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 release Fisher

The cuts keep coming for the Lions, who released veteran cornerback Travis Fisher today.

Fisher is the third prominent player (at least in name) to be cut by the Lions this week. Tight end Michael Gaines was released on Tuesday, and quarterback Drew Henson was let go Monday.

Fisher played the last two seasons with the Lions, mostly in the nickel role, and had two interceptions. He was deemed expendable after the Lions added three new cornerbacks this offseason. Phillip Buchanon and Anthony Henry will start, with Eric King and holdover Keith Smith as the primary backups.

Fisher was due to make $1.75 million this year, more than every defensive back on the Lions roster other than Henry and Smith.

The Lions also announced the promotion of Sheldon White from director of pro personnel to vice president of pro personnel, and the realignment of their scouting department for geographical purposes. Regional scout Mike Butler was fired.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Lions could be in the market for Foote, another QB

The Lions are still studying any and all ways to upgrade their roster, including possibly adding a starter at middle linebacker (Larry Foote?) and a backup at quarterback.

“There's not many positions on this team that on April 30 that we're saying, 'We're set, we're 100 percent set at that position. We're good, don't worry about that,'” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “We still have a lot of work to do.”

The two most pressing needs are middle linebacker, where the Lions drafted DeAndre Levy in the third round last week, and defensive tackle, where good big men are hard to find. Levy will play exclusively in the middle at this weekend's rookie orientation, and is penciled in as the starter for now.

But the Steelers could trade or release Foote, a Detroit native, and the Lions are in a position to sign him if they choose.

“It's fair to say that we're looking (at middle linebacker) and we're also looking at a lot of other positions,” Schwartz said. “Now, that being said, that doesn't mean it'll necessarily happen. We'll see where we go with the guys on our roster, see where we go with the guys that are drafted and their play will determine a lot of where we go.”

Schwartz cautioned about reading too much into performance at this weekend's camp, which serves more as a welcome-to-the-NFL session with the rookies than a test of football ability.

“Middle linebackers need mouthpieces and shoulder pads,” he said. “One of the biggest things here is to get a good feel for the guys athletically.”

At defensive tackle, there aren't many options available, though the Lions did welcome end Kevin Carter in for a visit recently. Carter played four seasons with Schwartz in Tennessee, and Schwartz said he's a “giant” who could double as a defensive tackle in nickel situations.

The Lions could be in the market for a third quarterback, too. For now, Daunte Culpepper is the starter, Matthew Stafford is the future and Drew Stanton is No. 3 on the depth chart, but Stanton won't get many reps going forward and the Lions might want a veteran for insurance instead.

“There's so many different paths you could take there,” Schwartz said. “That wouldn't necessarily mean bring a veteran in to compete, it might be bring a veteran in to learn as an insurance policy, something like that. A lot of different ways you can go with it. We're not there yet. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Answering your e-mails

Thanks for the e-mails. I'll try to get back to answering those once a week on here now that the draft is over. If you anything you want me to address that I don't get to in your comments, try me at

I've taken the liberty of rewriting a few of these questions for length reasons, but the gist remains the same. The first one's from a good friend. I don't know if he's serious, but what the heck. I'll answer it anyway.

When the Lions go 0-16 again next year, does the NFL have any legal way to step in and remove the team from Ford's ownership?
No, there's nothing the league can do to force William Clay Ford to sell the team or pass total control to his children. If they did, wouldn't the Raiders be under new ownership already? Seriously though, I know Ford catches a lot of flack for the state of the franchise, much of it deservingly so, but I talked to plenty of people around the league last fall (when a GM search was supposed to be going on) who spoke glowingly of the Lions' long-time owner. He's not overly meddlesome, he's not afraid to spend money and, for better or worse, he's loyal to his people.

Should we read anything into the Lions' flirtation with drafting Beanie Wells?
To be clear, I don't know if they would have drafted Wells at 33 having taken offensive players with the first two picks. He certainly fits the type of back they want, but at some point you have to weigh need on your board. That said, it'll be interesting to see how Kevin Smith fits into the new offense. He's a good back, but he's not break-away fast and he played in a zone system most of his life. I've been thinking about this since free agency, when Maurice Morris was the Lions' first signing. I do think if they had their druthers, they'd use two backs of varying styles, but that seems a bit of a luxury right now.

With money such an issue at the top of the draft, why don't more NFL teams treat the No. 1 pick like they do in baseball and negotiate a lesser contract at the top?
The easy answer is because, theoretically at least, you're getting an immediate impact player at the top of the draft and someone the general public has followed for years. In baseball, when the Padres took Matt Bush five years ago and top prospect Stephen Drew fell to No. 15, no one had seen Bush play and almost no one had watched Drew. Bush eventually flamed out, but he had a five-year time horizon to begin with. Even Drew was two years away when he was drafted. In football, teams would get killed if they took a far lesser prospect No. 1. That said, salaries have just started getting out of whack recently and we've seen teams strike gold at the top with the perceived lesser prospect (Mario Williams vs. Reggie Bush). If a rookie pay scale isn't instituted in the next CBA, I think you will start to see some of that baseball effect. And it wouldn't be that much of a leap if, to use the e-mailer's example, B.J. Raji went No. 1 instead of Matthew Stafford this year.

There's a school of thought among some Lions fans that Tom Lewand is calling the shots after playing a big role in the last eight seasons of misery. Any truth to it?
I haven't seen or heard anything that leads me to believe the Stafford pick was the doing of anyone other than Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz. Lewand runs the day-to-day operations of the franchise and as such has a hand in a lot of contractual decisions, as he did under Matt Millen. He appeared to be charting 40 times at the NFL combine, which was a bit mysterious, and there's no doubt he and Mayhew developed a good relationship in recent seasons (and that relationship aided Mayhew in getting the job). But Mayhew is the man in charge of football decisions, not Lewand.

Can Manny Ramirez  take a step forward and win a starting job at guard?
I wouldn't count on it. I think the Lions are set up front with Gosder Cherilus and Jeff Backus at tackles, Stephen Peterman and Daniel Loper at guards and Dominic Raiola at center. George Foster, Damion Cook, Manny Ramirez and seventh-round pick Lydon Murtha are in the mix for backup jobs. Ramirez is a big, strong man, but he hasn't shown much in the running game yet. Admittedly, he hasn't much of a chance, but he has something to prove once the pads come on if he's going to make the team.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,


Lions cut Gaines

Three days after drafting tight end Brandon Pettigrew with the 20th pick of the first round, the Lions released his predecessor at the position, Michael Gaines.

Gaines signed a four-year contract last year as a free agent from Buffalo, but was plagued by drops and fumbles in his first season as a Lion. He finished with 23 catches last year.

Pettigrew isn't a down-the-field threat like Antonio Gates, but he was regarded as the most complete tight end in the draft.

"If you look back over the last few years, there's not many tight ends that have looked like him that have blocked him that have come out," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "If you're going to run the football, which we're going to do, you need a guy that can block the edge. And he's a guy that can do that.

"He's a really, really big target in the passing game. He's got really soft, reliable hands. Not necessarily a vertical threat down the field, but going to be a good target in the red zone."

The Lions also signed blocking tight end Will Heller as a free agent this offseason.

Labels: , , ,


Lions release Henson

The Lions announced the release of three players Tuesday, including quarterback Drew Henson.

Henson played in two games last season, completing 1-of-2 passes in mop-up duty of a Thanksgiving loss to Tennessee, but was a long shot to make the team after the Lions drafted Matthew Stafford No. 1 overall.

His release leaves the Lions with just three quarterbacks under contract, Stafford, Daunte Culpepper and 2007 second-round pick Drew Stanton. It's unclear if the Lions plan to sign a free-agent veteran to compete with Stanton for the No. 3 quarterback job.

The Lions also released cornerback Pacino Horne (Central Michigan) and guard Matt Lentz (Michigan). Both players signed earlier this month to provide roster depth for minicamp.

Rookie minicamp begins Friday.

Labels: , , , ,

Stafford and Letterman

In case you missed, here's the video of new Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford on the Late Show with David Letterman last night.

Labels: , ,


Lions sign 4 undrafted rookies

The Lions have signed four undrafted rookies so far, including Wake Forest receiver D.J. Boldin, the brother of Arizona Cardinals receiver Anquan Boldin.

The other rookies to sign contracts so far are Ball State center Dan Gerberry, Alabama-Birmingham kicker/punter Swayze Waters and, according to the Daily Northwestern, Northwestern defensive tackle John Gill.

The team should release a complete list of the undrafted rookies it signs either later today or tomorrow.

Labels: , ,


Levy's a middle linebacker; Lions content to pass on defense

Third-round draft pick DeAndre Levy will get first crack at the Lions' vacant middle linebacker position, coach Jim Schwartz said Sunday.

Levy started three years at outside linebacker at Wisconsin in a scheme that frequently placed him over the ball. At 6-foot-2 and 236 pounds, he doesn't have prototype middle linebacker size, but Schwartz said Levy is enough of a “thumper” to play in the center of his defense.

“Watch him hit,” Schwartz said.

The Lions honed in on Levy two weeks ago when they were studying film on Ohio State running back Beanie Wells in case Wells dropped into the second round. Arizona drafted Wells with the 31st pick overall, two picks before the Lions took safety Louis Delmas.

Levy visited the Lions April 17, the last day prospects could travel to NFL teams. The Lions presumably had him No. 1 on their Day 2 board among middle linebackers. Western Illinois outside linebacker Jason Williams was the only linebacker drafted in front of Levy Sunday.

“He had been high on our radar before," Schwartz said. “Beanie Wells is such a downhill running back and Levy knocked him back a couple times and caught our eye again.”

Besides Levy, the Lions drafted a tight end, two return men, an offensive lineman, defensive tackle and another outside linebacker after making two trades Sunday. They've had the NFL's worst defense each of the last two seasons, and just two of their 10 picks – Delmas and Levy – are expected to contribute on defense next year.

Schwartz said fourth-round defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill is a “developmental” prospect who “it's probably unrealistic to expect” much from next year. Seventh-round linebacker Zach Follett is more polished, but with less upside and a murkier path to make the team.

The Lions still have several holes left on defense – there are no immediate plans to sign another middle linebacker – and patchwork to do on both lines, but Schwartz said there was no thought of straying from their board.

“You don't want to strictly draft need just to take players that your scouts don't really have a feel for or your coaches don't really have a good feel for,” he said. “You'd rather take somebody that you like. We still have opportunities to fill some holes.”

Labels: , , , , ,

Draft: Day 2 scouting reports

LB DeAndre Levy
Pick: Third round, No. 76 overall
College: Wisconsin
Height, weight: 6-2, 236
The skinny: A three-year starter at outside linebacker, Levy will play middle at this weekend's rookie minicamp for the Lions. He had five sacks and recovered two fumbles last year, and ran a 4.5-second 40-yard dash at his pro day after tweaking a hamstring at the combine.
What they're saying: “We went against a lot of teams, a lot of system formations where I ended up with similar assignments to the (middle linebacker) a lot of times, so I'm just going in there and learn as much as I can and hopefully apply it to the field as soon as possible.” - Levy

WR Derrick Williams
Pick: Third round, No. 82
College: Penn State
Height, weight: 6-2, 236
The skinny: One of the best return men in the draft, Williams scored three punt- and two kick-return TDs in the last three years. The nation's top recruit coming out of high school, he'll also play slot receiver for the Lions.
What they're saying: “My philosophy on special teams is not to be safe and find a guy that can catch the ball and fair catch it. We're going to try to get some explosiveness, try to score, so a guy like Derrick Williams brought great value there.” - Lions coach Jim Schwartz

DT Sammie Lee Hill
Pick: Fourth round, No. 115
College: Stillman
Height, weight: 6-4, 329
The skinny: Big and raw, Hill got by on natural ability at Stillman. He's a developmental prospect who probably won't have a big impact in 2009, but is the type of massive tackle who could take over for Grady Jackson one day.
What they're saying: “He's got rare athletic ability for such a big man. And we're not talking about an overachiever that's 6-1, 300 and that's all he's ever going to be. This is a naturally big man that's a naturally good athlete.” - Schwartz

RB Aaron Brown
Pick: Sixth round, No. 192
College: TCU
Height, weight: 6-1, 196
The skinny: Brown was used sparingly out of the backfield last year, totaling just 99 carries in 10 games. He earned honorable mention all-Mountain West honors as a return specialist and projects as a change-of-pace back with natural hands.
What they're saying: “I had a really good feeling that the Lions would (draft me). I had a trip up there about three weeks ago and met with Sam Gash, the running backs coach, and the personnel guys. They made me feel more welcome than a lot of teams have.” – Brown

OL Lydon Murtha
Pick: Seventh round, No. 228
College: Nebraska
Height, weight: 6-7, 306
The skinny: describes Murtha as the typical Nebraska lineman, “smart, big and strong.” He ran a 4.89-second 40-yard dash at the combine, best among offensive linemen, but doesn't project to have much of an impact even on a line that hasn't looked good in years.
What they're saying: “Everybody we drafted we liked and we saw a role for, so it wasn't just like we were drafting just blindly to take guys. But I thought we did a really good job of balancing high-rated players with how we were going to use them." - Schwartz

LB Zack Follett
Pick: Seventh round, No. 235
College: California
Height, weight: 6-2, 236
The skinny: Follett played primarily outside linebacker, but also spent time in the middle and occasionally at defensive end. He the Pac-10 with 23 tackles for loss last year. Still, he may have to beat out Alex Lewis for job.
What they're saying: “I guess the best words to describe him are good football player. Versatile, has played inside, has played outside, even lines up as a pass rusher with his hand in the dirt.” - Schwartz

TE Dan Gronkowski
Pick: Seventh round, No. 255
College: Maryland
Height, weight: 6-6, 255
The skinny: Caught 29 passes as a senior after totaling 11 receptions in his first three seasons. Has good size and is best known for his blocking ability.
What they're saying: “We didn't anticipate taking two tight ends but at that point in the draft with the people that were available he was by far the highest-rated guy and you want to still stick with that.  - Schwartz

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Draft leftovers

A couple leftovers from the press conference to introduce Saturday draft picks Matthew Stafford, Brandon Pettigrew and Louis Delmas while we wait for the Lions' last pick, and coach Jim Schwartz's final draft-day thoughts:

• Schwartz said Pettigrew is NFL-ready right now and pointed to his most famous game against Texas, when he manhandled defensive end Brian Orakpo, who went 13th overall to the Redskins. “One of the things that sort of put him over the hump for us was we watched the Texas game and Brandon did a very good job of blocking Orakpo, and we said that's what he's going to be looking at in the NFL, that's what he's going to be blocking,” Schwartz said. “Never seen a guy push guys off the radar screen, push guys off the film as much as him, and we're really excited about what he can add to our offense.”

Orakpo will get a chance for revenge in Week 3 when the Redskins visit Ford Field.

• Stafford said he doesn't think of himself as any sort of franchise savior. “There's no way one guy can turn it around,” he said. He also said he'll do his best to win over the fans who booed his selection. “That comes with playing and winning football games,” he said. “Winning solves a lot of problems and there's a bunch of steps that go into that and hopefully we can turn it around, start winning some games here and it could be an exciting time.”

• Schwartz on Louis Delmas: “We've probably gotten about 10 calls today from different people around the league said, 'Damn, you took our guy.' You don't have to watch very long on film to see what kind of player he is. A multidimensional player, a guy that has some corner in his background, he's got great range against the pass, he's got great instincts and absolutely brings it in the run game. A guy that wants to make the play. And there's a difference when you talk about guys in the secondary that are willing to tackle and guys that want to tackle. And you'll see that immediately when you watch it on tape.”

Labels: , , , , ,

Lions take Murtha

The Lions finally drafted their offensive lineman, Nebraska right tackle Lydon Murtha. The 6-foot-7 Murtha ran a 4.89-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, but doesn't project as upgrade over anyone currently in the rotation.

In the sixth round, Detroit took TCU running back Aaron Brown, who was used sparingly out of the backfield last year but excelled as a return man.

They have two picks left.

Lions make another trade

The Lions made their second draft-day trade at the top of the sixth round, sending that selection to Denver for a seventh-round choice, No. 235 overall, and a fifth-rounder next year.

The Lions now have three picks in the seventh round. They still haven't drafted an offensive lineman this weekend.

Lions go DL in the 4th

The Lions finally addressed their line, one of them at least, by taking small-school defensive tackle prospect Sammie Lee Hill. I'd be lying if I said I knew anything about him other than what I've read on the internet.

He's 6-foot-4 and 329 pounds, which fits the description of a defensive tackle in Jim Schwartz's scheme. At Stillman, he played mostly defensive end, but he projects to the interior line in the NFL.

We should have a teleconference here in a minute and Matt Stafford's press conference is 20 minutes from now. I'll have more updates later.

Lions draft Levy, Williams

The Lions added Wisconsin linebacker DeAndre Levy and Penn State receiver/return man Derrick Williams with their two third-round picks.

Levy said the Lions brought him in for a last-minute visit last Friday. He started at outside linebacker for three seasons at Wisconsin, but said he talked with the Lions about possibly playing middle.

Williams will be a slot receiver and return man. He was one of the top recruits in the nation coming out of high school but never quite lived up to his billing at Penn State. Still, he ranked as one of the most dangerous return men in the Big Ten and could handle both kick and punt return duties for the Lions.

Lions make a trade

The Lions traded the opening pick on Day 2 of the draft to the Jets for third-, fourth- and seventh-round picks. The Lions still have two third-round choices, No. 76 and 82 overall. The Jets drafted Iowa running back Shonn Greene.

It's a very good move considering the Lions need players and entering the day they did not have fourth- and fifth-round picks.

Mayhew sticking to his draft plan

I'm resisting the urge to hand out draft grades this year. They're pointless. I won't be able to tell you how the Lions did until three years from now (minimum) when I see what kind of players Matthew Stafford, Brandon Pettigrew and Louis Delmas turn out to be, and for that matter how good they are in relation to Aaron Curry, Michael Oher and Rey Maualuga.

I like the Stafford pick. I think he fits what the Lions want to do and I believe you go as your quarterback goes. The Lions have proven that for decades. I like Pettigrew and Delmas as players, too. Pettigrew excels at the most underrated aspect of the game, blocking, and Delmas has a chance to be a playmaker in the secondary, something the Lions sorely lack currently.

I also think the Lions should have drafted Maualuga to fill their canyon at middle linebacker. I probably would have taken him at pick No. 20. I definitely would have taken him at 33. But I'm not a talent evaluator and it appears I liked the USC product more than most of the 32 NFL teams, who employ much smarter men on the subject than me.

I can't hammer the Lions for Day 1 of their draft, though. Sorry if this is redundant. I know I've written it a thousand times. But there are dozens of ways to win in the NFL. The key is not that you choose a certain one (though the Patriot and Steeler ways have their privileges), but rather that you stay disciplined within whatever you plan you have. OK, unless it's the Al Davis Plan. That one never works.

Like it or not, the Lions did that Saturday. They went best player available with each of their picks. At 20 and 33, they probably went safest available, too. (Oher and Maualuga have more red flags than the Russians.)

They didn't make the splash pick and surely didn't win over fans, but they did take the top players in the draft at three different positions. No other team can say that.

If the goal is to win this year, I'd say the Lions are in trouble. Stafford will start the season as a backup, who knows who'll start at middle linebacker, and Pettigrew and Delmas play low-priority positions (at least compared to Oher and Maualuga).

But general manager Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz have made it clear they're building for the long term. Three years from now, when the real grades come out, they see Stafford throwing passes to Calvin Johnson, Pettigrew sealing off the edge for Kevin Smith, and Delmas covering ground in the secondary behind …

OK, so they still don't have much in the way of defense, but Mayhew said the Lions weren't going to fill every hole in one draft. I can't gush about his work yet, but I can't slam it, either. Not until I see the vision take a little more shape.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,


Time to reorder the draft board

Day 1 of the draft is over. That means it's time for the Lions to sit back and reassess their draft board and their needs, and any trade offers that come in, too.

First, the needs. The Lions went quarterback-tight end-safety on Day 1, and still have canyons on their roster at middle linebacker, offensive guard, defensive tackle and in the return game. They could use more depth just about everywhere else on defense, too.

Second, the players available. A few names that caught my eye: Georgia Tech defensive end Michael Johnson, San Jose State defensive tackle Jarron Gilbert, Eastern Michigan guard T.J. Lang, Alabama center Antoine Caldwell and middle linebackers Jasper Brinkley of South Carolina and Scott McKillop of Pitt.

The Lions have the first pick Sunday, but there's no guarantee they'll keep it. Last year, they traded a sixth-rounder to move up to the No. 1 slot on Day 2 in order to grab running back Kevin Jones. Could teams be interested in doing the same tomorrow?

“That first pick in the third round, as we saw last year with a guy like Kevin Smith, is a very valuable pick,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “This organization felt strong enough that we were able to move up to take a player like that. We're in that position. That's a great, great bargaining chip to have and also provides, when this day's over, a chance for us to reorganize and take the top player we still have available.”

Draft: Day 1 scouting reports

QB Matt Stafford
Pick: First round, No. 1 overall
College: Georgia
Height, weight: 6-3, 237
The skinny: The seventh quarterback to go first overall in the last nine years, Stafford is the type of strong-armed signal caller the Lions want to build around. He can make any throw in any weather condition, has advanced football recall and a moxie about him that should win over the locker room. His biggest knock is accuracy. He was a career 57-percent passer in college, though he threw for 3,459 yards and 25 touchdowns his junior year.
What they're saying: “What came out in this process – I don't know that it was a surprise to us – intelligence, work ethic and passion for the game of football. It's easy when you're around this guy a lot. He's a gym rat. He loves football. He loves to talk the game.” - Lions coach Jim Schwartz

TE Brandon Pettigrew
Pick: First round, No. 20
College: Oklahoma State
Height, weight: 6-5, 263
The skinny: Easily the most complete tight end in the draft. Pettigrew's a four-year starter who caught 42 passes last season. He's a bigger threat in the red zone than he is on vertical routes, but the Lions drafted him in part for his blocking prowess. He's physical in the run game and fills an immediate need.
What they're saying: “Brandon Pettigrew is a really, really big tight end that is an NFL-ready blocker right now. Impressive, impressive as a blocker. Really feel good about him and when you talk about drafting a young quarterback and putting pieces around him, ... we put a good young tight end in that mix and I think we provide him with some weapons and some tools for us to be successful on offense.” - Schwartz

S Louis Delmas
Pick: Second round, No. 33
College: Western Michigan
Height, weight: 5-11, 202
The skinny: Versatility is the key for Delmas, who emerged as the best safety prospect in the draft after a strong Senior Bowl. He intercepted four passes for the Broncos last year and is a punishing hitter who can slide easily to the nickel role if necessary. He's the third safety the Lions have taken in the second round the last four years.
What they're saying: “We talked about his size in our meetings. Ed Reed was about the same size. Very, very similar when he came out, and so was Troy Polamalu. Both those guys were very close to Delmas' size, so we felt size is not an issue. And he plays bigger than what he weighs.” - Lions general manager Martin Mayhew

Labels: , , , , , ,

Louis Delmas is a Lion

The Lions finally went defense, drafting Western Michigan safety Louis Delmas, with the first pick of the second round.

It's the third time in four years the Lions have taken a safety in Round 2. Hopefully for the Lions' sake, Delmas avoids the same injury fate that befell Daniel Bullocks (2006) and Gerald Alexander (2007).

Alexander's injury concerns - he fractured a vertebrae in his neck against Minnesota last year - are why the Lions felt the need to go safety. Interestingly enough, the Patriots took Oregon safety Patrick Chung with the next pick. Let's see who turns out to be the better the pro.

And of course they passed on USC's Rey Maualuga with the pick. Either I way overrated Maualuga or the Lions (and several other teams) scratched him from their draft board for various concerns. Still, the Lions don't have a starting middle linebacker.

Closing in on 33; who could it be

The Lions went quarterback at No. 1 and tight end at 20, will they go defense at 33?

If so, it looks like they'll have their choice of a few good players. USC linebacker Rey Maualuga, Florida State defensive end Everette Brown, Wake Forest cornerback/return man Alphonso Smith, Connecticut corner Darius Butler and Missouri defensive tackle Ziggy Hood are still on the board. Who do you want to see in a Lions uniform next?


Lions take Pettigrew

Lions took tight end Brandon Pettigrew with the 20th pick. That's a bit of a stunner considering USC linebacker Rey Maualuga and Mississippi offensive tackle Michael Oher were still on the board.

I thought Pettigrew might have slipped to 33. He's the best tight end in the draft, clearly. And will be a good block-receive combo for years to come. I'm just a little shocked that's the direction they went.

No. 20 pick closing in

We're 15 picks into the draft and the Lions could be deciding between a few good men at pick No. 20.

Among those still on the board: USC middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, Mississippi left tackle Michael Oher, Tennessee defensive end Robert Ayers, Missouri receiver/return man Jeremy Maclin and Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew.

Of those five, who do you most want to see in a Lions uniform?

Stafford 'excited to be a Lion'

Matthew Stafford was out to dinner with about 20 family members and friends in New York City when he got a call from his agent last night telling him the deal with the Lions was done. He returned to the table, “kind of gave everybody the thumbs up,” and, naturally, picked up the check.

In a teleconference shortly before the draft Saturday, Stafford said he was thrilled to be a Lion despite a tense last few days.

“It's great,” Stafford said. “It's a huge relief and I'm just extremely excited to be a Lion. I can't wait to get out there and start playing some football.”

How soon he gets on the field remains to be seen. Stafford said it's his competitive nature to want to play as soon as possible, and coach Jim Schwartz left open that possibility Saturday. But it still seems likely that Daunte Culpepper will open next season as starter.

Culpepper lost more than 30 pounds and looked good in minicamp, and the Lions, with 17 straight losses, could choose to bring Stafford along slowly because of their schedule that includes a torturous first two months.

“Best player's going to play and I think we need to keep an eye toward that with Matthew, is he the best player and is he ready?” Schwartz said. “And both of those questions have to be answered. We're in a really good position right now with a rejuvenated Daunte Culpepper. Daunte's done an incredible job between the end of the season and now of making a commitment and being back, and I think anybody that saw any of our minicamp sees a lot of the old Daunte Culpepper.

“I think it's a great situation to be in where we have a comfort level with what Daunte's done up to this point and we have a good young quarterback. We don't have to force our hand, we don't have to make a decision that's not based on merit.”

It's a busy day here in a buzzing media room so I'm going to give you a couple other quick-hit thoughts on Stafford and be back later to discuss the draft's other happenings.

• General manager Martin Mayhew said he honed in Stafford after Stafford's private workout in late March. “It was just the way that he carried himself, how smart he was about the game and obviously the way he threw the football was very impressive,” Mayhew said. “I was at his pro day and the private workout. This guy can throw the football. We think our fans will be really excited to see Matthew.”

• Speaking of fans … Stafford, who'll wear No. 9, said he's not discouraged by the negative reaction many in Detroit have to his selection. “It's actually great to see that fans are passionate about the game and care about their team,” he said. “I'm going to come in there and work hard, put my nose to the floor and do what it takes to try to win. And I think in the end winning solves a lot of problems and hopefully I can help bring that to the city.”

• Schwartz was adamant that everyone in the organization was on board with the selection. “When we started this process we went in with an open mind,” he said. “We didn't start this process saying, hey, we're starting a franchise, we're going to start with a quarterback or we're going to start with a left tackle or a defensive player. We let the process work.

“This is year 17 in the NFL for me and this is probably one of the few times I remember in 17 years having a consensus in the building for a No. 1 pick. That goes from the area scout to the director of college scouting to the general manager to the assistant coach to the offensive coordinator to the head coach. I think when we started stacking the board and we started talking about different things in the selection at No. 1, the thing that came off very strong about Matthew was the consensus of opinion and it made it an easy pick.”

• Circle Nov. 8 on your calendar. That's when Stafford and the Lions play Aaron Curry and the Seahawks next season.

Edit: We're seven picks in and only one offensive tackle has been drafted so far. Surely Eugene Monroe will go in the next few picks, but could Michael Oher be on the board at 20 for the Lions? Or receiver Jeremy Maclin?

Labels: , , , , , ,

Draft day blog: Stafford in the fold, what's next?

I'll be heading out to Allen Park to commence draft-weekend coverage shortly – after I post this blog and cut the grass – but a couple quick thoughts on last night's deal and where the Lions go from here.

First, I know there's some shock and even outrage at the contract Matt Stafford got, $41.7 million guaranteed with a reported maximum value of $78 million. Most of that stems from Aaron Curry's well-played declaration that he'd take a Jake Long-type deal to go No. 1 and Lions' fans general frustration with the pick. The truth is, the Lions paid about what they expected it was going to take to sign a quarterback at No. 1.

At the NFL combine in February, I asked general manager Martin Mayhew if the struggling economy would impact salaries at the top of the draft.

“I can't see it happening,” he said. “I mean the salary cap went up. And you see the (Nnamdi Asomugha) contract that was done (for three years and $45 million). I don't see that as impacting. When you talk about the top players, there's going to be a market for those guys and that market consistently, since the beginning of time, has gone up. So unless the cap comes down at some point I can't see the market coming down.”

The Lions zeroed in Stafford early on in this process and, despite reports, were intent on signing him all along. They could have got Curry for less, but they wanted Stafford and will pay a shade over what Matt Ryan made as the top quarterback and third pick overall last year.

Now, what does the Stafford deal mean for the rest of the draft? I take Mayhew at his word that he's determined to choose the best player available. Yes, they'll draft a middle linebacker at some point because they don't have one on their roster, but they won't reach for one in the first round if it doesn't mesh with their board. Ditto for offensive line help and every other position you can name.

Since this is considered a draft deep in offensive skill positions and rush linebackers up top, that might lead to some interesting choices. I'm curious from the fans out there, if say Rey Maualuga and Robert Ayers are off the board, how would you feel about Brandon Pettigrew, the draft's top tight end, at No. 20? What if they land defensive tackle at 20 and then go back to offense for a center/guard combo like Louisville's Eric Wood at 33, ignoring the defensive backfield and middle linebacker spots until Sunday?

There should be plenty of options at both picks, players like Wake Forest cornerback/return man Alphonso Smith, Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis and Boston College defensive tackle Ron Brace, and we all know the Lions have plenty of needs (especially on defense). But with a few hours to kill and only the guessing game to play, I wonder what will it take for you to come away liking the Lions' draft?

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,


Stafford deal done; Lions will make him No. 1 pick

The Lions finalized a contract with quarterback Matt Stafford late Friday and will draft the Georgia quarterback with the No. 1 pick, team sources said.

The two sides had been working on a deal for several days after the Lions decided to rebuild their team around the junior signal caller.

Neither Stafford, his agent Tom Condon nor Lions general manager Martin Mayhew returned phone calls or e-mails Friday, but Stafford told earlier in the day he wanted to play for Detroit.

“We've had some good talks, some good visits and sessions, and I would feel very comfortable there and believe I could become a part of growing something special,” Stafford said. “I wouldn't feel lost there at all.”

Terms of the deal weren't immediately known and it wasn't clear if Stafford would sign a contract before the draft begins around 4 p.m. today. Regardless, the Lions intend to make Stafford just the fourth quarterback they've drafted in the first round in the last 40 years.

Update: The deal is agreed to, but has not been signed. Regardless, Stafford will be the No. 1 pick sometime tomorrow.

Update II: First the deal is for six years. Second, I just got a text message from Stafford: "I'm unbelievably excited and truly blessed," the message read. "Thanks so much."

Labels: , , , ,

Mock draft: Final take

All's quiet on the Matt Stafford front for now. I know it's been reported the deadline to get a deal done is today, and while I can't confirm that, I remain confident the two sides will iron out their final differences soon. The Lions want Stafford, Stafford wants to be a Lion. Both sides will see to it that it happens.

Now on to my final mock draft. I don't do projected trades so I have Mark Sanchez going lower than most, but I can't see him falling tomorrow. Beyond that, I have the Lions with a little surprise at 33 only because I couldn't find a place for him earlier in the draft.

1. Lions: QB Matt Stafford, Georgia – Jim Schwartz gets his replacement for Bobby Layne from Layne's old high school.
2. Rams: OT Jason Smith, Baylor – No more Orlando Pace means Smith or Eugene Monroe is the pick here.
3. Chiefs: OT Eugene Monroe, Virginia – Scott Pioli keeps close to the vest, but Matt Cassel needs protection.
4. Seahawks: LB Aaron Curry, Wake Forest – Curry replaces Julian Peterson at the position that suits him best.
5. Browns: DE Brian Orakpo, Texas – If Braylon Edwards is traded, Browns can get his replacement later.
6. Bengals: OT Andre Smith, Alabama – When all's said and done, Smith might be the draft's best tackle.
7. Raiders: WR, Jeremy Maclin, Missouri – Raiders keen on giving JaMarcus Russell the proper weapons.
8. Jacksonville: WR Michael Crabtree, Texas Tech – Torry Holt doesn't solve all of Jacksonville's needs at receiver.
9. Packers: DT B.J. Raji, Boston College – Draft's best defensive tackle will haunt Lions for years to come.
10. 49ers: QB Mark Sanchez, USC – Expect someone to trade up and take Sanchez before 10.
11. Bills: OT Michael Oher, Ole Miss – Jason Peters deal means Bills need a tackle desperately.
12. Broncos: DE Tyson Jackson, LSU – Broncos are determined to fortify the AFC's worst defense.
13. Redskins: DE Robert Ayers, Tennessee – Play Ayers next to Haynesworth and get out of the way.
14. Saints: CB Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State – Jenkins could go No. 9 to the Packers.
15. Texans: LB Brian Cushing, USC – First of three Trojan linebackers ticketed for Round 1.
16. Chargers: OLB Aaron Maybin, Penn State – Shawne Merriman's got one year left on his contract; Maybin's the future.
17. Jets: QB Josh Freeman, Kansas State – If Jets pass, Freeman could fall to the end of the first.
18. Broncos: OLB Everette Brown, Florida State – I think I'd rather have Jay Cutler.
19. Buccaneers: DT Peria Jerry, Ole Miss – Talented tackle gives new-look Bucs an infusion of youth up front.
20. Lions: LB Rey Maualuga, USC – If Maualuga's gone, Lions should trade down or draft Ziggy Hood.
21. Eagles: RB Knowshon Moreno, Georgia – Moreno, Bryant Westbrook give Eagles deadly 1-2 punch.
22. Vikings: OT Eben Britton, Arizona – Vikings need a fix at right tackle, could go receiver instead.
23. Patriots: LB Clay Matthews, USC – Patriots have 11 selections in draft, far fewer holes.
24. Falcons: CB Vontae Davis – Falcons need help at outside linebacker and in the secondary.
25. Dolphins: RB Beanie Wells, Ohio State – Parcells goes best player available; Ronnie Brown could be traded.
26. Ravens: WR Percy Harvin, Florida – Someone will gamble on Harvin's immense talent late in Round 1.
27. Colts: DT Evander Hood, Missouri – Colts got gashed against the run last year. Hood will help.
28. Bills: DE Michael Johnson, Georgia Tech – Bills had just 24 sacks last year; Johnson's athleticism worth a gamble.
29. Giants: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland – Jets a possibility for Heyward-Bey if they pass on Freeman.
30. Titans: CB Darius Butler, UConn – Butler will contribute in the secondary, return game.
31. Cardinals: RB LeSean McCoy, Pitt – If Anquan Boldin gets traded, Arizona needs a receiver.
32. Steelers: C Alex Mack, Cal – Mack can play guard or center; Steelers have Big Ben's best interests in mind.
33. Lions: TE Brandon Pettigrew, Oklahoma State - Lions have other needs, but Pettigrew's too good to pass if he falls.

Labels: ,


Paper: Curry believes Stafford is No. 1 pick

According to a short story posted on the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's website earlier tonight, Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry "sounded resigned to the fact that" Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford will be the Lions' No. 1 pick.

“It’s just the prestige of being the No. 1 overall pick,” Curry, in New York for the draft, told the paper. “You can go to any athlete of any draft and ask them if they want to be the No. 1 pick, and they’re going to say, ‘Yeah,’ and what would they do to get it? They’d do anything to be in Matthew’s shoes right now.”

The Lions remain in negotiations with Stafford at this point, but a team source said the sides are "really close" and I continue to believe it's just a matter of time before a deal is done.

Here's a link to the story:

Labels: ,

Draft preview: T.J. Lang

I've got a story running tomorrow on Eastern Michigan offensive lineman T.J. Lang as part of our draft preview package. He's an interesting prospect. He wasn't invited to the combine but had a great week at the Texas vs. The Nation all-star game and has been shooting up draft boards since.

He said he visited 10 teams – the Lions, Ravens, Packers, Bears, Chargers, Jets, Jaguars, Falcons, Texans and Cowboys – and had five more that wanted to bring him in but couldn't because of conflicting schedules. A three-year starter at tackle (after playing his true freshman year at defensive tackle), Lang projects as a guard in the NFL (though some teams, including the Falcons, have worked him out at center).

On his visit with the Lions, Lang said he spent about 45 minutes working out for offensive line coach George Yarno.

“It went real well,” he said. “Coach told me he was impressed and said that I'm a guy that he likes. We watched a little bit of film, so I think that they definitely started showing some interest. It'd be nice to stick around and be a home-town guy.”

Former EMU line coach Chris Symington raves about Lang's physical play.

“He's mean,” Symington said. “He's a mean, mean kid. He's going to try to hurt you. And he's just the opposite off the field. He's very easy-going, fun-loving guy off the field. But he is a mean individual. John Matsko from the Baltimore Ravens called me and he was just raving about him. I go, 'John, I'm just telling you, the kid is mean. He's going to try to hurt you.'”

Symington said Lang decided two years ago he wanted to perfect his punch and spent the past 15 months improving his hands. He said he'd fit best in an offense that places a premium on physical play like what Jim Schwartz envisions in Detroit.

“He's got to be in an offense and for a line coach who's nasty and wants to just hit people,” Symington said. “He's that kind of kid. 'T.J., I want you to make his head part of the sprinkling system in the turf.' And he'll do it.”

Lang admits to being "the type of guy that likes to maul some people."

He's projected to go in the third or fourth round.

Labels: , , , , ,

Curry making the rounds with leukemia patient

Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry, the people's choice to be the Lions' No. 1 draft pick, is making the rounds in New York today with Bryson Merriweather, the 12-year-old leukemia patient he invited with him to the draft.

Throughout the day, Curry will be chronicling the trip on his Facebook fan page linked below. Fans can log on to view pictures and ask questions that Curry will answer throughout the day. Maybe even some about the Lions.

Labels: , , ,

Stafford deal has to happen

Still nothing to report in the way of a done deal on the Matt Stafford front, but a league source I traded e-mails with this morning said it's “got to happen” and the Lions will face “a PR nightmare” if it doesn't.

The truth is, now that it's become crystal clear both sides want a deal, both parties risk disaster if they don't come to an agreement. From the Lions' standpoint, most fans would be happy in the moment because, according to reports from Booth Newspapers and, they'd get their No. 1 choice in linebacker Aaron Curry. But imagine if Stafford went on to have a Hall-of-Fame career with the Rams or Redskins, the Lions would have passed on their John Elway for a few measly bucks, not because they didn't want him.

Beyond that, Yahoo reported that new Lions coach Jim Schwartz has been the biggest champion of Stafford as the No. 1 pick, even convincing general manager Martin Mayhew and president Tom Lewand that was the way to go. I don't think failing to land Stafford would harm that coach-GM relationship interminably, but it would hang over their heads (and presumably be in the back of their minds) when things eventually go sour, as they always do.

From Stafford's standpoint, any public-relations haze would be much easier to overcome. Ask Elway, who got his way out of Baltimore years ago and is one of the most beloved figures in Denver sports history. Still, in this wretched economy, Stafford would be vilified for his contract stance (his agent's actually, but you get my point) and if slid out of the top five – I wouldn't expect it to happen, but who knows – he stands to risk a lot of money and prestige.

Stafford is no slam dunk as a prospect, though in Detroit he's going to a system and situation (where presumably he'll sit for a period behind Daunte Culpepper, unless he's clearly better) that gives him the best chance to succeed. That's why it's just a matter of time before this deal gets done.

Labels: , , , , , ,


Lions close to a deal with Stafford

The Lions are close to agreeing on a deal with Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford to be the No. 1 overall pick.

Lions president Tom Lewand met with owner William Clay Ford for final approval earlier today, and the two sides could finalize a contract as soon as today. One source said a “catastrophe” would have to happen for the Lions not to draft Stafford at this point.

Phone calls to Lewand, general manager Martin Mayhew and senior vice president of communications Bill Keenist were not immediately returned. Neither Stafford nor his agent Tom Condon returned phone calls, either.

The Lions have five of the first 82 picks in this weekend's draft, including two first-rounders. Stafford passed for 3,459 yards last year with 25 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He likely will start next season behind Daunte Culpepper.

Update at 3:20 p.m.: Keenist finally texted me a back a few minutes ago saying my report is "untrue." But the Lions still haven't returned my calls and I don't know what exactly is being denied. Lewand and Ford did meet today and my sources say a deal is "really close." When I have more, I'll let you know.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Sanchez: Lions 'in love with' Stafford

USC quarterback Mark Sanchez visited the Lions last week, but he doesn't have any illusions of going No. 1 overall.

Asked on a teleconference Wednesday how high he thinks he'll be drafted, Sanchez said, “Some people are saying Detroit, but I don't know. I think Stafford locked that one down.”

Sanchez and Georgia's Matt Stafford got to know each other as counselors at the Elite 11 quarterback camp last summer. The two remained close during the season and throughout the draft process, and Sanchez joked Wednesday that “he needs to call me back. I called him at the beginning of the week, that punk.”

Inevitably, the two will be compared to each other for the duration of their NFL careers, something that's OK by Sanchez.

“It'll be like that forever,” he said. “That's great. It'll keep the competition going and it'll be fun for us and I know for a fact we'll have a lot of fun with it. Win or lose, it's going to be a great time for us.”

As for Stafford, Sanchez, who's visited the 49ers, Rams and Redskins recently and is expected to be a top-10 pick, sounds convinced he'll be a Lion.

“I wouldn't be surprised,” he said. “I think they're really in love with him. That's good. I'm happy for him.”

Labels: , , , ,

Should the Lions take Curry for less money?

A couple points on the hot topic of the day: Aaron Curry's comments that he's willing to taking less money to be the No. 1 pick.

First, team president Tom Lewand has made it clear that the Lions are free to negotiate whatever deal they want with their top draft choice. The union wouldn't be happy with a below-market contract, of course, but they couldn't do anything about it, either. (Publicly, at least. I'm sure agent Andy Ross would hear plenty of backlash behind closed doors.)

“With the No. 1 pick in the draft it's a free-market system," Lewand said earlier this month. "Outside of the restrictions on the rookie pool and the length of contracts and some of those things, there's nothing that dictates the financial terms of the contract. But from our vantage point, we're looking at the best player, who's the best fit for us, and the guy that we think is going to contribute."

Now to be clear, Curry wasn't talking about taking a deal that's worth half the value of what quarterback Matt Stafford would get as the No. 1 pick (I don't think, at least). More likely, he realizes the NFL pay structure (where QBs make more than OL, and OL make more than LBs) and is OK with not bleeding the Lions up top.

For argument's sake, let's say Curry got a deal in line with Jake Long's No. 1 contract from a season ago, five years with about $30 million guaranteed. To sign Stafford, it's going to cost the Lions about $10 million more - as the No. 3 pick last year, Matt Ryan signed a six-year deal with $34.75 million in guarantees.

If you're the Lions and you've already decided that Stafford is a franchise-caliber quarterback you can build around - if they didn't think that, this discussion would be moot - would it be worth it to take a more immediately impactful player at a lesser position to save a ton of money you're not going to be able to spend this year anyway? (Remember, there's no dominant players left in free agency and that $10 million total amounts to a $2-million-a-year prorated cap savings.)

When I first heard of Curry's comments last night, I said yeah, take Curry and pay him less. But the more I think of it in actual terms like those above, the more I don't think it changes what the Lions should do. If they're convinced Stafford is the future, he's the pick.

Labels: , , , , , ,


Stafford wants a Ford, Curry will take less to be a Lion

Say this about Matt Stafford, he's a company man.

The likely No. 1 overall pick was asked what kind of car he drives during an appearance on "The Mitch Albom Show" Tuesday.

“I got a Chevy Tahoe, my old Chevy Tahoe that I've had for a long time, so I'm probably going to have to trade that one out for a Ford if I go to Detroit,” Stafford said.

Stafford paused for a second before adding the “if I go to Detroit” part, but he didn't sound like a deal was done quite yet during the rest of the interview.

Asked about his long-stated desire to become a Lion, Stafford said, “I'm a competitive guy and I love a challenge and I really don't think the Lions are that far off, and hopefully if I get a chance to come there I can help them turn something around."

Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry also made the radio rounds Tuesday, and he gave the cost-conscious Lions something to munch on.

In a segment on Sirius NFL Radio's "Movin' The Chains," Curry said he "sure would" do a pre-draft deal with the Lions, and said he'd go to Detroit even if it was for less than the five-year, $58-million deal Jake Long got as the No. 1 pick last year. That contract included about $30 million guaranteed.

"I'd be more than happy to accept that deal," Curry said.

I'm not sure his agent, Andy Ross, would let that happen, but it's not every day two premier players are angling to become Lions.

Labels: , , , , ,

Mayhew: 'We'll be more efficient' on the clock

More notes from general manager Martin Mayhew's pre-draft press conference today:

• Mayhew said he expects the Lions, notorious for their last-minute wrangling under Matt Millen, to “be more efficient” when they're on the clock this weekend. “I think we'll be much more prepared,” he said. “We spent a lot of time already talking about how we stack players the first 33. We've had several meetings on that. We're having our dialogue now. This week we're having our dialogue. And then when it comes time on draft day, we'll have had a lot more discussion about players prior to being on the clock. I think sometimes you can get on the clock and try to have all that discussion when you're on the clock and it's hard to make the right decision then. We're having a lot of discussion now.”

• Though Mayhew will make the final call, he said he and coach Jim Schwartz will be in agreement on every player they select. If one likes a player and the other doesn't (at that spot in the draft, presumably), it's on to the next guy. “We're going to spend time together all the rest of this week watching film together and talking about players. So whoever we pick, it'll be a player that Jim and I both like, and Scott (McEwen) and our scouts like him, too. We'll be on the same page, and that's what we're doing this week. We're going to spend time together talking about that so it doesn't happen in the way you just described.”

• I will say this, from everything I've gathered during the evaluation process, that doesn't sound like lip service. The Lions have done their homework on every position group in this draft. That doesn't mean they're going to hit on every choice. In fact, it's good to be skeptical considering most of the scouts from the Millen era are still in place, but they've at least been thorough about their evaluations.

I mentioned in my last post Mayhew's praise of McEwen, the Lions' director of college scouting. Here's the quote exactly:  “Let me just say this, I think Scott McEwen has done a phenomenal job for us setting the board this year, as he has in the past. I think he's just a tremendous evaluator. I like our college scouts. I think to your point, there've been some mistakes made in the past and there've been a lot of noise in the system, so to speak. But again, I'm totally focused on the future and not the past.”

• Teams spew a lot of BS this time of year, but here's an absolute truth from Mayhew about what an anchor No. 1 money can be to a franchise. “I think the system is broken,” he said. “I think that's been addressed and talked about. The way it's set up, the idea I believe was to have teams who hadn't been as successful have an opportunity to get better by picking first, and now, if you miss at that pick or you miss early, which we have, it really sets you back even more so it's even harder to get out of that cycle. But I think hopefully that will get resolved some time in the near future.”

• Mayhew on how much production the Lions need from their No. 1 pick next year: “I think it's important. I think it's very important, but again like I talked about before, the draft is not for opening day. The draft is for this franchise, for now, for three years from now, for five years from now. We want to be able to extend these players, we want these guys to be here for 10 years. So it's a big picture, it's a bigger picture than just filling in spots and holes in the roster for opening day.”

• Mayhew on the pro-Aaron Curry (and anti-Matt Stafford) chants at the unveiling of the Lions' new logo Monday: “I didn't give it a whole lot of thought. I'm excited about their passion and they've always been passionate about it, but I'm hopeful that when we get a player, when we select somebody, they come in and start playing, that everybody likes them no matter who that player is.”

• Mayhew also said the Lions don't plan on signing last year's seventh-round pick, Caleb Campbell, before the draft. Campbell will re-enter this year's draft pool.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Mayhew: 'Very good' chance top pick signs before the draft

Lions general manager Martin Mayhew opened his draft-preview press conference Tuesday by declaring, “I hope nobody's expecting anything earth-shattering.”

True to form, the diligent and tight-lipped Mayhew shed no real light on who the Lions will take with the No. 1 pick, though he did say there's a “very good” chance a deal will be done by Saturday.

“That was our plan,” Mayhew said. “We talked about that back at the combine. That's very important, and we talked about getting something done prior to making that selection.”

The agents for Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford, Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith and Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry were in town over the weekend to begin preliminary contract talks. Mayhew wouldn't acknowledge who or how many players are still in the mix to go No. 1 other than to say “it has narrowed down pretty dramatically.”

He also heaped praise on Scott McEwen, the Lions' director of college scouting, for being “a tremendous evaluator,” said there's been “moderate interest” in trading for the No. 1 pick, and admitted  “there'll be a number of holes after this draft that still (will) have to be addressed.”

“I'm looking forward to it,” Mayhew said. “To me, it's kind of like when you have a test. If you study for the test and you're prepared, you feel good when you go in, and I feel good going in. I feel comfortable with our work so far, I feel comfortable with our scouts work and we'll keep finishing off the research this week and I feel really good about Saturday and Sunday.”

Labels: , , , , , ,

Herm Edwards on Cunningham, Maualuga

Former Kansas City Chiefs coach and current ESPN analyst Herm Edwards made an interesting point today when talking about new defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham and what the Lions will do in the draft.

Edwards, who worked with Cunningham last year, noted Cunningham's distaste for playing too many rookies, something Cunningham acknowledged when he was introduced back in January.

Bud Carson told me in 1982, I was looking at a rookie player and he asked me why I was looking at him and I said because he's a good player,” Cunningham said then. “He said if you start a rookie you're going to get fired and we started three of them (in Kansas City) and had as many as four of five of them playing throughout the year.

“I don't care who you get me, I'm going to coach him. I'm going to make him play whether he likes it or not. That's my approach. But reality says that you can't teach experience so you have to be aware of all those things.”

Said Edwards in a teleconference Tuesday: “Gun was in this same situation with me last year when we blew the team up basically and started all rookies. I think he learned from that experience where he's now getting some veteran guys and doesn't feel like he's got to start seven rookies on defense, which we had to do last year in Kansas City."

I'm not suggesting the Lions won't or shouldn't draft defense. Quite the opposite. They need linebackers, tackles and defensive backs, and need to find contributors at each position this weekend. But I wrote before, too, that the Lions can't go into the draft expecting to find five new starters on defense, not for this year anyway.

If they draft Matt Stafford No. 1 overall as expected, they can get a starter middle linebacker at 20 and a starter at defensive tackle at 33 (or vice versa), but if they take a safety at the top of third round I wouldn't count on that player beating out Daniel Bullocks or Gerald Alexander. Maybe in time, maybe by the end of the year, but probably not in September given Cunningham's history.

One other tidbit from the ESPN teleconference today, Edwards had high praise for USC middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, a candidate to go to the Lions with the 20th pick.

“I think you like what he brings to the table,” Edwards said. “He's a very aggressive linebacker. He can run and hit. He's got good temperament, he's playing from a school historically that has had a lot of linebackers come in the league. … He's a very explosive tackler. He makes a lot of big hits, but then he misses some, too.

“I think he's a big-time hitter, can play in coverage. I think he's still learning, I think he's still a little immature at times, but nothing bad. I think he's going to be a good player. He's got all the intangibles, got good eyes, reads the quarterback well. He can make big plays in pass coverage. He made some big plays in his career.”

It's interesting that Edwards, a defensive coach and former defensive back, said Maualuga will be fine in pass coverage, where some analysts knock his ability.

“I think he can play in coverage,” Edwards said. “I just think that he's showed it in the past. He's had some mistakes on play-action, which all linebackers do when you're aggressive and you play to the ball. Play-action always gets those guys, but I think he's got some talent and he's tough, he shows up and he plays hard.”

Labels: , , , , , , ,

McShay: Lions have honed in on Stafford

In a teleconference Tuesday, ESPN's Todd McShay joined the host of analysts predicting the Lions will draft Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford No. 1 overall.

“I'll be surprised if Detroit goes in any other direction besides Stafford,” McShay said. “I think they've honed in on him.”

Of the Lions' negotiations with the agents for Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry and Baylor offensive tackle Jason Smith, McShay said, “I just think that they're convinced they have to get a deal done first (with Stafford) and I believe that they will before the draft.”

Beyond that, McShay said he expects the Lions to take an offensive tackle somewhere in their next two picks. The Lions have a second first-rounder at No. 20, acquired in last year's Roy Williams trade, and the first pick of the second round (No. 33). Depending how the draft falls, they might look to trade down a few spots from 20 and acquire extra mid-round picks because they don't have fourth- or fifth-rounders.

“If it's Stafford at 1 then they obviously still need an offensive tackle and I think if Michael Oher from Ole Miss were available at that spot at No. 20 then they would take him and be happy,” McShay said. “I'm not so sure that he's going to be there. Then they'd have to make a decision if they reach for a guy like Arizona's Eben Britton.

"They have other needs though. Rey Maualuga from USC, the inside linebacker, would fit a need and if they take him there maybe they address the offensive tackle spot with Phil Loadholt at 33. Or if they get Michael Oher at 20, then I think they can go after a guy like James Laurinaitis the inside linebacker from Ohio State at 33. So I would say quarterback, offensive tackle and linebacker, three of the top needs.”

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,


Lions fans want Curry; I still think it's going to be Stafford

Let there be no doubt who Lions fans want with the No. 1 overall pick. At a press conference to introduce their new logo Monday, the several hundred fans in attendance broke into two notable cheers in support of drafting Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry – “Cur-ry, Cur-ry” and “Don't draft Staf-ford.”

A Lions spokesperson opened the press conference at Dunham's in Madison Heights by reminding the assembled media of a pre-draft press conference scheduled for Tuesday.

One fan yelled, “Is it about Stafford?”

Then came the first chorus of, “Cur-ry, Cur-ry.” Then another. And on and off throughout the press conference.

When Lions president Tom Lewand addressed the crowd, he said he was going to pretend like fans were chanting “Bar-ry” for Hall-of-famer Barry Sanders.

Later, after Lewand welcomed a handful of kids on stage for a free T-shirt giveaway amid more Curry cheers, fans protested the possibility of the Lions drafting Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford with a 10-second rendition of, “Don't draft Staf-ford.”

After the presentation, Lewand talked with reporters and gave no indication that Curry would be the pick. He didn't say he wouldn't, but I walked away feeling even stronger the Lions will take Stafford No. 1 overall.

“I think they are engaged and that is great," Lewand said. "To me it's wonderful that they want us to improve, they want us to get better on the field. They recognize that there are a couple different ways we can go in doing that, and those are the things we've been talking about since Day 1.

"We're looking forward to this weekend as much or more than they are and are very confident that we're going to make the kind of selections that time will demonstrate are the right ones for building the core of this franchise."

Asked whether the Curry supporters will be happy or disappointed, Lewand said: "Our sincere hope is that they're going to be very happy, not only this weekend but more importantly a year from now, two years from now, three years from now when the people that we select this weekend are part of the cornerstone of the franchise that we're confident they'll become."

Linebacker Ernie Sims, one of five players on hand Monday to model the new uniforms said he heard the fans chanting for Curry and hopes that's the direction the Lions go in the draft.

"I had no problem with that," he said. "I'm actually kind of rooting for that also. He can only make us better, that's how I see it."

One final comment from Lewand that speaks to why I still think the Lions will make Stafford the pick. Asked if he was surprised at the overwhelming support for Curry among fans, Lewand said, "I think what's important for us is that we listen to our scouts and our coaches and the people who have done the work and watched the tape on these guys, whether they're quarterbacks or defensive linemen or offensive linemen.

"We've had people who know the game of football watching every game of their collegiate careers, doing a lot of work behind the scenes, off the field, the comprehensive evaluation that's necessary to give us the best chance to make the right pick for our organization and regardless of what the immediate opinion is – it's this time of year where everybody goes back and looks back at what grades somebody got two years ago, three years ago, four years ago, and the people who got A-plusses have nobody left in the league and the people who got C-minuses have five Pro Bowlers - to us it's that long-term view that's the most important thing. Short-term is important, too, but making sure that foundation of your franchise is built, and to do that you have to listen to those coaches and those scouts and the personnel people who have put in the work that's required to make the best judgement possible."

Labels: , , , , ,

On Laurinaitis and the Lions

I caught up with former Ohio State middle linebacker James Laurinaitis last week as part of my draft preview package. He hasn't had much contact with the Lions throughout this whole process – just an interview at the combine and coach Jim Schwartz attended his pro day – but that doesn't mean they're not interested.

“I was talking to my agent about it, Tom Condon” – who also happens to represent Matt Stafford – “and he said, 'James, a lot of these teams already know your story. It's not like you're a secret to a lot of these teams. So they already know kind of what they're getting off the field with you,'” Laurinaitis said.

In fact, teams are limited to bringing 30 prospects in for visits, and many of those trips are used on players who need updated physicals and don't have quite the body of work of Laurinaitis, a three-year starter at Ohio State who hasn't missed a game or practice since fourth grade.

Laurinaitis said he worked out privately for St. Louis, Atlanta, Denver and Miami, and took visits to Kansas City, Houston and New Orleans.

“You're kind of wondering, are these teams interested in me or are these teams just trying to play the chess match to make their competitor think they're interested in me?” Laurinaitis said. “It's all a big poker game kind of. You don't want to put too many chips on one team because you never know who's going to take you.”

I don't know where Laurinaitis stands on the Lions' draft board. He's widely considered the No. 2 middle linebacker in the draft behind USC's Rey Maualuga, less dynamic but maybe a more complete player. The Lions, of course, also view Wake Forest's Aaron Curry as a middle backer, and Curry is the best defensive player in the draft.

I do know Laurinaitis is an interesting guy who would start from Day 1 with the Lions. His father was the professional wrestler “the Animal,” his uncle is still in the wrestling business, and he won the Nagurski Award as a sophomore and followed up with two productive years while playing under scouts' microscopes. He also said all the right things about playing in Detroit.

“It'd be like the next ghost of (Chris) Spielman coming in there, another Buckeye linebacker,” Laurinaitis said. “It'd be fun, it'd be an experience. To me, no matter what team picks me it's going to be a dream come true when that phone rings. You get to play in the NFL, you got to look at it that way. You can't say this or that, and if I went to Detroit, it's still a dream come true and hopefully be a part of some young players and some guys to turn it around up there because it's a great football town and they love their football and they want to see the Lions succeed.”

Update: Forgot to add, I got a tweet from Western Illinois linebacker Jason Williams saying he hasn't had any contact with the Lions. He's an outside backer so it's no great surprise. Figured I'd share nonetheless.

I'm sometimes a little slow in updating, but if you want to follow me on Twitter, it's "davebirkett".

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Mini-camp: Day 3 thoughts

The Lions held the first mini-camp of the Jim Schwartz era a week before the draft so they could get a better read on the talent on their roster and the holes they need to fill. Now that camp is over, the verdict is in: Plenty of positions still yearn for an upgrade.

By and large, the Lions' strengths and weaknesses are what we thought they were. They need to find a quarterback they're comfortable building around. They need a middle linebacker in the worst way. They need plenty more help on defense, too, including a high-upside tackle and depth in the secondary.

It's important not to read too much into four pad-less, early-spring practices with no contact allowed and a sliver of the playbook in place. But here's a few players and positions that caught my attention, both positive and negative:

The deep passing game: Calvin Johnson is the best receiver in the league. Period. The guy can do things no one else can, and Scott Linehan will take advantage of him. Expect Daunte Culpepper or Matt Stafford or whoever's under center to heave many a deep ball Johnson's way. This could be an exciting offense.

Middle linebacker: Cody Spencer and Chris Graham manned the position in mini-camp (with Jordon Dizon running the huddle in some nickel situations). Spencer is mostly a special-teams contributor and Graham has never taken an NFL snap according to The Lions can't be taken seriously as a defense with either at middle linebacker. They have to find a starter in the draft whether it's Wake Forest's Aaron Curry or USC's Rey Maualuga, who Schwartz seemed to describe when asked what kind of player he wanted in that position Sunday.

“We're going to need a big thumper, a strong thumper in the middle for base defense,” Schwartz said. “We're talking, I don't want to put heights and weights, but big, strong, physical player that can play between the tackles, that can take on offensive guards even though they're outweighed by almost 100 pounds on some occasions.”

Maualuga is a physical presence in the middle. Most of the questions about him are in the passing game, and while the Lions ideally want a three-down middle backer so they can use Julian Peterson off the edge, they could mix and match in nickel if necessary.

“You can work around a lot of different guys,” Schwartz said. “But I think No. 1 on (the middle linebacker's) job description has got to be a heavy-handed, inside run defender that can take on guards, that can fill fullbacks, that can bring that kind of run-stopping attitude to the defense.”

Ikaika Alama-Francis: Alama-Francis played all over the field in camp as the Lions tried to figure out what they have in the third-year lineman. He and Cliff Avril played end with the first-team defense (so coaches could see how they matched up against the No. 1 offense), Alama-Francis played tackle in nickel, and he's always played on special teams. He's a big, versatile athlete who's probably the fourth end right now (behind Dewayne White, Avril and Jared DeVries), but he could fit better in Schwartz's scheme.

Dewayne White: White and DeVries were kind of background noise most of camp, but if White stays healthy he might finally be a double-digit sack guy playing a nine-technique (lining up outside the tight end) in Schwartz's defense. “I just feel like I can be what I came into the league as a nine, just rushing,” White said.

Michael Gaines: Gaines had problems with drops and fumbles last year, and let more than one ball slip through his hands this weekend. Will Heller should be a fine blocking tight end and Casey FitzSimmons can catch the ball, but the Lions need a do-it-all tight end almost as much as they need help on defense.

The non-CJ receivers: Bryant Johnson dislocated a finger on his right hand Sunday and missed most of practice, but he's solidly the Lions' No. 2 receiver. Beyond that, there's a mixed bag. My own impressions: William Franklin flashed with a catch or two, Ronald Curry has potential in the slot and John Standeford's relatively sure-handed (though he got hurt Friday and doesn't offer much in the way of special teams). I think Chris Hannon and Steve Sanders will have a hard time making the team. Adam Jennings is a bullet in the return game. He'll have to show up there and prove his hands are reliable if he's to win a job.

Daniel Loper: He's big at 6-foot-6 and 320 pounds, but it's impossible to tell how he'll play until the pads come on. He did work some at left tackle and might be better suited as a swing backup than a starter at left guard. George Foster, incidentally, played guard when Loper was at tackle.

The secondary: Phillip Buchanon didn't win many battles with Calvin Johnson, but no one does. Still, he's got a nose for the ball and is the best corner the Lions have. (Of course, I said the same thing about Leigh Bodden last year.) Buchanon and Henry took the one reps together most of the weekend, with Travis Fisher playing the nickel and Fisher and Eric King running twos. Henry stepped in front of Johnson for a nice interception Sunday, and Buchanon (on a tipped ball) and Chris Roberson had picks, too. Still, I wouldn't call this a strength. There's some versatility when it comes to the draft – Henry can play corner or safety, so the Lions could draft either position – but there's no wow factor.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,


Revisiting the Roy Williams trade

Now that draft day is a week away and the Lions get to reap the benefits of an extra first-round pick, either through another trade down (and accumulation of more picks) or by taking a player at a position of imminent need, it bears repeating that general manager Martin Mayhew deserves praise for the Roy Williams trade.

Mayhew sent Williams and the Lions' seventh-round pick to Dallas for first-, third- and sixth-rounders minutes before the trade deadline last October. The Cowboys looked like Super Bowl contenders at the time and the picks (No. 20, 82 and 192) turned out better than anyone expected.

Beyond that, it's highly unlikely Mayhew would have been pull off a similar heist today. Forgetting both Williams' contract status (he was a free-agent-to-be and likely would have been franchised) and the poor stats he put up in Dallas (19 catches for 198 yards in 10 games), there are a glut of receivers on the trading block that makes this a buyer's market.

Arizona's Anquan Boldin (coming off a Super Bowl), Cleveland's Braylon Edwards and possibly Cincinnati's Chad Ocho Cinco could be had in a deal. Williams is in the same category as a receiver, but that foursome is so indiscernible he wouldn't have been able to command the type of return now that the Lions got last fall. (Different situations, I know, but Detroit got more than Buffalo did for Jason Peters, maybe the best left tackle in the game.)

Throw in a fairly well-regarded draft class of pass catchers, plus the Lions' own myriad of needs – imagine the hole new coach Jim Schwartz would be starting from without a second first-rounder – and Mayhew deserves a hindsight A-plus for his maneuvering. Too often in the past, retro grades have gone the other way.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Mini-camp: Day 2 thoughts

Daunte Culpepper had another good morning under center on Day 2 of Lions mini-camp. Culpepper was at his best throwing deep balls to Calvin Johnson and other receivers. You can see why he had so much success with Randy Moss in Minnesota. If the offensive line can hold up, I'm sure Scott Linehan will make that a big part of this year's offense.

The other quarterbacks, Drew Stanton and Drew Henson, had better days Saturday as well. Stanton looked much more comfortable under center. He threw a few nice passes on rollouts and twice drew the defense offsides with a hard count. Henson still has a little third baseman in his throwing motion, but he was sharper as well.

A few other morning thoughts:

• Lions general manager Martin Mayhew confirmed to the Free Press that Aaron Curry's agent Andy Ross took in Saturday's practice. I'd caution against getting too excited, Curry fans. Ross wouldn't have been on the field if the Lions didn't want him to be seen. Matt Stafford's agent Tom Condon was reportedly in Detroit recently to begin negotiations, too.

John Standeford is out for the rest of mini-camp after injuring his left ankle in practice Friday. He was on crutches and wore a boot on his left foot Saturday. “He'll be fine,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said.

• Schwartz wasn't too pleased with some of the penalties. “Yesterday the offense didn't use any hard count and defense was getting off the ball and today they added that to the equation and defense didn't respond as quickly as I would have liked them. That's something that'll come, but first time you get stuff like that it's going to be a change.”

• Defensive end Cliff Avril said he's bulked up to 260 pounds after playing last year at 252. “I'm actually heavier than I've ever been right now,” Avril said. “I feel comfortable running with it, but honestly I think I want to get down a little bit to about (255), go to camp about (255, 256) and then just build off it from there.” Avril said he's willing to play some linebacker if the Lions so desire. “I'm down for whatever just as long as I can get to the quarterback,” he said.

• I mentioned Paris Lenon still having a stall in the Lions locker room yesterday, but I forget to mention Corey Smith's stall as well. The Lions kept Smith's old locker as a tribute to their former defensive end, who was lost at sea in a fishing accident. Smith's locker is between the stalls of defensive backs Keith Smith and Daniel Bullocks. A program from his memorial service sits in the locker, and Keith Smith said players routinely come by and read it.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,


Mini-camp: Day 1 notes

Players and coaches have been singing Daunte Culpepper's praises for weeks. He's slimmer, he's throwing well, he looks like a new quarterback. … They weren't lying.

Culpepper was the most impressive revelation of the first day of Jim Schwartz's first mini-camp. He was listed at 260 pounds and said that weight is “very accurate” (and six pounds less than his playing weight from his season as starter in 2000). Last year, he weighed “right around 290”when he signed and, frankly, looked sloppy. He's much more put together now.

“Basically my whole mindset from the beginning of this offseason, from basically as soon as the last game was over was to basically get myself in the best shape that I can,” Culpepper said. “Everybody's getting evaluated, but I feel like I'm kind of coming out of the draft again, believe it or not. It's kind of strange, but I feel like with the sense that everybody's proving themselves here, everybody's coming here to work, everybody's starting from scratch, it's kind of like, hey, it's the beginning again. I feel like my rookie year again, so I'm very excited.”

Skill-wise, I'd always caution against reading too much into camp. There's no contact, no pads, and the defense isn't in midseason form. But Culpepper did have plenty of zip on his fastball. He completed 11-of-15 passes in one-on-one drills, with two drops and only one errant pass. He was easily the best-looking quarterback. Drew Stanton was erratic most of the day, and Drew Henson has a sidearm sort of snap to his motion I didn't notice last year.

Schwartz said both Stanton and Henson have thrown the ball well in conditioning, but admitted “we're going to take a real hard look at this tape. The other stuff has been more controlled, just throwing routes on air. Today all of a sudden it was defense and it hit them a thousand miles an hour. That's something we'll look real hard at.”

I've said it before but it bears repeating, the Lions' quarterback of the future is not on their current roster. I still believe they'll draft Matt Stafford. If they can't get a contract done, they'll take a developmental guy late, go QB somewhere next year, and add a veteran backup in free agency.

Culpepper, who's in the last year of his deal and started six games in Oakland two seasons ago after the Raiders drafted JaMarcus Russell No. 1 overall, said he's not worried about vying with another top pick for playing time.

“That's a possibility, but I feel comfortable no matter what,” he said. “I'm here to help this team be the best we can be. And honestly, that's how I'm approaching it.”

Other Friday thoughts:

• Several players sat out most or all of practice Friday for unspecified injury-related reasons, including guards Stephen Peterman and Junius Coston, running back Kevin Smith and defensive tackle Grady Jackson. Smith said he's healthy and appeared anxious to go as he shadowed nearly every play during team run drills. “I'm fine physically,” he said. “I guess the coaches have a plan.”

• One player who did practice Friday was safety Gerald Alexander, who's coming off a serious neck injury. “I think he's done a good job of rehabbing, they felt strong and confident about it, and he was itching to get back on the field,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said.

Julian Peterson is wearing No. 59, the number he wore two seasons ago in Seattle. Linebacker Alex Lewis, who had 59, switched to 52 – and didn't require any compensation for the switch. “Just trying something new,” Lewis said. Peterson wore 98, Landon Cohen's number, last year.

Jeff Backus talked extensively about the possibility of playing guard next year (more on that in the paper Sunday). He'd prefer not to, but acknowledged the irony of solving a position the Lions have been trying to fill long term since they drafted Backus in 2001. Joking about that and the new look of the Lions locker room – his corner stall is next to the equipment room, across from where it was last year – Backus said, “They figure if I can't play tackle I'm going to be doing the laundry.”

• The Lions have two more practices today and close camp Sunday. Their second mini-camp, with their entire draft class, is in June.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , ,