Saturday, September 5, 2009
Lions Season Preview 2009, Part 3: The Receivers
A BRIEF HISTORY LESSON
Have you heard the one about Matt Millen and all those wide receivers? What? Pantsless? IN A BARN??? GOOD GOD NO, I was just talking about his predilection for drafting them in the first round. What is the matter with you? Okay, so weird bullshit aside, the Lions do have a tortured history with the receiver position, mainly because of The Dark Lord's apparent obsession with accumulating as many of them as he could before the citizens of this fair land dragged him from his castle and burned him at the stake.
But before there was Matt Millen and before there were a billion jokes from a billion talking heads and from a billion fans(yes, a full third of the world's population was in on this, and yes, I was astounded as I am sure you are to discover that approximately 1/6 of the world's population is in fact a talking head), there was the run and shoot era of the 1990's, an era which, in the shadow of St. Barry the Great, produced monster receiving seasons from Herman Moore and Brett Perriman. And after that, Johnnie Morton carried on the tradition of the Detroit Lions having a fine, top flight receiving corps. Even random ol' Germane Crowell got in the mix one season and put up big numbers. Despite being saddled with a collection of quarterbacks more adept at shitting their pants and sobbing while the defense wailed on them than at actually throwing the ball with any consistency, the Lions had a nice little thing going for them at the wideout position.
But then Johnnie Morton told Jay Leno to kiss his ass, Millen supposedly called Morton a fag and the Lions receiving corps descended into the bowels of hell along with the rest of the team, where they shrieked in mortal terror and wept as their souls were devoured by the failure demon who ran wild over the Lions for the last decade.
Millen though, for his part, decided to look that failure demon in the eye and fought back with a slew of top ten draft picks who promised to pick up that failure demon and toss him down a deep dark hole like Vader did the Emperor at the end of Jedi. Yeah, that's dorky as hell, but fuck it, I don't care. And while that all sounded like a hell of an idea, sadly the failure demon just laughed in their faces and then ate them.
Yes, we all remember the names Charles Rogers and Mike Williams, and we shudder with nervous terror whenever their ghosts are brought into the conversation. Images of hollowed out collar bones packed with weed and weekly trips to the scale to shed that last 20 or 30 pounds picked up over the course of a year off presumably spent bathing in Cheeto dust run through our minds when the names of those two great warriors are mentioned, and we are left to ponder how and why a fanbase that has had to put up with so much inanity over the years was suddenly saddled with yet another ridiculous punch line.
Of course, that didn't stop Millen from plowing straight ahead with his search for the perfect receiver, and thankfully he seemingly hit upon a good one in Roy Williams. The stars seemed to align when the Lions brought in Mike Martz to head up a new pass happy scheme with Williams at the center of it and even though Mike Williams and Rogers didn't work out(oh Lord did they not work out), the Lions added a capable and feisty(I am required by law to refer to him this way. The terms scrappy, gamer and David Eckstein are also acceptable.)receiver in Mike Furrey to the mix and the Lions attack soon began to evoke memories of those great run and shoot teams of the mid-90's, with Williams promising to challenge Herman Moore for the title of the number one Lions receiver in the hearts of fans. Okay, such a title might not actually exist, but you get the point.
This being the Detroit Lions however, that failure demon who has his own seat on the team bus began whispering in the ear of everyone involved in this burgeoning enterprise, and it wasn't long before Furrey's production began to erode and Williams began dropping ball after ball, looking like he would rather be anywhere else the whole time. It was clear that the grand experiment which promised to give us pleasant flashbacks to the days of twin 100 reception receivers was going to fail and when Mike Martz was shown the door, and the Lions shifted to a power, ball control offense, the bitter end was indeed approaching all too rapidly.
In the midst of the horrors of 0-16, Williams and his now virtually nonexistent production were shipped off to Dallas and Furrey found himself sliding further and further away from relevance. And when the season ended, the once proud dreams of the receiving corps were left shattered and forgotten, lost in a hazy rubble of dropped balls, anguished screams and terrified wailing from a fanbase who found themselves left with nothing once again.
But, wait, what's that? Ah yes, there was another.
In the middle of all the chaos and carnage, rising above the blood soaked streets of pain and the collection of bleached skulls which had piled up, horrifying a fanbase who had suffered too much already, one man emerged, a wide receiver better than all his predecessors, a man who single handedly has made us believe that, at the wide receiver position at least, everything will be okay. His name is Calvin Johnson, and like St. Barry before him, his name has become holy and worthy of our utmost reverence. St. Calvin shall lead us, and St. Calvin shall give us hope, and St. Calvin will in the end be known simply as St. Calvin the Great or St. Calvin the Inconceivable. He is the most talented player in the league. I firmly believe that. And, he is ours.
St. Calvin boasts absurd speed. Not just for a man his size, but for anyone. He is among the fastest players in the league, and he is also 6'5" and 240 pounds with giant otters for hands. I feel like I am sitting around drunkenly screaming about Bill Brasky here, but the crazy thing about St. Calvin is that none of that is exaggerated at all. Well, the part about the otters might not technically be true, but cut me slack here. He's a complete freak in the best way and even though he would have been better off with a ball boy tossing him balls last season than the motley crew of alleged quarterbacks the Lions trotted out, he still put up terrific numbers and scared the shit out of the rest of the league. I am beyond excited to see him grow with Matthew Stafford and I think it's very possible that by the time he sails off to Canton that he will be remembered as the greatest receiver of all time. Okay, put that straight jacket away. Yeah, yeah, Jerry Rice, whatever, I hear you. But St. Calvin is ours, like St. Barry was ours, and there is no room for quiet moderation here. We have something great, and as we are the wretched and the broken, it is only natural and right that we scream about it from the top of every hill and laugh sweet and strong when he blows by a hapless defender on his way to six.
Aside from St. Calvin, the Lions completely revamped their receiving corps in the off season, bringing in Bryant Johnson to start alongside of him. Bryant Johnson, or Johnson the Lesser(this is no sign of disrespect, it's just that, yeah, come on)is a former first round pick in his own right who found himself surpassed in Arizona by both Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, and later, Steve Breaston. But, Johnson the Lesser has always managed to be sneakily productive in Arizona's offense, and it's my and every other Lions fan's hope that he can provide a dependable alternative to St. Calvin. As long as he keeps the defense honest, he'll be doing his job.
The Lions signed Ronald Curry and then quickly dumped him when they managed to acquire Dennis Northcutt from Jacksonville. Northcutt is one of those sneaky fast receivers who works best in the slot. He can also help in the return game if need be. Unfortunately, he's been out almost the whole preseason and so all we can do is hope that he can provide some play making ability. He's getting older, but if he can give the Lions similar production to what he has put up in his career, we should be alright here.
After that, it starts getting a little dicey. The Lions drafted Derrick Williams with the purpose of making him their return man and grooming him for the slot receiver spot. So far, Williams has shown flashes of play making ability as a receiver even as he has struggled catching the ball on punts. I predicted when he was drafted that he would be a frustrating player to watch because while it's obvious that he's naturally talented, he is also maddeningly inconsistent, and thus far, that's exactly what we have gotten. He will be on the team though.
After that, the battle for the fifth receiver spot is kind of up in the air, as while I write this, I'm looking at the Lions final cuts today, and it appears that they have cut everyone else who was expected to vie for that final spot. So, uh, well, random fifth receiver, come on down, and thank you for making me look bad.
The Lions have the pieces in place here for a functional receiving corps, led by the incomparable St. Calvin the Inconceivable, and if they get steady production from Johnson the Lesser and from Northcutt, we'll be in pretty good shape. St. Calvin is the unquestioned playmaker here and if those other two veterans can give him some room to operate and if Derrick Williams makes a few big plays here and there, then the Lions receivers should make Matthew Stafford's transition from college to the NFL a whole lot easier. Of course, they could also be on the end of passes from Daunte Culpepper, but again we are optimists and champions in our heart and so we won't think like that.
GRADE: B. St. Calvin is the real deal and worthy of an A+ on his own, but the other guys are pretty much just a collection of dudes without a lot of upside. Maybe Williams surprises in a good way, in which case this grade could move up a little. But thanks to St. Calvin, there is almost no way this grade will be any lower.
A BRIEF HISTORY LESSON
Oh shit, I almost forgot about the tight ends, and so I will just tack them on here at the end.
Anyway, for a long time, the tight end was basically an afterthought in the Lions offense. In fact, for a while it didn't even exist. The Lions basically ran without a tight end for much of the 90's, running what was essentially a spread offense, with St. Barry surrounded by a plethora of talented wideouts. Eventually, the Lions incorporated the tight end, and for a while, David Sloan was the man at the position. He was okayish but nothing that would really cause you to throw your panties on the stage or anything. Not that I wear panties. Well, I mean, not as a general rule. Sometimes, you just need that silky . . . never mind. Other than Sloan, changeover at the tight end position was almost a yearly tradition for the Lions. A mix of veterans and overlooked youngsters, the tight ends the Lions have boasted over the last decade or so have mostly been disappointments, just more turds in the desert of despair in which we have been forced to roam for far too long.
Last season's collection of nondescript nonplaymakers was no different and when the season ended, and the grisly remains of the corpse that was the Detroit Lions was scraped off of the side of the road, those lame parts were left to rot in the sun and we get to be introduced this season to a whole new collection of potential saviors or flame outs.
And now, for something completely different, how about a tight end who might actually be, dare I say it, good? Yes, the Lions drafted Brandon Pettigrew in the first round despite the howls of protest from every nerd with a mock draft in one hand and his . . . well, I'll just stop this before it gets disturbing. It wasn't long before most fans warmed up the idea of a strong tight end who could provide excellent in-line blocking and a reliable safety valve for Matthew Stafford, and Pettigrew promises to be both. Unfortunately, he has been nagged by minor injuries all preseason and so we're not entirely sure if he is the real deal or just another empty promise foisted off on a fanbase too eager to trust and too easy to disappoint. Fortunately, nearly everyone seems to think that Pettigrew being a solid player right away is pretty much a no brainer, and it would appear that we have our tight end for the foreseeable future.
Aside from Pettigrew, the Lions brought in Will Heller, a veteran who will provide solid blocking, and they return Casey Fitzsimmons, who has been around seemingly forever now. Fitzsimmons has been tagged with the word potential for so long that it kind of feels like a joke. At what point does this mysterious potential kick in? Year 9? How about an even 10? Maybe he will dominate his seniors football league in between applesauce and Metamucil cocktails fifty years from now. I, uh, don't really like Fitzsimmons and with the stink of failure lingering all over him from the terrible past, I don't see why the Lions don't just bid him a fond farewell and keep a younger player with some upside, someone like a Dan Gronkowski maybe, who earlier today was given a pink slip and told to hit the bricks.
Pettigrew should be solid at tight end for a long time for the Lions. He'll be a comfortable part in an offense that should only get better and better over the next couple of seasons. Heller will provide that tough veteran blocking that every coach loves to have, and Fitzsimmons, well, Fitzsimmons will be there too I suppose.
GRADE: B-. This could be higher if Pettigrew is everything that he could be, and even higher if somehow Fitzsimmons realizes his apparent potential. It could also go much, much lower if Pettigrew shits the bed and we are left with Will Heller trying to do everything at the tight end position.