Detroit Lions Square Peg Brigade: 6th Installment in a Series
Here’s the long-awaited sixth installment of the “Square Pegs Brigade” series, where we discuss the 23 players added to the Lions roster in 2010 by any means other than the draft.
The main theme here is that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
I define a square peg as a player who got bumped off another roster for any of a myriad of reasons like depth, free agency or a change in schemes where a player no longer fit.
In this installment, we will study CB Brandon McDonald, OG Donald Thomas, CB Nathan Vasher, OT Tony Ugoh, LB Isaiah Ekejiuba and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch.
Where did these square pegs come from, and what do they bring to the Lions by way of contributions?
Before we begin, I’d like to thank Pro Football Focus, The Associated Press and NFL.com for the stats and info cited herein.
By now, you know the drill, so let’s ruck up and do this!
CB Brandon McDonald
Brandon McDonald was drafted out of Memphis in the fifth round of the 2005 draft (140th overall) by the Cleveland Browns.
McDonald was mostly a starter for Cleveland in 2008 and 2009. During those two seasons, McDonald was one of the top CBs in the NFL according to PFF.
There was turmoil in Cleveland, however. GM Tim Heckert relieved head coach Eric Mangini of personnel decisions following two worthless drafts.
Heckert went about rebuilding the Browns 3-4 defense with a vengeance. He traded away square peg Corey Williams to Detroit and went shopping in the 2010 draft with the addition of FS T.J. Ward and CB Joe Haden in the first round.
Before the start of the 2010 season, McDonald was moved down the depth chart as the third LCB, behind Joe Hayden and Coye Francis.
In other words, he got the “Square Peg” tag and was waived.
Arizona picked up McDonald off waivers, but he was only activated for two games where he saw no action. McDonald went to the practice squad where Detroit claimed him on Oct. 28th as a backup at LCB to Chris Houston.
McDonald played only 159 snaps and seemed lost. He will come into camp fighting for a depth spot on the roster. His only hope of making the team is how he prepares through film and playbook study.
OG Donald Thomas
You have to go back to 2009 to find stats on RG Donald Thomas and his stint at Miami. He didn’t play a snap in 2010.
The 6’4”, 310-pound Thomas played RG exclusively at Miami, where he was a late sixth round pick in 2008. In 2009, Thomas started the first 12 games on an offensive line that was arguably the worst in the NFL. He played most of the snaps in the final four games while the Dolphins took a look at Ray Fienga.
Ray Feinga took the starting job away from Thomas in the 2010 Dolphins training camp. Thomas got the “Square Peg” tag and was a late roster cut.
The uproar of the Miami fans was barely audible in church. No love at all.
The Lions picked up Thomas as a free agent, signing him to the practice squad late in November. Look at it as an insurance policy against an apocalyptic event where the entire offensive line contracts Dengue Fever.
Thomas will get a look in training camp, but he’ll have to compete with Stephen Peterman, Corey Hilliard and rookie Johnny Culbreath for a job that looks like a remote possibility.
CB Nathan Vasher
Nathan Vasher was a fourth-round Bears selection in the 2004 draft. Vasher’s best season was in 2005 where he led the NFL with eight interceptions.
Vasher was re-signed by the Bears in 2007, but was plagued by a variety of injuries through the 2009 season.
Vasher was due a hefty signing bonus in 2010, so the Bears cut their ties with him after the 2009 season.
Can you say “Square Peg?”
Vasher was signed by San Diego days after his release, but couldn’t make the roster in training camp. He was a late roster cut. Square pegged again.
Detroit wasted little time signing Vasher to a one-year contract in September 2010.
Vasher proved to be a very solid addition to the Lions secondary. He played 352 snaps, had an interception and allowed only a 51 percent reception rate on 31 targets. Vasher played every CB position in his limited use in 2010.
Vasher adds quality depth, but is unlikely be pressed into a starting role due to his injury history. The versatile Vasher was signed to a new contract in 2011, his eighth NFL season.
OT Tony Ugoh
OT Tony Ugoh was a second-round pick by the Colts in 2007. The Colts must have seen something that they really liked because they traded a first-round pick in 2008 to draft him.
Colts GM Chris Polian told the Associated Press that Ugoh was a “botched experiment.”
It all went sideways in his rookie year (2007). Ugoh, who was expected to be the LT of the future, missed five games with assorted injuries.
In 2008, the Colts O-line gave up only 14 sacks with Ugoh starting on the blind side. The problem was the rushing game. Sounds familiar, right? Ugoh was under intense criticism by the fans. Also another familiar refrain in Lions land.
In 2009, the Colts demoted Ugoh in favor of Charlie Johnson, who started 12 games while Ugoh started four.
In the Colts 2010 training camp, Ugoh was given a chance to compete at LG. Boy, talk about bad luck. Johnson sprained a foot during the first week of camp, forcing Ugoh back to LT.
When Johnson returned to duty, Ugoh got the square peg “heave ho!”
Ugoh was a late-season free-agent pickup by the Lions and will be looked at as an OG. If I were Ugoh, I would pack light when reporting for training camp. Ugoh’s time with the Lions will be the NFL equivalent of a “drive by.”
If there is no training camp, it could spell the end for Ugoh.
LB Isaiah Ekejiuba
Ekejiuba, a Nigerian native, began his football career as a walk-on wide receiver at Virginia.
He was signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by Arizona in 2005, but was released prior to the start of the season.
Oakland signed him to their practice squad a month later, and converted him to a LB on special teams coverage units where he was a mainstay until Uncle Al signed the younger, more fashionable Quentin Groves.
There was no room at the Inn for Ekejiuba, who was square pegged out of town.
When the Lions signed Ekejiuba as a special teams “ace,” I considered it a great move by a team whose special teams were so horrible in 2009 that special teams coach Stan Kwan was given a bus ticket out of town.
The difference in special teams under coach Danny Crossman is like night and day. The signing of Ekejiuba was the only signing of a position player to play special teams exclusively for the Lions.
Ekejiuba’s performance was outstanding, when healthy. There was a notable fall off when he was injured until Detroit signed LB Bobby Carpenter.
Looking forward, there are two points that make Ekejiuba’s return doubtful.
First, the change in the kickoff rules will limit Ekejiuba’s effectiveness. Thus making it more difficult to maintain a roster spot for a special team player not named Stefan Logan or Don Muhlbach.
Second, the Lions drafted OLB Doug Hogue in 2011. Hogue is expected to play special teams while he’s being groomed for a starting role.
Isaiah might become a roster casualty in 2011. There is, however, a silver lining. Cutting Ekejiuba will be an indicator that the Lions cuts, for the most part, will be brutally difficult. Just like any other good team.
When was the last time we could say that?
DE Kyle Vanden Bosch
We’ve all heard about the midnight free agency raid by head coach Jim Schwartz on DE Kyle Vanden Bosch’s home where he and the missus were plied with wine until Vanden Bosch signed on the dotted line.
So, how did KVB become the “mane” man on a defense that looks like one of, if not the best in the NFL?
KVB (I hate spelling out those weird Dutch names, so just deal with it.) was a quasi first-round draft pick by Arizona in 2001. He was actually drafted 34th overall.
Exactly like a first-round pick, only different. That’s what Mel Kiper says.
KVB played well enough, but in 2003 he suffered a torn ACL. While he saw action in every game in 2004, it was clear that KVB would take more time to recover that the Cardinals were willing to spend.
Add to his slow recovery the fact that KVB was in a contract year. This double whammy sealed his fate as a square peg.
Letting go of KVB turned into one of a long litany of bone-headed moves made by a bone-headed organization, the Arizona Cardinals.
KVB signed with the Titans in 2005 and promptly earned his first of three Pro Bowl invites. He played (and still does play) like a player whose ass is on fire until the whistle blows.
After the 2009 campaign, KVB decided to test the market as an unrestricted free agent. His talent was peaking, and he’d just earned a third trip to the Pro Bowl.
Tennessee is one of the more miserly organizations in the league unless your name is Chris Johnson.
The Lions offered a four-year, $26 million contract to KVB, who would join fellow Cornhusker Ndamukong Suh and his former defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz.
In Vanden Bosch’s case, it was the Titans that got square pegged.
Next up: The Square Peg Brigade Review.
Mike Sudds is a Syndicated Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Mike is also an analyst and correspondent for DraftTek.com.