Saturday, September 6, 2008
Lions Season Preview Part 4: Somebody Hold Me
Welcome to Part 4, wherein I lose my mind.
The Lions have failed to put a competent group of linebackers on the field for a while now. Since Chris Spielman left town the Lions have been looking for that consistent player in the heart of the defense who could be a steadying influence when everything else began to turn to shit, which, let's face it, is pretty much always happening with the Lions. When he was drafted out of Oklahoma, there were a lot of people who thought that Teddy Lehman could be that player, but a combination of injuries and a lack of athleticism brought those expectations to a screeching halt. But, Lions fans told themselves, at least we have that other young linebacker who will be a stud. Only it turns out that Boss Bailey is just a guy who is too slow and big to play safety but not really strong enough to play linebacker with any sort of consistency. He's a hell of a blitzing linebacker in Madden though.
So with the future of our defense drizzling out like so much else has in the Lions long, sordid, embarrassing history, what are we left with here? One good player who could end up being great and not a whole lot else.
Ernie Sims mans the weak side linebacker spot, and even though he is undersized he is the best player on this sorry defense by a mile, and possibly even the best player on the team, depending on whether or not Roy Williams gives a shit. Sims is too small, and he's not going to have a long career, but he has great instincts, is athletic as hell and hits like a fucking bus. But the best thing about Sims is that he is quite possibly insane. Aside from his frenetic playing style, he is renowned for having a world class collection of lizards. He has turned his house into a cross between a zoo and a jungle habitat and it is clear that he doesn't really give a fuck about much else. He's a crazy fucker who will probably have a hard time walking once he hits his forties, but he'll always have his lizards to keep him company as he grows old and that is fucking awesome. If I am proud to be a fan of anyone on this Godforsaken team it is Sims.
Jordon Dizon was drafted to take over the middle linebacker slot, but, like Sims he is undersized. It is easier to get away with this on the outside than it is in the middle, and if he remains at MLB and isn't switched to the strong side Dizon will have problems taking on and shedding blocks. But, like Sims, he is also a terrific athlete. It remains to be seen though whether he's Sims or he's Boss Bailey. Since he is a Lion chances are he ends up being a Bailey. Adding to these fears are the fact that Dizon was unable to win the middle linebacker spot in training camp. Instead, starting the season in the middle for the second straight season will be Paris Lenon. Lenon is a terrific special teams player, but that is not exactly a glowing endorsement for a starting middle linebacker. Chances are he will struggle again this year, unable to make a lot of plays that the Lions really need him to make. On the flip side Lenon won't make a lot of mistakes and won't cause the defense to completely fall apart. The ugly truth though is that the Lions desperately need a playmaker at this position and unless Dizon turns out to be a true beast the team is likely to be disappointed yet again this season. Oh well, at least we are used to it.
Alex Lewis is slated to be the strong side linebacker and again the book on Lewis is that he is undersized but athletic, which is the mold favored by Marinelli and company, but there comes a point where the players are just too fucking small and will end up getting pushed around. Lewis was never a real prospect and, like Lenon, worked his way up from the bottom. It's fine to have one of those types on your team, but it's a pretty big problem when they make up two thirds of your linebacking corps. It is possible that Dizon ends up here, and frankly, at least for this season, that is kind of what I expect to happen. He is probably a better alternative than Lewis, but again his inability to win the job outright in camp is troubling and I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up being a bit of a bust.
Really, what will end up happening here is the same sorry story that takes place every year for the Lions. The linebackers aren't big enough, and with the exception of Sims who operates as sort of the Derrick Brooks of this defense, they aren't really talented enough either. I don't dislike any of them really. They play hard, they know what they're doing, but they just lack the ability to really get it done. Against teams that want to run the ball up the middle the Lions will likely be in big trouble, with the middle of the defensive line being weakened with the loss of Shaun Rogers and the linebackers not being nearly rugged enough to stand up to the blocking of a power running game. Look for them to be barely adequate, with Sims dragging them on occasion into the territory of just good enough.
Grade: C, if they play like I expect them to, B- if Sims gets even better and if Dizon does end up emerging as a playmaker on the other side, C- if Dizon is a bust and the Lions lack of size and true playmaking talent becomes apparent.
I am starting to sound like a broken record, but yet again here is another position group that has been a major problem area for the Lions for a long time. How is it possible for one team to have so many consistent areas of weakness but to never do anything to improve them? You got me. Then again, I am not the genius that Matt Millen is and I am sure he is just biding his time until his fifty year plan comes together and the Lions manage to eke out a Wild Card birth in 2051. But the defensive backs have been a particular problem area for a long time now, and Millen has not once attempted to fix this through the draft. Then again the last highly rated defensive back that the Lions drafted was Bryant Westbrook and that didn't exactly turn out all that well so I suppose I can't blame them too much for being incredibly shook here. On the other hand, it is not like they have been all that successful drafting at other positions either, so what the fuck, you know? Just draft a dude here already.
What we are left with in the meantime is a defensive backfield which is almost entirely new this year. That could be a good thing as it's not like things could get any worse than they have been back there, but it's definitely possible, and probably likely that the Lions have just replaced shit with even more shit. It's a good thing that Lions fans are used to having shit shoveled onto them.
Brian Kelly is the biggest name of the newcomers in the secondary. A very good cornerback with Tampa Bay for a decade, Kelly fits the Tampa 2 defense favored by Marinelli like a glove. He has long been considered the ideal corner for this type of defense. He's smart, athletic and physical. My God, how did the Lions luck into him? Well, he's also old as dirt and has missed nineteen games over the last two seasons, so put away the party hats my friends, because what we've got here is the typical vet at the end of his career desperately trying to get one last payday while Rod Marinelli rubs himself on the sideline as he watches as all these former Buccaneers take the field. Seriously, the man has a fucking fetish. It is disturbing and I am just waiting for him to try to coax Warren Sapp out of retirement.
Coming out of the preseason the other starting cornerback is Travis Fisher. Fisher has been a fringe sort of starter for a few years now, first with St. Louis and now with Detroit. Last year he wasn't very impressive and there were more than a few people who figured he was probably done in Detroit. But here he is, ready to start against Atlanta in Week 1. Now, I don't know about you, but I am not exactly excited at the prospect of a guy starting who everyone figured would be forced to turn in his playbook by the end of training camp. I mean this is pretty terrifying. What it says about the other corners vying for the starting spot is pretty damning.
One of those other cornerbacks is Leigh Bodden, who the Lions picked up in the trade that sent Shaun Rogers to Cleveland. Bodden was expected to step right in and start opposite Kelly, but he has been unable to win the job. Again, I think this says a lot about Bodden's ability, or lack thereof. If he can't beat out Travis Fisher for a job then I think it's pretty safe to say he will merely continue the Lions long tradition of utter shit in the secondary. Bodden did have five interceptions a year ago with Cleveland but he was also picked on a lot in a defense that itself wasn't very good. The verdict? Pain. Lots and lots of pain.
Also in the mix at cornerback are Keith Smith who has been a disappointment since being a mid round draft choice by the Lions(I know, SHOCKING), and Ramzee Robinson, who was Mr. Irrelevant a year ago, which means that he was the last player chosen in the draft. He got a parade out of it and everything, a bunch of goofy shit that they do every year for Mr. Irrelevant to try to take his mind off the fact that he sucks as a football player and will likely be selling real estate or something within a couple of years. Ramzee's not there yet, but I don't see him sticking around too long either.
Dwight Smith is yet another newcomer in the secondary, and still another ex Buccaneer. I mean, come on Rod, just move back to Tampa already, rent a room across from wherever they practice and make love to yourself until you are dragged kicking and screaming out of the building by Tampa Bay security. You are just embarrassing yourself here man. Of course, Dwight Smith is probably best known for being the only man to return two interceptions for touchdowns in a single Super Bowl, which he accomplished against the Raiders a few years back(Sorry Harpo). He has also been arrested a couple of times during his career. Once for getting in a traffic dispute and pulling a gun on some poor driver who probably pissed himself and once for getting a little too handsy with some poor lady in the stairwell of a nightclub. Oh, and there was the time that he was arrested AGAIN for pulling a gun on another motorist. Only this time he pulled a fucking BB GUN which is just shameful. If you're going to do that shit, at least go all out. There is also the time he got busted in a Minneapolis nightclub smoking weed, but really that could happen to the best of us. So, chances are that Dwight gets hauled off in cuffs before the opening coin flip some game. But he is also a native of the fine city of Detroit and I trust that Lions fans everywhere will rally to this fine gentleman's defense should the need arise. On the field, Smith is a pretty decent safety, a guy who can hit and is a decent ball hawker, but he has been released by two different teams since leaving Tampa Bay so call me skeptical. He is already one of my favorite players though.
At the free safety spot is Gerald Alexander, who was forced to start as a rookie when injuries took out Daniel Bullocks. Alexander was a sleeper pick out of Boise St. and managed to not fuck up too badly his rookie season. It wasn't like he was any good or anything, but he wasn't terrible either. He could be decent down the road, but everyone expected him to take a backseat to Bullocks now that he returned this year. Only Bullocks, who was considered a star in the making going into last year, hasn't quite looked the same since coming back and as of now is slated to be Smith's backup at the strong safety spot, leaving the starting job in the hands of Alexander once again. This does not bode well.
Aside from Bullocks, who everyone is still hoping to come back 100%, there is still another Tampa Bay castoff backing up at safety. Kalvin Pearson comes over to join Rod Marinelli's harem of former Bucs, and his primary talent seems to be his knowledge of the system, which is a frustratingly familiar refrain when it comes to Rod's ex Buc players. Here is a novel idea Rod. How about actually trying to teach talented players your system instead of just being a lazy fuckwit who is content to bring in talentless rejects just because they are used to playing in your system. That is just abominable coaching.
Clearly, the defensive backfield looks to be in the same state of chaos that it is always in. Just because the Lions brought in a whole host of new faces it doesn't mean that the result will be any different. I expect the old guys to get older and slower and the young guys to continue to drift away from the team after a season or two just like they always do, until the secondary is overhauled yet again and we go through the same frustrating process that we do every few seasons. I mean, come on, fuck this, this shit is getting really fucking old.
Grade: F, because fuck this shit, that's why.
OVERALL DEFENSIVE OUTLOOK
Shit. It is the one current that keeps running through this preview and here we are yet again. Hello again shit, my dear old friend. Look, things are going to be bad on defense this year because things are always bad on defense for the Lions. It is just the way it is and the way it will be until the end of time. They are going to struggle to stop the pass since they are going to lack a sustained pass rush and the corners are either old or worthless and they aren't going to stop the run because they are soft up the middle and the linebackers are too fucking small. If you can't stop the run and you can't stop the pass you are going to suck. I know, it is a shocking conclusion, but there you have it. Oh well, at least I can cheer for Ernie Sims and his lizards and hope that Dwight Smith flips out and reenacts the scene from The Last Boy Scout when he intercepts a pass and then loses his shit during the return and pulls a gun and starts offing dudes. That will be the best defense that the Lions have all year, Dwight Smith and his arsenal.
Overall Defensive Grade: D for Dwight.