Grading the Lions

With the next four days off to rest, relax and recuperate from their 1-4 start, several of the Detroit Lions have some things to think about. Players who were expected to have a significant impact for the team are underachieving in critical areas. Lions' insider Mike Fowler grades the ball club, including individual players with a brief synopsis for each.

(ALLEN PARK) - With the next four days off to rest, relax and recuperate from their 1-4 start, several of the Detroit Lions have some things to think about. Players who were expected to have a significant impact for the team are underachieving in critical areas.

Still. with eleven games left, there's plenty of time to right the ship and make a contribution. Detroit wants to avoid another 2 or 3 win season, but it'll take more than wishing and hoping to make it happen.

Quarterbacks
Joey Harrington: At some point Harrington is going to be a good signal caller in the NFL, but right now, he's playing at the level of a glorified backup. Harrington seems to have gotten into a "hurry up" mode of throwing the football to avoid getting sacked, something that was pounded into his head by inept former coach Marty Mornhinweg. Now he appears to throw the ball too early and gives up on plays too soon. He also stares down too many receivers and forces the ball into coverage. Grade: D

Mike McMahon: McMahon has only seen the field for one play. With Detroit in field goal range in Denver territory, McMahon scrambled out of the pocket and was sacked costing Detroit three points. This could be his last season in Motown as he becomes a restricted free agent. Grade: incl.

Wide Receivers
Charles Rogers: Too bad injury ruined a fast start by Rogers. He was Detroit's lone deep threat and was starting to understand how to get off the line of scrimmage against press coverage. This will slow his progress considerably.
Grade: incl.

Bill Schroeder: One of the all-time great practice players. Enough said.
Grade: F

Az-Zahir Hakim. Az still seems to be suffering some of the effects of his knee injury but the hip that was thought to be career threatening seems to be behind him. He will benefit by moving up in the pecking order with Rogers out and Schroeder ineffective.
Grade: C

Scotty Anderson: Deserving of more playing time at the expense of Bill Schroeder. Anderson has shown sticky hands and deceptive speed.
Grade: C

Running backs
Shawn Bryson: After a slow start Bryson (rank #16 in the NFC) has given Detroit at least a semblance of a run game.
Grade: D

Olandis Gary: Last week in Detroit 24-17 loss to San Francisco Gary showed signs of a pulse, rushing for 64 yards. Despite that effort, Gary's play has been way below average.
Grade: D-

Cory Schlesinger: One of the stalwarts of the offense the last two years, Schlesinger recently got a contract extension. His play promptly went into the tank. Schlesinger has missed blocks, dropped passes and fumbled away balls this season. Let's hope it's just adjusting to the Mariucci way.
Grade: D

Tight Ends
Mikhael Ricks: Ricks should be more effective than he is. He has the speed, size and hands, but his production is way down (12 catches for 179 yards, 1TD). Is that his fault or Harrington's? That's the question.
Grade: C

Casey Fitzsimmons: Fitzsimmons beat all the odds, making the team out of tiny Carroll College and has been the team's most productive tight end to date. A pleasant surprise.
Grade: B

Offensive line
Dominic Raiola: Everyone raves about the former Nebraska standout's athleticism, but Raiola isn't the dominant pivotman you would expect from a 2nd round draft pick. He gets pushed around up front and needs to improve in his technique. A project.
Grade: D

Ray Brown: Brown really bailed this team out when they signed him as a free agent from San Francisco, but Brown is starting to lose it. He's too smart to allow to get away from the franchise though and should replace Carl Mauck as the team's offensive line coach after this season.
Grade: C

Eric Beverly: Beverly has been up-and-down so far this season, but he's better than the man he replaced, Tony Semple. Beverly will get better as he gets more reps.
Grade: C

Stockar McDougle: McDougle is good in pass protection, but not as good in run blocking. This should have been his breakout year in Detroit, instead, he's just mediocre.
Grade: C-

Jeff Backus: When Detroit wants to run the ball, it's usually behind Backus and Beverly, the strength of their offensive line. Backus is getting better and better at handling speed rushers off the edge and is driving opponents off the line of scrimmage.
Grade: A

Defense
Defensive linemen:
Robert Porcher: It's the end of the line for this classy veteran who's a leader in the locker room and in the community. Detroit needs to keep him in the organization as director of community affairs and possibly give him a shot at being an assistant coach or a scout if he wants it.
Grade: D

Shaun Rogers: Rogers is playing much better than last season, but still not to the standard he set as a rookie. He and Dan Wilkinson will get a lift when a finally healthy Luther Elliss is back in the lineup.
Grade: C

Dan Wilkinson: One of the better free agent pickups the Lions have made. "Big Daddy" is playing well, collapsing offensive lines and getting a push up front.
Grade: B

Kalimba Edwards: Edwards has been hurt all of the preseason and is just rounding into shape. He must show that last season's 6.5 sacks were not a fluke and that he can produce on an every game basis
Grade: incl.

James Hall: Hall isn't as productive rushing the passer as he should be, but he does a good job against the run turning opposing running backs back into traffic. Still, he's a situational player.
Grade: C

Cory Redding: The heir apparent at the right defensive end spot. Redding had the look of an every down player before getting hurt in the last preseason game. Now he's just got to get healthy before he begins taking snaps from Porcher
Grade: incl.

Linebackers
Earl Holmes: Holmes has been somewhat of a disappointment and shows a tendency to overreact to mis-direction plays. He's a solid tackler, but a step slow getting to where the action is.
Grade: C-

Barrett Green: Still not nearly productive enough for a weak side linebacker. His speed and pass coverage ability are a plus at this position however, but I'd like to see him go back to his collegiate position, strong safety.
Grade: C

Boss Bailey: Bailey is tackling better than advertised and once he learns his way around the league, will be more and more effective. Needs a better supporting cast.
Grade: B

Secondary
Dre' Bly: The best player in the Lions organization. Bly is tough, aggressive, and fast. His quick hands and deceptive upper body strength make him one of the best corners in the game and Matt Millen's best free agent acquisition by far.
Grade: A+

Otis Smith: Smith came to the Lions in a tough position and has played well. He's stabilized the right corner position and likely would have moved ahead of both Chris Cash and Andre' Goodman with the way he's played.
Grade B

Rod Babers: He has to be accounted for when he's had a year in Detroit's system. He is going to stick because he has speed, cover ability and is a sure tackler.
Grade: incl.

Andre' Goodman, Chris Cash:
Grade: incl.

Brian Walker: Walker has improved over his injury riddled 2002 season. Still a little slow getting to the action, he's good in run support but not as adept patrolling the deep zones in pass coverage. He will be around for the foreseeable future, unless there's a Hurricane (read Sean Taylor) in Detroit's draft future.
Grade: C:

Corey Harris: A smart, savvy veteran who is getting it done with his knowledge and ability to read a play quickly. If Harris still had his wheels he'd be one of the best safeties in the league, but he's slowed considerably over the years.
Grade: B

Bracey Walker: It's the end of the line for this half of the Walker duo.
Grade: D

Terrence Holt: Holt made the team because their wasn't much talent at this position. He'll struggle to stick once Detroit adds quality players at this position.
Grade: D

Special Teams:
Jason Hanson: His accuracy and professionalism make him one of the best as he approaches the twilight of his career. Hanson still likely has about three to four years left as one of the top kickers in the NFC.
Grade: A

John Jett: Jett was playing at a high level before a calf injury put him out for an extended period of time. Not good, because it may give other punters who are out of work a chance to make inroads. Still, a solid, steady veteran and an excellent holder.
Grade: B

Overall
Too many "C's" and "D's" for this team to be above .500 in 2004. Detroit has to figure out who the players are in their interior lines and replace those who aren't. They also need to add talent in the secondary and linebacking corps. Detroit is two years away from being a real, legitimate contender.


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