This Detroit Lion Pride Is Stalking the Rich Savanna of the NFL
Every August, battles both big and small are waged for dominance within the pride.
These are supposed to be little "contests" between teammates. In a few short weeks they will be fighting side by side for the same prey. If one fails, they all fail, and no one eats.
But the stakes are high, and personal pride takes over.
Make no mistake: These skirmishes are heated.
There will be only so much fallen prey, and the meat is limited, while just as importantly there are only so many potential mates.
Note: For those readers who are confused already, think player contracts and playing time.
There are a lot of new faces and some not so old faces that hopefully have grown whiskers over the offseason, along with some old faces that might still have a few teeth left.
Depth has improved, and it should make for some interesting training camp battles—there will be some surprising moves made by the Lions by the time the season starts.
Some would say the surprises already started when they signed C.C. Brown and released Daniel Bullocks.
After all, wasn't Bullocks a young safety with potential, while "Can't Cover Brown" failed miserably last year in New York?
Personally, I am not concerned with that move.
The secondary is totally revamped, and the actions by Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz this offseason have made it pretty clear. The secondary took a back seat behind the defensive line and maybe even the linebackers this year.
Additions to the secondary like Chris Houston and Jonathan Wade were necessary. However, they don't necessarily represent the future of the Lions secondary.
We can only hope it might be the future, but the plan seems to be, "Let's get a bunch of talented young players in here and see if we can't find a few players to build around."
Hit on two or three of them, and then add a couple players next year. Meanwhile, they are building that cohesiveness that Schwartz talks about with the secondary.
But the secondary was not what I wanted to talk about.
If this is about training camp battles, then the secondary is a kitten fight.
Important in the development for a pride of Lions, but we are not about to send them out hunting Bears, Vikings, and Packers on their own yet.
The real battle is on the defensive line.
It's with this unit that the fiercest struggles for dominance will happen.
It's here we find the veterans like Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams, who have many hunts with plenty of kills under their belts already. They have seen all the tricks their prey might try, and they have a few tricks of their own.
Throw in those young, hungry, no longer cubs like Cliff Avril and James Hunter, plus a magnificent beast like Ndamukong Suh, and we have a very spirited battle for pride dominance.
So who wins these battles?
Who eats and who starves?
Who gets the attention of the best possible mate, and who is sent away alone to die? (Nature is tough.)
These Lions get first choice of the fresh kills.
Maybe they are getting a little old, but hopefully they are not barren, because we are counting on them to produce.
The unquestioned leader of this pride. Maybe he can't chase down that gazelle like he used to, but he knows a few ways to eat yet. His biggest value might be with what he teaches the rest of the pride, so let's look past all the scars and call them badges of courage and wisdom.
Should be a real meat producer. Newcomer from another pride where he wasn't given the opportunity to show his skills. He will catch the eye of many of the mature potential mates and hopefully provide all of us with plenty of QB barbecues (now serving Favre fillets, Rodgers ribs, and Cutler chicken wings).
While those two are the veterans of this hunting party, hopefully the main beneficiary of their experience is the newest cub.
They say he has the skills and predator instincts that few felines have ever shown. He might have to take a smaller role in the hunting party at first—but let him get his legs under him a little and pick up the ways of the killing fields, and he will be the unquestioned king of the savanna.
The next group is the cubs just coming into maturity. They have been on a few hunts and even made a few kills, and now they are ready for a bigger role.
He has shown some quick strike ability on previous hunts, and hopefully his body has matured enough to play a major role. While he was once the rising star of this pride, the hope now is that he can man (or is it cat?) a flank when the prey is flushed from his hiding spot. He also has the skills to make the occasional kill with his quickness and range alone.
Still a cub in many ways with his considerable hunting skills still in development. Many successful hunts need that containment factor in the middle to take away escape routes for the prey. The pride can't afford to surround a wildebeest like Adrian Peterson only to have him break free up the middle. Sammie should fill that role nicely while he learns the ways of the grasslands called the NFL.
Those five form the core of our pride. They will see the most hunts and produce the most meat. It really is a magnificent blend of athletic skill and the wisdom of experience—this pride should do well.
But they can't do it all.
We need a few more roles filled, and there are some very worthy candidates to choose from.
The winners won't get the choicest cuts of meat or the best mates, but they will survive to fight more battles.
Let them all be warned, though: Fight hard or risk being left behind to find another place to hunt.
The first group has been with the pride for a while. They have matured while engaging in the occasional skirmish, and it's time for them to show what they have learned.
A versatile feline with skills to fill many roles in a hunting party; unfortunately, he excels at none of them. That versatility alone can fill a role, but he has challengers, and there are only so many spots to be filled.
This runt really surprised us last year with his strength when after 50 bench presses the runt tag had to come off. That strength is a huge asset to any hunting party, as he might not get many kills, but he will take away escape options for the prey.
The next group came from other prides. In some cases they were miscast when their pride decided to try different hunting methods, and in all cases they were still too young to contribute.
The hope is some of them are now ready to showcase their wares in a system that fits them.
Had some nice kills last year and was the star for a couple of the hunts. Also disappeared for a few hunts and had some injury problems. But the pride liked his quickness and range, so they asked him back to compete for a role this year.
He was set free by his first pride last year, and when the Ranger called Gun remembered him, he was quickly snapped up. They found him severely malnourished, but he was scrappy and willing, so he saw some action last year. Hopefully he has been eating plenty of raw meat and is ready to flash those skills that made him a potential front line hunter just two short seasons ago.
His strength is his strength. Been kicked around a little, but he has shown the ability to survive—so far. Another one of those fill the middle while we surround the prey types of feline. Every hunting party needs that, but there are only so many spots, and there might be better options.
There are some cubs from the last litter that could challenge for spots. Maybe they haven't tasted the sweet meat of the NFL, but they might show enough raw predator skills to stick around.
Maybe the quickest of them all, but he probably needs a few more feasts before he can really flash that skill. They say he is that cub you always have to scold because he is a free spirit. Thing is, those kind usually do well in the NFL.
A big unknown to me—they found him in the sparse brush land of Canada living off the rodents he killed. He might find the prey of the NFL is a much harder kill, but talent is talent, so who knows?
He was taken from a nearby litter called the GLIAC and will undoubtedly find the hunting a little more challenging.
The last contender is a former Lion King.
He has been with this pride for a long time and lived through some pretty lean times, but the savanna has no time for sentiment. You can either still hunt or starve; there is no in-between. With the scars of many battles already, it might be time for him to hunt the cornfields of Iowa and leave the big game to the young.
That's 14 Lions, and only eight to 10 are needed. Any more than that and the whole pride suffers, so if I am the park ranger, who am I keeping?
The first five are obvious with KVB, Williams, Suh, Hill, and Avril, while Cohen, Hunter and McBride, seem like shoo-ins to me.
That's eight, so any more are fighting over spots that might not even exist.
In the end I believe they will find room for a ninth player, so I would give Fluellen that spot, and if Young shows too much ability to risk losing, he could take a 10th spot.
But the ritual hasn't begun yet, and there are usually some surprises. Only five are locked in, and there could be an injury or two to consider yet.
The only thing I know for sure is we will all be watching it like a crew doing a nature documentary on the mating ritual of a Lion pride.
The replenishing rains of the NFL draft and free agency have filled the savanna of the NFC North with fresh prey, and this pride of Lions is getting ready to thin the plentiful herds of wildebeests, zebras, and warthogs.
Let's hope there are enough kills and plenty of fresh meat to feed those kittens in the secondary.
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