When the 2009 season came to a close for the Detroit Lions, it was clear to Lions fans that the two wins just achieved by their team left much to be desired. Sure, two wins is better than the zero wins accomplished during the 2008 season, but the Lions just churned more than half of their roster. Shouldn’t there be more progress already?
Not so much.
When the NFL establishes expansion franchises, one of the ways they go about staffing is allowing the expansion club to pick from a pool of selected free agents, and then they double them up on draft picks.
Unfortunately, the Detroit Lions were not the beneficiaries of such gifts despite their comparison to an expansion team. The good news for Lions fans is that their “expansion draft” has just concluded: the 2009 and 2010 NFL Drafts. Even better news is that Lions general manager Martin Mayhew has found his own way to creatively add free agents.
Coaches Schwartz and Linehan got to do some “recruiting” when “open season” began for the 2010 NFL free agency period, and news quickly emerged that the Lions had signed Kyle Vanden Bosch, Nate Burleson, and Corey Williams. If they had to stand on their doorstep at midnight to secure their commitment, they’d be there.
And they were.
Jim Schwartz headed south to make a midnight call on Kyle Vanden Bosch and his wife, while offensive coordinator Scott Linehan was out west making his pitch to catch Burleson.
For weeks and months, Scott Linehan told Jim Schwartz, “We need a guy like Nate Burleson. We need a guy just like Nate Burleson.” Finally coach Schwartz told Linehan that if they needed a guy like Burleson, why not just go out and get him.
And that’s exactly what Scott Linehan and the Detroit Lions front office set out to accomplish.
From a league-wide offensive statistic perspective, for the past two seasons, the Detroit Lions offense has been near the bottom of the barrel. Lions fans don’t need a statistics lesson to figure that out.
The 2009 Detroit Lions finished 27th in average points per game with 16.4, 26th in average yards per game with 299, 21st in passing with an average of 198 yards per game, and 24th in average rush yards with 101 per game.
Conversely, the two teams after which the Detroit Lions are being modeled faced off in the Super Bowl with their high-powered offenses, but only one defense was able to rise to victory.
What we are seeing is Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand, in conjunction with Jim Schwartz and Scott Linehan, getting requisite “pieces of the pie” and trying to fill QB Matthew Stafford’s quiver full of arrows. In the offseason, the Lions added key players who should be able to answer the call when needed.
Here are my five “Who’s Who Among Who’s New on Offense”
Nate Burleson – WR
Since the Lions drafted Calvin Johnson with the #2 overall selection in the 2007 NFL Draft, the club has been in search of a legitimate #2 WR threat who can divert coverage from the former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket. Last year’s additions of Bryant Johnson and Dennis Northcutt really did nothing to solidify an answer to an aging need. Rookie WR Derrick Williams did nothing to warrant consideration for anything more than making the roster due to his draft status (#82 overall, 3rd Round).
The prospective solution to this was the free agent addition of former Seahawks and Vikings WR, Nate Burleson. Not one like him – him.
Burleson enjoyed his best season six years ago in 2004 with a break-out sophomore campaign that featured 68 catches totaling 1,006 yards and nine touchdowns. Bryant Johnson’s contribution to the 2009 Detroit Lions team was 35 receptions for 417 yards and three touchdowns.
Bryant Johnson’s lackluster performance in 2009 was not enough to deter the double and triple coverage opposing secondary’s put on Calvin Johnson. Nate Burleson is quick, fast, and has displayed a penchant for getting open, which should provide QB Matthew Stafford with a legitimate outlet that defenses will have to respect.
During Nate’s 2009 season with Seattle, he caught 63 passes for 812 yards and three touchdowns. Lions fans are eager to see if the soon-to-be-29-year-old WR can improve on his performance from last year in an effort to rekindle the Lions offensive firepower.
Rob Sims – LG
In his press interview yesterday, coach Jim Schwartz talked about how important continuity and cohesion is on the offensive line (and staying healthy helps). The Lions have had no continuity of which to speak at the left guard position for many seasons, something they would like to change with the addition of Ernie’s much larger brother, Rob Sims.
With a changing of the guard in Seattle (like that one?), the Lions hope the changing of their guard between Jeff Backus and Dominic Raiola will produce an effective chemistry that results in a more dominant run game and gives Stafford time to pass.
When the trade to acquire Rob Sims was announced, I was very pleased to say the least. Give me those big Buckeye bruisers from Columbus for my Lions on Sunday. Run the ball down their throats, making them pay one play at a time, and take away the opponent’s will to win!
Tony Scheffler – TE
For those who lamented the departure of the 9th overall selection in the 2006 NFL Draft, I was not among them.
When Martin Mayhew was entrusted with the charge of rebuilding the Detroit Lions, some of his early statements reflected how Lions defenders were getting to the ball, just getting knocked off it four-to-six yards after contact.
To whom do you suppose he was referring?
As the team transitions forward, the remnants of the Tampa Two have been scattered. A new offensive philosophy in transition brings home one of Michigan’s sons, former Western Michigan Bronco Tony Scheffler.
The three-way-trade that sent WLB Ernie Sims to Philly and brought Scheffler to Detroit from Denver was designed to add one of the best receiving threats at the TE position to the Lions massing pass catcher arsenal. As Lions fans know, too many pass catchers are never enough. It’s getting those pass catchers to catch the passes and catch on to what’s going on around them that seems to be troublesome.
Tony Scheffler’s pre-draft measureables were outstanding for a young man standing taller than 6’5” and weighing in at 254 pounds. His 4.54 40-yard, 4.04 20-yard short shuttle, and 6.82 second 3-cone drill speaks volumes about his athleticism and outlines some of the reasons why he presents a coverage mismatch for prospective defenders.
I believe that among the new receivers added, it is the performance of Tony Scheffler that has the greatest chance of having the most profound impact toward a successful 2010 Lions offense.
Shaun Hill – QB
In keeping with the theme of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan bringing in former players from his days with the Vikings, on March 14, 2010, Martin Mayhew worked a trade with the San Francisco 49ers that brought QB Shaun Hill to Allen Park. Mayhew sent a Lions 7th Round pick in 2011 to secure Hill’s services from the Niners.
I suppose that’s better than drafting a guy like Lydon Murtha and allowing Bill Parcells to snag him up off the practice squad, while the team holds on to the aging Ephraim Salaam. Yeah.
The QB conundrum began in Detroit when former offensive coordinator Mike Martz was headed out the door in Allen Park. The 2008 season solidified the need to find a real solution under center for the Lions, prompting the selection of Matthew Stafford atop the 2009 NFL Draft.
The problem comes when young Matthew is no longer able to take snaps due to injury. A mammoth hit by a Browns defender put the kibosh on Stafford’s 2009 season, and without Stafford, the leadership the team so desperately needed to go forward was lost. Neither Culpepper nor Stanton was effective in his backup role at QB for the 2009 Detroit Lions. The figure of Drew Stanton stands in living color to torment Lions fans with the gross draft ineptitude displayed by the ultimate destroyer of franchises: Matt Millen.
By all means, take Drew Stanton with the 43rd overall pick (2nd Round) in the 2007 NFL Draft when you can pass on LaMarr Woodley (pick No. 46 to Steelers) and David Harris (No. 47 to Jets). How stupid was that? It doesn’t get any dumber.
What was smart was to get good insurance in the form of a man who has veteran experience and recent experience winning as a starter. That player is Shaun Hill. Should something happen to Stafford (knocks on head) during the 2010 season, Shaun Hill should be able to aptly lead the Lions offense in Matthew’s absence.
Things are looking up.
Jahvid Best – RB
While watching the end of the 1st Round of the 2010 NFL Draft, it was announced that Minnesota had traded their pick, 30th overall, and it was being traded to the Detroit Lions.
My stomach sank in fear of what was about to happen; and then it did.
I was furious. I was madder than a wet hornet. I was angry at the world for the decision to trade up to draft another offensive weapon when the Lions were so lousy in the defensive backfield.
Surely the Lions could be patient and wait for the board to fall to them and get the “value” the front office was seeking atop the 2nd Round. Surely Martin Mayhew would stick to his words of the previous draft when he said the Lions would look to trade down to find value, as opposed to the Millen way of trading up and trading away resources that would never come to fruition.
Before the 2010 NFL Draft, Lions Insider Tom “Killer” Kowalski pretty much called it in terms of why the Lions would draft Jahvid Best – and I didn’t like it. Not one bit.
The deep dive revealed that Best accomplish his longest runs against less-than-stellar competition. The 93-yard run against UCLA was a fluke, with seven missed tackles before Best was five yards from the line of scrimmage.
Does Best have legitimate, deep-threat, homerun speed? Yes, he does. He proved it on the field during his time in Berkley, and he demonstrated his speed and athleticism at the NFL Combine.
Who has better lateral speed, Clay Matthews III or Jahvid Best? How about between Best and Scheffler? Best isn’t the Best in the comparison. How about that, boys and girls? What kind of lateral speed does Jared Allen and Ray Edwards have?
Best is going to have to hit the hole in the NFL, because although he may have break-away speed in the open field, he’s got to get to daylight first, and against the top-rated rush defenses of Green Bay and Minnesota, we’ll find out how Best competes against NFL-grade defenders. In mid-September, we’ll get to see if Brian Urlacher scrambles Jahvid’s melon for permanent.
In the theme of “we’re not in a position to pass on talent”, the Lions front office and coaching staff got what they were looking for with the legitimate threat of speed that the former Golden Bear RB will bring to the game. Best averaged about 15 carries and two catches per game against Pacific 10 competition. Best was easily held in check by run defenses in the top half of the Pac 10. Not the top one or two teams, the top half of teams.
Because I love my Lions, I hope Jahvid Best proves my theory wrong, and I get to enjoy eating more crow. Unfortunately, I have an uneasy feeling about Best’s rookie campaign.
During the past offseason, coach Schwartz’ message to fans was, “If you want our passing game to improve, cheer for our run game to get better.” It is ultimately a balanced attack on offense that will keep defensive coordinators from keying in on Detroit’s glaring offensive weaknesses.
When you look at the Saints offensive attack from last year, it was like you never knew what was going to happen next, other than they were going to find a way to make the other team pay courtesy of a mismatch. Just about the time the defense thought they were going to cover the multitude of receivers, there goes a handoff broken off for big yardage. This is what the Lions are trying to create this season and going forward.
Lions fans are hopeful that the additions of Burleson, Scheffler, and Best will provide Stafford with the much-needed weapons to draw multiple defenders away from Calvin Johnson and provide the young gunslinger with more open receivers than the defense can cover.
I think fans are glad to see the arrival of Rob Sims as a prospective long-term solution, gaining badly-needed continuity on the offensive line. I also believe folks are glad to see the Lions invest smartly to acquire a legitimate back-up QB who has been known to shine under pressure and adversity.
Infusing the Detroit Lions roster with talent is Mayhew’s responsibility. It is Schwartz’ responsibility to turn those players into a winning team. There is no question that the players believe in what the leadership is trying to accomplish, but that belief must be translated into victories sooner rather than later.
Should the Lions beat the Bears at Soldier Field and follow it up with a victory at Ford Field over the Eagles, Lions fans will be talking playoffs and beyond. A strong opening performance by Burleson, Scheffler, and Best will go a long way toward assuring the pride faithful that Martin Mayhew got the right guys with the right fit at the right time.
Despite my apprehensions concerning Jahvid Best, I think Mayhew is on the right track and that the additions of Burleson and Scheffler in 2010 will yield much more fruit than the 2009 additions of Bryant Johnson and Dennis Northcutt.
Time for ripe, sweet, juicy strawberries.