After a slow July with very little to talk about, the NFL is finally heading into training camp season.
Detroit Lions fans, it's time to get excited. In an offseason that spawned a great deal of optimism across Detroit, this is the time when you get to hear about how well players are performing in drills.
In other words, that optimism is about to hit a fever pitch.
But while training camp is good news for fans, it's very bad news for the 54th guy on the roster.
The Lions have had a quietly active offseason (aside from the announcements of Kyle Vanden Bosch and Nate Burleson on Day One), signing a number of guys who will be involved in a camp battle somewhere.
Some of them will be involved in a battle for depth chart position. We'll talk about those guys later. Right now, let's focus on the guys who are in camp battles for the future of their careers.
The more I think about it, the more I realize that the Detroit Lions' 2009 offseason was like parting out a junked car.
If you're Martin Mayhew, you've got this piece of crap on your hands (the 2008 Detroit Lions). Last year, it finally fell off its last legs and proved it was no longer capable of functioning at even a basic level (the previous owner treated it like crap).
There's no point in trying to make it keep running like it is; it'll just blow up in your face.
All you can do is part it out and try to get enough back to start rebuilding.
There's almost no way you're going to get a good return on your investment, but the longer you hold onto the parts, the more they'll depreciate, so you have to get what you can, as soon as you can.
So that's what Mayhew did. He threw out the parts he couldn't use (Leigh Bodden and Paris Lenon, for example), and started parting out the players that still had some value.
Jon Kitna was parted to the Cowboys for Anthony Henry. Roy Williams was parted out for half the Cowboys' draft. And Gerald Alexander was parted out for Dennis Northcutt.
Was it a good return on investment? Probably not. But if you've got a bunch of rusting car parts in your front yard, and somebody offers you $50 to take some of it off your hands, you'll take it just to be rid of the parts.
Given what you know about the previous owner, you never know when those parts are just going to fall apart and be useless, after all.
Anthony Henry has already been cut, and there's a good chance Northcutt is next.
Why? Because Martin Mayhew never had that high of expectations for him in the first place.
He was just a guy they brought in to get rid of another guy. He's the 20 bucks Mayhew got for an alternator that only works half the time.
Naturally, Northcutt suffered a disappointing season (which is surprising, since his expectations were so low in the first place). He was never higher than a third option behind Calvin and Bryant Johnson.
Now, with Nate Burleson in town, there's no chance he's higher than fourth, and he has a slew of promising young receivers pushing him for that spot.
Derrick Williams has the inherent advantage of a year's experience on the team, but he has the natural disadvantage of being a poor football player.
Mr. Irrelevant Tim Toone has speed and value as a kick and punt returner, an area that Northcutt was expected to boost (and didn't) last year.
Mike Moore, brought to Detroit as an undrafted free agent and former target of Matthew Stafford at Georgia, is a dark horse to make some noise in camp, as well.
What he lacks in foot speed and explosiveness he makes up for in hands, technique, and blocking ability.
Of course, most of those players will end up cut as well, but given that the Lions possess a particularly strong tight end class, it's very possible that only one of those players will need to beat out the 32-year-old Northcutt for the fourth spot to justify cutting him.
Even if one of them proves to be as good as Northcutt, the Lions are certain to keep the player with upside.
And whoever that is, it's not Northcutt.
Aaron Brown was, at times, my favorite Lion to watch during the 2009 season. For all his faults (his playbook is probably collecting dust on the back of his toilet at home), he brought a speed and explosiveness that the Lions lacked otherwise.
What he brought to the Lions with his speed and agility was effectively Jahvid Best Lite, without the vision, work ethic, or run-between-the-tackles ability.
For obvious reasons, the Lions' use for a low-caliber version of Jahvid Best is a bit diminished this season.
Of course, a football team can always use speed, and Brown has that. He had some limited success as a kick returner last season, a position he will still be line for if he performs well.
If he doesn't, there are a number of young players with similar gifts to Brown's who would love to return kicks (or whatever) just to make the roster, so if the personality-deficient Brown doesn't show more than the lackadaisical commitment he showed last season, he might find himself unemployed just on principle.
After all, if Jim Schwartz wanted guys who thought they could get by being lazy, just because they're talented, he would have made a move for Albert Haynesworth.
Somebody has to go.
The Lions' secondary, in addition to being not very good, is overcrowded. It was completely rebuilt from scratch in the offseason. King, who spent 75 percent of last season on injured reserve, is one of the only players left over from last year's team.
King is a nickel specialist who is not expected to push for a starting spot on the wings, which is what makes the next fact far more surprising.
King is highest-paid player in the entire Lions' secondary. And not by a little bit. In terms of base salary, he's making roughly twice what the second-highest earner (Dre' Bly) is pulling down for 2010.
In other words, even if King performs fairly well as a nickel corner, his salary makes him a target if there's a younger player with more upside and less money performing to his level.
Let the Millen purge continue!
Seriously, it's not Andre Fluellen's fault that he was drafted by Matt Millen. I hold nothing against the guy.
But, when you're watching a Lions game, how many times have you heard the call go something like, "and that's just a great play by Andre Fluellen!"
Rarely, if ever. Coming into the league, nobody was really sure if he was a defensive tackle or defensive end.
After two years in the league, he's listed as a 300-pound defensive end. Which means they're still not sure where he fits.
The difference is, between expected impacts from younger players (Ndamukong Suh, Sammie Hill, Willie Young, Cliff Avril, et al), the acquisition of Kyle Vanden Bosch, and the return of Jared DeVries, roster spots at Fluellen's position are now at a premium.
And so the reality is, Fluellen probably doesn't fit at all. He has produced 25 total tackles in 22 career games, and has shown little in the way of improvement.
Now he's competing for time at a position that has become stacked with talent during the offseason, and I see very little chance of him breaking through.
It was about this time last year that Gunther Cunningham said Jordon Dizon reminded him of Julian Peterson.
That's great, but like your lovable-yet-slightly-crazy grandpa, after a while you learn to appreciate what Cunningham says and take it with a tablespoon of salt.
Dizon is a player who was drafted to fit a completely different scheme, and struggled to find time on the field even when he was in that scheme.
Granted, he was a rookie at the time, but come on. He couldn't beat out Paris Lenon for a job.
Now, the undersized, underweight Dizon finds himself competing for work under a coach who stresses size and strength. Not a good omen.
Now, Dizon has seen his potential uses with the team dwindle.
His speed was once an asset, but as the Lions' roster has been infused with talent, he is now roughly the same speed as many guys who are bigger than him.
He has value on special teams, but the Lions are now chock-full of guys who have made a name as kick-coverage specialists (Vinny Ciurciu, Johnathan Wade, Zack Follett), and all of them (other than Ciurciu) have value outside of their special teams position.
Dizon's saving grace this year might be the Lions' lack of quality depth at linebacker, as illustrated by the fact that nobody knows who the Lions' starting weak side linebacker is going to be.
Still, nobody is expecting it to be Dizon. And with Follett pushing for time with the defense, veteran Landon Johnson looking to make an impact, and young players like Ryan Stamper and Caleb Campbell hungry to make a name for themselves, Dizon could very easily be the odd man out.
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