John Crist: Even though he is clearly the fourth best quarterback in the division, that's not necessarily a slight against Matthew Stafford because the NFC North currently is home to Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler. Stafford forever earned the respect of his locker room by firing a game-winning touchdown pass with a separated shoulder last season against Cleveland. Now he did throw 20 INTs in just 10 games as a rookie, but how good can he be and who does he remind you of at this point?
Nate Caminata: I think it's difficult and, quite honestly, probably not very prudent to judge any rookie quarterback based on statistical output. This especially applies to Stafford. Coming off a winless campaign the year before, I don't think anyone expected a rookie quarterback to put up big numbers in Detroit. And although Stafford's output was on par with Mark Sanchez, with much, much less at his disposal, he accomplished something that Joey Harrington failed to do in Detroit: earn locker room respect. Stafford is a team captain and has earned the allegiance of everyone, from the offensive line to the defensive secondary, through the trials and successes of his rookie campaign.
Many Lions fans see a little bit of John Elway in Stafford's moxie – a gamer that isn't afraid to take chances but has the physical ability to get away with most of them. That isn't to suggest Stafford will duplicate Elway's success, but he has the tools to be successful should the Lions supply him with a strong supporting cast.
JC: To outsiders, it appears the front office is concerned about running back Kevin Smith since general manager Martin Mayhew traded back into the first round to take Jahvid Best from California. First of all, how is Smith doing after suffering a torn ACL this past season? Secondly, what are the early reports on Best from minicamp and OTAs? Will one of them emerge as "The Guy," or does this have tandem written all over it?
NC: Best wowed the team and coaching staff during the offseason training activities. He is a lightning-in-a-bottle prospect, and he can cut on a dime and turn upfield with speed.
Yet for the acclaim he's already gained, Lions coach Jim Schwartz is quick to point out that he hasn't put on the pads just yet. Furthermore, Best isn't an every-down back, and neither is Smith, who was forced to carry the load in his first two seasons. He should recover from his ACL in time to participate fully in training camp, and you can expect the two running backs to share touches out of the team's backfield entering the season.
JC: I liked what I saw from Brandon Pettigrew as a rookie and believe he's going to be a solid tight end one day, but he is also coming back from knee surgery and may not be 100 percent just yet. Like the Smith-Best situation, the Lions appear to have taken out an insurance policy by acquiring Tony Scheffler from Denver. Are you expecting Detroit to employ a lot of two-tight end sets this season with both Pettigrew and Scheffler on the field?
NC: The Lions will use a two-tight end set often with Pettigrew and Scheffler, forcing defenses to play honest on wide receiver Calvin Johnson. And while Pettigrew is certainly a talented prospect that the Lions are excited to help mold, Scheffler provides the immediate help at the position that offensive coordinator Scott Linehan requires in his scheme. Both should see significant field time in 2010.
JC: The front four got a facelift during the offseason, highlighted by the free agent addition of one-time Titan Kyle Vanden Bosch and the No. 2-overall selection of Ndamukong Suh out of Nebraska. Vanden Bosch was a very good player for coach Jim Schwartz when he used to be the coordinator in Tennessee, but is a 31-year-old pass rusher coming off a 3.0-sack season going to make a significant impact? Suh, however, looks like an immediate Pro Bowler, right?
NC: I'm not sure any rookie walking in at defensive tackle will produce immediately. In fact, I think Vanden Bosch's presence might be more noticeable in the first half of the season before Suh finds his groove. Suh's domineering size and strength is what made him such an obvious pick, but that won't go as far in the NFL as it does at the collegiate level.
But Vanden Bosch, as a veteran, also "gets" what Schwartz is looking to accomplish defensively because of their time together in Tennessee. He's familiar with the system and has helped get other players – such as third-year defensive Cliff Avril – become more acclimated and comfortable with the expectations of the position.
JC: It appears the biggest loss from a year ago is linebacker Ernie Sims, who never quite lived up to his first-round billing but did rack up 100-plus tackles his first three seasons before an injury in 2009. Right now, it looks like Zack Follett and Landon Johnson are battling it out to replace Sims in the starting lineup. Follett was just a seventh rounder two Aprils ago. Johnson was a backup in Carolina the last two years. Were there any other noteworthy defections?
NC: Due to the vacancy, the weak-side position will be one of the positional battle grounds in training camp this year, but that isn't necessarily a good thing. Johnson and Follett are interesting specimens but they're also not All-Pro material, and it could become a source of worry during the season if the position doesn't produce. Jordon Dizon, a former second-round pick, could also compete at the spot if necessary.
Departures that may impact the team include Larry Foote in the middle, although second-year player DeAndre Levy seems more suitable for the role. And defensive end Dewayne White, a Rod Marinelli-favorite, was replaced by Vanden Bosch. Other than the trade of the underproducing, underwhelming Sims, who was exchanged for Scheffler, the team seemed to address and, in most cases, improve roster concerns from a season ago.
Be on the lookout for Part II of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where John answers five questions from Nate, on Thursday.
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Behind Enemy Lines: Chicago (Part I)
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