Hondo breaks down the Lions starters, position by position.

Hondo S. Carpenter

Breakdown of the offensive and defensive starters as of Sunday the 29th of July
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OFFENSE
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QB Jon Kitna Grade:Â B-
There is no secret that Kitna is a fierce competitor. I think some of the shots leveled at Jon have been unfair. He had Pro Bowl numbers his last year as a starter in Cincinnati and with the Bengals having spent millions on Carson Palmer they had to make the switch. Kitna holds the ball too long and that has led to too many turnovers in the fourth quarter. Jon holds the ball too long because he is a competitor and wants to wait that extra second. It is humorous in that in the NFL the complaints are about QB’s that aren’t patient. Jon is the opposite. He is tough and will stand in the pocket and take a beating. That said if he can overcome holding the ball too long, and learn to throw it away rather than take unnecessary risks, the Lions will be fine. In fairness to Jon his critics continually point out that his interceptions in the fourth quarter are killers. I would agree. However, it is lazy journalism to not at least look at “why” they happen. The reason that his interception rate is so much higher in the fourth quarter is because he is trying to bring the team back and has to take some risks in the fourth quarter when the clock is not an ally. I think that he is a good QB and that ideally the Lions would like to get two more years out of him before they turn the reins over to Stanton.Â
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RB Tatum Bell Grade:Â C-
I have Bell listed here as a starter although I will tell you right now I don’t see any chance that he keeps this spot for the season. Tatum is a great guy, but if any of the people that are so enamored with his speed would look at tape, he is not tough and is injury prone. He has fumbling issues and is not a consistent pass catcher. Watch what you’re reading about him and all anyone talks about his speed. I love speed, but if you fumble, and are not durable then you are gone. I like him personally but speed isn’t the only equation that makes a good NFL back and now that the pads are on you will see that over time. I get so much email from people that say I am a Duckett guy instead of a Bell guy because Duckett is a Spartan. Listen, I love MSU but I am also a realist. I have said since last season ended not to look for KJ back until week 8. I have never wavered on that and now you are seeing others taking note also. Bell is not the answer to KJ’s absence. KJ gets a lot of criticism and that confounds me. He is also a great guy and he is a very good back. As soon as he is back that makes the Lions better but until then Tatum has the nod. Duckett will get his chance to take the spot come Oakland and I fully expect him to win it outright or be right in the hunt.
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FB Casey FitzSimmons Grade: C+
It is funny writing about a Lions FB and not talking about Sledge. Casey is a very good pass catcher, and is not afraid to step up and make the block. He is also good out of the backfield and with the amount of shuffling and shifting that Martz asks for out of this position you have to have good footwork and Casey does. He is not a prototypical NFL FB, but in the Martz system that isn’t what it is. Casey fits well for what Martz wants.
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TE Dan Campbell Grade:Â C
Dan is one of the best blocking TE’s in the NFL and has deceptive speed. He can get down field, especially in a seam and make some good catches. He is a great fit for what the Lions want. There are durability questions but when he is on the field he fits what the Lions want to a T!
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OT Jeff Backus Grade: D+
Backus is a serviceable tackle that certainly is not elite or even among the best. Last season he played horrible. The Lions took Calvin Johnson and I certainly think that was a good pick, but they also had their eye on Joe Thomas and rightfully so. I think Jeff is outplayed at this spot too much, suffers too many injuries that “nag” at him and lacks what a solid LT needs to be elite. I wanted the Lions to take Thomas and move Backus to the RT. I think he is simply out of position at the LT spot (something his play would prove) and he has to step it up big for the Lions. Here is a big prediction: If Jeff plays this season like last, the Lions will not get anywhere near the 10 wins that Kitna predicts. Again, I like Jeff personally but he is what he is and an elite LT he is not. He makes too many mental errors and Kitna gets too many sacks from Jeff’s guy.
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OT George Foster Grade:Â INC
Foster is a big man and the Broncos that can put together OL and RB stables with the best of them wouldn’t have essentially “let him” go without a reason. The reason is simply in that he lacks motivation on every down of every play. We all know that a new team and this being a contract year can help him, but the jury is out. Certainly he is very good when motivated, so let’s hope that he has it from day one for the Lions.
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OG Ed Mulitalo Grade: B+
Big Ed is simply a stud. He is coming off of an injury but is fine now. He has played at an elite level and has no motivation issues at all. If he can remain healthy then Millen stole him. He is essentially everything you want in a Marinelli guy and he has all the tools. The Lions had to upgrade the OL and with Big Ed they did. I love the big ugly OL. Want a treat Lions fans? The first pre-season game, keep an eye on him and see how this position is supposed to be played.
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OG Stephen Peterman Grade:Â C+
Peterman had a devastating injury and was released by the Cowboys. According to a conversation I had with Peterman back during the OTA’s, the Cowboys told him that he was finished. He was recovered enough by week 17 to be one of the bright spots during a Lions win in Dallas and he is motivated and hungry. Marinelli loves everything about this young man and although he doesn’t have as many starts as others, he has the tools. Watch the film of the Dallas game and you will love this guy. Woody may have taken a pay cut but the starter’s spot is Peterman’s to lose.
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C Dom Raiola Grade: A-
Pound for pound Raiola is one of the fiercest, meanest and best players in the NFL. He is small at 305# but there is no one on the Lions that is more of a competitor and plays harder. He doesn’t get injured, has tremendous lateral footwork, and is strong at the point of attack. Because he is not mammoth, he is susceptible to those huge gargantuan DT’s and that is why in the Martz system that is built on finesse more than brute force he fits so well. Lions’ fans have been brutal on Raiola but it isn’t his fault that in the past the Lions have not used a system that fits their personnel. Raiola, if he had been on a Colts team over the years he was in the league or with a Rams team with Martz, would be a perennial Pro Bowler. Instead, he has struggled with a Lions team that didn’t use him properly. Make no mistake that there is not a better C in the NFL in their system than Dom, and there isn’t a smarter football player at any position. He is totally in love with what Marinelli is doing and more than ANY captain on the team has the trust and respect of all of his teammates. He doesn’t ask them to do anything he won’t and is the hardest worker on the team.
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WR Roy Williams Grade:Â B
Roy has such incredible talent that when he takes plays off or demonstrates a work ethic that is less than stellar, it is so frustrating. He does take plays off and he does not give 100% all the time. Make no mistake, I like the guy, but he has the chance to be Hall of Fame elite and the only thing standing between him and that is his hunger for it. He is such a tremendous man; I hope that he wants to be the best. If he had Raiola’s work ethic I would bet my life savings that he would make it to Canton. Sadly, he doesn’t so the jury is still out. Even with question about his work ethic, he is still among the best. I am really looking to see him toughen up and play 100% all the time. With teams having to pay attention to all of the other Lions’ weapons, this is the ideal time for Williams to step to the front and announce to the league that he is elite. The question sadly is will he?
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WR Mike Furrey Grade: B
Furrey brings to the game exactly what you would think Marinelli would be like if he was a WR. He is fearless. He is tough. If you gave him Roy’s talent he would be a sure fire Hall of Famer. He is not afraid of anything and even with him moving to the slot this year he will get his share of balls. Teams will overlook this warrior and he will get into seams where he can catch the ball. He catches just about anything that comes near him and he plays football the way Joe Six Pack sitting at home wants to. With all of the questions that dodge Roy about his “heart” or “passion” for the game, Furrey has none of those. He is a leader in the locker room and he is a tireless worker.
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WR Calvin Johnson Grade:Â INC
I have never seen an athlete in any sport like Calvin. Go back and read my archived OTA reports to see all that I wrote. I saw him move and contort his body to make catches that would be illegal in 27 states. Granted in the OTA’s there wasn’t hitting (allegedly) but CJ possesses all the tools. He is a rookie and will have a learning curb, but he is coming into a team with two very good WR’s so he won’t have to be the man and until he can do some things on the field that separate him from Roy, he will get a lot of single coverage. He will be a red zone threat for the fade with his speed but don’t be shocked (wink wink) if you see him catch some balls over the middle and he flat outruns everyone for some long gains.
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DEFENSE
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DT Shaun Rogers Grade:Â D+
Shaun Rogers could be the best DT in the NFL. He lacks discipline, was suspended by the NFL for taking banned substances, and you never know if the game changer or the lazy disinterested player will show up. Is my D+ rough? Yes! Is it fair? Heck yes. The Lions took a risk and paid him a lot of money. Marinelli was unable to get through to him last year. He wasn’t ready for training camp because he was overweight and even though off field issues went away, it didn’t change that at best he was guilty of once again bad judgment. Shaun shows enough flashes to get a hallelujah from the faithful but not enough to be even close to elite. He has to decide that either he is going to man up and make Marinelli look like a genius for believing in him, or he is going to make Marinelli look bad for taking the chance. I have said for two years and I stand by it, “I don’t think he is a winner, I think he is a whiner.” He is a detriment to this team. The Lions overpaid him based on production, and if he doesn’t play motivated all season and get his butt in camp and practice like the warrior Marinelli wants his guys to be, they should cut him. I am disappointed that he is still on this team and I think that the Lions let Bell and Hall go and if those same reasons would have been applied fairly to Rogers that he would be gone also. The Lions believe that with those “distractions” out of the locker room that Rogers will be fine. I don’t believe it and I doubt it. I HOPE AND PRAY THAT I AM WRONG. This is a project that Marinelli wanted and got. Until I see it, he is nothing more than his nickname, Big Baby. Don’t tell me how good he can be I see it like the rest of you. Show me how good he has been on a consistent basis. Sadly the market to trade him would be little or nothing and the Lions kept him. The sooner he is gone the happier I will be and the better I feel the Lions will be. Let me say again, I hope he proves me wrong but don’t bet on it.
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DT Cory Redding Grade: B
I give Cory that grade based upon a super season last year. He has struggled, no doubt, as a Lion but as soon as Marinelli put him in the right spot he shined. He is a hard worker. He is a good guy. He is not a jerk in the locker room and he is a football player. Money will not affect him or his play. He is a man that takes a lot of pride in himself and how he conducts himself and if anything he will be better in ‘07 and you could see him be elite.Â
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DE Dewayne White Grade:Â C+
White is a high character football guy that will get the chance this season to really step up. In Tampa he didn’t have to be the man. He has shown flashes of brilliance and the plethora of DE depth with Tampa kept that from getting to shine on a regular basis. I think that I may have him rated lower than he should be, but his play this season can change that.  There was a lot of disappointment in Tampa when they were not able to resign him. He loves Marinelli like a father and he wanted to get to the D as fast as he could. He is a good solid player.
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DE Kalimba Edwards Grade: F
Again, I like Kalimba and this is not personal. I said at the time to the Lions and to all of you that they way overpaid for him and they got what I thought he was worth. In the last game of the season after signing this big deal he got benched. Money didn’t change Kalimba; he just doesn’t play well on Sundays. He looks good in practice, he has all the size and speed issues, but he can’t get it to translate on the field. I root for him because he is such a quality person but again, the Lions took a leap for a guy (like Backus and Rogers) and he hasn’t come through. He and Backus both got huge paydays last year and both were bad last season. In fairness, Backus was not as bad, but for the money they both got, they should have been charged with theft. Listen, Kalimba is on a short list with me. He has to pick it up or we may see a lot of IAF early. In fact, I hope we see a lot of IAF early because Kalimba can’t be trusted to produce. Let’s all say a prayer that the Lions get Simeon Rice. I want to see it, but I don’t.
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LB Ernie Sims Grade:Â B+
Ernie is the best defensive player that the Lions have and the sky is the limit for his potential. He works hard and has no off field issues. He is smart, he listens and he hits like a locomotive. He is feared already in this league and gives you everything he has both in games and practice. The only issue that keeps him from an A, and an issue that Joe Barry has really worked with him on in the off-season; getting turnovers. He has to keep his head up and get an interception or at least have better ball awareness when getting blocked by bigger guys to fall on the pigskin when it is laying on the carpet. Sims is a stud. Let your man love thermometers go off the chart. He is a special star that we all get to see right in front of our eyes.
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LB Boss Bailey Grade:Â D
Boss has a bad grade because he hasn’t been able to get and stay on the field. He has all of the tools to be good and to dominate in the Tampa Two. Will he? Who knows! Boss has the speed that can’t be taught, what he has to learn is to play off of instinct. In fairness he simply has not been healthy enough to develop those instincts. If he can stay healthy I think he could do a very good job. At this point in his career, however, it is time to fish or cut bait. Boss has to stay healthy and play a whole season, something that you hope for but have to wonder about.
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LB Paris Lenon Grade:Â C
Paris is going to surprise some people. I am in no way saying that he is a Brian Urlacher but he certainly is not a flop. I have to scratch my head with the little amount of love that he gets. He came in last season and did a very adequate job considering he was learning on the fly. From everything I have seen and heard, Teddy Lehman is the guy the Lions want to stay healthy and win the MLB role from Lenon, but that is no slam on Paris. He is a hard worker and he brings it every game and practice. He is a very adequate player. He isn’t a star but he isn’t a chump.
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S Daniel Bullocks Grade:Â INC
I realize that an INC grade will make some folks scratch their heads, but Bullocks showed some signs last season that made a lot of people who watch games closely or review tape religiously shout a big Amen! By the end of the season, he was playing with his instincts and not over thinking the game, something I mentioned earlier that Boss needed to do. Daniel is blessed with some real physical tools and the good sign last season was that he got better the more he was on the field. I think that with another year of improvement we may actually see the S position with Kennedy be one of the strong positions on this team. Daniel is quiet, but he is smart. I look for him to just keep getting better. I am not allowed to give specifics, but this off-season I kept a keen eye on him and he was moving better and was playing without having to think. I am really excited to witness his maturation this season.
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S Kenoy Kennedy Grade: C+
Kenoy hasn’t been a Pro Bowler, but he is a very good S. When the Lions signed him as a FA he was one of the most sought after guys on the market. He is a heavy hitter. People forget that he had a transition last season as well to a new system. He may not be a rookie, but he, like everyone else, had a learning curve. What hurt Kenoy last season was Marinelli wanted to run his Tampa Two and Donnie Henderson wanted to blitz more. It was that issue that led to Henderson being shown the door. Not one player on this team suffered more from that philosophical battle than Kennedy. One week he was supposed to play the Tampa Two and the other it was blitz coverage or blitzing outright. He struggled and for a reason. I know that the players love his effort and leadership and he is certainly rising up as one of the veteran leaders. With all that he went through last season he never complained and never once did anything other than buy into what Coach Marinelli was selling. He will be fine and Lions’ fans will see a much better Kennedy this season.
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CB Stanley Wilson Grade:Â INC
There is perhaps no position in football (other than QB) with as big of a learning curve than CB. Wilson came in with a lot of hope and he also struggled like the rest of the DB’s with the Henderson version of the Tampa Two that Marinelli stepped in and stopped. He, now, is able to go through the whole off season learning what people want and expect and not having to adjust that during the season. Wilson has all the tools physically and mentally to make it and be a player in this league. One thing that they like about him is that he has no ego at all. He is teachable and has huge expectations on himself. This season will tell us a lot about Wilson, but I am comfortable with him being a starter. It is up to him to keep the job however. Wilson loves to hit. That is something that is critical in the Tampa Two. He will get to show that early as teams try to attack him, and I think, especially in the third exhibition game, we will see that.
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CB Fernando Bryant Grade:Â INC
Now, before you email and rip me for an incomplete grade here at least hear me out. Before Bryant came to the Lions he didn’t suffer from the injury bug. I don’t know if it is something in the ink in Allen Park when guys cash their checks, but he has suffered while here. A good way to gauge a guy with injuries is to listen to his teammates and see what they think. I don’t know one guy that isn’t pulling for Fernando. He can lay the wood, he is fast, and he has all the physical tools and mental tools to be a player. I look for him to really rebound and if he can remain healthy, I wouldn’t be surprised if we look back at the end of the season and see him as a shining star. Unlike Bailey who has suffered injuries all through his career, he hasn’t, so I truly think an INC is fair.

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