NFC North: Aveion Cason
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
Check here for a full list of Detroit’s roster moves.
Biggest surprise: The word around the NFL was that Shaun Smith was going to open the season as a starter at defensive tackle. Instead, he was released Saturday. Smith is a big-bodied space-filler who figured to help solidify the Lions pass rush, and now they seem pretty thin once again in the interior of their defensive line. Defensive tackle Chuck Darby was also released, so you wonder who will start opposite Grady Jackson. Rookie Sammie Hill? Ikaika Alama-Francis? Landon Cohen? That’s all the Lions have left, at least for now.
No-brainers: The release of placekicker Billy Cundiff means the Lions feel reasonably comfortable that Jason Hanson is ready to kick after undergoing knee surgery last month. The Lions could always re-sign Cundiff later this week if Hanson proves otherwise. Meanwhile, it was time to bid farewell to longtime Lions running back Aveion Cason. Rookie Aaron Brown showed enough speed and playmaking ability in the preseason to let Cason move on. Finally, the Lions had no choice but to keep Kevin O’Connell as the No. 4 quarterback while Drew Stanton recovers from knee surgery.
What’s next: You can expect the Lions to be active on the waiver wire as long as they sit atop the NFL’s claim priority list. The Lions could continue claiming players for several days until they get their 53-man roster settled for Week 1. The next step for the team will be naming a starting quarterback. Neither Daunte Culpepper nor Matthew Stafford outperformed each other during the preseason, but Culpepper was sidelined by a toe injury that required eight stitches. Coach Jim Schwartz hasn’t tipped his hand and has suggested he might not make an announcement until shortly before the Sept. 13 season opener at New Orleans.
It's been a long spring and summer for Green Bay rookie linebacker Clay Matthews, who has been limited off and on for months by a strained hamstring. In the most recent stretch, Matthews missed 13 practices and the Packers' first two preseason games -- leaving him with a tough climb to earn the starting job most observers considered would be his in Week 1 of the regular season.
Matthews, however, returned to practice Wednesday. He won't play in the Packers' preseason game Friday at Arizona but is on track to make his debut in the Sept. 3 preseason finale at Tennessee. (The same is true for linebacker Nick Barnett.)
According to Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, Matthews has actually suffered three separate injuries to the hamstring this year. As a result, the Packers' medical staff took his recovery particularly slowly this summer. For now, it appears Brady Poppinga is the likeliest opening-week starter at the position previously reserved for Matthews.
Continuing around the NFC North:
The surge of young Packers tight end Jermichael Finely is pushing veteran Donald Lee to improve as well, writes Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press found no evidence of a "schism" in the Vikings' locker room over the arrival of Brett Favre. Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune on the schism: "Let's make this much clear: There are almost certainly some members of the Vikings who would like to see [Tarvaris] Jackson starting. Jackson might not have proven himself as a reliable starter in his first three seasons but he is well-liked by many of his teammates and from everything I've seen a good guy who often faces criticism head on." Chicago receiver Devin Hester is learning how strong quarterback Jay Cutler's arm is, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times. Cutler is having a hard time getting excited for his return to Denver this Sunday night, writes Jeff Dickerson of ESPN Chicago. Detroit rookie safety Louis Delmas tussled with tailback Aveion Cason during practice Wednesday, notes Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press. Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham wasn't happy with the number of missed tackles Saturday at Cleveland, writes John Niyo of the Detroit News. The Lions signed placekicker Billy Cundiff to fill in for the injured Jason Hanson and Swayze Waters, notes Cotsonika.
Again? Wow. Chicago defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek has suffered another season-ending injury. This time it's a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, according to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times.
It's the fourth consecutive year that Dvoracek has suffered an injury that ended his season. The Bears weren't counting on him to be a starter, but the injury is still a blow to their depth as well as another career disappointment for a player who clearly appeals to coach Lovie Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo.
Anthony Adams and Marcus Harrison have been the Bears' top new nose tackles this summer in practice. Tommie Harris and Jarron Gilbert are the top two "under tackles" in the Bears' rotation. Still, this is some unwanted news for the Bears at the start of a new week.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- The Bears don't need Devin Hester to develop into a true No. 1 receiver, writes David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune. Haugh: "One day, Hester may develop into that 85-catch, 1,200-yard receiver that accompanies the No. 1 receiver tag. But, objectively, that day does not look close. Nor does it have to be this season now that [Jay] Cutler is the quarterback."
- Mike Mulligan of the Sun-Times writes that Cutler brings the Bears "a dimension the offense really never has had in the modern era, and it should scare defenses out of the eight- and nine-man fronts the Bears have endured for years."
- Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette projects Jason Spitz as the Packers' starting center, Josh Sitton at right guard and Allen Barbre at right tackle. All three jobs have been up for competition.
- Rookie running back Tyrell Sutton is giving himself a real chance to make the Packers' roster, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Detroit may have a winner in its quarterback derby by default, not achievement, writes John Niyo of the Detroit News.
- The two Lions players who fought before Saturday night's game in Cleveland -- defensive lineman Dewayne White and tight end Carson Butler -- were among the few who played well, writes Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press.
- Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com wonders why Aveion Cason is still returning kicks for the Lions.
- Minnesota is keeping quarterback Brett Favre on a "pitch count" in practice, writes Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune.
- The Vikings are hoping to realize a cash-flow boost similar to what Favre brought the New York Jets last year, according to Sean Jensen of the Pioneer Press.
Let's run through our nightly catch-up of today's free agency news around the NFC North. Check back for late-breaking updates:
- Detroit re-signed running back/kick returner Aveion Cason and also signed former Tennessee linebacker Cody Spencer. That makes three former Titans who have joined new Lions coach Jim Schwartz: Spencer, cornerback Eric King and offensive lineman Daniel Loper. Spencer is primarily a special teams player who spent the past three seasons with the New York Jets. Cason has been with the Lions off and on since 2001.
- Minnesota re-signed cornerback Benny Sapp, who served as the Vikings' nickel back after Charles Gordon dislocated his ankle midway through last season. Gordon re-signed last month.
- Green Bay fullback John Kuhn, a restricted free agent, was scheduled to visit Cincinnati. The Packers will have the right to match any offer Kuhn receives.
Wrapping up our early offseason analysis of the NFC North:
Detroit Lions offseason analysis
- 2008 record: 0-16
- Coaching changes: Rod Marinelli fired and replaced by Jim Schwartz. Gunther Cunningham is the new defensive coordinator. Scott Linehan will be the new offensive coordinator. The team has announced no other additions, and the fate of much of Marinelli's former staff has yet to be decided.
- Salary cap status: $26.8 million before end-of-year adjustments and credits.
- Exclusive rights free agent: Defensive back Ramzee Robinson
- Key unrestricted free agents: Running back Aveion Cason, defensive lineman Shaun Cody, receiver Keary Colbert, offensive lineman George Foster, placekicker Jason Hanson, running back Rudi Johnson, linebacker Paris Lenon, receiver Shaun McDonald, linebacker Ryan Nece, fullback Moran Norris, quarterback Dan Orlovsky, guard Stephen Peterman.
- Free agent comment: Hanson is the Lions' biggest decision among the free agent group. There have been reports that he is bound by a grandfathered franchise tag. The Lions have not confirmed that. But in either event, they will have to decide whether to pay him a premium salary after a lights-out 2008 season. The sheer number of free agents the Lions have speaks to the roster overhaul they could effect if desired.
- Three biggest needs: (1) Size in the interior defensive line; (2) A playmaking linebacker; (3) Upgrade at both guard positions.
It appears Detroit coach Rod Marinelli is taking the possibility of his team going 0-16 quite seriously.
According to Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press, Marinelli displayed a team photo on an overhead screen during a Monday meeting. The message was clear: No one wants the caption to acknowledge the 2008 Lions as the first NFL team to finish 0-16. At least one player, running back Aveion Cason, told the Free Press that Marinelli said: "We're not going 0-16."
Marinelli's first opportunity to make good on that statement is Sunday against Minnesota. Many of you will remember that in 2001, an 0-12 Lions team got its first victory of the season over the Vikings at the Silverdome. Cason said that victory was like "winning the Super Bowl."
There is no textbook for how to handle a team that has played so poorly, but from this vantage point it's nice to see Marinelli confronting reality rather than using more of the coach-speak that has grown increasingly bizarre in recent weeks. If nothing else, Marinelli has given a team with no immediate future a tangible focus for the final month of a lost season.
Continuing around the NFC North on a Tuesday morning:
- Lions receiver Mike Furrey (concussion) told several media outlets he was "disappointed and upset" to be placed on injured reserve this week. Furrey insisted he would be ready to play soon and is the second Lions player, along with quarterback Jon Kitna, to indicate he was shelved for the season with a relatively mild injury.
- Green Bay is giving serious thought to leaving cornerback Charles Woodson at safety because of injuries to safeties Atari Bigby and Aaron Rouse, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In that scenario, Tramon Williams would replace Woodson at cornerback.
- Packers center Scott Wells might miss Sunday's game against Houston because of a concussion, writes Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune writes that Bears quarterback Kyle Orton is hampered by a lack of talent at receiver.
- After looking at tiebreaking scenarios, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times suggests the Bears will have to win their final four games to ensure a playoff spot.
- Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune compares Minnesota quarterback Gus Frerotte to retired hockey player Dino Ciccarelli, who was known for exaggerating the impact of his opponents' actions in order to draw a penalty. (It's a good read, but difficult to summarize in one sentence).
- Vikings coach Brad Childress said Artis Hicks will retain his starting job at right tackle when he returns from a right elbow injury, writes Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times has an interesting column Wednesday about the extended recovery time for Bears receiver Brandon Lloyd, who sprained his knee Sept. 28 and has missed five games -- over a course of six weeks -- for what was originally deemed a 2-4 week injury.
When a player misses more time than expected, it's usually because the injury was worse than the team let on. Most players have non-guaranteed contracts and fear job loss if they don't return as quickly as possible.
But Mulligan writes that the Bears essentially punished Lloyd for taking too much time. Lloyd said several weeks ago that he didn't want to return until he was 100 percent healed -- a rarity for an NFL player -- and the implication is that the Bears lost faith in him.
Here's how Lloyd, who hopes to play Sunday at Green Bay, explained his mindset:
"What I meant is that I want to be able to make the kind of moves I always make -- run the kind of routes and make the kind of cuts. If I don't have that confidence, I'm worthless. If I'm not out here playing how I normally play, what good am I?"
Lloyd was the Bears' leading receiver in terms of yardage when he was injured, and the reality is the Bears still need his playmaking ability. At the same time, Lloyd needs to get back on the field. The Bears took him off the scrap heap, and a sour end to this season could scuttle his final chance in the league.
Elsewhere around the NFC North:
- The Chicago Tribune's Rick Morrissey on Bears coach Lovie Smith: "Smith's everything-is-OK act is so old it orders the early-bird dinner special and is in bed by 9 p.m."
- Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy told Fox Sports Radio that he thinks Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has struggled in part due to a lack of practice time caused by his sprained right shoulder. Bob Wolfley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has details.
- Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette traces the struggles of both Packers lines.
- Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune tells the story of James Wade, the 33-year-old brother of Vikings receiver Bobby Wade, who was shot and paralyzed 17 years ago.
- Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway, a first-round pick in 2006, has emerged as the team's leading tackler in the absence of E.J. Henderson. Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press profiles Greenway.
- Detroit quarterback Dan Orlovsky visited another hand specialist Monday and is leaning against having surgery to repair two fractures and a torn ligament in his right hand. Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press has the story.
- The Lions re-signed running back Aveion Cason in hopes of boosting their return game, writes John Niyo of the Detroit News.
You can view the Lions' full list of roster moves here.
Biggest surprise: There were no stunners, although the list of departures did include veteran cornerback Kiwaukee Thomas and running back Artose Pinner. In fact, the Lions kept only two tailbacks -- Kevin Smith and Tatum Bell -- after cutting Pinner and placing Brian Calhoun and Aveion Cason on injured reserve. Rookie fullback Jerome Felton could work at tailback, if needed. How committed are the Lions to the run? For now, they are keeping only four receivers.
No-brainers: Linebacker Buster Davis might have tried a little too hard to make the team, hitting harder then necessary during practice and upsetting several teammates and coaches. Quarterback Drew Henson's stay was destined to be short-lived -- the Lions will keep a roster spot for injured quarterback Drew Stanton instead.
What's next: Henson could conceivably end up on the practice squad if the Lions want a scout team quarterback for practice in Stanton's absence. And you have to wonder whether coach Rod Marinelli really will feel comfortable with two true tailbacks and four receivers heading into the regular season. Is he simply waiting to see if anything better is out there?
As they transition to a more balanced offense, it's clear the Detroit Lions aren't totally satisfied with their backfield depth.
ESPN.com's Bill Williamson reports the Lions hosted Oakland running back Lamont Jordan on a visit last week, making at least two veteran runners the Lions have looked at this summer. The other was their former tailback, Kevin Jones, who held a workout June 28 near Detroit.
As of today, veteran Tatum Bell is the Lions' most likely starter. Rookie Kevin Smith will get plenty of repetitions in training camp. Other running backs on the roster include Aveion Cason, Brian Calhoun and Artose Pinner.
But after releasing Jones and bidding farewell to T.J. Duckett, the Lions certainly have some questions at the position. It's not clear how much interest the Detroit has in Jordan, who remains under contract with the Raiders. At the very least, however, the Lions are gathering information on their options should their current group prove underwhelming during training camp.
It's an especially critical position for the Lions, who are re-emphasizing their running game under new coordinator Jim Colletto. Bell has experience in Colletto's zone running scheme, having played in a similar system in Denver from 2004-06. Otherwise, the Lions don't have a lot of past production on the roster.