Fixing the Lions: Unit-by-Unit Analysis

We evaluate every position on the team as GM Martin Mayhew and co. look to fix the Lions. A unit-by-unit analysis is provided inside ...

General manager Martin Mayhew tried just about everything to upgrade the Lions' talent level in 2009 -- from trades to free-agent signings to the draft to many waiver claims. He plans to do the same in 2010.

"Everything we can do to get better, we'll try to get better," Mayhew said.

But the Lions will be a little more selective now. Mayhew said the Lions added 15 veterans who made more than $1 million last year. He called it a "scattershot" or "shotgun" approach. He said the Lions likely will target only about five or six such players in free agency this year.

"I think last year was more of a trying to find talented guys at different positions across the board just to be able to compete, to get competitive, whereas this year I think there will be more specific areas that have to be addressed in free agency," Mayhew said.

In the draft, the Lions will continue to select the best player available, with a few caveats. They won't target one side of the ball -- offense, because they're closer to being competitive there, or defense, because they have been so bad there for so long.

"Philosophically our position hasn't changed," Mayhew said. "We want to look for the best players we can find without regard to what side of the ball they play or what position that they play. Obviously we wouldn't take a quarterback with the second overall pick at this point, so there's some common sense in there too. But we want to continue to add talented players no matter what side of the ball those guys play on or what their positions are."

Mayhew won't rule out taking an offensive player with the No. 2 pick, even though the Lions have taken an offensive player with their first pick eight out of the last nine drafts.

"No," Mayhew said. "Absolutely not. No. We'll take the best players and the guys who can help us long-term be the best football team."

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACK: Starter - Daunte Culpepper. Backup -- Drew Stanton. Injured reserve -- Matthew Stafford.

The Lions feel they found their franchise quarterback with Stafford, the No. 1 pick in 2009. He needs to improve his completion percentage (53.3) and reduce his interceptions (20 in 10 games). But his football IQ, leadership and arm strength were impressive, not to mention his toughness. He played after suffering a dislocated kneecap and then a separated shoulder before ending up on IR. He had clean-up knee surgery the last week of the season, but his shoulder doesn't need surgery and he is expected to be ready for the off-season program.


The Lions believe they've found a future under center with Matthew Stafford
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Culpepper still isn't the quarterback he once was, despite losing weight and reuniting with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. He went 0-5 as a starter for the second straight season, not good as he heads into free agency. But general manager Martin Mayhew won't rule out bringing him back. Mayhew said Drew Stanton will be back, even though the 2007 second-round pick continues to struggle.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- Maurice Morris, FB Jerome Felton. Backups -- Aaron Brown, Cedric Peerman. Injured reserve -- Kevin Smith.

Smith suffered a separated shoulder in the third quarter Sept. 27 against Washington. He played through it and hurt his other shoulder. Lacking explosiveness, he had only one run longer than 20 yards all season, a 31-yarder. He started to run better as his health improved -- then suffered a torn ACL. He will have surgery on his shoulder after he gets off the crutches from his ACL repair. Morris made everyone wonder why he wasn't playing more when he stepped in for Smith and rushed for 126 yards, including a 64-yard TD on Dec. 20 against Arizona. Brown showed off his speed but made too many mental mistakes. Felton struggled with injuries but ended the season as the only true fullback on the roster after Terrelle Smith was released. Especially because of Smith's injury situation, not knowing when he will return and how well, the Lions expect to add a running back this off-season. The question will be what role he plays.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Brandon Pettigrew. Backups -- Will Heller, Michael Matthews, Jake Nordin. Injured reserve -- Casey Fitzsimmons.

Pettigrew struggled with everything on his plate as an all-around NFL tight end, and burdened by high expectations, he went into a mental funk. But he was on his way to becoming the blocker and receiver the Lions envisioned when he suffered a torn ACL on Thanksgiving against Green Bay. The Lions hope he will be ready for training camp, but they can't be sure. Heller, known as a blocker, did a solid job as a receiver. Fitzsimmons continues to be a versatile, solid role player. He ended the season on IR because of a concussion but seems to be OK. Matthews was a waiver claim who played little but will compete for a job this year.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Calvin Johnson, Bryant Johnson. Backups -- Dennis Northcutt, Derrick Williams, Eric Fowler, Adam Jennings.

After racking up 1,331 yards and 12 TDs last year, Calvin Johnson fell 16 receiving yards short of the 1,000 mark and caught only five touchdowns. He played hurt and had little help. Defenses smothered him, unafraid of the running game or other receivers. Bryant Johnson was a big disappointment in the No. 2 role. So was Dennis Northcutt in the No. 3. Rookie Derrick Williams couldn't get on the field. Even though his production dipped, Calvin Johnson still had far more yards than all the other wideouts combined (838) and more TDs than they did (four). The Lions need to find what Linehan called "an eraser" opposite Calvin Johnson, someone who can erase the game plans designed to stop him.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Jeff Backus, LG Daniel Loper, C Dominic Raiola, RG Dylan Gandy, RT Gosder Cherilus. Backups -- T Jon Jansen, G Manny Ramirez, C Dan Gerberry, G Roy Schuening, T Corey Hilliard. Injured reserve -- T Damion Cook, RG Stephen Peterman.

Backus and Raiola continue to be the foundation of the line. Backus played so well in 2009 that coach Jim Schwartz suggested he deserved Pro Bowl votes. Raiola is fiery and smart, though offensive coordinator Scott Linehan would like to take some calls off his plate now that Stafford has experience. Loper and Ramirez rotated at left guard all season -- from game to game and within games -- with neither able to hold down the job. The Lions need to find someone to stop that revolving door. Peterman was consistent, and his value showed when he went on IR with an ankle injury. He is expected back for the off-season program. Cherilus, a first-round pick in 2008, still needs to work on his consistency and technique. He was benched late in the season. Jansen was a strong veteran presence. Gandy did a decent job subbing for Peterman as he heads into free agency. Schuening and Hilliard were waiver pickups who didn't play but will compete for jobs this year with the likes of Gerberry and Cook.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- DLE Jason Hunter, DT Grady Jackson, DT Sammie Hill, DRE Cliff Avril. Backups -- DE Turk McBride, DE Dewayne White, DT Joe Cohen, DT Landon Cohen, DT Andre Fluellen. Injured reserve -- DE Copeland Bryan, DE Jared DeVries.

The Lions struggled to generate a four-man pass rush. Avril and Hunter combined for 10 1/2 sacks, the kind of production you need from a starting right end alone. Avril, a third-round pick in 2008, needs to be more of a consistent presence as a pass rusher and better against the run. White, often injured, had zero sacks and only eight tackles in 10 games. Jackson played about as well as you could expect from a 36-year-old who had off-season knee surgery, making it through the season with the Lions managing him carefully each week. The Lions have a building block in Hill, a fifth-round pick in '09, and projects in McBride, Fluellen, Joe Cohen and Landon Cohen. McBride, for example, lost weight to play outside linebacker in the Chiefs' 3-4, was released and played underweight for the Lions. He needs to put weight back on and develop. DeVries is trying to return from an Achilles injury suffered in training camp. This is a major area of need.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- OLB Ernie Sims, MLB Larry Foote, OLB Julian Peterson. Backups -- Vinny Ciurciu, Jordon Dizon, Zack Follett, DeAndre Levy. Injured reserve -- Cody Spencer.

The Lions brought together linebackers who had played different systems for different teams, and they struggled to get everyone on the same page for a long time. Foote strayed from the scheme to make plays at times but was a strong leader. Sims was limited by shoulder and hamstring injuries but played better when healthy later in the year. Peterson started slowly and his production was spotty, but he was versatile -- lining up as a defensive end at times -- and a professional presence.


Detroit will look to return Larry Foote to the line-up, but like the emergence of rookie DeAndre Levy
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Levy, a third-round pick in 2008, showed potential both on the outside and inside and could start somewhere next year if Foote (free agent) or Peterson ($7.5 million) don't return. Dizon, a second-round pick in 2008, remains a role player. Ciurciu and Follett made their biggest impact on special teams, though Follett showed potential as a rusher late in the year.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Will James, RCB Phillip Buchanon, SS Marvin White, FS Louis Delmas. Backups -- CB Kevin Hobbs, CB Anthony Henry, CB Brian Witherspoon, S DeAngelo Smith, S Kalvin Pearson. Injured reserve -- S Daniel Bullocks, CB Demarcus Faggins, CB Eric King, S Marquand Manuel, S Ko Simpson, CB Jack Williams.

The Lions ranked last in pass defense. When they blitzed because they couldn't generate a four-man rush, they couldn't cover behind it. They couldn't cover period. The only bright spot was Delmas, the first pick of the second round in 2009, who made plays and emerged as a leader. But he needs to reduce his mistakes and make even more plays. He could have had more than two picks. James was the next-best DB, but that isn't saying much for a ragtag unit that added 10 players since Sept. 4 because of performance and injury issues. Buchanon and Henry both were benched at times, and Henry stayed in the doghouse. White struggled badly. Hobbs emerged as a nickel back. Despite the long list of names, the Lions don't have much beyond Delmas, and the turnover will continue with this group.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Jason Hanson, P Nick Harris, KOR Derrick Williams, PR Dennis Northcutt, LS Don Muhlbach.

The Lions struggled so badly in every facet that special teams coordinator Stan Kwan was fired. But the Lions' lack of depth showed up here. The coverage units gave up too many big plays and didn't stabilize until Vinny Ciurciu and Zack Follett got involved. The return game generated little, with Williams and Aaron Brown taking turns struggling on kickoff returns, Northcutt and Phillip Buchanon struggling on punt returns, and Brian Witherspoon joining the party too late in the year. Muhlbach did his job, though he missed one game with a concussion, but even the reliable Hanson and Harris struggled. Hanson missed seven field goals. Harris was inconsistent.


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