Lions Notebook: Suh, McCoy, or Bust?

Defensive line is a glaring weakness for the Detroit Lions, but whom will they choose to solve it? Mel Kiper shares his take ...

There is little debate about what the Lions will do with the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft as the Scouting Combine approaches. It seems everyone expects them to take a defensive tackle -- Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh or Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy.

At the Senior Bowl, executives, coaches and scouts generally agreed that Suh and McCoy were obvious choices for the Lions. Coach Jim Schwartz did nothing to dispel that when asked a general question about how much harder it is to find interior pass rushers.

Schwartz always talks about multidimensional players, and his response was about players with both the size and strength to stop the run and the athleticism to get to the quarterback.

"I think that when you find one of those guys, they're extremely valuable," Schwartz said. "The shortest distance to the quarterback is a straight line, and the people that are the closest are the defensive tackles. They can affect the rush."

Players like that help the defensive ends.

"If you're a good outside rusher, you can win every single time, and if you're not getting the push inside, you're not getting somebody winning inside, then it's easy for the quarterback to step up and it doesn't matter that you won outside," Schwartz said.

NFL Network's Mike Mayock and ESPN's Todd McShay think St. Louis will take McCoy first overall and Suh will fall to the Lions. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. is sticking with Suh first overall, McCoy second.

Kiper was asked about the chances the Lions would not take Suh or McCoy. He said second overall was "a little high for a corner," as good as Florida's Joe Haden might be, and there was no running back worthy of the pick, including Clemson's C.J. Spiller.

Kiper said the Lions would be happy with Suh or McCoy.

"Both of those kids are outstanding players, because they both give you one thing -- consistent productivity -- and most defensive tackles don't," Kiper said. "Most defensive tackles had a game here or there where they weren't quite as good and they leveled off a bit. These two guys brought it every game."

Kiper said both would fit the Lions' system well.

"Everybody always says McCoy's a better pass rusher," Kiper said. "Well, I agree to a certain extent, but it's not like Suh didn't get after the quarterback.

"Suh does. He's an outstanding bull rusher. He's improved his technique from his junior year to his senior year. The way he plays the run, the motor that he has, the productivity was unbelievable. The leadership, the way he plays the game will set a tempo up front.

"McCoy gives you more versatility in terms of the way you can move him around. He's a one-gap penetrator as I said, and he'll wreak some havoc in the backfield, as will Suh.

"It depends who St. Louis takes. I don't think they'll sit there and worry either way. I think either one of those players for either one of those teams will be good fits."

TEAM NOTEBOOK:

  • Team president Tom Lewand said the Lions want to bring back linebacker Larry Foote, but it remains to be seen whether they can agree on a contract. Foote is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent March 5. "I think Larry genuinely has an interest in being here, and we genuinely have an interest in having him," Lewand said. "The question is whether we can work something out, and we'll continue to try to do that as we go forward."

    Foote wants a multiyear deal to stay with his hometown team. He spoke out publicly two weeks ago about what he considered the Lions' lack of interest in him, but it didn't spur anything. "We expect that he will be a free agent," said Foote's agent, Brian Levy. "We're moving forward with that in mind."

  • The Lions won't use their franchise or transition tags because they don't have any pending free agents they feel they must pay top dollar to keep. "Our tags will go unused," general manager Martin Mayhew said. "I can't see us using one right now."

    The Lions' pending unrestricted free agents include Foote, cornerback Will James and tight end Casey Fitzsimmons.

  • Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham has his eyes on the Chiefs.

    "They keep wanting to dump players," defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham said late last season. "I would like to be there to catch a lot of them, because I know a couple of those guys." Cunningham was the Chiefs' defensive coordinator from 2004-08.

    "Some of those young kids I coached, I really believed they were going to be good players, and I know I'm right about that," Cunningham said. "Now what's happened there is the same thing in any organization. A new guy comes in, and they decide to go to the 3-4 defense when the structure of the personnel was built for the 4-3."

    The Lions already acquired Turk McBride off waivers last season. The former Chiefs regime drafted McBride in the second round in 2007 to play on the defensive line. The new Chiefs regime tried to move him to outside linebacker, but it didn't work out.

  • The Lions worked out free agent wide receiver Donte' Stallworth, but he signed a one-year deal with the Ravens worth $900,000 plus $300,000 in possible playing-time incentives. Lewand declined to comment on the Lions' interest in Stallworth.

    Wide receiver Dennis Northcutt and guard Dylan Gandy were spending a week at Harvard, while defensive end Copeland Bryan was spending a week at Penn. They were participating in the NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program. The Harvard program exposes players to a broad array of business subjects -- operations, negotiations, plan analysis, legal issues. The Wharton program focuses on entrepreneurship and real estate.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "The directive from Mr. (William Clay) Ford is to spend what it takes to win, and he's always been immensely supportive of those efforts. The key is making the right decisions underneath that mandate." -- Lions president Tom Lewand, on owner William Clay Ford's approach to player payroll.

STRATEGY:

General manager Martin Mayhew made it clear the Lions won't be using a franchise or transition tag on anyone this year. No one rises to that level.

The biggest decisions are at linebacker. Larry Foote, the captain in the middle in 2009, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent March 5. Mayhew said he wouldn't rule out bringing back Foote, but Foote sensed a lack of interest and said he expected to hit the market. Julian Peterson is due a $7.5 million salary in 2010. The Lions can't afford to overpay, but they're so short on talent that they can't afford to let decent players leave, either.

  • 1. Defensive line: The Lions failed to generate a four-man rush and were inconsistent against the run in 2009. They need both a pass rusher on the edge and a force in the middle. They could use the No. 2 pick on one of two tackles: Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh or Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy.
  • 2. Defensive back: Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham likes to blitz, but the Lions couldn't cover behind it in 2009. Safety Louis Delmas, the first pick of the second round last year, is their only really promising DB.
  • 3. Running back: Kevin Smith is recovering from a torn ACL and separated shoulder, and the Lions needed more explosiveness at the position even before he got hurt.

    UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

    • LB Vinny Ciurciu helped improve the woeful coverage units. He could be signed as a role player.
    • OL Damion Cook spent the season on injured reserve. If he comes back, it will be for depth.
    • QB Daunte Culpepper appeared certain to be gone, but both sides haven't ruled out a reunion.
    • TE Casey Fitzsimmons is a good receiving tight end and a valuable player on special teams. He could be back in that role.
    • TE Will Heller blocked well and made some good catches. He could return in that role, especially with Brandon Pettigrew recovering from a torn ACL.
    • LB Larry Foote wants to stay in his hometown and is upset the Lions haven't shown more interest, but he struggled to adapt to the middle in a 4-3 after seven years in Pittsburgh's 3-4.
    • CB Anthony Henry isn't the cover man he once was and spent most of the season in the doghouse.
    • CB Will James might have been the Lions' most consistent corner, and the team would like him back at the right price with the position so thin.
    • OT Jon Jansen is limited physically after so many injuries, but remains a solid backup and a valuable veteran presence in the locker room.
    • S Marquand Manuel started six games, but did not distinguish himself, then finished the season on injured reserve.
    • QB Patrick Ramsey signed only at the end of the season to dress as the third quarterback with Matthew Stafford injured. The Lions are looking for a veteran backup. RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (*indicates restricted because of uncapped year)
    • DE Copeland Bryan finished the season on injured reserve and would return if the Lions want him for depth.
    • *S Daniel Bullocks has missed two out of the last three seasons because of a knee injury. He is recovering from microfracture surgery, and it remains to be seen whether the Lions will tender the 2006 second-round pick.
    • LB Zack Follett made an impact on special teams when signed off the practice squad; also contributed in four-linebacker package. He's likely to be tendered.
    • *OG Dylan Gandy started at right guard after Stephen Peterman suffered an ankle injury. The Lions might want him back for depth.
    • OT Corey Hilliard, signed during the season for depth, could return to compete for a roster spot.
    • CB Kevin Hobbs was the top nickel back, but for one of the league's most porous pass defenses. He could return until Lions find an upgrade.
    • *DE Jason Hunter started at left end and was solid, at best. The Lions are likely to tender him.
    • *OT Daniel Loper couldn't hold onto the starting job at left guard, rotating with Manny Ramirez all season.
    • TE Jake Nordin spent the preseason with the Lions, then returned when they had injury problems at tight end.
    • RB Cedric Peerman provided depth at running back. He could return at thin position.
    • OG Manny Ramirez couldn't hold onto left guard spot, either, rotating with Daniel Loper.
    • *S Ko Simpson is recovering from microfracture surgery. Health could be determining factor. -
    • CB DeAngelo Smith provided depth at corner.
    • *LB Cody Spencer spent the season on injured reserve with knee injury.

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