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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.


History lesson

Just a follow up on my story today about Michigan State's chances at a top seed in the NCAA tournament. After I filed last night, I spoke with RPI guru Jerry Palm and today I had the occasion to talk to a member of the selection committee. While the committee member didn't shed much light with six weeks left in the regular season, Palm said MSU is a longshot to get a one seed.

"I wouldn't entirely rule it out," he said. "If Michigan State were to win out and they finish the year 29-2, certainly they'd be in the picture for that. But I think it's going to take a pretty remarkable record for that."

Palm said If the bracket were picked today, MSU would be a two seed. The reality is, that might be the best-case scenario for the Spartans.

Kansas and Memphis are lock No. 1s, and in all likelihood one of those will represent the Midwest Regional at Ford Field (the other will no doubt head south to Houston). With the ACC champ out East, the fourth No. 1 appears destined for Phoenix.

Spartan fans hoping for a virtual home-court advantage in Detroit may still get their wish if the Spartans win the Big Ten and earn a two seed. Last year, UCLA stayed home in San Jose as a two and Texas A&M played in San Antonio as a three. In 2006, the Bruins were a two seed in Oakland. UCLA, it should be noted, reached the Final Four each of the last two years (beating No. 1 Kansas last year and No. 1 Memphis in 2006).

Would the committee do Kansas or Memphis a disservice and put a lower-seeded home-state team in its bracket again? We won't know until March 16, but history says it's possible.


White lies

Travis Walton won't get much credit for Michigan State's 77-62 win over Michigan Sunday. Scoring one point tends to leave you under the radar. But Walton's defensive effort against Michigan's Manny Harris was quite impressive.

Walton held Harris, Michigan's leading scorer, to 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting. He kept Harris out of the lane most of the day and forced Harris to take mostly contested shots.

Walton said freshman Kalin Lucas deserves an assist for his defense. Seems Lucas, a good friend of Harris', needled Walton all week with made-up trash talk that got Walton extra fired up for the game.

"I was telling Travis how Manny was talking stuff when actually he wasn't," Lucas said. "I was just getting him pumped up and juiced for the game and it worked."

What exactly was Lucas saying?

"I was just saying, 'Manny said you too little, you too small, you're 6-1, you can't hold him, you can't check him,'" Lucas said. "I just had to get in Travis' head a little bit and Travis went out there and played great defense."


Allen injured again

Chris Allen suffered a groin injury in Michigan State's 78-62 win over Northwestern Thursday and sat out most of Friday's workout. Coming off one of the best nights of his young career — 17 points on 4-of-5 3-point shooting — he'll be sorely missed if he's limited Sunday against Michigan. The freshman guard missed four games earlier this year with a bruised foot.

"That's kind of disappointing after having a good game, but (how bad the injury is) I don't know," MSU coach Tom Izzo said. "It's not where we're cutting his leg off, but it's also bad enough where he couldn't practice (Friday)."


Reunited and it feels ...

Lions fans hope it'll feel good, anyways. The two games I'm most looking forward to on the Lions' schedule next year are a trip to San Francisco and a home game against Jacksonville. Why? Because those teams now employee ex-Lions coordinators Mike Martz and Donnie Henderson.

Everyone knows about Martz, the deposed offensive coordinator who took the same job with the 49ers earlier this month. Martz had some choice words about several of former players upon his departure — most notably, left tackle Jeff Backus — and though his frustration in Detroit was more with Matt Millen than Rod Marinelli, there's no doubt he'll want to put it on his former team next year.

Henderson, according to several reports, has resurfaced in Jacksonville after spending a year away from coaching. Henderson served as Marinelli's defensive coordinator two seasons ago and the two parted mutually after that year. Henderson was not a Tampa 2 guy and never quite meshed with Marinelli's teachings. He doesn't share the same bad blood as Martz, but he's a prideful competitor nonetheless and no doubt will have that game circled on his calendar.

Henderson's role is to be determined with the Jags, though the Jacksonville Times-Union reports that he will likely be secondary coach, not defensive coordinator.

Times and dates for these games won't be set until the spring, but I'll take an early guess and say the Lions-49ers game will be the season opener. The NFL loves early-season hooks — last year, the Lions and Raiders picked 1-2 in the draft and met in Week 1 — and that'd be the juiciest on either team's schedule.


Rogers update

Just talked to a source close to the decision-making process in Detroit who said reports that Shaun Rogers has definitely played his last game as a Lion are "false."

ESPN's "First Take" reported this morning that the Lions will attempt to trade Rogers this offseason and, if no takers are found, will cut him before next year. While I wholeheartedly believe many in the organization want to be done with their talented but underachieving defensive tackle, I also believe — after talking with people in the know today — that it's too early in the offseason for any firm decisions to have been made.

Fact is, the Lions are still in the evaluation process right now, both of potential draft picks — coach Rod Marinelli and general manager Matt Millen spent the past few days at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., — and of this year's free-agent class. If they sign someone like San Francisco's Isaac Sopoaga or Green Bay's Corey Williams, cutting Rogers becomes more of a realistic possibility. If they strike out in the open market, would they really tempt fate and head into 2008 with a tackle rotation of Cory Redding, restricted free agent Langston Moore and second-year end/tackle Ikaika Alama-Francis?

Officially, the Lions are standing by Marinelli's comments from last week that everyone under contract is expected back next season. While that seems unlikely (both Kalimba Edwards and Shaun Cody could be headed for the chopping block, too), Rogers is too good and the Lions have too many holes to give him away for free.

Surely his situation won't be come to a head in the next days or even weeks. He's reportedly due a $1 million roster bonus at the start of free agency, but that's not a drop-dead decision date either. It's likely, in fact, we'll still be waiting for a resolution on draft day.

Rogers done in Detroit?

A report on ESPN's "First Take" this morning said the Lions "will try to trade" defensive tackle Shaun Rogers this offseason "and failing that, he will not be with them next season"

What to do with Rogers is the biggest question facing the Lions this offseason. It's no secret the team was severely disappointed in his production last year. He played at a Pro Bowl level for most of the first half of the season, when the Lions started 6-2, but struggled mightily over the final eight games — seven of them Detroit losses.

Asked about Rogers at a press conference to announce the promotions of Jim Colletto and Kippy Brown last week, Lions coach Rod Marinelli said "weight will be an issue" with Rogers, but he expected the 350-plus-pound tackle to take part in the team's offseason workout programs.

Word that the Lions will dangle Rogers is nothing new. The real issue is what they can get for a supreme talent with weight and knee problems, a previous drug suspension (ironically, for a banned weight supplement) and ballooning contract ($4.25 million next year); who they can get to replace him (Marinelli has long said the line drives the defense, and comparable free-agent talents like Albert Haynesworth are sure to be franchised); and with so many other holes to fill can they afford to release him outright?

A source within the organization told me at the end of the year that along with being out of shape Rogers' issues are that he doesn't love the game and often sulks when being double-teamed to the point it affects his play, and those won't change even if he sheds 30 pounds and takes a pay cut.

It would not be a shock if Big Baby's played his last game as a Lion, but entering what looks like a must-win season for some of the organization's higher-ups there's real danger in deciding the fate of your most talented defensive player until the plan to replace him is put in motion.


No worries with Neitzel

It's time to stop propagating the myth that Drew Neitzel is in a shooting slump.

The senior guard caught fire Sunday, scoring 17 of his team-high 19 points in the second half to lead Michigan State to a 78-73 victory at Minnesota. For the season, he's shooting 41.9 percent from the field and 42.1 percent from 3-point land, numbers in line with last year's breakout campaign (42.6 percent overall, 41.2 percent from 3-point land). So why does everyone think Neitzel's in a slump?

Fact is, Neitzel's the same player he was last year, he's just in a different role for the good of the team. Despite some November struggles, he's still MSU's best shooter and can't be left open coming off double screens or filling the wing in transition. Raymar Morgan has emerged as MSU's first offensive option because of the mismatches he creates and his ability to get to the free-throw line — neither of which is a Neitzel strong suit — and the Spartans are more complete when Kalin Lucas handles the ball.

That doesn't diminish Neitzel's role. His scoring average (from 18.1 to 13.5) and shot attempts (from 13.3 to 10.6) are down significantly, but he's one of the nation's best assist-to-turnover guys and he's crucial to MSU's Big Ten and NCAA title hopes going forward. He may not have but a handful more 19-point games in him this year, but teams must — AND DO — respect his role, and that's reason to believe MSU will play deep into March.


First mock draft: Lions take Talib

ESPN Scouts Inc. analyst Todd McShay posted his first of what I'm sure will be many mock drafts today and he had the Lions taking Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib with the 15th pick.

It's still way early — 3 1/2 months til draft day — but if Talib's there I can see the Lions making that choice. At 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, Talib has the requisite size (not to mention plus athletic ability) to succeed in the Tampa 2 defense. He also fits with Rod Marinelli's mission to get younger and better on that side of the ball.

I was a little surprised that neither Ohio State's James Laurinaitis or USC's Rey Maualuga declared early. Both would have been ideal fits at middle linebacker, big hitters who can cover tight ends, too. Their exclusion leaves the draft a little light on linebackers, with no top-15 talent on the board. Penn State's Dan Connor may be the best of the bunch, but a college assistant coach told me that Connor does not shed blocks well and is not as good an NFL prospect as his teammate, another junior who elected to stay in school, Sean Lee.

As it is, the Lions might be better off addressing that position in Round 2 or 3 and going cornerback early (Talib, South Florida's Mike Jenkins and Troy's Leodis McKelvin are first-rounders on McShay's board). Unless a stud defensive lineman like USC tackle Sedrick Ellis falls to 15, I don't know that the Lions can afford to take a first-rounder who might need a year to develop like most linemen do, especially if they believe in last year's second-round pick Ikaika Alama-Francis. The only other position I can see the Lions drafting in the first round — save the receiver jokes — is offensive tackle, where Boise State's Ryan Clady and USC's Sam Baker are possibilities.

A lot will change in the coming months depending on free agency (Shaun Rogers' future remains the biggest mystery) and after prospect evaluations at the combine, Senior Bowl and pro days are complete. But as it stands, expect the Lions to draft defense early and if Talib is on the board he very well could be the choice.

To read McShay's complete mock draft, check


Martz: Lions "not even close"

Former Lions offensive coordinator Mike Martz took a shot at his old team in a story that appeared on the Chicago Tribune's website Saturday.

"There are one or two things you would like to upgrade a little bit here, but the rest of it is in place," Martz told the Tribune of his new digs in San Francisco. "They're not even close in Detroit. So it's a big difference. Offensively, we were short two tackles. It's hard to run or throw without two tackles."

Ouch, though the reality is few would disagree with that assessment.

Left tackle Jeff Backus struggled with a rib injury much of the year and finished the season among the NFL leaders in sacks allowed. Right tackle George Foster lost his job in November to Jonathan Scott, who finished the year on IR and was replaced by Damien Woody, a former guard who's not likely to be re-signed this offseason.

If the Lions can't pluck a starter from a limited free-agent crop they'll have to spend a first- or second-round pick on a tackle in the draft. That's good in one regard. Matt Millen hasn't drafted an offensive lineman on the first day since 2001, and landing a talent like Boise State's Ryan Clady or USC's Sam Baker may allow Backus to move to right tackle, where he'd be most effective. But coach Rod Marinelli — who Martz has praised since his firing — prefers to go defense-heavy this draft in order to address the significant talent gap on that side of the ball.

As for Martz, he continues to talk up 49ers running back Frank Gore as an elite player — a description he once bestowed on Kevin Jones — and someone who'll be the centerpiece of his offense. If history is any indication, that, at least, is a bunch of hot air.


Johnson on all-rookie team

It's little consolation in what can only be described as a disappointing season, but Calvin Johnson was named to the all-rookie team today by Pro Football Weekly and the Professional Football Writers of America.

Johnson, drafted second overall out of Georgia Tech last April, finished the season with 48 catches for 756 yards and four touchdowns. He missed one game and was limited in several others by a bruised lower back he suffered Week 3 against Philadelphia.

Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe, the other all-rookie receiver, led all first-year pass catchers with 70 catches for 995 yards. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis were named offensive and defensive rookies of the year, and two other notables the Lions passed on — Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas and Jets linebacker David Harris (Michigan) — also were named to the all-rookie team.


MSU showing cracks?

Tom Izzo is worried about his team two games into the Big Ten season. Should you be, too?

Izzo had some harsh words after Michigan State's 78-75 victory over Purdue Tuesday when the Spartans blew a 16-point first-half lead only to win on a late Travis Walton jumper. A sampling:

- "We've got a couple guys playing pretty well, a couple guys feeling sorry for themselves."

- "We didn't not play, we just seemed like a team that forgets that you got to take care of the ball, got to rebound the ball and you got to defend the ball."

- "We got a good team, good players, but there's a lot of good teams out there. Good teams and good players don't win. Tough teams and tough players win."

That last quote is most revealing for a coach trying to reach his fifth Final Four in 10 years. Izzo may have his most talented team ever — Raymar Morgan is a potential first-round pick this year (with the upside to go higher in 2009), freshman Kalin Lucas is a pro-in-the-making (sooner than you think, too) and Drew Neitzel remains deadly from distance — but there's something missing as he looks towards San Antonio.

"I've been telling you for a couple weeks that I've not been pleased," Izzo said Tuesday. "I think you got an eyeful why. This is the first time in a lot of years that we just flat out got out-physicaled, out-toughed, out-manhandled, out-defended."

MSU can talent its way through most of the rest of the regular season. At 14-1 right now, the Spartans should finish no worse than 26-5, which will be good enough for at least a three seed come March. Getting to the Final Four, however, is more complicated. Kansas, Memphis and North Carolina all have better talent than MSU, and if the Spartans don't earn a one seed they'll likely run into one of those buzz-saws in the tournament.

All are beatable, but not the way MSU is currently constructed. Too often Tuesday Purdue got easy looks at the basket, including a wide-open 3-point attempt by Keaton Grant in the final seconds that would have tied the game. Neitzel seems to sulk at times in his new complimentary role, though having the ball in Lucas' hands is best for the team. And Izzo continues to lament Goran Suton's magic disappearing act inside.

The good news is there's two months to work out the kinks. The reality is MSU can't think that way. To be at their best come March, the Spartans have to get on the same page as their coach now.


San Francisco treat

Mike Martz had only good things to say about Rod Marinelli on his way out of town, but don't think for a second there aren't hard feelings there. Fired last week as Lions offensive coordinator, Martz resurfaced Monday in the same role with the San Francisco 49ers.

Lucky for you Lions fans (and even better for us reporters), Martz's new team will play his old one sometime next fall. Times and dates won't be announced until the spring, but the Lions are scheduled to visit the 49ers sometime in '08. Think Martz won't have that game circled on his calendar?

Last year, the Lions played the Rams, Martz's old stomping grounds as head coach, and Martz pulled out all the stops to win (only to be done in by, surprise, three Jon Kitna turnovers). He never admitted how much that game meant to him publicly, but Roy Williams said as much when asked about Marinelli playing his old team, Tampa Bay, earlier this year.

"If I was ever to get traded or go to another team I'd want to come out here and beat you guys," Williams said at the time. "(Marinelli) wanted to win. Everybody would. Coach Martz wanted to win against the Rams (last year)."

The 49ers should be improved next year, closer to the team that challenged for a playoff berth in 2006 than the 5-11 team that regressed this year. Expect some fireworks to ensue.


More on Martz, Barry, Kwan

The first email I checked this morning contained two words: Who's next? The answer is just as succinct: No one.

Unless someone leaves voluntarily, the Lions are done making coaching changes this offseason. And frankly, that's the right course of action.

I know the numbers. The Lions finished last in the league in defense and had some serious breakdowns on special teams. But Rod Marinelli's best chance to succeed as head coach — and the organization correctly feels he's still the right man for the job — is to keep his defensive and special teams coordinators on staff.

Joe Barry is an energetic coach who had his defense playing over its head early in the season during the Lions' 6-2 start. Nepotism is not an issue here. Barry is a good teacher who believes whole-heartedly in the Tampa 2 system the Lions are married to. He needs better players to make things work, and he'll get some next year. Safety Daniel Bullocks returns from a knee injury and will help the secondary immensely (he and Gerald Alexander are your starters in 2008), and the Lions will make a concerted effort to add talent at every position on that side of the ball.

Like Barry, Stan Kwan is a young coach whose unit's shortcomings (several game-changing coverage mistakes) overshadowed his bright spots (a great tactical plan against Devin Hester in Chicago, squeezing the most out of Aveion Cason as a return man). Kwan's situation is not unlike defensive line coach Joe Cullen, who Marinelli gave a second chance to last year after off-field issues threatened to derail his career. At the end of the day, Kwan is a good teacher and an extension of Marinelli's message (don't ruin field position with stupid penalties).

So how are Kwan and Barry different than Mike Martz, who was fired Wednesday as offensive coordinator but remains one of the game's brightest minds and who Marinelli continues to hold in high esteem? Simple. With Martz and Marinelli, their philosophical differences and Martz's abrasive personality became too much to ignore. The Lions desire more of a ball-control offense, and that's just not in Martz's blood.

Martz will be a head coach in the NFL again, though it wouldn't surprise me if he sat out next season completely or served as a consultant somewhere. As for the Lions, by keeping most of his staff in place (Martz's son, Tim, and defense assistant Fred Reed are the only others out of work) Marinelli has sent a message to his team that tweaks not a complete overhaul are needed to contend for the playoffs in 2008. Only time will tell if he's correct.


Lions leftovers

The conspiracy theorist in me thinks today would be a perfect day for the Mike Martz situation to come to a head. It's Lloyd Carr's last game, most of America's focused on New Year's Day bowls, and there's not much talk radio to dissect the move/batter the franchise. Just a thought.

And while we're on the topic, I understand why Kippy Brown is the frontrunner to replace Martz. Continuity is big entering what could be a make-or-break season. However, I'd wait for the ax to fall on Cam Cameron in Miami and I'd explore the likes of Chan Gailey, Brian Billick, Ray Sherman and if there's coaching turnover in Carolina, Jeff Davidson. Then again, a big-name hire didn't hire work the first time around.

Looking at the Lions' 2008 schedule, it's hard to see much room for improvement record-wise. They play a brutal home schedule with games against playoff teams Tampa, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Washington and Green Bay (plus the Bears, Vikings and Saints; nothing easy there). Indianapolis and Minnesota are the only two playoff teams the Lions face on the road, but the way they played away from Ford Field this year can you really count on wins at Atlanta, San Francisco or Carolina?