NFC North: Philip Buchanon
Veteran Dante Wesley is putting the finishing touches on a two-year contract according to agent Russel Hicks, and will begin participating in the Lions' offseason program Monday. The Lions expressed interest in free agent Adam "Pacman" Jones, but as of Friday there had been no agreement.
Wesley has spent seven of his eight NFL seasons with Carolina, and played under new Lions special teams coordinator Danny Crossman when both were with the Panthers. Wesley will have a chance to participate in multiple coverage units, and it's possible he could compete for playing time at cornerback as well.
The Lions bid farewell to 2009 starter Philip Buchanon and haven't re-signed fellow starter Will James. They've acquired Chris Houston from Atlanta as one likely starter, but the other position is wide open.
In addition to signing free agent Jonathan Wade, the Lions acquired Chris Houston from Atlanta in a trade we touched on Sunday evening. The Lions gave up a sixth-round pick for Houston and will swap fifth-round picks with the Falcons as well.
At this early date, I would consider Houston a likely starter while Wade would be in the mix for the nickel and dime positions. That still leaves at least one starting position left to fill after the release of Philip Buchanon last week. Two other cornerbacks from last season, Will James and Anthony Henry, are free agents.
Houston ultimately was expendable because the Falcons signed Dunta Robinson to replace him. FOB (Friend of the Blog) Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders, who tracks the career arcs of NFL players, suggested Monday night that the Lions got a steal:
Let's see... Detroit's secondary has been Edsel-riffic for two years now. Chris Houston was a second-round pick just three years ago. Highly-drafted cornerbacks often take three or even four years to develop. Rashean Mathis and Corey Webster broke out in season four; Nnamdi Asomugha never intercepted a pass until season four. And to take a gamble on Houston's talent finally emerging, all the Lions have to do is give up a sixth-round pick and switch places with Atlanta in the fifth round? Uh, yeah, that works.
Those plans began to take shape Sunday night. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports the Lions are on the verge of acquiring cornerback Chris Houston from Atlanta, while multiple reports indicate free agent Jonathan Wade will visit the Lions on Monday. Wade played three seasons in St. Louis but was not tendered a contract.
We know the Lions had discussions about acquiring Antonio Cromartie from San Diego, and Schefter reports they also expressed interest in free agent Dunta Robinson, who eventually signed in Atlanta. I would expect the position to be a continuous focal point throughout the season.
Last Thursday, we saw the Lions penalized for a similar play. In the second quarter of Green Bay’s 34-12 victory, safety Marvin White grabbed the collar of Packers tight end Jermichael Finley with his right hand and made the tackle over a 2-yard distance. Referee Bill Leavy whistled White for a horsecollar, and while Lions coach Jim Schwartz protested, White accepted the penalty by patting his chest as if to say, “My bad.”
The only difference between the Buchanon play and the White play was that in the former, Peterson wasn’t immediately tackled. And yes, as you probably know by now, the NFL rule includes the word “immediately.” Here, again, is the official definition of the horsecollar penalty:
Grabbing the inside collar of the back of the shoulder pads or jersey, or the inside collar of the side of the shoulder pads or jersey, and immediately pulling down the runner. This does not apply to a runner who is in the tackle box or to a quarterback who is in the pocket.
I originally suggested that Buchanon shouldn’t be exonerated simply because Peterson didn’t fall to the ground right away, a stance many of you protested with a strict reading of the rule. But to me, the penalty was created to prevent injuries when players are forcefully pulled backwards from the top. If we’re going to start meting out penalties based on the result of the play, then we might as well wipe out holding calls when the player still pushes through the hold to make a tackle.
The NFL doesn’t comment on subjective penalties, so I can’t tell you for sure that Buchanon escaped penalty because he couldn’t immediately pull Peterson to the ground. But if that is the case, I think we have a flawed rule on our hands. Peterson could have been injured 15 yards downfield just as easily as Finley could have been injured after 2 yards.
OK, thus ends my rant for this week. Moving on to our updated Challenge Tracker:
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
Here’s a bad sign for a Detroit defense that will need every advantage Sunday at New Orleans: Cornerback Phillip Buchanon won’t play because of a neck injury. Eric King will start in Buchanon’s place.
Buchanon intercepted Saints quarterback Drew Brees twice in a game last season while playing for Tampa Bay. Here’s the full report from Nicholas J. Cotsonika of the Detroit Free Press.
Every week this season, we’ll try to make some sense of the Friday injury report -- when teams are required to classify each injured player’s chances for appearing in the upcoming game. Let’s get to it:
Chicago Bears: Cornerback Charles Tillman (back) is questionable to play Sunday night at Green Bay. Tillman has made it through four practices this week without a setback, so it seems like he has a decent chance to play. Endurance and conditioning might be bigger issues than the state of his back. Absent Tillman, the Bears probably would start Zack Bowman and Nate Vasher. … Defensive lineman Israel Idonije (hamstring) will be available. … Receiver Devin Aromoshodu’s quadriceps injury could make the Bears’ inactive decisions a little easier.
Detroit Lions: Placekicker Jason Hanson (knee) seems set to kick field goals at New Orleans. And if the Lions are concerned about his ability to kick off, they hadn’t acted on it as of Friday afternoon. They could sign a kickoff specialist as late as Saturday if they had to. … Two starters are question marks. Right guard Stephen Peterman (ankle) missed practice Thursday and Friday and is questionable. Cornerback Philip Buchanon (neck) was limited all week. Buchanon seems to have a better chance of playing than Peterman.
Green Bay Packers: Defensive lineman B.J. Raji (ankle) practiced Friday for the second consecutive day, but he is listed as questionable along with cornerback/kick returner Will Blackmon (quadriceps). The Packers are going to give Raji another day or two to heal before making a final decision. If he does play against the Bears, it will be as a reserve. Jordy Nelson could replace Blackmon on special teams.
Minnesota Vikings: Receiver Bernard Berrian (hamstring) practiced on a limited basis throughout the week, but coach Brad Childress stopped short of saying Berrian would play Sunday at Cleveland. I have a hard time believing he won’t -- the injury occurred a full month ago -- but stranger things have happened. … Tight end Jim Kleinsasser (hand) practiced fully Friday and will be available to play. Like Berrian, Kleinsasser sat out the final three preseason games.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
Three quick hits on the Detroit Lions:
1. You can never have enough quarterbacks. As of Tuesday morning, the Lions have five on their roster: Matthew Stafford, Daunte Culpepper, Drew Stanton, Brooks Bollinger and Kevin O’Connell. Culpepper (toe) and Stanton (knee) are injured, and the turn of events has left Stafford in the driver’s seat to win the starting job. The glut of bodies is symbolic of a roster that will be in flux throughout the season. Stafford is without question the team’s future, and likely the present. But nothing about the positions behind him are permanent.
2. The Lions weren’t 0-16 last season by accident. Years of poor drafting left them with the thinnest personnel situation in the NFL. There is no easy cleanup to this mess, and new general manager Martin Mayhew seems to have taken a two-pronged approach. He’s filled the gaps with more than a dozen veterans acquired via free agency or trades, hoping they can provide credible performances while he builds young depth behind them. Players such as linebackers Julian Peterson and Larry Foote, cornerbacks Philip Buchanon and Anthony Henry, and defensive tackle Grady Jackson are all short-term gap-fillers for what the Lions hope is a wave of young players who will develop over the next few years.
3. New coach Jim Schwartz hired experienced coordinators on both sides of the ball to help with the development process. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan not only works well with young quarterbacks, but he also knows how to mix a power running game with downfield passing. Linehan will adapt his scheme to the strength of his personnel, once he determines what it is. Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, meanwhile, is known for his blitz-oriented schemes and has predicted he will send an extra pass rusher 40 percent of the time this season. That approach will generate excitement and could help cover for personnel weaknesses at certain positions.
|Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
|New Lions coach Jim Schwartz is attempting to change the atmosphere in Detroit.|
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Upon arriving in Detroit to begin offseason workouts, Lions players found their locker room had been painted. Their lockers had been moved around. They had been assigned new parking spaces. Their lifting regimen had been changed. Their uniforms looked different.
Most symbolic, a number of motivational signs were replaced by one that simply read: "National Football League" -- a reminder of the high standards set for everyone who walks into the building.
That approach has extended into training camp, where more than half of the players on Detroit's 80-man roster are newcomers. Schwartz has tweaked his practice plan for every day of camp, both to reinforce the message and provide variety. After taking over the first 0-16 team in NFL history, he really had no other choice.
"You can't stand pat," Schwartz said. "That's something that gives the players a little bit of comfort, that we're not standing pat. ... Every time they come to practice, they're working on a different situation, a little bit different drill, different emphasis of periods and things like that. There's drudgery in walking out of the hotel every morning and going to bed and walking to the next meeting. But when they walk onto the practice field, it's a fresh plan that day. It's not the same old thing."
(Note: Due to circumstances, my stay in Detroit was cut short. But for additional information, make sure you've checked out this practice report posted earlier this week.)
|Mark Cunningham/Getty Images|
|Detroit rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford has played well enough to be the starter.|
I hope it doesn't sound patronizing to praise Daunte Culpepper for losing 30 pounds during the offseason. Culpepper reported to camp at 260 pounds and has never looked lighter in his NFL career. During the practice I attended this week, he was decisive and his passes were sharp.
To be honest, Culpepper probably couldn't have done more thus far to win the Lions' starting job. And he still might not see the field this season.
Rookie Matthew Stafford, whose pre-draft contract agreement ensured he would not miss a day of training camp, has practiced his way into a legitimate opportunity to start the Sept. 13 opener at New Orleans. (Let that be a lesson to all future No. 1 draft picks.) In practice, at least, it's difficult to see much difference between him and Culpepper. If that remains the case, it's hard to imagine Stafford opening the year on the bench.
Stafford still has plenty of work to do, beginning with his anticipated start Saturday night against at Cleveland. But at the very least, it looks like Stafford is going to give Schwartz a very difficult decision.
2. Can the Lions retrofit their defensive line?
You won't find two more dissimilar defensive schemes than when you compare the Lions' 2008 approach with the one Schwartz is implementing now.
"The philosophy here in the past had been small and quick," he said. "The philosophy here now is big and powerful."
That put the Lions' personnel department on a search for larger defensive linemen, while incumbents were required to gain weight in the offseason. Such changes don't occur overnight, and it appears the Lions are about halfway there.
They've added some interior bulk in Grady Jackson (340ish pounds), Shaun Smith (325 pounds) and rookie Sammie Lee Hill (329 pounds). Based on pure size, that trio should be more difficult to drive off the ball than the players Detroit used last year.
On the outside, however, the Lions will miss veteran Jared DeVries, who ruptured his Achilles tendon early in camp and is lost for the season. Their current depth at end -- led by Cliff Avril, Jason Hunter and Dewayne White -- is thin.
3. What impact will the free agent/trade crop have?
The Lions' revolving personnel door has continued into training camp, most recently with Shaun Smith. New veterans are sprinkled all over the field, from Smith and Jackson
to cornerbacks Phillip Buchanon and Anthony Henry, from linebackers Larry Foote and Julian Peterson to receivers Bryant Johnson and Dennis Northcutt.
Considering the personnel deficit that contributed to last season's record, an influx seemed unavoidable. The Lions decided to pursue the veteran route in hopes of establishing some short-term credibility while building for the long term behind the scenes. In all, it looks like the Lions will have at least 11 new starters when the season opens.
You wonder whether that will last all season or if Henry will eventually make his way to safety. From the outside, he doesn't appear to be a good matchup for the speedy receivers in this division, be it Green Bay's Greg Jennings, Minnesota's Bernard Berrian or Chicago's Devin Hester.
A previous surplus of safeties has been whittled down to the point where this move might make sense, if the Lions can find another cornerback they feel comfortable inserting into the lineup.
During the best portion of his career, Peterson was a pass-rushing, play-making force to be reckoned with. Offenses had to account for him on every play.
At 32, Peterson might be past that prime. But the Lions believe he can still be a disruptive player who will help cover for some pass-rushing deficiency in other areas. His success or failure will play a big role in whether the Lions can improve their takeaway totals from last season.
Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham has said he could blitz as often as 40 percent of the time this season. Expect him to lean heavily on Peterson in those situations.
The Lions signed veteran Maurice Morris to back up starting running back Kevin Smith, but you wonder what Morris' role will be if rookie Aaron Brown continues to display big-play capabilities. Brown's speed might make it difficult to keep him off the field. ... When the summer began, the Lions had too many safeties. But their surplus has thinned out considerably after the trade of Gerald Alexander and a season-ending knee injury to Daniel Bullocks. Rookie Louis Delmas and veteran Marquand Manuel have been limited by injuries. When it's all said and done, expect Delmas and Kalvin Pearson to hold starting jobs. ... Receiver Demir Boldin, the brother of Arizona's Anquan Boldin, is a long shot to make the roster but made a number of professional-level catches during the practice I watched. ... Receiver Calvin Johnson has been limited by a thumb injury during much of camp and will miss his second consecutive preseason game Saturday at Cleveland. But Johnson is expected to be healed in time for the regular season. ... Quarterback Drew Stanton appears close to locking down a roster spot after seeming to be on the brink of release during the offseason.