Detroit Lions' Recent Signings Have Third Unit Shaping Up To Be Truly Special

Michael Schottey@SchotteyNFL National Lead WriterMarch 20, 2010

CHARLOTTE, NC - AUGUST 09:  Landon Johnson #54 of the Carolina Panthers stands ready for the snap during the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Bank of America Stadium on August, 9, 2008 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

On March 19, while most NFL eyes were centered on whether or not Adam "Pacman" Jones worked out (he did) and signed with an NFL team (he didn't), the Detroit Lions announced a smaller but still notable addition.

Landon Johnson, a seventh-year linebacker out of Purdue, signed a one-year contract with the Lions, reuniting him with his former special teams coach, Danny Crossman. Johnson was drafted in the third round by the Cincinnati Bengals and was a tackling machine for them before signing with the Panthers. Since then, his career has been less than spectacular.

The addition of Johnson gives the Lions a backup linebacker who has the ability to play all three LB positions while also being a core player on both kickoff and punt coverage.

Is it a big move?

No.

Is it an important move?

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Absolutely.

As of late, the Lions have been collecting a certain type of special teams player.

It started in 2009, the team drafted Zack Follett in the seventh round. He became a coaching staff (and fan) favorite against the St. Louis Rams with this crushing hit on Danny Amendola.

In seven appearances last year, Follett racked up seven special teams tackles.

Later in the season, the Lions signed Vinny Ciurciu, a special teamer from New England. Ciurciu had dabbled as a linebacker but was signed by the Lions to do what he does best, covering kicks.

In six games last year, Ciurciu had five tackles—all on kickoff.

Fortifying the third unit continued into the 2010 offseason. One of the Lions' first moves was claiming Ashlee Palmer off waivers—a consolation prize for those who wanted Bills' ST coach, Bobby April.

Palmer, a reserve linebacker, was April's prize special team's ace, a 23-year-old linebacker who runs like a safety. He would certainly have followed his coach anywhere—if the choice were up to him.

Palmer had 12 tackles in 11 appearances in 2009—second most on the Bills. 

The special teams rebuild also got an unexpected boost from the federal government (a bailout?) in Caleb Campbell—another young, fiery linebacker who runs like a safety.

Campbell used his time wisely since the Lions drafted him in 2008. After his workout, it was reported that Campbell is both bigger and faster than when he attended rookie camp.

Good for the Lions, bad for guys like Percy Harvin and Devin Hester.

The insinuation is not that the Lions have built a championship-caliber roster with waiver-wire castoffs and seventh-round draft picks. The takeaway from these moves is a change of focus—on special teams and the entire roster.

Say what you will about Stan Kwan, the guy endured a perfect storm of roster overhauls, with ever changing personnel and "system" players. Add in inept drafting, and even Chuck Priefer would have had a hard time finding success with Kwan's units.

The new players on the unit reflect a new focus.

Kwan preached technique and responsibility over intensity. Run down the field in the prescribed lane and don't run out of it—just don't make a mistake. It is a low-risk, low-reward philosophy, similar to the philosophy used on returns and just about everything else from the Marinelli and Mariucci eras.

Crossman, along with his boss, Jim Schwartz, preach a different kind of coverage—find the guy with the ball and knock the snot out of him.

To further that end, the Lions have collected players with that attitude. Crossman should have no problem preaching intensity to this unit.

Will this special teams group make mistakes?

Probably.

Adding personnel and a new system will always cause friction and confusion.

Furthermore, the Crossman way of doing things would rather give up the occasional big return on a mistake than allow above-average returns on every single kickoff.

Still, possible mistakes aside, these men, including the newest addition—Landon Johnson—are players the fanbase should have no problem getting behind. Not flashy, not high-maintenance players, these athletes are ready-made for the "Detroit attitude," as if Joe Dumars had wandered into the wrong front office.

In the most optimistic of scenarios, more hits like Follett's crush of Amendola are forthcoming—from all angles.

In the Lions' wildest dreams, the special teams unit finally becomes feared rather than jeered.


Michael Schottey is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report covering the Detroit Lions and the NFL Draft. He is also a team correspondent for DraftTek.com as well as a guest writer for MLive.com. Check out his podcasts at BlogTalkRadio and follow him on Twitter.