Football season does something to men that nothing else can. Past memories, current situations and future prospects give fans like me the fuel to throw summer on the back burner without issue.
Every team, professional or college, goes through many changes from season to season. The great teams add to their talent pool while the disappointing teams look to better themselves at almost every position. In the pros, the bad teams eventually rise up and win through high draft picks, as the NFL intended. In college, the team that had a rough season or two sells recruits on a new coach or stadium.
Both the Detroit Lions and the Michigan Wolverines have suffered losing seasons these past few years, but the foundation has and is currently being laid to compete with the big boys. Offensively, young quarterbacks and running backs look to rally around experienced wide receivers and offensive lineman. Both teams have the capability to put up points in bunches, but what truly relates them to one another are their abilities to stop opposing offenses.
The Lions and the Wolverines both field an impressive front seven on the defensive side of the ball. They also field a weak secondary. The Lions made a big splash in free agency by landing veteran Kyle Vanden Bosch. He brings the leadership and tenacity that will inspire a young defensive line. Drafting all around defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh second overall ensures that the Lions will have a big, smart presence in the middle. DT Corey Williams and newly acquired defensive end Lawrence Jackson add both size and talent.
The combination of these guys will take pressure off soon to be breakout star, Cliff Avril, who registered a brilliant sack just a few plays into the first preseason game. The linebackers are not what some would call a complete entity, but individual talent is not withheld from the unit. Not unlike Vanden Bosch, five time pro bowler Julian Peterson returns as the leader of his position.
Last year’s steal of the draft, third rounder Deandre Levy, slides over to the middle to replace last year’s starter, Larry Foote. Levy showed all around skill last year with his ability to tackle, cover and read defenses. He is a natural fit for the Mike and should anchor that position for the next decade.
Weakside linebacker is a more tricky situation with major disappointment Ernie Sims moving on to Philadelphia. Zach Follett and Landon Johnson are the two guys slated to fight it out for the starting spot there.
I would call the back four depleted, but not much has been there for a long time. Back in the day the Lion’s secondary used to be a strength, with names like Dick Lebeau, Yale Lary and Dick “Night Train” Lane. Nowadays, we’ll take second and third stringers and try our hand at starting them.
I do like that we went after young talent this offseason when it comes to the cornerback position. Chris Houston, Jonathan Wade and Amari Spievey have the potential to be the future, all the while trying to figure out the present. Louis Delmas is the lone exception for us. The first pick of the second round in last year’s draft, Delmas has turned into the complete package just one season into his young career. He can cover, he has confidence, and you had better believe he can lay the lumber.
U of M is in a very comparable situation. Although superstar Brandon Graham has moved on to the NFL, much talent still remains. Up front Ryan Van Bergen, Mike Martin, Will Campbell, Adam Patterson, Ronaldo Sagesse, Greg Banks and Will Heininger will anchor the front 3. True freshman Jibreel Black and Ken Wilkins have a chance to play as well. The veteran linebackers should make a splash this year. Up 20 pounds from last season, Jonas Mouton leads the group. Obi Ezeh looks to rebound from a mediocre season, but he is also in great shape. J.B. Fitzgerald will also see some time.
The catalyst for a pass rush may be true sophomore Craig Roh. He can either stand up or put his hand down and is going to be a force with the 15 pounds he added this offseason. The spinner in the 3-3-5 will probably end up being either one of two true freshman. Josh Furman has outgrown the safety position and has too much speed and talent to not see the field. Marvin Robinson is a man child and could play either box safety or spinner himself.
Just like the Lions, the secondary for U of M is a far cry from the rest of the defense when it comes to overall talent. The let down of corner potential is unbelievable. Donovan Warren, a perennial five star left early for the NFL. Justin Turner, a five-star on Scout was reported to be a lazy player and was getting buried in the depth chart when he left town. Boubacar Cissoko was a high four star who got involved with the wrong side of both the law and the classroom. Demar Dorsey was a speedy corner who never even had the chance to suit up due to grades.
Arguably the lone bright spot, senior Troy Woolfolk, dislocated his ankle and will have to miss this season. Young, unproven talent is still available, but to expect them to cover the Michael Floyd’s and Devier Posey’s of this schedule may be too much to ask. Both the Lions and Wolverines will have to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks to supplant the lack of experience in the secondary.
There is another resemblance for the two teams, and that is a return to Glory. Who would have thought Bobby Layne’s claim that the Lions “would not win for 50 years” would outlast itself? The young talent on both sides of the ball for the Lions make this an exciting time for their fans and the foundation has been laid for both present and future success.
The University of Michigan has known winning to be a constant in their program. With the most wins and highest winning percentage of all time, one must believe that this drought is coming to an end. Rich Rodriguez has not only recruited his guys, but his guys have had a whole season to get into his kind of playing shape.
As a fan of both teams, I’m so excited to have genuine promise on both Saturdays and Sundays this fall. If you aren’t a part of this movement, best of luck trying to rationalize how these teams are exceeding even your expectations. If you’re in the same boat as me, enjoy the ride my friend!