ALLEN PARK - Like most Lions fans, Rod Marinelli can't wait until the first mini camp sessions to get a look at his team. But unlike the fans, Marinelli won't be taking a rah-rah approach, he'll be looking with critical eyes and what he sees might alarm him.
For all their efforts to re-sign their own veteran players, the Lions aren't nearly as talented as they seem to think they are. Detroit appears to be putting all of its eggs into the coaching basket and a ton of weight on Marinelli's considerable shoulders. It seems as if they think he will cure all the ills of this team and make them into a playoff contender by hard work, a few choice words and a wave of his magic wand.
What Marinelli may want to do is run off about 20% of the roster after first glance. Mike Martz will likely spot a few guys who can't cut it immediately and Donnie Henderson will see something similar. Then, without interference, they should show the interlopers the door.
Listen, even if we agree that Steve Mariucci did a poor job coaching a team that should have been a playoff team, we also have to agree that Detroit is weak in several areas; defensive end, linebacker, offensive line, secondary.
Detroit has never had much success stopping speedy teams from running around the edges. Some of that, confirmed new coordinator Donnie Henderson, is scheme, some is talent. Henderson will take a different approach with the group and use his linebackers speed to advantage, but after you get past Boss Bailey and Teddy Lehman, everyone is unproven.
Detroit needs to take an aggressive approach to solving many of its roster woes as they likely will never be anywhere near $20 million under the cap again.
Here is a look at the players Detroit might target once free agency starts at midnight tonight:
Guard: Detroit told Georgia prospect Max Jean-Gilles that they needed a guard "badly". That is a good assessment of the situation. Detroit is likely to take a look at a few talented players starting with Andre Gurode of the Cowboys, Matt Stinchcomb of the Bucs and Stephen Neal of the Patriots available.
Tackle: While Jeff Backus will likely get a cap-friendly deal Detroit should look for insurance in case Kelly Butler doesn't come along as quickly as they'd like. Butler had an up-and-down 2006 campaign and there's no sense putting all their eggs in one basket. Jason Fabini of the Jets, old friend Stockar McDougle and Damion McIntosh of the Dolphins along with Kenyatta Walker of the Bucs are worth looking at in a down market for tackles.
Linebacker: Bailey and Lehman are the centerpiece of a speedy unit for Detroit but injuries took their toll and the team was forced to press street free agents into service. While LaVar Arrington is the big name on the market, the team would do better to pass and go for players who stay within the scheme. With a scarcity of solid linebacker scheduled to be free, Detroit might have to make a play for Hunter Hillenmeyer (56 tackles,, 25-years old) an restricted free agent from the Bears. The next best might be Brad Kassell of the Titans, Scott Fujita of the Cowboys and Na'il Diggs and Paris Lenon of the Packers
Safeties: If Detroit is going to target Michael Huff, the solid, ball-hawking free safety from Texas with their first round pick they can pass in this market. Kenoy Kennedy is the guy at strong safety. Chris Hope (97 tackles, 25-years old) of the Steelers would be a solid upgrade, Marquand Manuel of the Seahawks, Will Demps of the Ravens and Derrick Gibson of the Raiders make this one of the deepest and strongest groups in the free agency market.
Defensive end: Re-signing Kalimba Edwards (7.0 sacks, 26-years old) before the deadline comes has to be Detroit's #1 priority. Edwards is likely to be one of the most sought after players on the market if he becomes free and is likely to command some big dollars. Edwards could become a star in the kind of defense coordinator Donnie Henderson is likely to craft.
Edwards is a star waiting to happen in a stand up rush linebacker set. If they lose him, they'll have to hope that Simeon Rice of the Buccaneers does become free. If not, they'll have to address the end position early on the draft. Aaron Kampman (82 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 26 years old) of the Packers, Trevor Pryce (33 tackles, 4.0 sacks) of the Broncos and Willie Whitehead of the Saints are the best of a mediocre group.
Corner: Dre' Bly is entrenched at the left corner spot, but Fernando Bryant remains a question mark. Detroit could elected to release Bryant with a large group of solid, franchise type corners available. Detroit could choose from Ahmed Plummer, Ty Law, Sam Madison, Duane Starks, Andre Dyson, Nate Clements, Ricky Manning, Jr., Willie Middlebrooks and Deshea Townsend. Why not take a cap hit today to get a more productive and durable player?
Quarterback: No sense beating a dead horse, with Drew Brees, Jon Kitna and Josh McCown available and Joey Harrington carrying over $10 million in cap space, why wouldn't you upgrade? Detroit seems ready to sink-or-swim with the underachieving Harrington. Still Kitna and Tampa's Brian Griese would make good insurance policies if Harrington fails again.
DONE DEAL: Detroit re-signed running back Shawn Bryson to a 3-year, $4.5 million deal. The seven-year veteran will continue his third down back role in Mike Martz offensive scheme. Bryson is a productive player who can block, catch the ball, and carry the freight in a pinch. Bryson rushed for 306 yards on 64 attempts and caught 37 balls for 284 yards and fumbled just once.
ARMS RACE: The Washington Redskins have confirmed that Detroit is one of the teams that they have given permission to speak to quarterback Patrick Ramsey. Ramsey visited with the New York Jets yesterday and is expected to visit Allen Park sometime between now and Saturday. Ramsey is under contract to the Redskins and would require compensation. The Redskins are believed to be asking for a fourth or fifth round draft pick.