(ALLEN PARK) - The long awaited "jump" in progress seems to have taken place
on the defensive side of the ball two weeks ago when the Lions went into Minnesota and
played one of their best games of the season in a 24-14 loss to the Vikings.
Detroit was tied 7-7 late in the fourth quarter before Minnesota drove for a field goal and a 10-7 lead. Two Joey Harrington interceptions that were returned for touchdowns gave the Vikings a 24-14 win, but the defense couldn't be faulted for holding one of the league's highest scoring offenses to just 10 points.
The defense followed that up by throttling the NFC's leading rusher Ahman Green of the Green Bay Packers. Detroit held Green to just 53 yards, his second lowest output of the season in defeating the Packers 22-14 for their fourth win of the season, exceeding their win total for each of the last two seasons.
Their progress means Detroit can use its resources to address the "holes" in
the roster at running back, tight end, wide receiver and offensive guard.
First and foremost the running back position must be addressed. Artose Pinner will likely get his first action this week against San Diego. Pinner may be part of the long term solution but likely isn't the answer. James Stewart could return, but is he really what coach Steve Mariucci wants there?
Detroit could use their first round pick to draft any one of a trio of the nation's top college running backs including Michigan's workhorse Chris Perry, Oregon State's Steven Jackson and Virginia Tech's Kevin Jones.
But the Lions might decide that a tight end like Miami's Kellen Winslow, Jr is what the passing game needs to get a jump start. Winslow could be there if Detroit drafts sixth or higher. If not, the Lions might opt to select a player like Florida's Ben Troupe. In any case it is clear that Detroit has no faith in demoted former Pro Bowl alternate Mikhael Ricks.
Detroit should move heavily to revamp the wide receiver spot. While Joey Harrington appears to be gelling with wide receiver Az-Zahir Hakim, he appears better suited for the #3 receiver position.
What if Detroit could sign San Francisco star Tai Streets, a Chicago native who wants
to come back to the Midwest? Seattle's Darryl Jackson is a productive No. 1 who also could
fit the bill next to a returning Charles Rogers. Or they could opt for a chain-moving
possession receiver like Cleveland's under-used Dennis Northcutt. With a rising player
like Scotty Anderson coming back, Detroit might only need add one reciever to the corps,
while subtracting underachieving Bill Schroeder.
Detroit knows that Ray Brown isn't going to last forever, but his impact on the offensive line as a mentor could mean that he would be asked to stay around a offensive assistant. Chicago's Chris Villarrial, Arizona's Chris Dishman and Tampa's Cosey Coleman would all make great replacements with Villarrial at the top of the list.
If not, one of the top two collegiate prospects, Shannon Snell of Florida or Andrien Clarke of Ohio State, ought to be available in the second round of the draft.
With the NFC North division in flux, it might take just three players, maybe four, a running back, tight end, wide receiver and guard to bolt the Lions to the top of the division.
PAWS FOR THOUGHT: Two former Lions are expected to get back into the coaching fraternity in the coming months. Former Lions head coach Bobby Ross is said to be mulling an offer to return to coaching. Ross is being asked to resurrect the floundering Duke program in the ACC that will be adding Virginia Tech, Boston College and Miami to the seven team league.
Ross ought to think long and hard about the offer rather than simply dismissing it. He loves teaching and working with young people. Duke and the low travel ACC would be the perfect place for him to get back to teaching football.
Here's hoping that Ross' former offensive coordinator, the classy Sylvester Croom decides to take the Mississippi State coaching job. Croom really wanted the Alabama job but the brass in Tuscaloosa weren't forward thinking enough to hire an African-American. Here's hoping Croom makes them pay at Mississippi State.