NFC North: Chris Hope
The Lions seemed so confident, in fact, that they had already released veteran Mike Thomas despite a $1 million guarantee in his 2013 contract.
Did those moves reflect confidence? Or did they suggest the Lions simply weren't satisfied with the makeup of the position? I'm beginning to wonder if it is the latter, a belief fortified by Jason La Canfora's report that that the Lions are making league-wide calls to check availability of starting-caliber receivers.
What exactly is going on here?
The first and arguably most important fact to remember is that Burleson and Broyles are both assigned primarily to the slot position, a new role for Burleson as he enters his 11th NFL season. (Thomas is also a natural slot receiver, but the personnel logjam there had him working mostly on the outside.)
With Burleson and Broyles working the slot, the Lions have been hoping that Edwards could lock down the outside spot opposite Calvin Johnson. Yet for all the glowing reports of his work in practice, Edwards hasn't done much in the first three preseason games. He has caught four passes for 16 yards, working mostly against first-team defenders, and in an instructive moment, he lost a battle for a ball in the end zone against New York Jets rookie cornerback Dee Milliner in the preseason opener.
If anything, Edwards has been matched by six-year veteran Matt Willis, a journeyman trying to make his third NFL team.
Johnson hasn't played much this preseason, accentuating these question marks. And we all know the Lions have a number of proven receiving threats at other positions -- from tailback Reggie Bush to tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler.
But despite it all, it is beginning to looks like they don't have a No. 2 receiver -- a hole that jumped out from their roster all offseason. With NFL roster cuts looming, the Lions might have a chance to do something about it this week.
Note: According to Tim Twentyman of the Lions' web site, the team released four more players Sunday morning and have five left to go to meet the NFL's requirement of 75 by Tuesday. Those released were: defensive end Ronnell Lewis, receiver Cody Wilson, cornerback Myron Lewis and safety Chris Hope. Lewis was a fourth-round draft pick last season but got only one snap on defense. Hope's release suggests the Lions are comfortable with the health of starters Louis Delmas (knee) and Glover Quin (hip).
Some thoughts on the Detroit Lions' third preseason game, a 40-9 win Thursday night over New England, in extended form for those who have felt short-changed this preseason:
- The first-team offense might not have been as sharp as desired, but it made a definite step in the right direction in accounting for its first touchdown of the preseason and 16 points in one half of play. Quarterback Matthew Stafford had some accuracy issues, most noticeably on a sequence of three consecutive incomplete passes in the second quarter, but his sidearm sling of a screen pass started Reggie Bush on a 67-yard play. He also threw a quick-strike 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tony Scheffler. It's important once again to remember that receiver Calvin Johnson did not play because of a minor knee injury.
- We discussed the Lions' hopes for creating more turnovers this season, and the first-team defense did just that in the second half. Cornerback Chris Houston intercepted a pass from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady on a pick play, and the Lions also forced three first-half fumbles. Safety Glover Quin forced one of the fumbles before a hip injury ended his night.
- After much debate, safety Louis Delmas did indeed start and was active in two series of play. He knifed into the backfield to make a tackle for loss on the second play of the game and also recovered the fumble that was forced by Quin. Overall, it was an important and encouraging step. With Delmas making just the brief appearance and Quin departing with an injury, the Lions played much of the half with Don Carey and Chris Hope at safety.
- The Lions' most significant injury appeared to be to running back/special-teams ace Montell Owens, who got some work with the first-team offense but crumpled to the ground on his second carry. He didn't put any weight on his left knee as Lions officials helped him off the field.
- The Lions couldn't get through the first half without three personal fouls, two of which backed up their field position after fumble recoveries. The dumbest play was that of defensive end Willie Young, who grabbed Brady by the jersey and pointed his finger in his face. Inexcusable.
- Rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah definitely has a flair for the dramatic. Shortly after returning from having his knee checked out, Ansah made a big play on fourth-and-1 to stop 255-pound Patriots running back James Develin for no gain. Another rookie, cornerback Darius Slay, got picked on right away by Brady for a 37-yard pass to receiver Kenbrell Thompkins.
- I loved watching Joique Bell make defenders miss and grind for extra yards while in a competition with Mikel Leshoure for the No. 2 running back job. Playing a good portion of the second half, Bell finished with 101 yards of offense on seven touches. If I had to choose between Bell and Leshoure, well, it wouldn't be difficult at this point.
- Backup quarterback Shaun Hill got the night off, so No. 3 quarterback Kellen Moore played the third quarter and part of the fourth. If nothing else, Moore gave the Lions something to think about as they decide whether to keep three quarterbacks on their final roster. He completed 9 of 12 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns, including a nice seam pass to tight end Joseph Fauria for a 22-yard score.
- Even with Johnson out, the Lions didn't get receiver Ryan Broyles into the game until the second half. Presumably, the Lions wanted to get a long look at Nate Burleson in the slot and Patrick Edwards on the outside with the first-team offense.
Detroit Lions safety Louis Delmas didn't take a snap during offseason practices to help spur healing in his troublesome knees, and the Lions' decision to sign veteran safety Chris Hope spurred new discussion of Delmas' availability for training camp and beyond.
Wednesday evening, Delmas told ESPN 96.1 in Grand Rapids, Mich., (via Mlive.com) that he is "88 to 90 percent" and added: "I still got a long road ahead of me. I plan on going through camp, trying to build my knee up as much as possible so I can go into the season 100 percent."
It's difficult to know whether that's good news or bad news. Is it good that Delmas believes he is relatively close to where he needs to be? Or is it discouraging to hear him admit that he isn't completely healthy almost six full months after completing the season?
I think it's pretty clear that Delmas is going to give it a go this summer. Where it will take him his uncertain.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has taken over the leadership of this team, writes Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com.
- The Green Bay Packers cut their season-ticket waiting list by about 5,000 in selling the new seats they've constructed in the south end zone of Lambeau Field. More from Richard Ryman of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
- Bob Sansevere of the St. Paul Pioneer Press on new Minnesota Vikings linebacker Desmond Bishop: "Bishop belongs in the middle. He was an exceptional inside linebacker for the Packers before suffering a severe hamstring injury that cost him the 2012 season. If he's healthy, Bishop will be the Vikings' best middle linebacker since Erin Henderson's older brother, E.J., was healthy and in his prime."
- Here's a video from ChicagoBears.com of Bears coach Marc Trestman addressing rookies at the team's rookie minicamp earlier this offseason.
Louis Delmas didn't take a single offseason snap during organized team activities (OTAs) and minicamp. Longtime backup Don Carey handled the position alongside newly-acquired Glover Quin, and while it's assumed that Delmas will be ready for training camp, his long run of knee injuries makes it really hard to know what lies ahead.
The guess is that Carey would be the Lions' choice if Delmas isn't ready to play this season. Hope gives them another option, and one who is more familiar with their defensive scheme than most available free agents. We'll see where it goes.
We'll bring you our morning links in two parts Friday to honor the completion of Detroit's 18-day search for a head coach. The Lions hired Tennessee defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz on Thursday and will introduce him Friday at Ford Field. Here is a sampling of reaction and news tidbits on the hiring:
"And in the end, all you can usually say is, if you're going to be a good head coach, you better have good players. As a defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz had a monster in Tennessee named Albert Haynesworth, a defensive tackle headed for the Pro Bowl. He had two great defensive backs, Cortland Finnegan and Chris Hope, also Pro Bowlers. He inherits a team with very few good players, and he better pray the men who hired him -- Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew -- quickly develop a touch for good drafting -- something the Lions rarely shown -- or he's not going to have many more."
"I wonder, though, if Schwartz understands what he is getting into. Obviously, he knows the Lions went 0-16. But if you want a head coaching job, you probably have to take over a losing team. That's just how the business works. And he knows the Lions have been lousy for half a century, but hey, most of those players are gone. You can't turn down the 2009 Lions because they stank 30 years ago. And Schwartz knows he interviewed with team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew, so he surely realizes he reports to them. But does he know why he interviewed with Lewand and Mayhew? Does he understand why they got their jobs? He ought to look into it. The process says so much about this organization and its chance for success."
"Jim Schwartz will be introduced at Ford Field today as the new leader of the Lions, and some will brand it a safe, low-key choice. I'm calling it a solid, sound and smart pick, not just for what Schwartz brings -- defense, fundamentals, physical football -- but for what he doesn't bring. No gimmicks, no glibness, no goofiness, thank goodness."
ESPN reports that Kansas City assistant Gunther Cunningham (defense) and Denver assistant Jeremy Bates (offense) are the leading candidates to be Schwartz's first coordinators.
"The fact that Schwartz, who is qualified for this assignment, has agreed to subject himself to the monumental task of resurrecting the Lions is cause for optimism. It doesn't matter if he's the best candidate. At the moment, under these difficult circumstances, he seems like a bright, enthusiastic, young, defensive-minded leader who is the right choice for this job."
Schwartz kept it basic during an interview Thursday night at the Detroit airport. "I'm glad to be in Detroit," he said.