Sunday, April 26, 2009

Defending the (In?)defensible: The 2009 Detroit Lions Draft

Long time no blog (mainly because I've been using Twitter so much) but sometimes you need more than 140 characters, and if I'm going to defend the 2009 Detroit Lions draft, I may need 10 times that amount.

If newspaper articles, calls to talk radio, reaction at the Lions' own draft party, and comments from friends and family members are any indication, Matt Millen would have had an easier time pleasing the Lions faithful than what new GM Martin Mayhew and head coach Jim Schwartz put together. The newspaper columns are brutal, fans booed nearly every pick at Ford Field, I had to talk one friend off the ledge on the phone this afternoon, and another described the draft tonight as "TERRIBLE" (capitals included). Welcome to Detroit Matt Stafford and Jim Schwartz, where Lions fans have been bred to lose the "benefit of the doubt gene."

And there's every reason not to give the Lions the benefit of the doubt. After all, Matt Millen for eight years, produced eight years of wasted drafts. Two of the Lions first round picks of the Millen era (Charles Rogers and Mike Williams) are out of football. Another (Joey Harrington) is hanging on by a thread. Others aren't even with the Lions anymore (Roy Williams and Kevin Jones), and the ones that are (Jeff Backus, Ernie Sims, and Gosder Cherilus) have not lived up to expectations. And those late round gems every other team seems to find? Well, not so much with the Lions. Brian Calhoun has spent the better part of three years on IR though, and we've wasted more second round picks than most teams have had in eight years, so that's something.

All that is said to lay the foundation for this: Lions fans, I understand your frustration, and I understand your pessimism. But, let's also be honest, the Lions draft was far from "terrible" and it was certainly not the epic disaster most are portraying it as. We can disagree about the pick of QB Matt Stafford #1 overall, and had I been running the Lions, I probably would have taken Baylor left tackle Jason Smith (despite my love of Wake Forrest linebacker Aaron Curry, and I think he's going to be a leader in Seattle for the next decade, you can't take a linebacker #1 overall, give him $60 million, and then move him to middle linebacker, a position he's never played before -- you just can't do it), but if the Lions truly believe he can be an elite quarterback, they couldn't pass on him. You can't say "well, it didn't work out with Andre Ware or Joey Harrington or Chuck Long" so Stafford's destined to fail too. And I don't even mind the big contract, because, the Lions had no choice. Once they decided to take a QB #1 overall, the money was going to be outrageous. There was nothing they could do; they were slaves to the out-of-whack NFL rookie salary system.

The big problem Lions fans seem to have is that with both the team's second first round pick #20, and the first pick in the second round, #33, the Lions did not address a glaring need at middle linebacker. And there's no question, the Detroit Lions need a middle linebacker. With last year's starter Paris Lenon unsigned, there isn't one on the roster at the moment. That's a problem. But the Lions have a lot of problems. While we haven't had a Pro Bowl QB since the 1970's, that was also the last time the team had an elite tight end (and please, David Sloan doesn't count -- he was good, but certainly not great). And there's certainly no question the current Lions team also lacks a quality tight end. The team also lacks a play making free safety, in the mold of an Ed Reed or Bob Sanders.

So, with multiple holes, and only a limited number of picks with which to fill them, Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz did what they could. They went with the highest rated player on their board, pretty much regardless of position. And that meant taking tight end Brandon Pettigrew #20 overall, despite the needs on defense. This just infuriated most Lions fans, especially with MLB's Rey Rey Maualuga and James Laurinaitis on the board. But, Pettigrew was ranked as Mel Kiper's #7 overall prospect, was by far the #1 tight end in the draft, and is one of the most complete tight-end prospects in years. Not only does he have soft hands and NFL quality speed (though he's not going to blow by people) but he's a monster blocker thanks to his 6'5", 260-pound frame. So, not only does he give the Lions another weapon to take pressure off of Calvin Johnson, but he instantly makes the running game and the offensive line better because of his elite blocking skills. He can step in and start immediately, and he'll make a huge impact as a rookie.

Of course the Lions needed help on defense, but the fact that no NFL team thought it wise to take Maualuga or Laurinatis in the first round (or even into the second) ought to tell you something. It's easy to fall in love with big name players from big name college programs who we watch every week for years and are on the cover of Sports Illustrated (like Maualuga was the week before the draft) and see them make great plays and big hits, and say "we need that guy." And that's especially true when you are a team like the Lions who lack a defensive identity. But, this is a multi-year rebuilding process for the Lions. We're not going from 0-16 to the playoffs, we're not the next Miami Dolphins or Atlanta Falcons. We can't afford to pass up talent for need. We need players, at every position. We can't afford to be choosy.

The next sin, according to the local media and local fans, was passing up Mauluga nad Laurinatis again at #33 to take Western Michigan safety Louis Delmas. Delmas, though, was the #1 safety in the draft, and safety is becoming an elite, and vital position in the league (maybe even more so than middle linebacker). If Delmas lives up to his potential, Lions fans will be very happy, even if he's not a middle linebacker.

Jim Schwartz said today the Lions were not going to "fit square pegs into round holes" with the linebackers in this draft. Who am I, who didn't watch film on these guys, didn't interview them or see them work out at their pro day or the Combine, to say Schwartz is wrong? I know as Lions fans we have been conditioned to believe our coaches are bafoons, but I liked the hiring of Jim Schwartz. I have to at least give him one draft to get the types of players he thinks will fit best in his scheme.

Now, was I thrilled with all of the Lions picks? No. Day 2, while it obtained some depth at both defensive and offensive tackle, and brought us two potential kick returners (another desperate need), also included two outside linebackers. Maybe they can move inside, but the last thing we needed were more athletic outside linebackrs. And nary a defensive end or cornerback was taken. So, I was a bit less happy with Sunday than I was with Saturday.

So, maybe I'm just a Lions apologist, but I'm not expecting the Lions to rebuild overnight. We need players, everywhere and when you can leave a draft with the top player at three different positions of need (quarterback, tight end, and safety), even if you didn't address your most pressing need (middle linebacker) I can live with that. As Martin Mayhew said before the draft, as much as the draft is about next year, it's really about three, four years down the road. Of course we didn't fill all of our needs this weekend. But, this is a process, and one the Lions have just begun.

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Lions Struggle in Free Agency, But Its Not Mayhew's Fault

Despite having almost $40 million to spend in cap room, and more starting positions to fill than almost any team in football, the Detroit Lions have had a quiet start to free agency. Sure, they've signed a backup running back (Maurice Morris, a solid pickup, sure), a second or third option at wide receiver (the talented, but always seemingly disappointing Bryant Johnson), and picked up a couple of cornerbacks (aging veteran Anthony Henry from Dallas in a trade for Jon Kitna, and former Tennessee Titan backup Eric King) but certainly, for a team that went 0-16, these signings aren't going to instantly make the Lions a contender for much of anything.

Yet, I'm not upset, nor do I even remotely blame new Lions general manger Martin Mayhew. In fact, I give Mayhew high marks for how he's handled this off-season so far. Why? Because had things gone according to plan, the Lions would be in a much different position right now, and for once, the plan was not foiled by the Lions ineptitude, but by that of other teams.

First, the Lions had finally filled the left guard spot vacated when Matt Millen, in his first season as general manager, balked at paying Pro Bowl guard Jeff Hartings a few hundred thousand dollars more to stay in the Detroit. Instead, Hartings continued to visit Pro Bowls as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Millen regime was off and running in the wrong direction (little did we know at the time just how much the Hartings decision was a foreshadowing of things to come). This time, though, the Lions had lined up a trade with Buffalo for guard Derrick Dockery. Dockery is in the prime of his career and would have been the first real replacement for Hartings in almost a decade. He would have solidified the offensive line and would have instantly improved the Lions team. So what happened? The Bills screwed up the paperwork and failed to get it to the league office in time before Dockery was due a roster bonus. They chose to cut him instead, and the Lions were left with nothing. And despite offering Dockery more money than he later received from the Washington Redskins, Dockery chose D.C., his previous home before he went to Buffalo two seasons ago. Mayhew tried, but forces beyond his control kept the Lions without a starting offensive lineman.

An even larger disappointment perhaps was when Denver backed out of a potential trade for Jay Cutler. The Lions were trying to use their second round pick to trade for New England QB Matt Cassel, who the Lions would have then shipped to Denver in exchange for Cutler, who would instantly become the best quarterback the Lions have had in at least four decades. Denver, though, ultimately decided against moving Cutler, and the Patriots sent Cassel to Kansas City.

So, had Mayhew had his way, the Lions, along with the signings of Johnson, Morris, and King, would have added a top LG and one of the league's best quarterbacks to the Lions. And both were very close to happening, and both failed due to no fault of the Lions. And yet, Mayhew didn't get discouraged, and instead, went back to work. He somehow was able to get something for Jon Kitna, the quarterback the Lions would have cut in the next 48-hours before a roster bonus came due, sending him to Dallas for Henry, who, while aging, was a starter on one of the league's best defenses last season.

Would I have liked to see the Lions acquire more talent so far in free agency? Absolutely. But, it hasn't been for a lack of effort. And I like how Mayhew's mind seems to be working, as he is trying everything possible, and considering every option, to improve the Lions. Let's just hope in the next few days, if the Lions have another blockbuster move lined up, he's actually able to pull it off.

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Blogging about Twittering and Facebook Statusing

I have joined the phenomenon which is Twitter. As Sam Seaborn once said on West Wing, let's forget the fact that I'm coming a
little late to the party and embrace the fact that I showed up at all.

I was an early adopter to Facebook, joining back in the days when it was limited to .edu e-mail addresses (almost seems quaint now), but I've been slow to the other platforms which have defined this technological age. I started this blog back almost two years ago now (well after blogs became commonplace -- although, in my defense, I did write for the nascent back in 1997, and created and edited other websites in the late 1990s, which had a lot of blog-like qualities before the term blog was coined). But I never got into "Twittering," figuring instead that anytime I had anything to say, I'd just post it here. And since I like to drone on and use five words when two would do (a habit I'm trying to break when it comes to drafting legal briefs), limiting myself to the 140 words of a Twitter update seemed too constraining. Plus, I always had Facebook status updates to use whenever I did want to say something, succinctly, about what I was up to.

I've had a change of heart though, and now, You can follow me on Twitter. And I have Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill to thank. I never really followed people's "Tweets" on Twitter before I think Ben Smith at Politco (or maybe it was Marc Ambinder at the Atlantic, I forget which) referenced the Senator's Twittering of the negotiations over President Obama's stimulus bill. McCaskill's Twitters were candid (refreshing for a Washington politician) and I became hooked reading them (so much so that I put my following of the Senator's messages on my list of "25 Interesting Things About Me" on Facebook -- Another internet fad I gave into, but in a much quicker fashion). It was about then I realized the value of Twitter, and how entertaining and informative the content people post on Twitter can be. And along with now following Twitter feeds of friends of mine, there's David Gregory of Meet the Press, The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza and others. Some of the posts are interesting, others just allow you to see the real person behind the column or television show that you read or see. And, I think it can only be good for business. If I feel like I know David Gregory or Chris Cillizza a little bit better as people because I read their Twitter feed, I'm going to be more likely to watch Meet the Press as opposed to This Week or read The Fix as opposed to something else. It's another great example of the internet making our vast world smaller, and actually bringing people together (especially when people like Gregory use their Twitter feed to actively engage with and communicate with viewers or readers).

So by joining the ranks of Twitter, does that mean I am abandoning the Facebook status update? Not at all. While the two appear to serve the same function (Facebook asks 'What Are You Doing Right Now?' while Twitter asks 'What Are You Doing?') I see them as two very different and distinct mediums. Twitter is almost a mini-blog, a stream-of-consciousness collection of thoughts as they hit me. Thoughts that don't merit an entire blog post, but yet, seem worth sharing. I'll continue to use Facebook status updates, on the other hand, for just that, status updates. I like that distinction because I'm friends with hundreds of more people on Facebook than I am on Twitter, so actually using the status update to update my status makes more sense. Plus, I can see updating Twitter multiple times a day -- If I did that on Facebook, it would quickly overwhelm my wall and my friends' Newsfeeds, and that wouldn't be good for anyone. What we need is a Twitter application for Facebook which posts your Twitter feed without clogging your Newsfeed or Wall, and without hijacking your Facebook status updates. I'm sure that's coming (if it doesn't already exist).

So, now I feel my life is almost too integrated with the internet, though I'm sure I'll get over their feeling soon enough. But with a blog column for an internet newspaper, this blog, my Facebook account, and now, Twitter (most of which I can view and update from my Blackberry -- No wonder President Obama refused to give his up) odds are something else will soon come along that will further strengthen this bond. Yet, I don't think that's a bad thing. As I said, there's something about Twittering that connects people, and I'm sure in the future, we'll see the value and utility of those connections expand exponentially.

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Monday, February 2, 2009

Welcome to Monday, the New Thursday

Remember was Thursday was "Must See TV"? Didn't seem that long ago. Friends, Seinfeld, ER, Mad About You, a bunch of other random sitcoms that never made it, like Fred Savage's Working and that Christina Applegate sitcom (Jesse maybe?). Thursday's aren't so much good for that anymore. Now all we have (that I watch anyway -- and that's the only thing that's important right?) is Survivor. Sure, other people watch CSI and The Office and 30 Rock (and Grey's Anatomy I guess, but I think most folks, like me, have just become annoyed with that show), but Thursday is certainly a far cry from the appointment television it used to be.

And then, there's Monday. So many shows my DVR is on the verge of over-exhaustion. Here's my schedule for tonight (or say a normal Monday, considering I've got a few other things on my plate tonight -- And I can fit all this in thanks to the magic of my DVR which turns a 60 minute show into 42 commercial free minutes of television:

8:00-8:50 -- Countdown with Keith Olbermann
8:50-9:30 -- House
9:30-10:10 -- 24
10:10-10:30 -- How I Met Your Mother
10:30-11:10 -- Trust Me
11:10-11:50 -- Heroes
11:50-sleep: -- The Tonight Show

Now, of course, I don't have to watch everything in one night, but if I'm home, I might as well gorge on television. But just look at that lineup. A news show, a late night show, three dramas, a dramedy, a comedy, five networks (NBC, MSNBC, CBS, FOX, and TNT).

How can you top Monday? You can't. House, I've already written about. 24, obviously, has had its ups and downs. The shows' fifth season (the Evil President Logan year) was one of the best season's of television I've ever seen. The next season (the Evil Jack's family year) was one of the worst. When I heard the show was bringing Tony Almeida back from the dead, this season, I thought the show was getting desperate. Yet, the explanation for his return is very logical and has been well-handled, and this season has been very good so far. Back to the 24 of old. I am getting a bit tired though of moles in the upper echelon of the White House. 24's done that to death already, and it was a focal point of Prison Break and numerous other shows. It's time to come up with some new obstacle.

Heroes, similarly, has had its ups and downs, but I'm not giving up on it yet, as the new chapter which begins tonight ("Fugitives") looks to recapture the magic of the first season (though every new chapter supposedly was supposed to do that). Bringing in the brilliant Zeljko Ivanek is a great start, as from Damages to John Adams to 24 to The West Wing, Zeljko is great in everything he's in.

The recent success of How I Met Your Mother is gratifying as a longtime fan of the show. It didn't have a lot of critical or rating success in its first years, but CBS stuck with it, and it's the only comedy I watch, and it's both very funny, and yet, a show with a soul at the same time, which isn't just mindless slapstick (though there's some of that too). It continues to grow its audience, and it's hitting its stride (especially when Scrubs' Sarah Chalke guest starred last season into this start of this season).

And Trust/Me, while new, seems to be a show worth watching. I was always a big fan of NBC's Ed, and Tom Cavanaugh brings a lot of Ed Stevens to his role as an ad writer in this buddy dramedy about the modern world of advertising. Plus -- Monday means Headlines on Jay Leno. Can't beat that.

So, I guess my message to the TV executives (who, I'm sure, read my blog on a daily basis): Spread the wealth. Why have all your good shows on Monday? There's tons of bad television on the other six days of the week, save my DVR some work. Or, maybe it's better to have all these shows on the same day. You can watch them all and have the rest of the week TV free (except for NCIS, LOST, Damages, Survivor, The Amazing Race and 60 Minutes of course, plus nightly editions of Hardball, Countdown, Rachel Maddow, and The Tonight Show).

And with that, I need to get back to my television.

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