Q&A with The Wayne Fontes Experience

It’s Q&A time!  Up this week is Bloguin’s own The Wayne Fontes Experience, a phenomenal blog covering the Lions.  With the Patriots heading to Detroit this weekend for a rematch of their 2010 Thanksgiving competition, we’ve decided to take a moment and get some insight into upcoming opponents.

1. How would you grade the Detroit Lions’ draft/free agent moves?

The draft gets an incomplete, because of injuries.

Honestly, after the draft, I was thrilled. I would have given an A at the time. The Lions had a player drop in their laps at 13 who was thought to be a top five draft pick in DT Nick Fairly, then selected a pair of weapons for Matthew Staffiord. WR Titus Young was to be the number three receiver, and RB Mikel Leshoure was to partner with Jahvid Best in the backfield. Despite all the skill position players Matt Millen drafted over the years, WR and RB remained positions of need.

But injuries have taken down all three picks. Fairley is going to miss all of camp with a stress fracture in his foot. Young has barely practiced, thanks to a hamstring issue. Leshoure is out for the season, tearing his Achilles in the first week of practice.  The talent is there, but we won’t see it flourish for some time.

I’ll give free agency a B. The Lions desperately needed linebackers and corners, and that’s just what they signed.

The Lions inked former Titan MLB Stephen Tulloch (who played under head coach Jim Schwartz when he was the defensive coordinator for the Titans) and ex-Jag OLB Stephen Tulloch (very talented, but is Stafford-like when it comes to injuries) to shore up the linebacker corps. They aren’t All-Pros, but are young, proven NFL players. Both are expected to start, both signed reasonable contracts.

At corner, the same applies. The Lions found capable corners who may not be Pro Bowlers, but signed acceptable deals and have solid track records. First, Eric Wright was singed away from the Browns. He’s coming off a down season, but is a highly regarded 2nd round pick from the 2007 draft who played at a high level in his first three years. Browns fans were disappointed to see Wright leave, which said volumes.

The Lions also brought back CB Chris Houston to play across from Wright. Houston played quite well for the Lions last season, helping to stabilize a corner position which had been in total chaos in 2009.

Finally, FA WR Maurice Stovall has made a very good impression in camp, and should take over as the 4th wide out.

2. One of the problems for the Lions has been the torn Achilles tendon for Mikel LeShoure and the foot problem to Nick Fairley. How will the Lions make up for the loss of these two dynamic rookies, or in Fairley’s case, a lack of training camp reps?

In Fairley’ case, it’s not disastrous. The defensive line is the deepest position on the team. The Lions were already set at DT with Ndamukong Suh (a once in a generation talent) and Corey Williams (a very effective run stopper) starting, with Sammie Hill and Andre Fluellen backing them up. Fairley wasn’t going to start, he was going to get plenty of playing time as part of a deep rotation. He’ll be eased in gradually. Don’t expect much early on, but in the 2nd half of the season, a Suh/Fairley tag team should be punishing teams.

As for Leshoure, the Achilles injury is damn near catastrophic for the inside running game. The Lions were planning on Leshoure being Mr. Inside to Javid Best’s Mr. Outside. Now…who the Hell knows? The RB position depth chart is Best (Good!), aging Maurice Morris (meh), then becomes a grab bag. The Lions did sign free agents Ian Johnson, Mike Bell and Jerome Harrison, and couple will likely make the team (I’m betting Bell and Harrison). But losing Leshoure was a tough blow to swallow.

3. Is Matthew Stafford’s health the number one key to get Detroit to the playoffs? If so, do you think he can stay healthy for all 16 games?

Stafford’s health is the number one key. It’s also the second, third and fourth.  And so far, so good. Stafford looks great in the preseason, showing no ill effects of his numerous injuries.

The Lions are solid at QB, with Shaun Hill and Drew Stanton as backups. So I won’t be crushed if Stafford doesn’t play 16 games. Let’s not forget, in the NFL, your starting QB playing (and finishing) all 16 games is the exception to the rule.

Yet I do believe Stafford can and will play the vast majority of the season, for a few reasons.

1. The injuries were flukey. I don’t see them happening again. It will shut up the  idiots who think the Lions need to draft another QB because “That damn Stafford is a wuss, always gettin’ his shoulder hurt.”

2. Stafford will stay on the field because the Lions offensive line is built for pass protection. He should avoid the big hits.

3. He’s also learned discretion is the better part of valor. Stafford has gotten hurt in the past trying to make a play when he would have been much better served unloading the ball. He’s learned from those past mistakes.

4. Most importantly, the Lions need to get a full season from Stafford because, pure and simple, the kid is uber-talented. He has the potential to become a top five QB, something we haven’t seen in Detroit since Bobby Layne was closing bars on Saturday, and winning games on Sunday, back in the 1950’s.

4. The Lions young pass rusher Ndamakong Suh has been getting numerous fines, including $20,000 for his hit on Andy Dalton. Do you think Suh should change his ways to avoid future suspensions?

Not at all. The hits are giving Suh a bit of a reputation with the refs. But there is a method to the madness. All Suh is doing is creating an atmosphere of fear with his preseason treatment of quarterbacks. You could see it working in the Lions’ 2nd exhibition against the Browns.  There were several throws Colt McCoy made out of fear, throwing early off his back foot, just to avoid getting run over by the Lions’ front four.

I don’t ever want to see Suh change his ways. It would be like asking Picasso to paint by numbers.

5. If Jim Schwartz does not get it done this year, is his job on the line?

Not at all, for a couple of reasons. One, owner William Clay Ford hates to fire employees. Just ask Matt Millen. It took destroying the Lions, leaving little more than scorched earth, before Ford got up the gumption to can the moron.

Two, people need to realize Jim Schwartz (and GM Martin Mayhew) took over a franchise in worse shape than an expansion team. The was little talent on the roster after the Millen error…rather…era, and what talent was there was beaten down by all the losing. Schwartz needed to change the culture, and weed out the remnants of the Millen era, which I believe he has.  Now he can get serious about building a contending team.

If the Lions play at or near .500, which should keep them in wild card contention all season long, most fans will be happy…for now. Next year, it’s a different story. The team has been building toward 2012 as the break out season. I think they are on track, but if they get a few bounces, the Lions could arrive a season earlier than expected.

6. Is it worrying you that everyone thinks the Lions are the surprise team of 2011?

Well…somewhat. Who am I kidding? Of course it worries me! The playoffs are an actual possibility, but I’m not getting carried away. The Lions do play in the same division as the Packers, after all. Best case scenario is a wild card berth.

I’ll be happy if they are playing meaningful games in December for the first time in well over a decade.

7. Bold Prediction: Will the Lions make the playoffs? Why or Why not?

As much as I want it to happen, no. The Lions are a season, and another productive draft, away from making the playoffs.

1. The Lions are still lacking in depth at several positions, injuries could quickly derail any momentum.

2. The defensive back seven is patchwork group, having been totally rebuilt (as mentioned above, the Lions signed two starting LB’s and a pair of starting CB’s) in the three day off season between the CBA being agreed upon and the start of camp. There’s some talent there, but it the front four doesn’t pressure the passer, it’s open season on the defensive backfield.

3. Stafford has yet to prove he can play the majority of a season, let alone 16 games. As I’ve said, I beleive he will…but there’s always the voice in the back of your mind saying, “He’s gonna get hurt, just wait and see…”

4. The Lions will be a pass first…actually, a pass all the time, team. The running game is a work in progress. Jahvid Best is a huge talent, but is as fragile as a Faberge egg. Without Leshoure, running between the tackles is only asking for trouble.  That could cost them in some close games.

5. It’s the Lions. Something bad will happen. It always does.

But next season? Look out!

Ricky Keeler

About Ricky Keeler

I am a senior at St. John's University, where I am majoring in sports management. I have been writing game previews here at Foxboro Blog for each of the last four seasons. Plus, you can catch my Yankees' coverage over at YanksGoYard.com.