Martz Still Evaluating Personnel
Three months after taking the job as the Lions offensive coordinator, Mike Martz says he is still in the process of evaluating the personnel at his disposal.
Anyone who knows Martz knows that he has no trouble formulating a strong opinion but he says he has had a problem evaluating the Lions offensive players because they were "grossly out of shape" when they went to work in the off-season program.
In his first comments with the Detroit media since the NFL scouting combine in February, Martz said his players are progressing nicely, however, and will be ready for the season opener Sept. 10 against Seattle.
"Sure. Absolutely," he said. "These guys are so willing, we'll be fine. I'm excited and encouraged about their attitude."
Because Martz is moving the Lions out of the West Coast system they played the past five years under Marty Mornhinweg and Steve Mariucci, there is a great deal of work yet to be done but he basically shot down theories that the Lions three first-round receivers are busts.
Martz said he views Roy Williams as a player in the formative stages of becoming an elite receiver, says Mike Williams has better speed and quicker feet than he expected, and that Charles Rogers has made excellent progress in the past week.
Offensive Line Changes Continue
In signing veteran offensive lineman Ross Verba, the Lions have probably completed the revamping of their offensive line.
Verba, 32, has played 106 games with Green Bay and Cleveland but missed the 2003 season with a torn bicep muscle and did not play last season after negotiating his release from the Browns.
The Lions signed Verba to a one-year contract (with club options for additional time) and had him working at left guard with the starting offense during the mandatory mini-camp.
Verba played for Lions offensive line coach Larry Beightol when they were both at Green Bay and he has no doubt he will be in the starting lineup when the Lions open the season against defending NFC champion Seattle.
"I'll be starting," Verba said after his first mini-camp workout. "I'll earn it. I don't not start."
Assuming Verba wins the left guard job from Rick DeMulling in training camp, the Lions will probably have two new starters on the offensive line. Rex Tucker is likely to start ahead of Kelly Butler at right tackle.
Lions Continue To Talk Extension With Backus
Although the Lions have only a one-year contract in place with left tackle Jeff Backus, they are hoping to work out a long-term deal sometime in the next six weeks.
The team has mentioned frequently its interest in a multi-year deal but had never approached Backus to get anything done. And when he was named the Lions' franchise player in March, the best they could do was to get him to sign the tender offer of the average of the five top-paid offensive linemen in the NFL.
Chief operating officer Tom Lewand maintains the Lions want to get a long-term deal in place by July 15.
"Once we go beyond the 15th, it's at best uncertain as to what happens," Lewand said.
The uncertainty is based on the status of the NFL's new collective bargaining agreement with the players union. The league and the union have several unresolved issues, including the possibility that a team could lose the right to use the franchise tag if it negotiates with a franchise player after July 15.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I like to call it the system I've been in for eight
years ... but on steroids." -- Lions quarterback Jon Kitna describing the
explosive potential of offensive system being installed by coordinator Mike
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Lions three-day mandatory minicamp was open to the media, giving reporters their first glimpse of how coach Rod Marinelli and his coordinators view the team they took over earlier this year.
The receiving corps drew much of the attention, although two of last year's regulars -- Mike Williams and Scottie Vines -- did not participate because of minor injuries. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz had Roy Williams and free agent acquisition Corey Bradford working as the starters in the base offense, with Glenn Martinez and free-agent acquisition Mike Furrey in the second group, followed by former first-round pick Charles Rogers and kick returner Eddie Drummond in the third group.
Fullback Cory Schlesinger is not a part of all the offensive packages but is still viewed as needed for his blocking ability and running back Artose Pinner worked frequently as the fourth back, an indication he might be scrambling for a roster spot in August.
Defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson is excited about first-round pick linebacker Ernie Sims and second-round pick safety Daniel Bullocks but he didn't have either of them working with the first defense as the minicamp got underway.