and Saturday. For space reasons, we're no longer running our NFL picks in the paper so every Saturday I'll make my selections against the spread here. I do this for entertainment purposes only (so you can laugh at me), and really if you paid attention to my record last year you'd know why.

But first, we can't start a season without some fearless Lions-related predictions. I wrote in our preview section Thursday that I think the Lions are a better team than they were a year ago. They've made significant upgrades to the secondary, the defensive line, while lacking in star power, has enough depth to be a real strength, and offensively Calvin Johnson and Roy Williams might be the best receiving tandem in the league. There still are a few holes to fill, though. The front seven could use another playmaker, someone opponents have to gameplan for, and the offensive line did not have a great preseason and continues to be the weak link of that side of the ball.

I look at the schedule and see the opportunity for a 3-1 start. Games at Atlanta tomorrow and San Francisco in two weeks are both winnable, and home games against a Green Bay team starting a new quarterback (and coming off a Monday nighter) and then after a bye Chicago are must-wins in my book for any team with playoff aspirations. I say 3-1 just because it's rare teams start 4-0 in the NFL and none of those is an absolute, bet-the-mortgage lock.

The schedule gets progressively tougher and culminates with a difficult December (Minnesota, at Indy, New Orleans, at Green Bay), but the Lions should be in playoff contention throughout. At the end of the day though, I just couldn't put them in the postseason. I don't think they'll have any of the lulls they experienced last year when blowouts to San Diego and Philadelphia and Minnesota were revealing, but I still believe they're a year away from the postseason. I toyed with eight wins as my prediction, considered nine, wouldn't be shocked if it was only six, but at the end of the day I went 7-9 and can't back down from that now.

Now, for my weekly picks. All selections are made against the spread. Home teams in caps.

Home dogs who bite
• BALTIMORE plus-2 over Cincinnati: At least one rookie QB wins his opener
• SAN FRANCISCO plus-2 1/2 over Arizona: The Mike Martz era starts with a bang
• OAKLAND plus-3 over Denver (Monday): Anxious to see JaMarcus Russell

Home covers you can't deny
• NEW ENGLAND minus-15 over Kansas City: Pats were 16-0 last year
• PITTSBURGH minus-6 1/2 over Houston: Steelers had league's best D in '07
• BUFFALO minus-1 over Seattle: Don't sleep on the Bills this year
• NEW ORLEANS minus-3 over Tampa Bay: Clash of NFC South contenders
• PHILADELPHIA minus-8 over St. Louis: Eagles are making the playoffs this year
• SAN DIEGO minus-9 over Carolina: LT for MVP?
• INDIANAPOLIS minus-9 1/2 over Chicago: Peyton's still the best
• GREEN BAY minus-2 over Minnesota (Monday): But Vikings win the division

Road warriors laying with love
• NY Jets minus-3 over MIAMI: Favre can still sling it
• Jacksonville minus-3 over TENNESSEE: Not feeling the Titans this year
• Detroit minus-3 at ATLANTA: Lions kick things off right

Points only, please
• CLEVELAND plus-6 over Dallas: Cowboys are my Super Bowl pick, but this'll be close


Final thoughts: Gucci-gate

The Tatum Bell-Rudi Johnson bag-stealing story is bound to peter out eventually. In Detroit, it's already being overshadowed by mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's plea deal and resignation. Bell will get another job eventually, though it wouldn't surprise me at all if he spent the rest of this season on the sidelines. Johnson, too, will get over his missing money and pilfered Perry Ellis boxers.

The Lions still are refusing to show anyone surveillance video of the incident and likely will keep that under wraps unless someone in the Allen Park Police Department gets the novel idea to investigate a theft. There's tragedy in that decision, though, either in the organization's decision not to pursue charges (a player had money and clothes stolen out of their locker room, after all) or the team's failure to come to the defense of an ex-player wrongly accused of something that could affect his ability to get another job (think someone wants a thief in the locker room?). Which one depends on your point of view.

I understand the Lions have heard different versions of the same story from different people, probably don't want to alienate Johnson, and certainly, like most of us who have talked to both sides, can't say definitively what happened.

But as improbable as Bell's story sounds, especially since the bags belonged to the man brought in to replace him, his description of events (where he took the bags from, the time of day, etc.) and the fact the bags had no identifying marks on the outside (according to Johnson) make it believable. One organizational higher-up even said today he thinks there is some truth to Bell's version.

Unless there's more to report in terms of a police investigation or I finally get in touch with Victor DeGrate, the ex-Lion who Bell said he was grabbing the bags for, this will be my final words on Gucci-gate. But if I'm Bell's agent and Bell's story is true, I'd be on the Lions to release the tape and clear my client's name. It won't end all dispute, but if he wasn't rifling through the bag or looking suspiciously around the locker room and darting to his car, it would at least support his version of events.

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Tatum's story

Just got off the phone with Tatum Bell. He said there was nothing sinister about taking Rudi Johnson's bags out of the locker room Monday, that he was trying to do a friend a favor and had nothing to do with Johnson's missing money, clothes or credit cards. His story:

Bell got a phone call from Lions director of pro personnel Sheldon White after practice Monday saying the Lions had agreed to terms with Johnson and he was going to be released. He returned to the team's Allen Park practice facility to collect his belongings and grabbed two bags by a row of computers in the Lions' locker room that he thought belonged to defensive end Victor DeGrate. Bell and DeGrate attended the same high school (DeSoto in Texas) and college (Oklahoma State), and DeGrate lived with Bell for a period of time this summer.

Bell said DeGrate asked him to pick up his "backpack and grab (his) stuff" after DeGrate was released Saturday. He saw the bags sitting on the floor, by no one's locker, assumed they were DeGrate's and, after texting DeGrate but getting no reply, took them outside to the trunk of his car. Later, he dropped the bags off at a female friend of DeGrate's and returned home.

The Lions called the next day to say they caught Bell on camera taking two bags out of the locker room. Bell said he told the Lions the bags were DeGrate's. When they told him the bags were in fact Johnson's, Bell said he contacted DeGrate, who contacted the female, who returned the bags Tuesday afternoon.

Bell said he didn't know who emptied Johnson's bag of about $200 and the assorted clothing, but it wasn't him.

"I don't want to say it was her," Bell said of the DeGrate's friend. "But it was somebody that was over there at the house. I didn't go in the house. I don't know what was going on over there, I didn't even pay attention. I was doing a friend a favor and at the time I thought it was his bag. Everybody in the league got a Gucci backpack and a Louis backpack and a Zendi backpack. I'm like, 'Dang, I made a mistake. I messed up.'"

Bell said he offered to pay for the missing items, had a short conversation with an angry Johnson, and after hearing from various friends around the league wants to clear his name that's been wrongly soiled.

"Today comes and teams (are) calling, whoever's calling, and the Lions (are) saying I'm a thief and so that's going out to other teams, Tatum Bell's a thief so you don't want him in your locker room," Bell said. "I think it's unfair for the Lions not even to listen to me. They know I'm loyal. All the BS I went through last year with (Mike) Martz and not playing and I still went out there and practiced every day and still was a good teammate, kept everybody's spirits up. I wasn't never dogging nobody, nothing. I didn't burn no bridges last year and for them to throw me under the bus and just believe Rudi because that's who they (signed) ...

"Basically, it just seems like you got released and you're mad, you took the bags. That's a bunch of BS. I hate that it went down like that, but that's how it went down. And that's the whole story."

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The Tatum Bell-Rudi Johnson incident

We should have a story up on our website from earlier today about former Lions running back Tatum Bell allegedly stealing two Gucci bags, cash and credit cards from his replacement Rudi Johnson.

Johnson said he saw surveillance tape of the incident and spoke to Bell Tuesday after he got his bags back with nothing in them. Along with about $200 in cash and the credit cards, Johnson was missing an assortment of boxer shorts, socks and undershirts. The bags were taken from the Lions locker room and returned by a female acquaintance of Bell's.

"If anybody's got some Perry Ellis boxers for sale, you know where they came from," Johnson said.

Johnson said he won't press charges. —"I'll handle it," he said. "I don't need anybody else" — and Lt. Mark Koller of the Allen Park Police Department said there would be no investigation unless Johnson files a complaint.

I've left messages for Bell's agent and tried a cell phone number that I talked to Bell on earlier this summer that's no longer in service. He told the Free Press that it was a misunderstanding and that he was picking bags up for ex-teammate Victor DeGrate, who also was released last week.

You can take that story for what it's worth — no verification yet from DeGrate, who went to the same high school and college as Bell, or his agent — but Johnson said he isn't buying whatever tale Bell told him. He said it was some "real shyster, conniving stuff" and that Bell looked "suspect" on video.

"He tried to make up some excuses," Johnson said. "He tried to blame it on somebody else. Something that didn't make no sense so I wasn't really trying to entertain something that didn't make any sense. But he knows where I stand."

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Ryan, Falcons have work cut out vs. Lions

Trivia question to start off today's blog: Who was the last quarterback to start the season-opener of his rookie year against the Lions?

Answer: The immortal Terry Baker, the former Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 overall pick in the 1963 draft who led the Los Angeles Rams to a 23-2 loss and never started again. Baker in fact, played just 17 NFL games the rest of his career before drifting off into the sunset.

Not that I think Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan is bound for anywhere near the same fate as Baker, but I bring this up to illustrate just how rare it is for a rookie to open the season at quarterback in the NFL. Ryan, the third pick in April's draft, has a bright future ahead of him. I saw him live last year in the Champs Sports Bowl, and while he didn't have an amazing game, he made all the throws you'd want from an NFL quarterback. His former teammate at Boston College, Gosder Cherilus said Ryan is one of the fiercest competitors he's ever met.

"In '06 he broke his foot against Central Michigan, first game, played the whole season with a broken foot," Cherilus said. "He had surgery afterward, so that tells you enough about the kid. Great competitor, great kid."

Cherilus, the Lions' first-round pick at No. 17 overall, said he talked to Ryan during training camp and planned to text him this week. The two are good friends from their BC days and might get together Saturday night in Atlanta if their schedules permit.

"At the end of it, I want to say, 'Hey, Matt, great game, but we're 1-0,'" Cherilus said.

It's a little early for predictions. I'll usually save those for Saturday with the rest of my NFL picks. But I'll get this way out of the way now. The Lions will win Sunday and spoil the debuts of Ryan and Falcons coach Mike Smith. It won't be the pushover that some expect. Michael Turner is a good running back who'll give the Lions fits. But Ryan is bound to make one rookie mistake that will come back to haunt him.

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Signing Johnson a risk worth taking

The Lions made a good move signing Rudi Johnson to a one-year contract, a deal that became official earlier today.

Johnson is a clear upgrade over Tatum Bell as the No. 2 runner in Detroit's backfield, and if his balky hamstring holds up (and there's no reason it shouldn't on a one-year contract) he's a welcome insurance policy for rookie Kevin Smith.

This isn't Adrian Peterson we're talking about, but it's not a broken-down Shaun Alexander, either. Johnson had three straight 1,300-plus yard seasons from 2004-06, and at 28 (29 in October) still has a couple productive years left. Remember, he hardly played his first two seasons in the league behind Corey Dillon, and last year he logged about half a season's work (170 carries) splitting time with Kenny Watson.

I'm in the camp that doesn't believe Johnson will challenge Smith for the starting job. Smith had a good camp, has excellent vision and cutting ability, and his so-so preseason stats were more a product of the offensive line than anything he didn't do. But rookie running backs have a tendency to wear down over the course of a 16-game season, and the more Johnson can spell Smith the better.

I wouldn't expect Johnson to be long in Detroit, either. He's no longer a 350-carry back — if he was, the Bengals wouldn't have cut him — but he'll want a chance to start next year and with the dearth of quality runners should get it somewhere. Still, coaches weren't comfortable heading into the season with Bell an injury away from the feature role. They made a low-cost, low-risk move that should yield minor dividends.

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Rudi Johnson update

Running back Rudi Johnson worked out for the Lions Monday morning and president Matt Millen said the former Bengal "looked fine."

"He looked like the same back," Millen said. "Same feet, same thick build, everything. We're kind of in the middle of it. ... He's got some decisions to make, too."

Johnson remains in town as of this moment, but executive vice president Tom Lewand said no signing is imminent.

"We kick the tires on a lot of guys," Lewand said. "We look at every opportunity to get better, that's what we do."

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Answering your cut-day questions

A quick follow up on the cuts blog to answer some questions and share a few thoughts now that the Lions have tweaked their roster again:

• Ryan Nece should back up Alex Lewis at strong-side linebacker for now, but he'll push for playing time in the coming weeks and it wouldn't surprise me if he started at some point this year. He played SAM and was a big special-teams contributor in Tampa. Assuming Nece has as much left as the team thinks he does, the Lions are effectively committing to keeping Jordon Dizon in a backup role all year. Paris Lenon is well ahead of Dizon at middle linebacker, and with two capable SAM backers there's little chance Lenon moves to make way for Dizon after the bye week. Barring an injury to Lenon (or Nece or Lewis), I'd point to 2009 for Dizon. Until then, he'll be a special-teams contributor.

• We'll find out more from Rod Marinelli later, but I don't think running back Marcus Thomas fits in the return game. Mike Furrey's the man on kicks and Shaun McDonald on punts. Thomas, who had five kick returns in his college career, isn't a blazing fast guy but did put up decent numbers in the preseason (32 carries, 121 yards). He'd be a change-of-pace back from Kevin Smith.

• If the Lions sign Rudi Johnson — still not sure that's going to happen, and there are some injury questions there — I don't think that will affect Thomas' status. The feeling I get is that Johnson would knock Tatum Bell off the roster. Bell doesn't do any special teams, and you need that third running back to contribute in that area. Now, I guess Smith could be the special-teams guy — he worked on coverage during camp — but he's the starter and, despite only so-so numbers, he's had a good preseason.

• Lastly, Nuf is right. Corey Smith isn't going anywhere because he's a good special-teams player. That's partly why the Lions could keep 11 defensive linemen. Smith, who Marinelli likes, rookie Cliff Avril and second-year end Ikaika Alama-Francis can all play on special teams. If someone is to go, it's more likely a tackle like Shaun Cody. As for Dan Campbell, he's got plenty of recent injury history, but he's still the best blocking-receiving combination the Lions have at that position. He probably could have played last week if the Buffalo game meant something, but there's no sense risking him with the season-opener a few days away.