Here’s the sixth, and final 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, salary cap, 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, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, and honorary member S Randy Phillips.
Where did these square pegs came from, and what do they bring to the Lions by way of contributions?
By now, you know the drill, so let’s ruck up and do this!
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 2007 rookie year. Ugoh, who was expected to be the LT of the future, missed 5 games with assorted injuries, and was largely ineffective.
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 and media. 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. Charlie 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 also be looked at as an OG. If I were Ugoh, I would pack light when reporting for training camp. Ugoh’s career might be remembered as one of those woulda, coulda, shoulda perpetual square pegs.
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 Pro Football Focus.
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 vengence. 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.
Talk about nailing a draft!
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.
In the meanwhile, the Lions will continue to shop in free agency for a CB that will likely push McDonald off the roster, and into the nether regions of “Square Pegdom.”
You have to go back to 2009 to find stats on OG Donald Thomas, and his stint at Miami. He didn’t play a single snap in 2010. Zip. Nada. Zilch.
The 6’ 4”, 310 lb 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 half of the snaps in the final four games while the Dolphins took a look at Ray Fienga.
Fienga 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 for Thomas 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 such as the entire offensive line contracting Dengue Fever, or being struck by lightning.
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.
Thomas might go down as a casualty of the NFL lockout. While his late season practice time had to be beneficial, the loss of OTAs and minicamps won’t help his cause.
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 who’s 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 questionable.
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 as an LB.
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?
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 to be pressed into a starting role due to his injury history. The versatile Vasher was signed to a contract extension by the Lions in 2011, his eighth NFL season.
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 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 than 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 who’s 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, $26M 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.
Phillip’s story is quite compelling. Playing for Miami (Fla), Phillips’ career was undistinguished, and injury plagued. He was a CB who was converted to safety in his Junior year. He showed flashes of greatness, but was inconsistent.
In the second game of 2009, Phillips suffered a torn ACL. He applied for, and received a medical dispensation from the NCAA that allowed him to return for his second Senior season.
Phillips suffered a torn right Labrum, but played through it in 2010. Phillips opted to undergo surgery rather than play in a Bowl game.
His draft stock plummeted, and health concerns caused him to go undrafted in 2010.
The Lions hired defensive backs coach Tim Walton in 2009. Walton was Phillips’ defensive coordinator at Miami in 2007, before moving on to Memphis.
Walton did some arm twisting until defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, and head coach Jim Schwartz relented and signed Phillips as an UDFA.
Phillips, who missed the combine while rehabbing his shoulder, showed up for the first Lions mini-camp and promptly failed his physical. It was back to rehab for Phillips.
Phillips was medically cleared to play, but had missed OTA’s, mini-camps, and a week of training camp. Phillips looked to have zero chance of making the team.
The Lions safety unit was so depleted by injuries that Phillips immediately got first team snaps in camp.
What I personally witnessed was the best safety on the field in training camp. I know, that’s not saying much considering the train wreck that the DBs were at that time.
Phillips seemed to be in on every play, exhibited techniques that you would normally see in a CB, and was an athletic freak in spite of his unpolished skills.
I spoke to Gunther Cunningham about Phillips during camp.
Me: “Coach, who is Phillips? He looks like the real deal!”
GC: “Randy is my man! Tim (Walton) insisted on our signing him.”
Phillips continued to impress during camp, but suffered a setback when CB Amari Spievey was converted to safety. Phillips saw action in all four preseason games, but looked too undisciplined to consider keeping.
When the Lions made their final cuts, Phillips got the Square Peg treatment and was waived.
Phillips cleared waivers and was added to the practice squad. Phillips was briefly activated for Weeks 1 and 2. He played only 13 snaps, making four tackles.
Phillips was sent back to the practice squad where he remained until Christmas Eve. Once again, Phillips was activated, but did not play after being involved in an unspecified off-field incident.
A team source told me that it was a minor infraction, but would not elaborate. Lesson learned. I hope.
I expect to see some major improvement in Phillips in 2011. I’m sure that Tim Walton, and Gunther Cunningham expect nothing less in this make, or break season for Randy Phillips.