Fixing The Franchise: Sorting The Roster

The Detroit Lions now head into Phase Three of the rebuilding process. Having solidified the coaching staff and the new aggressive philosophy, they now have to weed through their 53-man roster and look for three types of players: playmakers, role-players and dead weight.

ALLEN PARK - The Detroit Lions now head into Phase Three of the rebuilding process. Having solidified the coaching staff and the new aggressive philosophy, they now have to weed through their 53-man roster and look for three types of players: playmakers, role-players and dead weight.

Detroit's Rod Marinelli explained his philosophy in doing this; "To me it comes down to a few things. It has to be leadership, and it has to be passion," said Marinelli. "It has to be a willingness to get to work and get this thing done because we have a lot of work. We have a lot of work to get done here."

Marinelli relies on what he sees on film, almost to a fault but there's a method to his madness - he believes that what he sees on the film doesn't lie.

"I may start [looking at] a game [film] in the fourth quarter instead of the first quarter because [a player] might be telling you who he is with his effort, his hitting or his production," said Marinelli. "When does this guy produce? Watch him in the big game because the film talks to you. You've got to see what you're looking at."

Marinelli is a disciple of the Tampa Bay style cover-two defensive philosophy which features two safeties deep, each responsible for covering half of the deep zone. However, the cover two also calls for the linebackers to take deeper drops, so Detroit might move their two young linebackers Boss Bailey and Teddy Lehman, in new positions to take advantage of their speed

As for Marinelli, Henderson and Martz they have to do some serious player evaluation to get done. Roar takes a look at the players who could be among Marinelli's warriors and some who could get a bus ticket out of town:

Defensive Line: Cory Redding has failed to develop into much of a threat as the Lions starting left end opposite James Hall. Hall has had one good season as a pass rusher. Neither has shown an ability to stop the run. New coordinator Donnie Henderson said a lot of this has to do with the team's philosophy. Henderson said some teams intentionally force runs to the outside when they have sure tackling linebackers and run support corners in those positions. But Detroit was constantly plagued by teams who ran successfully on the edges.

Redding and Hall must improve in containing the run or each could be on the outs with Henderson and Marinelli. Look for tackle/end Shaun Cody to begin taking reps away quickly from the under-achieving Redding.

Inside Detroit's dynamic duo of pro bowl tackle Shaun Rogers and Dan Wilkinson should be fine. Detroit's coaching staff will likely be smart with how much they use Wilkinson in practice. Lions president Matt Millen expects to meet with the veteran to allay some of his fears. Expect the super talented Rogers to get even better under Marinelli.

Linebackers: Teddy Lehman and Boss Bailey could find themselves in new positions. Lehman will likely take over the middle linebacker spot from aging Earl Holmes while Bailey could move to the weak side position to take advantage of his speed and sure tackling ability. Meanwhile, James Davis could find himself in a fight for his position.

Speedy Alex Lewis will likely get a long look and a shot at unseating Davis. Detroit will also likely add a linebacker in the draft. Kalimba Edwards figures in this mix as Marinelli knows how to use lighter, pass rushing linebackers, a position Edwards excelled in at South Carolina. If Edwards, an unrestricted free agent returns, he will be a pivotal player in the new scheme. Henderson says Edwards, and his seven sacks (20 in his four-year career) is the team's #1 priority. Edwards is the only consistent pass rusher on the roster.

Secondary: Is Terrence Holt the real deal, or is he a stopgap? We'll find out pretty quickly. Holt will be called upon to use his smarts to overcome his lack of sprinter's speed and master the cover two calls quickly. With the 9th overall pick, Michael Huff of Texas is true value and the kind of ballhawking safety that Bucs cover two scheme made into stars.

Kenoy Kennedy has John Lynch written all over him but corner Fernando Bryant is squarely on the spot with this team. He either produces this year, or he's gone. Waiting in the wings is the talented Keith Smith and last year's third-round draft pick Stanley Wilson. On the other side is the undisputed leader of the Detroit defense Dre' Bly. Bly is not viewed as anything other than the leader and solid defensive player he is by the coaching staff.

Offensive Line: The unit most in need of an influx of talent will get a ton of attention from Marinelli and new offensive line coach Larry Beightol. First, the franchise tag applied to Jeff Backus means he will be the starter at left tackle for his sixth consecutive season. Backus could be working next to Damien Woody who could be switched from the right to the left side. With Dominic Raiola both improving and returning, the leaves the right side of the line to get healthy.

Detroit spent a long time talking with Georgia guard Max Jean-Gilles who told the media Detroit rightly assessed the situation by saying "we need a guard, bad."


Jean-Gilles, who dominated likely first round pick Gabe Watson of Michigan in Senior Bowl drills, would fit the bill nicely. He is expected to be available in round two of this year's draft. Detroit could spend megabucks on Seattle's transition player Steve Hutchinson or on New Orleans guard/center LaCharles Bentley to fix the problem.

Right tackle is Kelly Butler's job to lose and he should flourish under Beightol and Marinelli, but if he chafes, Detroit could trade down and use a later pick to draft Miami tackle Eric Winston, who clearly cemented himself as the second best tackle in the draft when he wowed observers at the NFL combine in Indianapolis this weekend. USC's Winston Justice and Auburn's Marcus McNeil would also be worthy picks.

Wide Receiver: If Detroit can be pursuaded to keep Charles Rogers on the roster, they'll have a solid trio of receivers. Watch these three blossom as they fight for pecking order under the new regime and position coach Kippy Brown. Rogers is the acrobatic, deep threat, Roy Williams is the big-time playmaker and Mike Williams is the chain-moving physical presence. Detroit is set at wide reciever.

Running Backs: The correct pecking order will now be set as offensive coordinator Mike Martz has finally put an end to the ridiculous 'running back by committee' approach of the previous regime. Martz said that Kevin Jones is a back you can "hang your hat on" and that he could carry the ball "30 times a game."

That news had to be music to Jones' ears.

Artose Pinner will be Jones' primary backup. Martz said that Jones hasn't had many opportunities to catch the football, but he was convinced that they could "shine that up." On the flip side, fullback Cory Schlesinger could be headed toward the end of a solid career. Martz has never used fullbacks in his offense, instead relies on a tight end/H-back.

While Detroit doesn't have such a player on its roster, Jason Randall or Casey Fitzsimmons could morph into such a player. Schlesinger has caught some balls, but isn't the most nimble of players. Paul Smith hasn't been a player Detroit could rely on either.

Quarterback: Much has been said and written about the position, but one thing is for sure, Joey Harrington will get the first crack at it. Detroit's comments have been that Harrington goes into training camp as the starter. If that is a fact and not a smokescreen, Detroit is only kidding itself.

Why hang a first-year coach with a quarterback who has a career 68.1 passer rating when - without giving up draft picks - two pro bowl caliber quarterbacks (Drew Brees of San Diego and Chad Pennington of New York) could be had? Jeff Garcia will not return, leaving only Dan Orlovsky, who could figure into the mix in a year or two, as a backup. Detroit says they're only hunting for backups at this time. Let's hope that's a joke.

Don't be surprised if five or six name players are run off the roster in an effort to set the tone for the rest of the squad. The practices will be physical, they'll be intense and exhausting.

The intent is to build endurance and character and change a losing mentality. That's what has to be done in order to find out who are the true playmakers, which players are willing to work hard to be role players and who are just dead weight.

Rod Marinelli seems, at first glance, to be the right man to figure this thing out.

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