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2006 Team Report: Detroit Lions

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Starter: Jon Kitna
Backup(s): Dan Orlovsky, Josh McCown

Starting QB: The Lions briefly flirted with signing Drew Brees, and gave consideration to trading for Patrick Ramsey this past off-season. Additionally, the team seriously considered using its first round pick on a QB. Finally, the team settled on its current crop of players to find its starting signal-caller. By late March, it was announced that if the season were to start, Jon Kitna would be the starter. Three of the QBs on the roster (Kitna, Josh McCown, and Shaun King) are all new to the team this off-season, which makes sense since the team has also brought in a new offensive coordinator, head coach, and a brand-new playbook to go along with them. HC Rod Marinelli has gone on record as saying he expects the new offense to “explode”. If it does, it will be in large part to the play of the quarterback. At this point, that player is still Kitna. Kitna last was a starting QB in 2003, a season which saw him lead the Bengals to a very respectable 8-8 record. Personally, Kitna enjoyed a career-best season and a renaissance to his career. After two years now of backing up Carson Palmer, Kitna felt it was time to move on and compete for a starting spot once more. In Detroit, he’s got about the best situation a free agent QB could hope for. A noted offensive guru as his coordinator, three first round wideouts and a first round running back on the roster, and low expectations from fans and fantasy owners alike after years of putrid play at the QB position in Detroit. Toss in the Lions marginal defense and you’ve got all the makings of a potential fantasy breakout in Detroit. Whether Kitna starts or one of the current backups seizes the job, one thing’s for sure – the Lions’ QB will have every opportunity to post terrific stats in 2006, whoever it is.

Backup QB: Josh McCown was signed away from Arizona to back up Jon Kitna. McCown saw extensive action in each of the past two seasons, with sporadic moments of excellence surrounded by more frequent moments of mediocrity. During the preseason, second-year man Dan Orlovsky received much of the work with the second-team unit and is expected to open the season as the primary backup to Jon Kitna. At this point, McCown was thought to be a challenger for the job, but has been outplayed to this point. He's got good elusiveness, something that isn’t required in the Martz offense. Although based on the injury history of Kurt Warner, Trent Green, and Marc Bulger, that may be a big bonus. If Kitna suffers an injury at any point and Orlovsky is hurt or ineffective, McCown enters a situation set up for him to succeed.

Running Backs

Starter: Kevin Jones
Backup(s): Artose Pinner, Shawn Bryson, Brian Calhoun, Arlen Harris
Fullback(s): Cory Schlesinger

Starting RB: Coming off an electric rookie season, big things were expected out of Kevin Jones in 2005. His season can only be classified as a spectacular failure. Jones had a tough schedule to run on in the early going, but his own ineffectiveness and constant proclivity to get banged-up on a regular basis dashed any hopes for a breakout season. Instead, he regressed to the tune of just 664 yards and five total touchdowns. The news this off-season has been positive, as Jones is in excellent shape and has dropped at least ten pounds since last season ended. He seems intent on putting last year behind him, and as the featured back in the Martz system, big things will once again be expected of him. Still, one must realize that not only did Detroit keep its entire stable of backs intact; they actually added one more through the draft in Brian Calhoun and brought in former Ram Arlen Harris to compete for a spot. Clearly, the pressure is on Jones to produce – now.

Backup RBs: Shawn Bryson inked a three-year extension this off-season that will provide a nice security blanket in case Kevin Jones doesn’t perform in the starting role. It’s also possible that Bryson will see the field on a regular basis anyway, as the Lions wish to take advantage of his excellent receiving skills on a more regular basis. Artose Pinner is more of a power runner than the other backs on the roster, and could fill a role in short-yardage situations. With Kevin Jones’ propensity to get nicked up, the Lions may wish to save him a bit in goal line and short yardage situations, areas in which Pinner excels. Third rounder Brian Calhoun is a good receiver out of the backfield and demonstrates a lot of the skills necessary in a featured NFL back. If injuries strike, he could see himself on the field a great deal.

Fullback: Shawn Bryson inked a three-year extension this off-season that will provide a nice security blanket in case Kevin Jones doesn’t perform in the starting role. It’s also possible that Bryson will see the field on a regular basis anyway, as the Lions wish to take advantage of his excellent receiving skills on a more regular basis. Artose Pinner is more of a power runner than the other backs on the roster, and could fill a role in short-yardage situations. With Kevin Jones’ propensity to get nicked up, the Lions may wish to save him a bit in goal line and short yardage situations, areas in which Pinner excels. Third rounder Brian Calhoun is a good receiver out of the backfield and demonstrates a lot of the skills necessary in a featured NFL back. If injuries strike, he could see himself on the field a great deal.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Roy Williams, Corey Bradford
Backups: Glenn Martinez, Mike Furrey, Eddie Drumond, Shaun Bodiford, Mike Williams, Scott Vines

Starting WRs: Roy Williams demonstrated during his rookie season that he’s got the talent necessary to be a force in this league. He has, however, suffered injuries in each of his first two seasons. Corey Bradford was a big-play threat for the Texans over the past four seasons. He should get a chance to start this year in Detroit, although the depth chart at wide receiver always seems to be in a state of flux. The receivers should benefit from the addition of Mike Martz as offensive coordinator. Martz designed the high-powered offense run by the St. Louis Rams for much of the past decade, and knows how to get the most out of his offensive skill-position players.

Backup WRs: The Lions' depth chart at wide receiver keeps changing, but it currently appears that Glenn Martinez is the primary backup to Roy Williams and Corey Bradford, having surpassed Mike Furrey and Eddie Drumond in the pecking order. Mike Furrey, a re-converted WR who spent last year as a defensive back for the Rams, should get some playing time out of the slot position, with Eddie Drummond challenging him for that role. Shaun Bodiford, an undrafted free agent rookie, has been turning heads in practice and has even spent some time running with the first team. Former first-round draft pick Mike Williams has been a disappointment to the Lions. He has tremendous athletic ability, but has not impressed the coaching staff with his work ethic or dedication. Williams has intriguing potential as a goal-line target, and will probably be given another year to establish himself in that role. Scott Vines was the team's second-leading receiver (among WRs) last year, but is out with a sports hernia injury and could miss the first six weeks of the season.

Tight Ends

Starters: Marcus Pollard
Backups: Dan Campbell

Marcus Pollard improved his statistics for the first time in several years last season, thanks in large part to the inability of the other Detroit weapons to stay on the field. Starters Roy Williams, Kevin Jones, and Charles Rogers each missed significant portions of time during the year, and someone had to pick up the slack. That person turned out to be Pollard for the most part. And now Pollard expects to see an increase in his role this season. Whether that actually happens is a subject for debate, as the team has three first round receivers that they’d like to get something from – soon. Additionally, the offenses Martz ran in Saint Louis didn’t heavily feature the tight end, though Pollard is also better than any TE the Rams had over that period. At the very least, Pollard should duplicate his stats of a year ago. Even if the other players garner a higher percentage of touches, the overall improvement of the offense as a whole should benefit all of the skill position players. Dan Campbell is almost exclusively a blocking tight end. The team may call his number down near the red zone a half dozen times or so over the course of the season, but the opportunities will be so few and far between that it’d be impossible to know when they are coming. Campbell is a blocker pure and simple, and that is his role in the offense.

Place Kicker

Jason Hanson : Things fell apart for the Lions and Hanson last year, and consequently they ended up 32nd in kicker scoring. Hanson’s 24 FG attempts were the third fewest of his 14 year career. His five misses meant he dipped under 80% for the first time in five years. His 27 PAT attempts were the second fewest of his career. Hanson also struggled on kickoffs. His 61.2 average and five touchbacks were both the worst of his career.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Shaun Bodiford, Eddie Drummond, Brian Calhoun, Arlen Harris, Shawn Bryson, Mike Furrey

Undrafted WR Shaun Bodiford out of Portland State emerged in the pre-season and will take some of the return load off of WR Eddie Drummond, most likely on kickoffs. Drummond played in 12 games in 2005, the most of any season in his injury plagued 4 year career. Despite playing more, he turned in his least productive year. His 22.0 average on 49 kickoff returns was the worst of his NFL career. Third round draft pick RB Brian Calhoun out of Wisconsin will be given the chance to backup Drummond. Although he didn’t handle returns for the Badgers last year and had limited experience while previously with Colorado, he has excellent speed and ball handling skills. The Lions lost a quality backup in CB R.W. McQuarters to the Giants in free agency. He’ll be replaced by two free agents acquisitions from the Rams, RB Arlen Harris (47 returns, 20.2 avg. in 2004) and WR Mike Furrey (8 returns, 19.6 avg. in 2004). RB Shawn Bryson (4 returns, 13.8 avg.) could again serve as a backup.

Punt Returners: Eddie Drummond, Shaun Bodiford, Brian Calhoun, Mike Furrey, Arlen Harris, Dre' Bly

Eddie Drummond’s 6.0 average on 26 punt returns last year was also the worst of his NFL career, and it was the first year he failed to reach the end zone. It’s been a couple years since the backup candidates returned punts, and all are former Rams. Mike Furrey and Arlen Harris both returned punts for St. Louis in 2003. CB Dre’ Bly returned a couple punts for Detroit in 2003, and for St. Louis in 2001 & 2002. After three straight years ranking in the top three in fantasy return points, the Lions plummeted to 25th last year.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: RT Kelly Butler, RG Damien Woody, C Dominic Raiola, LG Rex Tucker, LT Jeff Backus
Key Backups: T Victor Rogers, G Rick DeMulling, T Jonathon Scott (rookie), G Fred Matua (rookie)

The Detroit Lions offensive line has some talent and could develop into a good unit in 2006 if everything goes right. New OL coach Larry Beightol comes over from the Packers where he spent the past seven seasons and he has a very good track record. Jeff Backus has started all 80 games of his career and is a very good left tackle. He has a mean streak, is tenacious and puts forth 100% effort on every play. At right tackle, Kelly Butler learned on the job a year ago and did a serviceable job for the club. He is a large man but needs to continue working on his technique to become better. The Lions drafted an interesting prospect in Jonathon Scott who has a tremendous mix of athletic prowess and power but has terrible technique and isn’t aggressive enough. With good coaching he may become a great tackle in the NFL but he’s a big question mark right now. Damien Woody is a solid, no-frills offensive guard who is effective but not aggressive enough to become an elite player. He has only missed two games during his seven year career. Dominic Raiola has been a pretty good center for the club but could become great. He is aggressive, is committed to improving but his lack of bulk has hurt him at times. The other guard position appears to be a little weak with Rex Tucker and Rick DeMulling battling for the job. Of the two, Tucker has the most upside and he’ll likely get the chance to start although he has not been able to stay healthy. A wild-card in the mix is 7th round pick guard Fred Matua who is powerful and plays with passion. He could surprise with a great camp. Expect improvement from these guys in 2006.

Team Defense

The Lions defense was very middle of the road last year. They were not as big a reason for the team’s failure as the offense. Detroit was one of the best defenses at creating turnovers, in the NFL’s top five at combined interceptions and forced fumbles, and they did manage to score three defensive TDs. Still, they were near the bottom in sacks. All of that could change real soon, as the Lions have brought in Rod Marinelli, a defensive line guru and intense coach that demands 100% effort from his players. He and new defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson will institute the cover 2 scheme which should create more sack opportunities with its attack philosophy up front. The Lions did not make any big personnel moves this offseason, but there are some changes in the depth chart, as Paris Lenon and Idrees Bashir have been brought in for depth at LB and safety, and Kalimba Edwards was locked down long term to secure the DE rotation. Earl Holmes has not bee re-signed and is a bad fit for the cover 2 and likely to move on. Fernando Bryant is healthy again, and 2005 injury fill-in CB R.W. McQuarters and Andre Goodman are no longer on the roster. The team added seek and destroy LB Ernie Sims and well-rounded safety Daniel Bullocks on the first day of the draft.

Defensive Line

Starters: LDE Cory Redding, LDT Shaun Rogers, RDT Shaun Cody, RDE James Hall
Backups: DE Kalimba Edwards, DE Bill Swancutt, DE Jared DeVries, DT Marcus Bell

Starting DL: This group is anchored by one of the best DT in the game, Shaun Rogers. The widebody mauler from Texas disrupts everything and sets up the rest of line to make plays because of the consistent double teams he draws. Shaun Cody should admirably repalce Dan Wilkinson, who was released, and is said to be considering retirement. The defensive ends did not produce the kind of pressure you would expect with such massive athletic players tying up the middle of the field, with James Hall and Cory Redding combining for six sacks despite being starters. Hall was banged up early last year and finished the season with a flurry of three sacks in his final four games, and could return to his double digit sack form of 2004. Rod Marinelli’s expert defensive line coaching and fiery attitude should liven up this group’s production in 2006.

Backup DL: The new regime immediately committed to bringing back DE Kalimba Edwards and he was given a five year contract. He’s a much better pass rusher than Redding and should be able to increase his sack totals with positive factors like the institution of the cover 2 and tutelage of Marinelli in his favor. The new coach loves his speed and should put him in a position to succeed. Jared DeVries was re-signed by the team and is an intense, versatile backup and special teamer. Huge Marcus Bell also sees some time in the DT rotation.


Starters: SLB Teddy Lehman, MLB Boss Bailey, WLB Ernie Sims
Backups: OLB Paris Lenon, WLB James Davis, SLB Donte Curry, LB Nate Wayne, LB Levar Woods, OLB Alex Lewis, OLB Anthony Cannon

Starting LBs: The Lions LB unit was racked with injuries last year and never hit its stride. Last year’s starting MLB Earl Holmes has not been re-signed and that high tackle starting position is up for grabs. Teddy Lehman is probably best suited to play the middle in the cover 2, but he struggled with injuries last year and is still not a go as of Spring minicamps. Boss Bailey flashed tons of talent in his 2003 rookie year, but he has only been able to play 11 games since then and was a no-show at minicamp. Matt Millen has held his cards close to his vest, saying that all of their LBs could play any of the three positions and that the situation is unsettled. The WLB will be occupied by Ernie Sims, a crushing hitter who should blow plays up in pursuit.

Backup LBs: The backup LB corps for the Lions is one to watch closely because the players currently penciled in as starters have had trouble staying healthy. An injury to a starter could make any of them a viable IDP. None of the backups have standout talent or playing ability, but its not a stretch to see them getting at least 10-15 combined starts in 2006. Levar Woods and Nate Wayne are veterans who had productive games at the end of the season in the injury-riddled Lions LB corps, and both James Davis and Donte Curry have started for the Lions during their stints with the team. Paris Lenon was signed away from the division rival Packers and might have a leg up among the backups since he was brought in by the new regime. Monitor training camp battles so you will know who to pick when a starter inevitably goes down.

Defensive Backs

Starters: LCB Fernando Bryant, SS Kenoy Kennedy, FS Daniel Bullocks, RCB Dre’ Bly
Backups: CB Stanley Wilson, CB Keith Smith, SS Idrees Bashir, FS Jon McGraw, S Vernon Fox, S Terrence Holt

Starting DBs: This group is anchored by pro bowl shut-down CB Dre’ Bly. Bly was a little banged up last year, missing four games, but still picking off six passes and generally discouraging QBs from throwing to his side of the field. Kenoy Kennedy justified his offseason contract by providing a big hitting presence and was the team’s leading tackler. Daniel Bullocks should start immediately and is an excellent two way safety. Fernando Bryant has missed 20 games in the last two years because of injuries, including 14 games last year due to a shoulder injury. He participated in the Spring minicamp and the team is counting on him.

Backup DBs: 2005 3rd round pick Stanley Wilson barely saw the field last year, but he should challenge 3rd year CB Keith Smith for the nickel CB job. Both are athletic, but raw. At least one could be pressed into duty as a starter judging by Bryant’s durability record. Neither is a great fit for the demands of a cover 2 cornerback. Idress Bashir was signed to a one year contract by the new regime, and is a decent two way safety, but nothing special. The team traded for fragile big hitter Jon McGraw during the season last year. Either one could push Holt for a starting job if the team does not draft Michael Huff. Special teams captain Vernon Fox is an asset to the kick coverage units, but is only backup material at strong safety. He is unlikely to see action being stuck behind the durable Kennedy, and possibly McGraw or Bashir.

Last modified: 2006-09-03 06:05:38

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