The Detroit Lions should be able to fill this pressing need in the NFL Draft, but what round?
There is much focus on the Lions' issues at cornerback, but especially if they re-sign pending free agent Chris Houston, they have much more depth at corner than at safety (last year's 6th-round pick Jonte Green played surprisingly well as a rookie and 3rd -round pick Bill Bentley will be back). But cornerback would still hardly be categorized as a strength.
Desmond Trufant: Most underrated player in this NFL Draft
I do see Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner as a possible pick for the Lions at fifth overall. There were questions about his speed. He answered them at the combine with a 4.37 40 time. Washington cornerback Desmond Trufant will also rocket up the draft board. He performed extemely well duirng the Senior Bowl workouts and ran essentially as fast (4.38) as Millender at the combine. Trufant is Millender's equal, in my opinion, as a prospect.
If the Lions draft a corner in the first round, they still need to augment safety. Is it worth a second-round pick? The talent at safety is certainly there to justify an early pick. Eric Reid from LSU is a tremendous player, who worked out surpriingly well at the combine. And remember this name: Jonathan Cyprien from Florida International. He missed the combine workouts because of a hamstring injury, but is an outstanding player, who showed well at the Senior Bowl. Neither would be a stretch should they fall to the fifth pick of the second round.
As for an edge rusher, it's still on the plate in the first round for the Lions. LSU's Barkevious Mingo and Oregon's Dion Jordan worked out exceptionally well. BYU's Ziggy Ansah is beyond intriguing as a pure athlete. It could depend on whether they re-sign Cliff Avril during the free agency period.
My live chat Monday on Lions and NFL combine, Red Wings, Michigan-Michigan State, Tigers and Bruce Rondon
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Denard Robinson's NFL Draft stock probably fell at combine Sunday
Will likely be viewed as "project"
I've seen projections that former Michigan quarterback and current wide receiver candidate Denard Robinson will be a third- to fifth-round selection in the upcoming NFL Draft.
But my best guess, following the combine workouts Sunday, is Robinson will be drafted, but no earlier than the fifth round.
While Robinson is fast, he didn't run a 40-yard dash at the combine at the very top end of the wide receiver list. His lack of experience at wide receiver was apparant during the receiving drills. He also has a persistent injury issue with his elbow.
In comparison, the wide receivers, who really helped themselves in the 40-yard dash Sunday, were Tavon Austin of West Virginia and Ryan Swoop of Texas A&M. Like Robinson, a spread option QB at Michigan, both were very productive as college players. They were, however, very productive at wide receiver.
Less and less teams are looking for developmental projects. Robinson falls in that category as a receiver. It doesn't mean Robinson won't get his NFL shot. He clearly will, but it is seems less and less likely it will be as an early-round draft choice.
Free agent Lions least can least afford to lose (but they might)
Chris Houston: Has been quality corner for Lions
Lately, Lions' general manager Martin Mayhew has received criticism for moves that have gone wrong. It's certainly justfiable. The Lions were 4-12 last year. That fact, alone, says a lot.
However, the seasons prior, the Lions make considerable progress. Their 10-6 record in 2011 and playoff appearance was in part because of solid moves by Mayhew.
One of those was acquiring Houston, a former second-round draft choice of the Atlanta Falcons, prior to the 2010 season for a sixth-round draft pick, and also swapping fifth-round selections in the '11 draft.
The knock on Houston in Atlanta is that he lacked ball skills, but he played a paramount role in the Lions' turnaround, especially in 2011 when he intercepted five passes. Last season, the interceptions dropped to two, but he played reasonably well. This is not to suggest Houston is a classic shutdown cornerback, but the Lions stuggled mightily at the other cornerback spot because of injuries in '12. Opposing QBs didn't throw as much Houston's way, even though he was often assigned the opposition's best receiver man-to-man. Also, Houston has been reasonably priced. His contact, signed before 2011, was at an average of $3 million per year. He will draw much interest in free agency. It is a very weak market for cornerbacks - and the need is always there.
Yet, it is premium position. Houston is not worthy of the franchise tag at more than $10 million for this coming season.
But for all the talk about re-signing free agent defensive end Cliff Avril, I'm not sure if Houston isn't more of a priority. Why? The list of high-end cornerbacks in the upcoming NFL Draft doesn't essentially exit (Alabama's Dee Milliner doesn't qualify, especially now that it's been revealed he has shoulder issues). There are many high-end edge passing rushing hybrid end/linebackers, who have exceptionally high ceilings (LSU's Barkevious Mingo, Georgia's Jarvis Jones, Texas A&M's Damontre Moore, Florida State's Bjoern Werner).
One concern is age. Houston will turn 29 in October (Avril will turn 27 in April).
To say Tayshaun Prince ranks among all-time great Piston players would be a stretch. It is more like he is in the next tier.
Tayshaun Prince: Will be fondly remembered
He was a good, solid, consistent NBA player for the Pistons for a decade. There were times when he looked like a great player - when the Pistons had terrific teams during a six-year stretch of making the Eastern Conference finals, and advanced to the NBA Finals twice, winning it with a shocking upset of the Lakers in 2004.
When the Pistons' talent overall waned, so did Prince's reputation as player. He was the last of the "Going to Work" Pistons remaining when he was traded to Memphis recently (Prince returns to The Palace tonight with the Grizzlies for the first time since leaving), but it almost seemed at times like he wasn't still on the team at the end, even if he was still getting significant minutes.
He wasn't Ben Wallace (his acquistion was the biggest reason the Pistons turned into legitimate contenders), or Rasheed Wallace (he was the final piece of the title puzzle) nor Richard Hamilton and Chauncy Billups (they became arguably the best backcourt in the league for an extended span and were amazingly clutch). Prince was the fifth wheel, albeit it very good one. He was an excellent defender, a contributer offensively and played team ball. For the 23rd overall pick in the draft, he presented the Pistons tremendous value.
Prince will undoubtedly receive a warm reception upon his return tonight, and it will be deserved.
The Pistons were the right team at the right time for Prince, and vice versa. However, he wasn't necessarily a differencemaker for the Pistons of that era. The other four starters definitely were.
Defensive end Cliff Avril told Pro Football Talk on the NBC Sports Network his chances of returning to the Lions are "50-50."
I think that's a pretty accurate number.
Cliff Avril: Not a given he will be leaving Detroit
There is a common misconception about Avril that he he didn't have a good year in 2012. Actually, he maintained a relatively high level of play even after much of the Lions' defense was falling apart around him. He does want to stay in Detroit, but understands the business aspect of the game, which in the NFL is to make money while you can quickly, because there are no tomorrows guaranteed because of the sport's rugged nature.
He did get $10.6 million for last season carrying the franchise tag. So Avril has already made some big cash.
The Lions can back-load a contract for him with a hefty signing bonus in order to spread the salary cap number over the long term (he is just 26). It would not preclude the Lions from drafting a defensive end with the fifth overall pick in the first round. It would only make the notion of more plausible because bookend, high-level defensive ends would greatly benefit their flagging secondary because of the pass rush aspect.
And Avril would benefit from staying here because he is going to be single-teamed most of the time because of the attention opposing offenses must pay to Lions' defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.
So while the idea Avril would not be returning seemed likely when last season ended, as the free agent period approaches, there is a possibility he will stay. Both parties might fit each other after all.
The International Olympic Committee evidently has decided the Olympics are no longer sports whatsoever, but a reality television show.
Steve Fraser: Pride of Hazel Park
That's because they took wrestling off the menu in favor of a list of sports which have been added down through the years designed, obviously, to boost television ratings.
There is no sport which embodies the Olympic spirit more than wrestling. It involves strength, agility, toughness, discipline and sacrifice. It is also an Olympic original.
Some of the greatest Olympic heroes ever in this nation - Dan Gable, Rulon Gardner and Hazel Park's Steve Fraser, among them - were wrestlers.
It can be compelling sport to the highest degree, but during recent Olympics, NBC has virtually ignored it in this country during prime time on the main network in favor of endless hours of women's beach volleyball.
I don't have any issue with beach volleyball being an Olympic sport, or most of the X Games type of events. The coverage is extensive enough these days that viewers can watch pretty much what they want on, in this case NBC's, auxiliary networks. But wrestling is engrained the collective soul of the Olympic Games. This decision brings into question the credibility of the IOC and its objective.
At its core, one of the best things baseball in this town has offered, even in an era of ridiculous player contracts, is relative value to attend games.
When I was a teenager, it was a true value - $2 to sit in the center field bleachers at Tiger Stadium. It was lousy seat to watch the game, actually, but there were something like 10,000 of those lousy cheap seats. I looked at it as paradise at the time. Sitting out there on warm summer nights with my buddies was a treasure.
So, please, don't take this like I'm unsympathetic to the plight of fans upset the Tigers have raised ticket prices.
Yet, I do understand the increase on two fronts.
One is supply and demand. The Tigers are a hot ticket these days,. They have made the playoffs two years in a row, and three of the last seven years. They have reached the World Series twice since 2006. They are popular.
You can get a ticket very inexpensively to the Pistons these days. It was not like that during the "Bad Boys" or "Going to the Work" eras.
There is a price to pay at box office for on-the-field success
Secondly, the Tigers have consistently put significant funds into their club. They have re-signed their young stars like Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera to huge contracts rather than letting them leave as free agents. They have not hesitated, for many years, to sign or trade for expensive players. The classic examples the last two off seasons: The Prince Fielder and Torii Hunter free agent signings.
Also, the Tigers ticket prices are less than many other organizations.
As for back in the day, the bleachers weren't full most of those nights. And when the Tigers did develop a championship-caliber team, they let three of their main parts get away as free agents - Lance Parrish, Kirk Gibson and Jack Morris.
So in a sense, Tiger fans are at least getting what they pay for with a quality team on the field.
For the Jeff Backus detractors: Be careful what you ask for (you just might get it)
Lions' left tackle Jeff Backus has been a linchpin for controversy in this town from the time he was Matt Millen's initial first-round draft choice.
I've always found it odd. This is not Titus Young Sr. we're talking about here. Backus has been the ultimate "lunch bucket" NFL player in a town where even the white collar workers consider themselves blue collar. He is there every day in practice, and had an extraordinarily long streak of consecutive starts at one of the most demanding positions in the league (186). He went to Michigan, and Backus has been a solid player on mostly bad teams, a part of a solution, really, rather than a problem.
Yet, despite facing such difficult opponents on a regular basis (Jared Allen, Julius Peppers, Clay Mathews Jr in recent years) and mostly holding his own, Backus isn't exactly a beloved figure. he has been more a source of consternation.
Backus has been solid facing the best like Allen
When Jim Schwartz came to the Lions, he talked about how Backus played at a Pro Bowl level. I felt that was a stretch, but that he is certainly a better player than the countless people calling sports talk radio and vilifying him. I've always figured he was in the middle of left tackles in the NFL - better than half the starters, and not as proficient as the elite players at his spot. When the Lions put the franchise tag on Backus in 2006, and then signed him to long extension, he was probably overpaid. But the Lions, at the time, weren't exactly salary capped-strapped because they had premier players. Backus' current contract is reasonable - reportedly a $3.5 million cap hit for next season, and they need him.
He has had some injuries in recent seasons and will turn 36 in September, but he performed reasonably well last season and the Lions might be wise to use Riley Reiff, their first-round draft choice from last year, at another spot on their re-tooled offensive line now that Stephen Peterman has been released. Right tackle Gosder Cherilus is a free agent and to be re-signed by the Lions would be costly given his play has been spotty and there will be a market for him. Ideally, the Lions plug the guard spot, have Backus back at left tackle and Reiff starting at right tackle.
If Backus decides to retire, which he is reportedly contemplating, it would complicate matters for the Lions.
Why the Red Wings are standing on a very slippery-slope
Niklas Kronwall (right) and Red Wings need to win now
Even in a 48-game season, it's early. If it ended now, the Red Wings wouldn't be in the playoffs, but they are close to getting in - just a point from being the eighth seed in the Western Conference, just four points from being the fourth seed.
Parity rules in the NHL in an era when an eighth-seed, the Los Angeles Kings, captured the Stanley Cup last season.
But there is no sugar coating the Red Wings' losses the last two games at home to Columbus and Calgary. Down the road, getting zero points in those games could cost the Red Wings mightily. The Flames and the Bluejackets are the bottom two teams in the Western Conference. It's the only road victory for both.
The way the Red Wings' schedule is set up, it is going to be very difficult to make up ground later in the season. Winning home games now is vital. The Red Wings play at St. Louis Thursday, and then have four straight home games. In fact, eight of their next 10 games following the trip to St. Louis are at home. The downside is, in March, the Red Wings face road trips from hell. First a swing to Western Canada, then a long West Coast trip. From March 13-28, the Red Wings play eight games, seven in Western Canada or on the West Coast, with one game at home against perhaps the Western Conference's most talented team, Minnesota.
The ground the Red Wings are not gaining now against the likes of struggling teams like Calgary and Columbus at home now could be very costly later. If they don't start taking advantage of their schedule now, it could prevent the Red Wings from gaining a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in more than two decades.
The Red Wings have had their share of injuries, and there is an extremely weird dynamic to this lockout-shortened season, but, honestly, there is no excuse for the Red Wings performance the last two games. The third goal scored by Calgary last night was particularly disturbing. The Red Wings fell behind 2-0, but had scored and appeared ready to pounce in the third period, but let up a soft goal by Calgary defenseman Dennis Wideman with less than a minute remaining in the second period.
It was one of those moments when you could literally sense the air coming out of the Red Wings' sails. Too many moments like it, and their playoff aspirations will be over before you can blink and ask, "What happened?"
Michigan soared to the top spot of the polls last week, but once there, in a severe test at Indiana Saturday night, they didn't pass for the same reason they lost at Ohio State earlier this season: Two of their prized freshmen had subpar games.
Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas are tremendous players. When they play well, so do the Wolverines collectively. When they don't play well, Michigan struggles.
Glenn Robinson III
At Indiana, Robinson played 40 minutes and took just six shots. He didn't score until a meaningless breakaway dunk late in the game. It was almost as if he wasn't on the floor. At Ohio State, he played 38 minutes and had just one rebound. In 78 minutes at Ohio State and Indiana, Robinson has taken only 14 shots. Part of the reason is he must move better without the ball. Part of it is getting him more involved in the offense. That falls on Michigan's coaches and point guard Trey Burke, who has played brilliantly, but there have been too many instances when his teammates are standing around at tight times of these tough road tests, expecting Burke to just do it. The Wolverines will perform much better in these situations if there is flow in their offense.
Stauskas is one of the most-gifted 3-point shooters ever in the Big Ten.. That much, already, is evident, but he hasn't hit his shots in these big road games (1-for-8 behind the 3-point line at Ohio State and at Indiana, combined).
Freshman Mitch McGary has performed admirably in these games, running the floor exceptionally well for his size and finishing near the basket.
But if the Wolverines are going to win the Big Ten regular season and/or Big Ten Tournament titles, or take a deep run in the NCAA tournament, they need much better production than they received from Robinson III and Stauskas in their first severe Big Ten road tests. The next such game: A week from Tuesday at Michigan State, which follows a relatively testy encounter Saturday night at Wisconsin. The Wolverines play Ohio State at home Tuesday, but Stauskas and Robinson have played much better at home against similar competition.
Winning the Super Bowl isn't necessarily about the best team, but which
one is playing the best football at the right time. We saw it following
the 2010 season when the Packers, whose spot in the playoffs had been
iffy, rolled to three straight postseason road
victories, and then routed the Steelers in the Super Bowl. Last season,
the Giants were 7-7 and left for dead by the side of the road. Less
than two months later, they were hosting a parade in New York. I am
convinced its the Ravens' turn this year. After
sputtering late in the regular season, they have knocked off Peyton
Manning and Tom Brady in back-to-back weeks. The 49ers are a little
better team overall. Their favorite status is not misplaced. But the
underdog has won five of the last 11 Super Bowls after
winning only once in the previous decade. I think the slight edge will
come at quarterback. Colin Kaepernick will finally be contained, and it
will prove to be Joe Flacco's time. Ravens 24, 49ers 21.
Pat Caputo is a sports columnist for The Oakland Press. Caputo covered the Tigers from 1986-98, and Lions from 1998-2002 for The Oakland Press before becoming a columnist. Caputo was raised in Birmingham and played baseball and football at Groves High School. His photograph playing high school sports appeared in The Oakland Press. He has won numerous writing awards, including first place in column writing from the Michigan Associated Press and the Michigan Press Association, and from the Detroit Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He has been named among the Top Ten sports columnists in the nation by the Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE), and has won honors in four of the APSE's six national award categories. He has garnered top national honors for his column writing and sports writing from the Local Media Association. Caputo, who has resided in Oakland County since he was nine years old, currently lives in Lake Orion. Caputo has a radio show weeknights and weekends on 97.1 FM, The Ticket, which is the flagship station for the Tigers, Lions and Red Wings. He also appears regularly on FOX 2 television on "SportsWorks."