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Fixing the Hapless Detroit Lions

Now that the poor Detroit Lions are down to 0-12 after being beaten by the Tennessee Titans on Thanksgiving…and now that they look set to become the first 0-16 team in NFL history… there are suggestions that they be included in the big federal bailout, especially as the Ford-owning family is asking to be rescued along with their auto company.

Alas, it seems unlikely that Congress will pull out its checkbook for the struggling Motown franchise, so it will have to settle for my help. Here is my big plan to fix the Lions.

Step #1: Give the offense a chance. Don’t handle it too much. Newcomer quarterback Daunte Culpepper is as good to me as any possible free agent acquisition, including Matt Cassel, who is doing well in the Patriots system but likely won’t replicate his success elsewhere. Kassel would also cost way too much money…better invest it in other parts of the team. Culpepper is also better than the two top college prospects… Matthew Stafford of Georgia and Sam Bradford of Oklahoma. Stafford looks mechanical at times and Bradford has been unprepared in a pro-style attack. Both could be good NFL QBs, but would they be great? Too many bets.

I would hire a new offensive coordinator who would call plays for sensational Calvin Johnson more than three times a game… try 15 or 20. Johnson is the main threat, so use him. I would let Johnson and Culpepper and young running back Kevin Smith work together and percolate… form a winning bond.

Solve the situation with Gosder Cherilus, the current No. 1 draft pick who has been a disaster…equal to the Lions’ run. He’s basically a statue at right tackle, unable to move his feet to block passers who turned Culpepper into a human sacrifice in the pocket. If Cherilus can’t improve at tackle in minicamps, try him at guard. If he can’t start there, cut him off and move on.

And speaking of Cherilus… how come Damien Woody was deemed inadequate last year at right tackle, but this year he’s leaving for the Jets, a much better team, at that same position? How could he be not good enough for the Lions but good enough for the Jets? If the Lions had kept him, they wouldn’t have taken Cherilus, and they could have picked a first running back like Felix Jones or Chris Johnson instead of an OK like Smith.

Do NOT write in an attacking left tackle with the No.1 selection, as is frequently suggested on the football internet. If incumbent Jeff Backus gave a rating of, say, 90, and the newcomer a rating of 100, sure, you’ve improved the team, but you haven’t improved it much. Stick with Backus. Give the offense some continuity.

Step 2: Rebuild the team thanks to this next draft exclusively on defense… more important than the offense in the frozen tundra of the NFC North. The Lions have four of the top 65 picks. If you use two in attack and two in defense, their impact is diffuse. Use all fours on defense to bring in a core of guys who would commit to turning the team around.

Of the current players, I would start with another core four… DT Corey Redding, OLB Ernie Sims, CB Leigh Bodden and S Daniel Bullocks. All are good young players, or should be. Redding has a huge contract, Bodden was the big free agent signing last year, Sims and Bullocks were high draft picks. Challenge them…give them high expectations of being the new leaders and motivate them to succeed.

Step #3: With the #1 overall pick, negotiate with agents for DE Michael Johnson of Georgia Tech, DT Peria Jerry of Mississippi and MLB James Laurinaitis of Ohio State. The fast and powerful 6-foot-7, 260-pound Johnson has swarmed through and around a good Miami team. The raging Jerry seemed unblockable against LSU. Laurinaitis is a fiery and mobile hitter in the middle.

The Lions would be much better with any of these guys in a key position, but I’d do my best for Johnson. A rushing first end is the biggest difference a defense can have…and the hardest to find. Imagine the Lions with a Georgia Tech Johnson (Calvin) leading the offense and another Georgia Tech Johnson (Michael) leading the defense. If nothing else, you could market these two. They would be a big hit in Atlanta.

Besides, when I say all this, I do not claim to be an expert. I’ve never played the game. I don’t know the Xs and O’s or the nth degree technical nuances. I only have two eyes and I can watch these players on TV. And really, how can I, as an amateur, do much worse than the front office “experts” who drove the Lions into the ground?

Step #4: If agents prove intractable with silly requests, don’t back down. Try something new… try it the eBay way. Announce that you are auctioning off the No. 1 pick with a contract for a certain salary and signing bonus. Let players (and their agents) apply.

So who would apply? Any player who didn’t think he would be drafted high enough to get the same amount of money the Lions would offer. Set a money level that is not too high, but high enough to attract a large number of good players to choose from. Defeat the agents and lead your own team; don’t let the agents beat you and run your team for you.

Step #5: Let’s think positive and assume the Lions manage to catch Johnson. They then have the Dallas pick (traded by Roy Williams) probably at the end of the first round. Clint Sintim of Virginia of OLB and Brian Cushing of USC may still be there. They’re both 6-3, 255. Either would be a great matchup against the smaller Sims in the linebacking corps.

Next is the first pick of the second round, No. 33 overall. MLB Jasper Brinkley of South Carolina should wait. Here is a guy who is 6-2, 275 with an indicated time of 4.75 seconds on the 40-yard dash. Those stats seem almost too good to be true…but wouldn’t you love a guy like that on your team patrolling the middle? I want.

Next is the first pick of the third round, No. 65 overall. What would be wrong with Michigan’s DT Terrance Taylor if he’s available? He is a good stopper and would be motivated to play in his home country. I never understood why the Lions snubbed U. of M. products the way they did…players like Lamar Woodley (young Pittsburgh star), David Harris (young Jets star), Steve Breaston (Cardinals young star) or Shawn Crable (potential young star with the Patriots). None went in the first round and could have been picked up.

Step 6: So now, all of a sudden, we have eight young players to resurrect a defense that after Game 12 ranked worst in the league in points against per game (32.8), worst in the league in rushing yards given up per game (176.9) and second worst in the league in total yards given up per game (394.3). These are “Animal House” numbers.

That leaves us with a vacant DE spot, a CB and an S. I’d bet on players at those positions lower in the draft… hopefully one of them turns out to be a gem as it turned out apparently produced for every other NFL team but the Lions… and let them compete with the veterans in training camp.

OK, it does. Mr. Ford, I’m available.

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