Tuesday, July 21, 2009
5 Things I Want to Watch in the Preseason
Okay, given the general state of the Detroit Lions franchise over the past decade of pain, it is probably foolish to say that there are only five areas that need to be closely monitored over the next month or so. The sad reality is that despite all the good done by the new regime since the conflagration that both mercifully and terribly ended the season, that decade long fire that turned the franchise into a pile of ashes left the team bereft of anything resembling quality depth. And so, wherever you look on the field, you're going to see some enormous holes. Instead of focusing then on the weakest and the saddest, I'm going to focus this little list on the things that interest me the most, good or bad.
1. The Linebackers
This is probably the most pumped up part of the team - certainly of the defense - and it's kind of odd heading into the season feeling like there's a very good chance that our linebackers will not only be functional, but that they will also be difference makers. It's been so long since the Lions got quality linebacker play from the group as a whole that I'm not sure if I can think back to a time when it was an actual reality. There have been a few decent players here and there, but for the most part guys like Ernie Sims or Reggie Brown have either been a lone superball bouncing in a world of retarded bowling balls or they have been broken in half and almost died on the field. In the case of Sims it will be interesting to see his freakish athletic talents complemented by linebackers who bring their own gifts to the table. He won't have to make so many plays on his own - or fail in spectacular fashion while trying anyway - with them there to cover their own ground. Hopefully, this will mean a more controlled Ernie Sims who will use his gifts for the forces of good instead of the forces of evil who he was devoted to all of last season. And aside from Sims, it will be very interesting to see just how Julian Peterson is used. He's another physical specimen(Good Lord, do I ever hate writing things like that because it sounds like I'm about two steps away from prodding him with a stick and then jotting down my observations in a notebook. Football scout talk is fucking creepy. At least I haven't called anybody "long" or started yammering like a degenerate about how a player looks with his shirt off. Not yet anyway.)Anyway, strange digressions aside, Peterson can both get to the quarterback and cover his man(great, now everything sounds dirty to me), and it will be very interesting to see how the coaches use him. I'm also eager to see how much he has left in the tank. He's still fairly young - just a hair over thirty - but he seems as if he's slightly past his prime. The same can be said of Larry Foote, the presumably new starting middle linebacker. I'll be anxious to see if his physical impact on the Lions measures up to the Super Bowl winning veteran leadership he should provide. There is also the curious case of Jordan Dizon, whose horrible rookie year led me to forecast a career in ditch digging after the season. Apparently, the coaches really like him, and it will be interesting to see if he can make giant strides in his second season and become someone who we can count on to replace either Peterson or Foote when the time comes. Also of interest will be whether or not DeAndre Levy can show enough to make people comfortable that he can step in as a starter when Foote either goes over the hill or chases his next contract. There is a lot to watch out for here, and this is probably the one position group I am most eager to see on the field.
2. The Cornerbacks
The defensive backfield has long been an apocalyptic wasteland in Detroit, and sadly, the new faces that the Lions brought in over the winter and spring don't really offer a whole lot of hope. And with the defensive line still being a general disaster area, the Lions really need players back here who can stick with their man. Phillip Buchanon is probably the key here, and according to insiders, he seems like he's impressing thus far. If he can give the Lions one player who can lock down the opposition's best receiver, it could create a sort of domino effect, allowing the rest of the defense a little cushion to make plays instead of having to sit back and cover for yet another sub-par corner. Other than Buchanon, things are looking frightening at cornerback. There's Anthony Henry, who the Cowboys practically threw at us in exchange for Jon Kitna. Old, slow, these are not words that you want to describe your starting cornerback, and there has been some speculation that Henry will eventually be moved to safety, which leaves . . . HEAD FOR THE HILLS ONLY THE STRONG WILL SURVIVE. Otherwise known as career backup Eric King and who the fuck knows what Keith Smith. These are not appealing options, but the truth is that even if Henry and Buchanon both perform well, either King or Smith is going to have to give the Lions quality time as the nickel back. And like the band of the same name, our nickel back will likely cause fans to break out in tears of agony, wailing and begging anyone who will listen to just make the pain stop.
3. Matthew Stafford
This one is obvious. But just because it's obvious, doesn't make it not true. Matthew Stafford was the number one pick in the NFL Draft and the Lions hopes and dreams for the future are riding squarely on his frat boy shoulders. Unfortunately, there are no statistics for keg throwing or coeds fucked in a pool of jello while your boys hoot and holler behind you, drunkenly cheering on your exploits while surreptitiously checking out your ass the whole time. Jesus. I'm sorry. That was just a string of terrifying gibberish and I'm sure Matthew is a wholesome young man who loves apple pie and wouldn't even think of messing around with jello. Anyway, the Lions have committed a billion dollars(just a rough figure)to Stafford and because of that, they're locked into him as the future of this franchise. You'll excuse me a minute while I go vomit. The names Joey Harrington, Andre Ware and Chuck Long just flew through my head in terrifyingly bright colors. I may be hallucinating. JESUS, THROW THE DAMN BALL PAST THE FIRST DOWN MARKER JOEY AND QUIT SMILING. NO, ANDRE, DON'T THROW THAT BALL TO . . . OH LORD WHAT IS HAPPENING??? So yeah, there are some concerns here, and that's before we even get into this little article written by Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution comparing Stafford to - hang on, breathe, it will all be okay - David Greene.
4. The Offensive Line
I thought about going with the defensive line here, but really, we know that will be bad, so why bother getting all worked up over it? The offensive line on the other hand is mildly intriguing, if only because for the first time in a while, the Lions seem to have a semblance of cohesion here. Four out the five starters are pretty much locked in, and all four have the potential to be okay players. If they all play up to their potential instead of down to their reputations, this could actually be an area of the team that ends up not being quite so horrible. I know that doesn't sound like a lot, but given that the Lions really didn't bring in too many new players here, that's sort of remarkable. The one player that the Lions did bring in who has some credentials of his own is Jon Jansen, the former longtime starter at right tackle for the Redskins. Hopefully, Jansen will at least push Gosder Cherilus to be something more than the dude who takes out Jared Allen's knees and then backpedals away while Allen chases him down like an escaped vampire ape. There is potential on the line, and with the new coaches, I'm interested to see if it actually blossoms or if the line dissolves in front of Stafford and Kevin Smith like it was just zapped out of there by Mr. Scott.
5. Jim Schwartz
Really, this applies to the whole coaching staff, but to Schwartz more than anyone else. He's the head man, and the one who has everyone in the Lions universe composing sonnets and throwing rose petals at him every time he walks by. We have collectively acted like a bunch of love sick schoolgirls, and soon we'll get to see whether or not he turns to us, smiles and asks us to dance, or whether he laughs in our face, tears up our love notes and speeds away on his motorcycle with the school slut while we sit in a puddle of our own tears, everyone laughing at us once again. Okay, so I may have dragged that metaphor out a little far but this team does weird things to even the best of us. The point is that Schwartz has yet to coach one game as the head man and really, until we see what he does, there are going to be insane mood swings happening in the Lions fanbase. One moment we will be dreaming that Professor Schwartz will mindmeld with the opposing team's coach and cause the other team's pants to fall off or some shit like in that movie Zapped. And the next moment, we'll all be worried that he will turn out to be just another pretender and that halfway through the season he will wander out onto the field, a glazed look in his eyes, pants missing and we'll all hang our head in shame while Old Man Ford quietly putters onto the field in a golf cart to retrieve his latest disaster. Look, we're all hoping for the best here, but let's face it, we're not exactly a franchise accustomed to sunshine and roses. Our collective memories of this team most resemble the shots of the future from the Terminator movies, all bleached skulls and dead people. Okay, so we've never been hunted by robots, but none of us really ever thought that 0-16 would happen either, so you never know. Hopefully, it turns out that Schwartz and his 912 IQ actually is a good football coach and not just the wet dream of a perpetually blue balled franchise. I'm sorry, that was weird and sort of gross, but fuck it, that's why we need the football season to just get here already, so we can stop speculating about such nonsense. Okay, fine, once the season does get here, that sort of weird bullshit will likely only increase, but I am a strange man in a strange world, and really, I know no other way. I am a Lions fan, after all.