Have You Seen Leo's Defensive Grades?

It's time for the Detroit Lions to once again get ready to report for offseason courses in Remedial Football 101. LionsFans.com columnist Doug Warren breaks down -- almost exhaustingly -- the Detroit Lions defense, including grades. Enjoy.

Have You Seen Leo’s Defensive Grades?

It’s time for the Detroit Lions to once again get ready to report for offseason courses in Remedial Football 101. Without question, this was one of the most disappointing seasons for this franchise in the at least the last 25 years. If Matt Millen, Steve Mariucci, and Dick Jauron fail to get this Gridiron-Edsel turned around with a playoff birth in 2005, then all three of them need to get fitted for their complementary Russ Thomas and Darryl Rogers rubber masks and matching pink slips to wear to next year’s NFL Unemployment Dance.

Without further ado, here are the following final grades for the 2004 Lions defense:

Defensive Line: First Half B Final B-

Detroit’s eight-man rotation in their front four was one of the main reasons that this team jumped out of the gate with a 4-2 record. Shaun Rogers, James Hall, and Cory Redding all had breakout years, while Jared Devries and Marcus Bell both provided more than their share of plays as reserves. Each of the above players is under the age of 28 and all of them (except Bell) are signed for a least another two seasons, which should make the Lions’ defensive line formidable for the foreseeable future.

Shaun Rogers: A B+

A tremendous playmaker that is impossible to block when he wants to be. Faded a bit at times during the second half of the season, and had only 4 sacks, but the constant double teaming he attracts opened things up this season for his defensive linemates to have career years. Kudos to the Lions for hammering out a six-year deal with Big Baby a few weeks ago, which essentially makes him  a Lion for life.

Dan Wilkinson: B- C

Big Daddy is on the downside of his career now, but he still provides solid play and as a complement to Rogers, as they together comprise the middle of Detroit’s starting defensive front.

James Hall: B+ A

In his fifth season, Hall busted out with a career-high and team-leading 11.5 sacks. Some were upset that he didn’t get a Pro Bowl invitation this season. If he plays next year the same way he did in 2004, he will make his first trip to Hawaii as an NFC representative.

Cory Redding: B- B+

I enjoyed watching this guy all season. I thought he was the unsung hero of the Lion defense. He is much underrated versus the run and late in the year began to emerge as a pass rushing threat too. With Redding, Hall, and Jared DeVries all having career seasons, the Lions DE rotation should be as solid as any in football entering 2005.

Jared DeVries: B C+

One of the best backups in the league at his position, DeVries has 16 tackles, 3 sacks and a forced fumble while spelling relief at both DE spots this year.

Kelvin Pritchett: C+ C

A solid veteran who has given everything he has to the Lions during his two extended stays with the club. His leadership on and off the field has been invaluable to the youngsters on this team.

Marcus Bell: B- B

Bell made some terrifically athletic plays as a reserve DT; credit Matt Millen and the Lions pro scouting department for picking up Bell off of waivers from Arizona last summer. I expect that as early as next season, Marcus could supplant Wilkinson as the Lions starting DT next to Rogers.

Kalimba Edwards: C- D+

A second round bust (in 2002) that has performed nowhere near the level that was expected of him; it’s time for the Lions to look somewhere else for a DE to replace him.

Linebackers: First Half B- Final B-

While each of these players, with the exception of Earl Holmes, could stand a little improvement in the tackling department; this group was misused in 2004 by Lion first-year defensive coordinator Dick Jauron. These guys have too much speed and playmaking ability to be forced to sit back, read, and react in Jauron’s "bend but don’t break" chicken-*#!+ defensive scheme. Turn these guys loose on the QB in 2005 and watch the Lions defense catapult to top ten status.

In other words . . . Biltz Dick Blitz. See Dick Blitz.

Earl Holmes: B- B

Holmes has played very well as the Lions’ MLB since his arrival from Pittsburgh as a free agent in 2003. A good run stuffer who makes up for his lack of speed with smarts and good position football; Earl will likely begin to share time with either James Davis or Teddy Lehman at MLB next season.

Teddy Lehman: C+ B-

With the pre-season injury to Boss Bailey, Lehman was thrown into the fire at SLB and performed well at times (61 solo tackles) and poorly at others (only 3 pass defenses and 1 interception). Nevertheless, the rookie from Sooner country improved with each and every game, and was one of the best players on the field on either side in Week 17 versus the Titans. Teddy is too good to be on the bench, so it will be interesting to see where he plays when Bailey is returns to his strongside LB spot next season.

James Davis: B C+

Davis, like Lehman, also saw more playing time with the injury to Boss Bailey. He also like Lehman had an up and down year as Detroit’s starting Will (weakside) linebacker. Davis has speed to burn and a knack for playmaking. He should only get better as he enters his third pro season in 2005.

Alex Lewis: C+ C+

A rookie steal in the fifth round out of Wisconsin, Lewis displayed tremendous speed and playmaking ability (44 tackles, 3 passes defended, 2 sacks and 1 interception) in limited action at WLB. With the return of a healthy Bailey and the veteran Holmes, as well as the continued development of Lehman, Davis and Lewis; Detroit could have one of the best LB corps in the NFL by mid-season 2005.

Secondary: First Half B- Final D+

Like the linebackers, this group was also set up to fail with Jauron’s defensive scheme. These players must be allowed to blitz more than once a month and they also must be given the opportunity to play more press coverage next season. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I think the ‘bend but don’t break" defense is for the birds.

Dre’ Bly: B+ B

Was limited a few games due to injury, and gave a solid overall, but not Pro Bowl, effort in 2004. Bly is underrated as a tackler, and despite missing three games, and parts of a few others due to injury, still led the Lions in interceptions (4) and was among the league-leaders in passes defended with 19.

Fernando Bryant: B- C-

Started strong but faded badly; a major disappointment in his first season as a Lion. If he’s not careful, he could be supplanted in the starting lineup next season by Keith Smith.

Brock Marion: C+ D

Another big-time disappointment as a 2004 free agent, as he no longer has the speed or playmaking ability that once made him one of the most underrated Free Safeties in the NFL. Detroit may keep him around for another year as a backup to Terrance Holt, who may finally get a chance to crack the starting lineup in 2005.

Why isn’t Holt a starter yet? I was wondering the same thing myself.

Bracy Walker: C+ D-

Made the game sealing interception week one against the Bears and went downhill from there. Simply put, the Lions need a new Strong Safety in 2005.

Chris Cash: B- D

This guy all but disappeared in the second half of the season. It’s too bad that he had that terrible knee injury during preseason 2003. He’s not the same player now that he was as a rookie when I felt that he, and not Joey Harrington, should have been named Lions’ Rookie of the Year in 2002.

Keith Smith: B C

Forget the final grade, I like this kid. He has great jumping ability and can lay the lumber. Why in the hell didn’t Jauron blitz him from the slot regularly like Dom Capers did with rookie Dunta Robinson this year down in Houston? Oh yeah, I forgot. . . . "Bend but don’t break. Keep everything in front of you. Don’t give up the big play."

. . . Where’s my barf bag?

Terrance Holt: Inc. Inc.

According to NFL.com, this guy played in all 16 Lion games this season. That’s funny, I only remember seeing Brock Marion and Bracy Walker getting burned like toast and missing tackles from the Lions’ safety spots.

Please, Mr. Mariucci and Mr. Jauron, can Torry Holt’s brother come out to play next year?

Andre Goodman: Inc. D-

Another bust from the Lions’ stellar 2002 draft – He should change his name to Andre Badman.

Special Teams: First Half C - Final C

Nick Harris: C- C

I don’t mean to pick on this guy, but can’t figure out why the Lions resigned him two weeks ago. He’s just never impressed me since taking over for John Jett midway through 2003.

For example, Harris placed 25th league-wide in gross punting average this season (40.9 yards per punt). On the other hand, he did tie for second in the league with 32 punts downed inside the 20. But when you consider that the Bears’ Brad Maynard led the NFL with 36 and Scott Player of the Cardinals tied Harris with 32, maybe that number just shows that if you punt a lot, your total is bound to be higher.

It could also point to the fact that, many times, Harris punted from around midfield after the Lions’ offense coughed up offensive hairball after offensive hairball, spoiling yet another great Eddie Drummond kick return in the process.

I think I need to look into Harris’ numbers further.

Reggie Swinton: Incomplete C

Reggie was disappointing filling in for Eddie Drummond; but let’s cut Reggie some slack, Eddie in 2004 would have been a tough act to follow for anyone not named Mel Gray.

Coverage Units: C- B

The coverage on special teams had been woeful during the first half of the season, but Special Teams’ Coach Chuck Priefer’s troops improved tremendously over the last eight games. Donte’ Curry and Wali Rainer led these groups all season in fine fashion.

Defensive Coaching: First Half B- Final D-

Let me begin with a quote from my November 11th mid-season evaluation of Lion Defensive Coordinator Dick Jauron’s performance.

"His bend but don’t break philosophy all too often seems to stifle the natural aggressiveness and competitive fire of his players. With Detroit’s offensive struggles likely to continue, it will be imperative that the Lions turn up the heat defensively to create more turnovers and big plays. Otherwise, this team could be on the verge of a monumental collapse that would overshadow any advances they made during the first half of 2004."

The offense got worse . . . the bend but don’t break broke . . . and the collapse ensued.

While Steve Mariucci and his new offensive coordinator are overhauling the offense this offseason, Mariucci might want to have Jauron do a little work on the other side of the ball too.

In other words, Dick Jauron’s "Bend but Don’t Break" defense needs to setup an appointment with Dr. Jack Kevorkian, ASAP.

By the way coach, if you’re interested, you can find Dr. Death’s current residence on the Michigan Department of Corrections website.

Enjoy the playoffs Lions fans and keep in mind that our Super Bowl, better known as the NFL Draft, is just four months away.

I wonder if Dr. Death is a Lions’ fan?

Question or comments: reach Doug Warren at LWarren12@juno.com

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