Analyzing the Detroit Lions' Evolving Roster

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Analyzing the Detroit Lions' Evolving Roster
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

The Detroit Lions' roster has seen a major overhaul in player transactions; the Lions have added 26 players and cut many players from the winless 2008 roster. 

Detroit still could use upgrades at offensive line, defensive tackle, and defensive end, as well as a shutdown corner.

An 0-16 season highlights the fact the team has many needs and cannot transform the team in one offseason, sufficiently filling all their holes. 

Lions head coach Jim Schwartz commented on not filling certain team needs in the draft, saying, “You don’t want to strictly draft need just to take players that your scouts don’t really have a good feel for, your coaches really don’t have a good feel for—you’d rather take somebody that you like. We still have other opportunities to fill some holes.”

The Lions did add three players in the draft at the top of their respective positions: quarterback Matthew Stafford, tight end Brandon Pettigrew, and safety Louis Delmas.  These players filled holes—not the most glaring ones, but they did improve the team.

LT Jeff Backus has been under fire this offseason after the Lions surrendered 52 sacks in the past season. While many of those sacks were due to other players or the quarterback holding the ball too long, Backus has been a target. 

General manager Martin Mayhew has stated Backus could possibly move to left guard, a position he has never played and may not be suited for, possibly lacking strength. It seems unlikely Backus would make the move at this moment after the Lions have failed to acquire a replacement for the left tackle position.

There still are offensive line free agents that could help the Lions.

Tackle Ephraim Salaam visited before the draft and made it clear he would wait to see if Detroit selected an offensive lineman in the draft before making his decision.  

Another possible offensive lineman that could help solidify the line is left tackle Levi Jones, who was recently released by the Bengals after injuries have plagued his career. Jones is 29 years old and has proven to be productive when healthy. The Lions may be one of the teams interested in Jones, as is being reported.

Pettigrew will help alleviate some of the blocking responsibilities on the offensive line; his blocking ability was a major reason he was selected by the Lions. He played against fellow 2009 first round pick Brian Orakpo in college and dominated him for the majority of the game. 

On the defensive side of the ball, a defensive end and defensive tackle are needed.

Detroit recently added veteran defensive end Eric Hicks, a player who defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham knows from their days with the Kansas City Chiefs. Hicks has 44.5 career sacks and recorded 14 sacks in 2000 in only 11 starts, though he was out of football last season.

The Lions have DeWayne White and Cliff Avril as their current defensive ends; though both players have skill, neither is a dominant pass rusher. Avril may be undersized for the new Lions defense, and Schwartz has mentioned he may be a hybrid linebacker on passing downs.

Detroit can address this need by signing a veteran player; defensive ends Vonnie Holliday and Kevin Carter came in for visits and remain unsigned. 

Schwartz coached Carter from 2001-2004 in Tennessee and believes Carter is versatile enough to play inside on certain plays.

Grady Jackson, a 36-year-old veteran tackle, was added early in the offseason as a run stuffer. Another defensive tackle is needed after Cory Redding’s departure via trade. 

This may be the Lions' biggest need, which they addressed for the future with fourth round selection Sammie Lee Hill, a talented, yet very raw player from Stillman.  

Hill doesn't seem to be in a position to help this season after playing against inferior talent at Stillman; he was the first player ever drafted from the college.

The Lions' options remain limited at this position, which is very weak in free agency, as it was in the draft. DeWayne Robertson, the former first round selection from the New York Jets in 2003, is still available after being cut by the Denver Broncos before he received a $14 million bonus. 

Robertson is 27 years old, 6’1”, and 307 lbs. He played well in his first few seasons in New York but struggled after they switched to a 3-4 defense, a reason he may not be a good fit in Detroit. It appears the Lions may switch to a 3-4 defense in the future, something very familiar to both Schwartz and Cunningham. 

While the Lions have made many improvements this offseason, they still have holes to fill. It doesn’t seem likely they will be able to solidify the team completely, which will lead to a mediocre season. 

Detroit doesn’t seem to be in position to make a playoff run this season. Without adding players to both their offensive and defensive lines, it will be a long season for the Lions. 

The Lions may struggle on the offensive line, making it hard for the offense to keep the ball moving and accumulating points on the board. While they have talent at the skill positions, the season will come down to the performance of the big guys up front.

Defensively, the line will need to be improved to stop the run and get enough pressure on the quarterback to allow the back seven to be effective. Detroit added players that will help shut down the run, yet they lack an elite pass rusher and do not have enough quality tackles.

The 2009 season remains a stepping stone, as Detroit will need to fill fewer holes in the upcoming years. Both lines need addressing to give the Lions a chance to succeed.

Detroit's transformation will likely allow them to attack individual holes in 2010, instead of reconstructing the whole roster.

The future looks bright, and with another offseason and draft, Detroit can put themselves in position to contend for the NFC North crown next year and beyond.

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