2009 team preview: Detroit Lions

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Inside Slant
When the Lions opened training camp, they were just happy they weren't 0-16 anymore. The Lions wanted to put the NFL's worst season behind them.

They had a quarterback competition between veteran Daunte Culpepper and Matthew Stafford, problems to iron out on defense and half a roster of new players.

Now, as the Lions approach the regular season, not much has changed.

And though the Lions are no longer 0-16, they still have a 17-game losing streak to snap and aren't expected to make the type of turnaround that Miami and Atlanta did last year.

No one is saying it will be a disappointment if the Lions don't win 10 games, as former Lions quarterback Jon Kitna did the past couple of offseasons.

"I just notice it's kind of a shut-up-and-play attitude," veteran offensive lineman Jon Jansen said. "There's not a whole lot we can talk about, but let's go out, let's do our job, let's do it as hard as we can and let's go play.

"Everybody's going to say a lot of bad things about us right now, because they've got the ammunition. But let's not give them anything more."

The Lions still have a quarterback competition between Culpepper and Stafford. Through three exhibitions, both seemed qualified for the job. Culpepper had been the steadiest. Stafford had made bigger plays and bigger mistakes.

Coach Jim Schwartz said he would decide on a quarterback before the season opener Sept. 13 at New Orleans but most likely would not make a public announcement. He wants the Saints to have to prepare for two quarterbacks

And he's going to need every competitive edge he can get against the explosive Saints, because the Lions' defense still has a lot of issues after ranking last in the NFL the past two seasons.

The Lions improved their linebacker corps in the offseason, adding Larry Foote in the middle and Julian Peterson on the outside. They have high hopes for safety Louis Delmas, a second-round pick.

But the defensive line and secondary are big question marks. The Lions don't have the ideal personnel up front to funnel ball carriers into the middle and stuff them, as Schwartz likes to do, and the secondary is thin. Poor tackling was a major problem in exhibitions.

Schwartz and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham are going to have to scheme feverishly to cover up their personnel problems. Cunningham loves to blitz. Expect a lot of pressure packages, even if the Lions are burned by play-action passes.

When camp began, exactly half of the 80-man roster had no part of 0-16. As camp progressed, the Lions brought in even more new players. General manager Martin Mayhew is expected to keep churning the roster, looking for upgrades wherever he can.

The Lions could have a good offense this year. The line looks better, running more power plays, and there is talent at the skill positions. But with the defense still a work in progress, the Lions are going to have to score a lot to win even a half-dozen games in Schwartz's first season.

COACHING: Jim Schwartz, 1st year, 1st with Lions (0-0).

REMEMBERING: 2008 record: 0-16 (4th in NFC North).

PREDICTING: 2009 regular-season record 5-11 (4th in NFC North).

Notes and Quotes
--The Lions added two quarterbacks -- signing Brooks Bollinger and claiming Kevin O'Connell off waivers from New England -- because of injuries to Daunte Culpepper and Drew Stanton. Culpepper had stitches in his foot. Stanton had arthroscopic knee surgery.

--Matthew Stafford was the Lions' only healthy quarterback for one practice. "We put an ad on Craig's List for a quarterback today for practice, but nobody answered, so we had to go with one quarterback all practice," said coach Jim Schwartz, who cut the workout short to save wear and tear on Stafford.

--Culpepper needed eight stitches to close a wound on the bottom of his foot near his middle toes. Schwartz said Culpepper "sort of stubbed" his foot on some carpet at home. "It wasn't cut," Schwartz said. "It stretched his foot, and it sort of tore up by the top where his toe is. They put a lot of stitches in, but mainly to secure it. ... If me or you had gone to the hospital, they might have put two or three stitches in. With him, I think they put eight in just to make sure it was secure."

--After the Lions played an exhibition on a Saturday night, Stanton was fine. But his left knee swelled Sunday, then swelled even more Monday. An MRI showed torn cartilage, so Stanton went to see Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., and had arthroscopic surgery. He had problems with his right knee his rookie year and in college. Schwartz declined to speculate on how long Stanton would be out.

--Schwartz said the Lions would put O'Connell through extra workouts to take a good look at him. "We've said all along that we're going to look every way we can to improve the team," Schwartz said. "He was a guy that we had pretty good grades on coming out of college. He became available, we had a situation where we could take a look at him, so we're going to do it. I think we feel pretty good about where Drew's going to be with his scope, but you never know."

--Schwartz suggested punter Nick Harris could be an emergency quarterback. Harris said he had played some scout team QB in college at Cal and wasn't scared to take some snaps, not with a weapon like wide receiver Calvin Johnson. "Just keep him in there all game," Harris said. "Wherever he's at is where I'm going." Asked if he could give Harris any pointers, quarterback Matthew Stafford smiled and said: "Just do what he does best and punt it. I don't really want to see him try to throw."

--Daniel Loper and Manny Ramirez rotated at left guard in the third exhibition, and Schwartz was pleased with both players. "It was probably Dan's best preseason game so far, and that competition worked for us," Schwartz said. Asked if that job was more open than others, Schwartz said: "Yeah, probably."

--The Lions released cornerback Keith Smith, who struggled with consistency and a groin injury. "You could still see skills, but he just wasn't consistent," Schwartz said. "Maybe what we were looking for, we just didn't see it consistently."

--Two veteran free agents pursued by the Lions seem unlikely to land in Detroit. Safety Lawyer Milloy visited Lions headquarters Monday but left without a deal. "We'll sort of wait and see," coach Jim Schwartz said. "We have some need, and then also we needed to see where he was. ... As we start making decisions and things like that, you need to know sort of what's out there." Defensive end Kevin Carter visited the Lions in late April but might not sign with anyone. "Nothing has changed," Carter's agent, Harold Lewis, wrote in an e-mail message. "Still leaning to calling it a career and a great one at that."

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 -- Players still on the active roster from the 39 that the Lions drafted from 2002-06. Linebacker Ernie Sims is the only one left. Safety Daniel Bullocks is on injured reserve. All the others are gone.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "There's no pushing down the stairs or whatever. I promise." -- Rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford, on if he pulled a Tonya Harding on veteran QB Daunte Culpepper, who suffered a cut on his foot at home.

Strategy and Personnel
There was one advantage to the NFL's first 0-16 season: With the worst record in the league, the Lions got first dibs on any players put on waivers.

The Lions have used that to their advantage, claiming several players since the start of the off-season, if only to bring them in and evaluate them to see if they want to keep them.

Expect the Lions to continue doing that, especially as the league makes its final cuts. The Lions' roster has so many holes, the best of the worst from around the league could give the Lions some upgrades.

Linebacker Ernie Sims (oblique), defensive end Jason Hunter (ribs) and cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon (neck) and Anthony Henry (shoulder) are nursing minor injuries.

The Lions cut receiver D.J. Boldin, linebacker Robert Francois, safety LaMarcus Hicks, defensive end Ryan Kees and cornerback Dexter Wynn.


--QB Daunte Culpepper suffered an eight-stitch cut on the bottom of his foot near his middle toes when he stubbed his foot on some carpet at home. He was questionable for the exhibition finale.

--QB Drew Stanton had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee after tearing cartilage in the third exhibition. The Lions have not estimated how long he will be out.

--QB Brooks Bollinger signed and was expected to play significantly in the exhibition finale, even though he went through only one practice and one walkthrough with the Lions.

--QB Kevin O'Connell was claimed off waivers from New England. He wasn't expected to play much, if at all, in the exhibition finale. But the Lions are expected to put him through extra workouts to take a good look at him.

--CB Keith Smith was released after battling a groin injury and failing to show the coaches enough consistency.

--G Terrance Metcalf was released to make room for Bollinger on the roster.

--WR Glenn Holt was waived shortly after the Lions picked him up off waivers from Minnesota.

PLAYER TO WATCH: WR Dane Looker -- The veteran was building a deck at home when the Lions called him during training camp, but he stepped right into the lineup and made an impact. He knows the offense, has sure hands and could be the Lions' fourth receiver. He played for offensive coordinator Scott Linehan in St. Louis, after walking on under him at the University of Washington.


Rd. 1/1, QB Matthew Stafford, Georgia -- Though he has made some rookie mistakes, Stafford has shown impressive arm strength, command of the offense and overall demeanor. The question is when he plays, not if.

Rd. 1/20, TE Brandon Pettigrew, Oklahoma State -- He missed much of training camp because of a quad injury, but the Lions expect him to make a big impact as both a run blocker and receiver.

Rd. 2/32, S Louis Delmas, Western Michigan -- After missing time in camp with a knee problem, Delmas lit up a couple of teammates in contact drills. Now the Lions want to see him do the same to opponents.

Rd. 3/76, LB DeAndre Levy, Wisconsin -- He has shown his smarts, playing all three linebacker positions, and all-around ability running all around the field. He will learn behind veterans but might get some playing time, at least on special teams.

Rd. 3/82, WR Derrick Williams, Penn State -- He has struggled on returns, a big disappointment because he was drafted more for his special teams ability.

Rd. 4/115, DT Sammie Hill, Stillman -- He might get some playing time simply because of his size and the Lions' need at the position, but he's more than raw. He played in the first NFL game he ever attended.

Rd. 6/192, RB Aaron Brown, Texas Christian -- His speed has been impressive, but he has taken penalties and gone the wrong way on plays, too. He needs to improve his blitz pick-up.

Rd. 7/235, LB Zack Follett, California -- He missed time with a shoulder injury, but he provides an overachiever's mentality and physical play.


QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Daunte Culpepper or Matthew Stafford. Backups -- Drew Stanton, Brooks Bollinger, Kevin O'Connell.

Culpepper and Stafford have been competing for the starting job since Stafford was drafted first overall. Coach Jim Schwartz said he will decide on a starter after the exhibition finale but most likely won't make an announcement before the season opener to keep opponents guessing. Culpepper has been steadiest; Stafford has made bigger plays and bigger mistakes. If Culpepper starts, he will be on a short leash. The Lions are excited about Stafford. Stanton solidified his spot as the No. 3 QB with solid play in exhibitions, but he tore cartilage in his knee and had arthroscopic surgery. So the Lions added Bollinger and O'Connell. It is unclear how that will play out.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Kevin Smith. Backups - Maurice Morris, Aaron Brown, FB Terrelle Smith, FB Jerome Felton.

Kevin Smith said he left 200 yards on the field last year, when he fell 24 short of 1,000 as a rookie. He lost about 10 pounds and said he feels more comfortable now that the Lions are running a mix of power and zone plays, not just zone. Morris battled injuries in camp and didn't make much of an impact, but the Lions hope he will be a solid backup. Brown has speed, but needs to clean up mistakes. Terrelle Smith is a veteran bruiser, and Felton can be used as a ball carrier behind him when the Lions need tough yards.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Brandon Pettigrew. Backups - Will Heller, Casey Fitzsimmons.

The Lions drafted Pettigrew 20th overall because they see him as the complete package, and tight end is an important position in offensive coordinator Scott Linehan's system. The Lions hope Pettigrew's blocking will help the run game and his receiving will be a good safety valve for the quarterbacks. He might be able to create mismatches inside and open up things outside for wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Heller is more of a blocker, Fitzsimmons more of a receiver and special teams standout.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Calvin Johnson, Bryant Johnson. Backups -- Dennis Northcutt, Dane Looker, John Standeford, Derrick Williams.

Calvin Johnson is one of the top talents in the NFL, and the Lions hope the rejuvenated Culpepper and strong-armed Stafford can get the ball to him downfield. Bryant Johnson has to prove he can handle the No. 2 role for the first time in the NFL. Northcutt gives the Lions a veteran presence in the slot. Looker has come out of nowhere, but he played for Linehan in St. Louis and in college at the University of Washington. Standeford provides sure-handed depth. Williams, a third-round pick, was drafted more for his return ability.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Jeff Backus, LG Daniel Loper, C Dominic Raiola, RG Stephen Peterman, RT Gosder Cherilus. Backups -- G Manny Ramirez, T Jon Jansen, T Ephraim Salaam, C Dylan Gandy.

Loper is the only addition to the starting unit. He has never started a regular-season game, and the others were part of a team that finished in the bottom three in rushing and sacks allowed each of the past three years. But the Lions think they can be better with a new scheme and new approach under new line coach George Yarno. They are running more power plays, instead of just zone, and Yarno grades on results in games, not technique, freeing them to be more aggressive. Cherilus, a first-round pick last year, has made strides with Jansen as a mentor. Ramirez is pushing Loper.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LE Jason Hunter, DT Grady Jackson, DT Chuck Darby, RE Dewayne White. Backups -- E Cliff Avril, E/T Andre Fluellen, T Shaun Smith, T Sammie Hill, T Landon Cohen.

Expect this unit to be in constant flux as the Lions try to find combinations that work. Schwartz likes to play his defensive ends wide and funnel ball carriers to the middle. But he doesn't have an Albert Haynesworth waiting there like he did in Tennessee. The Lions hope Jackson, 36, can give them 15-20 snaps in running situations. Avril is an intriguing prospect as an edge rusher, but he hasn't shown he can play every down. Hill is an intriguing inside prospect but extremely raw.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- OLB Ernie Sims, MLB Larry Foote, OLB Julian Peterson. Backups -- DeAndre Levy, Jordon Dizon, Zack Follett.

The Lions improved this unit greatly by adding Foote and Peterson in the off-season. Foote signed for one year to prove he is an every-down linebacker, and the Detroit native is expected to play a leadership role. Peterson is the kind of multidimensional player Schwartz loves and gives the Lions a much-needed pass-rushing threat. Sims feels free to be more aggressive in this scheme than he was in the Tampa Two. Levy, Dizon and Follett are all youngsters who need to learn from the vets and develop.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Anthony Henry, RCB Phillip Buchanon, SS Kalvin Pearson, FS Louis Delmas. Backups -- CB Will James, CB Eric King, S Marquand Manuel, S Stuart Schweigert.

Expect this unit to be in flux, too. The Lions have high hopes for Delmas, a hard-hitter they drafted in the second round. But the rest is uncertain. Buchanon and Henry are known to be susceptible to double moves on the outside. Pearson misses too many tackles. Depth is a big problem.

SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Jason Hanson, P Nick Harris, LS Don Mulhbach, KR Aaron Brown, PR Phillip Buchanon

Hanson, Harris and Muhlbach are about as solid as they come. But Hanson has a knee injury, so Billy Cundiff could start the season as the kicker. Brown has the speed to be the kickoff returner if the Lions don't keep veteran running back Aveion Cason. The Lions hope rookie wide receiver Derrick Williams can be a force on returns, but he struggled in the exhibition season.

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