Monday, July 22, 2013

More Thoughts About the Upcoming NFL Season

I wrote in yesterday's blog entry about some of my questions about the Lions going forward into the 2013 NFL Season.  The two biggest concerns for me are the tight salary cap and QB Matthew Stafford.  Today, I look at the secondary and the tight ends.

3. The secondary.  The one area that the Lions have not done a very good job at addressed is finally getting some attention.  While the Lions were busy building up their defensive line, the hope was that the front seven would help with the deficiencies in the back end of the defense.  The addition of Suh, Nick Fairley, Kyle Vanden Bosch, and Stephen Tulloch in 2010 and 2011 meant the team had to rely on signing free agent cast offs like Chris Houston and Alphonso Smith and address the secondary later down the road.  Over the course of the 2011, when the Lions made the playoffs, the need to address the back end became crystallized as the secondary didn't have sufficient players to stop the opposing teams' passing attack.

The little help the secondary has gotten has come in the form of drafting safety Louis Delmas, converted safety Amari Spievey, and cornerback Chris Houston.  Delmas, who despite the energy he brings, seems to find himself injured when they need him most.  Spievey was drafted as a cornerback to be converted into a safety hasn't panned out due to lingering concussion issues and off the field distractions.  Houston is a former second round pick out of Atlanta who was cast off and the Lions were lucky to have signed.  He is however, at best a No. 2 corner when the Lions really need a sold No. 1

The 2012 draft had a lot of us shaking our heads as the Lions waited until the third round to draft another corner in Bill Bentley.  I think a lot of this had to do with the fact they were hoping to get Patrick Peterson out of LSU, but couldn't make a deal with Arizona, who ended up taking him before the Lions could.  They did manage, however, to pick up two more in the fifth round (Chris Greenwood) and sixth round (Jonte Green).

In April, the Lions drafted Darius Slay in the second round and expect him to compete for a starting spot opposite Houston with Bentley, Greenwood, and Green all in the mix.  As of now, the hope is that Slay can fill an immediate hole.  Bentley has shown flashes but needs to remain healthy.  Greenwood may have the most upside as he has the size and the athleticism, but the downside is that he played at Albion, which is why he went in the fifth round instead of earlier.  Green is also in the running, as he has the most experience of all them due to Bentley and Greenwood's injuries last year, but he will require another year or two of development before he can be a full time starter.

Before I close out my thoughts on the secondary, I think one of the reasons why Martin Mayhew hasn't addressed the need for new defensive backs has been because of the learning curve that most CBs and Safeties go through in order to be effective.  That, and it's one of the positions with the most injuries over the course of a season.  Perhaps Mayhew doesn't take corners in the first round is because he knows it's too high a risk to take one that early.  Mayhew himself played CB for the Atlanta Falcons, so if anyone would know something about the position, it's him.

4.  Tight Ends.  If you ask me, the most overlooked and underrated reason the Lions fell off so dramatically in 2012 was because of the disappearance of their tight ends, because they're suppose to be the safety net when the receivers aren't open.  The Lions have invested heavily on receivers, led by Calvin Johnson.  They signed Nate Burleson, and drafted Titus Young and Ryan Broyles in the second round two years in a row.  All were meant to take more defenders off of Johnson, and all three ended up on injured reserve, making him the only viable weapon.

Yet the tight ends, who were a big part of the team's success in 2011 were nowhere to be found in 2012.  Brandon Pettigrew, the team's other first round pick in 2009, dropped critical passes at the worst moment, and his total number of receptions dropped from 83 to 59.  Tony Scheffler, despite having sixteen more receptions, had only one touchdown after scoring six the year before (and I missed the dances in the endzone).

The Lions shouldn't have fallen to 4-12.  With the exception of Pettigrew, the other tight ends have escaped criticism for their disappearance in 2012.  While Scheffler is back, Will Heller, the third tight end is primarily a blocker and no so much a pass catcher.  Expect both to be challenged this summer in training camp by rookies Justin Fioria and Mike Williams.  I think Scheffler will remain, but Heller's spot is definitely in question.  The Lions need to get younger and healthier.

Bottom line, tight ends will be the difference makers in the receiving game. 

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