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PFW: Lions Trying to Put Something Positive on Tape for 2009

From: Pro Football Weekly

It’s not a big surprise that the Lions have been somewhat competitive in recent weeks, despite their continued losing. By all accounts, the roster is made up of some proud veterans and some hungry young players, and all of them know that in a season of despair, there almost certainly will follow with a serious purging for 2009.

That means that whoever is running the team next season, both as head coach and in the front office, those people will look hard at the players who give maximum effort and productivity as the pieces that will remain. Of course, many will not.

“They really don’t have any depth to speak of,” one NFL talent evalulator said. “It’s amazing. They are very thin at spots, and some of those areas were ones that they tried to fix last season.”

Those areas include the defense, specifically at linebacker and in the secondary, and also the running game. The defense has been a disaster this season, other than a decent pass rush, and the secondary — which was overhauled in the offseason — has been a major disappointment. So too has the running game, despite some flashes from rookie RB Kevin Smith. It’s not all his fault; he only has started for part of the season, and the offensive line hasn’t opened too many big holes consistently. It also hurts that the team has tended to fall behind, putting the passing game more in play.
But there are some pieces beyond the obvious core of talent — WR Calvin Johnson, LB Ernie Sims and some of the defensive ends — who have a chance to make up for these shortcomings by playing well down the stretch.

One player on that list is OLT Jeff Backus, the eighth-year veteran who at times has been underwhelming, especially for having once been named the team’s franchise player at one of the more important positions on the field. Last season, especially the first half, was a nightmare for Backus. But quietly, he has had a respectable season, allowing nine sacks (compared to 15.5 last season), despite facing some top defensive ends in recent weeks. Backus is the 12th-highest-paid tackle in the game, slated to have a cap figure of $7.3 million, which is not too unwieldy. Given that the O-line is an area of need, expect Backus to stay.

Other more expensive veterans whose late-season performances could keep them around next season include C Dominic Raiola and DT Cory Redding.


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