Friday, January 30, 2009

Bullpen Puts Tigers AL Central Rivals Out Front

One of the points of emphasis Tigers manager Jim Leyland is making this off season is to concentrate on doing better against American League Central clubs.
Focus from Day One of spring training will be on this, Leyland is saying.
The Tigers finished last in the division in 2008 largely because they couldn’t beat their A.L. Central rivals. They were 27-45 within the division. It is a factor that carried over from the 2007 season when the Tigers finished 14 games above .500 overall, yet were just .500 (36-36) vs. the A.L. Central.
I have a theory on this. It relates to the bullpen. It’s the biggest factor within the division. The White Sox have Bobby Jenks, the Twins Joe Nathan and the Royals Joakin Soria, who had 42 saves last season. The Indians got surprisingly good work out of their bullpen in 2007, but struggled there last season. They have, however, added Kerry Wood.
In regard to the batting order, or even starting pitching rotation if you look at what could happen if the they have a couple bounce back seasons, the Tigers stack up favorably compared to their A.L. Central foes.
It’s the bullpen, particularly closing games, where each other club has a clear advantage.
Brandon Lyon is a stop-gap measure. The Tigers need Ryan Perry, their first-round draft choice from last season, to move quickly.
Otherwise, they are still going to behind their division rivals in a very key area.

Random Thoughts

- It was wonderful Aaron Downey is back with the Red Wings. They needed him against the Stars because they had taken so many cheapshots at the Red Wings the previous two meetings between the teams this month. Darren McCarty is a better player than Downey, so it was understandable why he was left off the postseason roster last season. But it wasn’t fair to Downey, who deserves every bit of the considerable respect he gets in this town.

- I don’t see a scenario where the Cardinals beat the Steelers Sunday. The Cardinals haven’t seen a defense close to the Steelers this postseason. Look for more than a few turnovers from Kurt Warner. The Cardinals big hope: The Giants did shock the Patriots last season.

- The Red Wings better get going if they want to secure home ice advantage for the playoff. They are eight points behind the Sharks and San Jose has a game in hand. The Red Wings should benefit from the schedule, though. They’ll be home a lot more than have recently.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Splitting Hairs: Zetterberg Or Datsyuk Future Red Wings Captain

Nobody is surprised the Red Wings locked up Henrik Zetterberg with a long-term contract. He is a terrific player, destined to be one of the Red Wings’ all-time greats. It appears to be a creative deal, too, one that will allow the Red Wings some flexibility with the salary cap.
I do wonder, however, if Zetterberg is still the obvious heir apparent to Nicklas Lidstrom as the Red Wings captain.
What about Pavel Datsyuk? He is older, has been with the Red Wings longer and is, arguably, the better player. Granted, it is just splitting hairs when you are talking about these two great players. I still think the odds of the Red Wings keeping both Marian Hossa and Johan Franzen following this season are slim.
The better bet: Franzen stays, Hossa goes. There is only so much Red Wings general manager Ken Holland can do with the salary cap, especially considering it could go down in the future because of the flagging economy.

Random Thoughts

- The Red Wings still received a point Tuesday for their overtime loss at Columbus, despite essentially playing without Zetterberg, Brad Stuart, Nicklas Lidstrom and Datsyuk for virtually the entire game.
Still, if they finish just one point short of securing home-ice advantage for the playoffs, suspending Lidstrom and Datsyuk for the Columbus game will go down as one of the worst things Gary Bettman has done as NHL commissioner.

- Count me among those who feel Kurt Warner belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but only if he and the Cardinals turn in a respectable performance Sunday. That doesn’t necessarily mean winning the game, but not having it be an awful performance.

- Some might think the Lions’ town meeting was disingenuous, but I think it was a good thing. Matt Millen purposely distanced the Lions organization from their fan base. Reconnecting is good from both sides. To me, the town hall meeting was a good start in that regard. It’s a sign Tom Lewand gets it in a certain way Millen did not.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Lions Linehan Should Put In Wildcat Package

Texas Tech QB Graham Harrell was awful in the Senior Bowl. His arm strength was so underwhelming, it’s doubtful he will be drafted until the sixth or seventh round.
West Virginia’s Pat White was really good, but mostly running the spread option.
Word out of Miami is that Bill Parcells is interested in drafting White to run the Dolphins’ "wildcat" formation. I would think new Lions’ offensive coordinator Scott Linehan would put in a "wildcat" package this coming season. It is the coming wave in football - and one more thing for opposing defenses to be concerned about.
It could make spread option college quarterbacks more valuable in the draft, albeit still as a specialty niche. Doubt any NFL team will have the courage to go to the spread full time, at least for awhile.
The ideal combination for a "wildcat" specialist would be somebody who could only run the formation effectively from scrimmage, but also return kicks.
The current prototype is Joshua Cribbs, a terrific kick returner for the Browns, who was an option quarterback in college at Kent State.

Random Thoughts

- I do like the MLB Network. The best thing I’ve seen on it so far was a kinescope of Don Larsen’s perfect game during the 1956 World Series. It was the original telecast in its entirety - including commercials. Fantastic stuff, really. This week, they have been replaying the 2006 World Series. The Tigers really let it get away from them. Kenny Rogers was great in Game 2, though. I do wonder if it might be worth signing him, but when I asked Dave Dombrowski about it Saturday at TigerFest, the indication is that they aren’t considering it.

- Don’t you think the integrity of hockey would have been far better served if Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk had been fined rather suspended for a game for missing that ridiculous All Star game Sunday? Typical NHL, eh?

- Seems to me like a good hit in hockey is being taken too personally these days. That’s all levels, even the NHL. There is no need to seek revenge for a good, legal hit. It’s part of the game, isn’t it?

- I see two players holding the key to the Red Wings as play resumes after the All Star break. One is Henrik Zetterberg, the other is Niklas Kromwell. Both are excellent players who haven’t played up to their high standards so far this season.

- I’m certain I can’t be alone in this thought, but shouldn’t the last thing the Lions consider is bringing back Daunte Culpepper, especially if it involves picking up a $7 million contract option?

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Bullpen Remains A Sticky Proposition For Tigers

I don’t think signing Brandon Lyon in itself is necessarily a bad move by the Tigers. They sorely need veteran bullpen depth as a bridge toward the future and what looks like a good crop of relievers they are developing in the minor leagues.
It’s just the prospect of Lyon and Fernando Rodney closing games for the Tigers at the start of the season isn’t promising. Both have done well in stretches - Lyon in 2003 with Boston before having Tommy John surgery, and the first half of last season with the Diamondbacks - and Rodney in 2006 and toward the end of last season. Neither has been able to do so consistently. Lyon is a good middle reliever. He doesn’t walk many hitters and knows how to get out jams in those situations. He doesn’t throw that hard or have a real outpitch, which causes problems when ending the game. Rodney’s success seems totally predicated on how hard he throws. When he’s in the mid-90s with his fastball, it provides a separation in speed between his changeup, which is an extraordinary pitch, that makes him very difficult to hit. His struggles come when his velocity comes down, which is often. Then nibbles with his fastball early in the count and never gets to setup his changeup.
I do think Juan Rincon might help the Tigers. He hasn’t pitched well in recent years, but Tigers pitching coach Rick Knapp is familiar from Rincon from both were with Minnesota. There is little risk because Rincon signed a minor league contract, but there would be high reward. Rincon is only 30.

Random Thoughts

- Scott Linehan as offensive coordinator is a solid move by the Lions. He wasn’t a successful head coach, but he did go through the process.
His ties to former Michigan State coach John L. Smith aside, Linehan’s offenses have generally been well-conceived and balanced. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out from the perspective of Daunte Culpepper. Linehan was Minnesota’s offensive coordinator during Culpepper’s most successful stretch in the league.

- Suspending Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datysuk for the first game back from the All Star break is preposterous. Those guys - particularly Lidstrom - should have been insulted from the standpoint of not starting. They're the ones with the beef, not the league because they are missing the game because of injury. The NHL All Star Game has run its course. It should be done away. Everybody knows that - except the typically clueless NHL.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Pistons Running Out Of Excuses

The one thing about Piston coach Michael Curry’s insistence on playing "small ball" is that gave the Pistons an excuse.
They weren’t going to win much with a three-guard lineup. That much was evident.
Well, now that Curry has done what seemed inevitable - taken Richard Hamilton out of the starting lineup - the Pistons are out of excuses.
The Pistons also have six of their next seven games at home, including against Cleveland and Boston.
Litmus test time.

- My best guess is that the Tigers will sign Justin Verlander to a one-year contract to avoid arbitration. Verlander is still three years away from free agency and coming off by far his worst season. Given his performance last season and the state of the economy, it would behoove the Tigers to wait before giving Verlander a long-term contract that takes him into his free agency year. It would also benefit Verlander, because his value will be higher if he returns to form this coming season. Doubt it get to arbitration, though.

- The Red Wings need Henrik Zetterberg to play better. He was minus four Tuesday night at Phoenix and is scoring less than a point per game.

- Greg Robinson seems like an ideal fit for the Michigan defensive coordinator position. Some coaches are just made certain roles. Obviously, it wasn’t to be a head coach for Robinson, who labored at Syracuse. But he is an excellent coordinator.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Cardinals In Super Bowl A Double-Edge Sword For Lions

The Cardinals reaching the Super Bowl is a good news, bad news story for the Lions.
It’s good news because it points to how mediocrity can be served in the NFL. The Cardinals were a 9-7 team, and in large degree because they played in the worst division in the league, the NFC West. The Cardinals were 6-0 against their division - and 3-7 in other games.
The Cardinals didn’t run the football a lick during the regular season. They weren’t very good at stopping the run, either. Yet, come the playoffs, they did both well, and it augmented what is an explosive passing game with Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald.
The lesson: Get into the playoffs and anything can happen. Even for the Cardinals.
It does give the Lions hope that it won’t take several years to finally win another playoff game.
The bad news is, however, that the Cardinals unlikely success happened the same season as the Lions’ unprecedented failure.
It’s way too juicy not to continually point out how the Lions were considered the NFL’s worst franchise "after the Cardinals." Or how William Clay Ford has been considered the league’s most inept owner, "other than Bill Bidwell."
None of that can be said anymore. And it’s more evidence of just how far the Lions have fallen.

Random Thoughts

- The crossroad for Michigan’s basketball season may very well be Tuesday night at Penn State. It’s imperative the Wolverines’ win on the road to make up for not holding home court over the weekend against Ohio State. This is a not a typical sorry sack Penn State team. Jamelle Cornley and Stanley Pringle are solid seniors. Sophomore guard Taylor Battle is a terrific talent. Penn State is really good on the perimeter. The Nittany Lions have beaten Purdue, won at Indiana, lost by just four at Wisconsin and scared Michigan State with a late rally that just fell short. They have NCAA tournament aspirations of their own. Penn State is vulnerable inside, making DeShawn Sims the key for the Wolverines.

- Brandon Lyon as the Tigers’ closer might be a scary proposition. He allows too many hits per innings pitched. Ideally, the Tigers need last year’s first-round draft choice Ryan Perry to be ready for the major leagues sooner instead of later.

- Gunther Cunningham would be a great choice for Lions defensive coordinator. Not only is a emotional coach with a decorated resume, but he is a former head coach with tons of experience. As a first-year head coach, Jim Schwartz is going to need a wise, old sage or two around him.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Schwartz Was The Best Available Candidate

My intitial reaction to the Lions hiring of Jim Schwartz as head coach?
Based on what I know, he was the best available candidate.
The Lions certainly could have done worse. What I like best about Schwartz is that he is the opposite of Rod Marinelli. Everybody works hard in the NFL. That's a given. Schwartz will try to outsmart the opposition rather than constantly attempting to drill a hole through solid rock with the same dull instrument.
Schwartz has been a coordinator for eight years. He understands the cat and mouse aspect of adjustments in the NFL - both in-game and week-to-week. I'd be surprised if he isn't much better at looking at the entire forest instead of just the one try in front of him than his predecessor. Marinelli's downfall was never being able to adjust on the fly.
We'll also know more about Schwartz sooner instead of later based on how he puts together his coaching staff. It will put his organizational skills to the test immediately.
I do think the Lions did a much better job this time not rushing to judgment on a head coaching candidate. The Lions search was much more extensive than it was during the Matt Millen era - a sign the organization may have learned from some of its past mistakes.
What I didn't like is that the search was only limited to NFL assistants. Under current circumstances, the Lions weren't going to land Bill Cowher or Mike Shanahan, but there were other former NFL head coaches they could have at least interviewed and considered.
The rookie general manager, rookie head coach situation is less than ideal. Schwartz will have to mature quickly into his role. But at least the pedigree is there.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dumars, Not Curry, Key To Richard Hamilton Saga

Those thinking Allen Iverson should be coming off the bench instead of Richard Hamilton - assuming the Pistons go back to a "big" lineup - are missing the point.
The reason it makes sense for Iverson to remain in the starting lineup is because he and Rodney Stuckey have been playing so well together. Hamilton was totally out of sync when he and Iverson were the Pistons’ backcourt, and he hasn’t blended in as well with Stuckey or the three-man backcourt.
Stuckey has controlled the ball most of the time. He is the Pistons’ best player. Iverson has been effective playing off guard with him. The Pistons have benefitted greatly defensively by adding more size to their front court. It’s the bottom line.
Is it fair to Hamilton? No, given his status as an All-Star and a Piston - and because he would be losing his job because he got hurt. Should he be upset about it? Absolutely. A player of his caliber isn’t going to take not starting lightly - even if he does play a lot of minutes. The same issue would be there with Iverson.
But what’s best for the team? Right now, it’s starting the bigger lineup. Right now, it’s Amir Johnson starting and Hamilton off the bench. It could also change as time goes on.
How he handles this is a huge test for Pistons’ coach Michael Curry. It’s also for Joe Dumars. He has to back his coach.
It isn’t a matter of whether Hamilton would be upset about the sixth man role. It would be whether he played hard in the role. If put in that situation, and if he doesn’t play hard, Dumars would have no choice but to try to trade him - even considering Hamilton’s contract extension. Dumars is the one who put Curry in this situation. He can’t expect him to pull off making Hamilton feel good about going into the sixth man role.
It has to be made clear what’s best for the team is what’s best for the team. That’s comes from the top. When it comes to the Pistons basketball operations, that’s Joe Dumars, not Michael Curry.
The only hammer the Pistons have is the possibility of trading Hamilton. And it’s in Dumars hand.

Random Thoughts

- My Hall of Fame ballot this year included: Rickey Henderson, Jim Rice, Bert Blyleven, Alan Trammell, Jack Morris, Lee Smith and Andre Dawson. Just couldn’t bring myself to vote for Mark McGwire. Not sure I ever will.

- If I were to rate potential Lions head coaches at this point, I would go: 1. Jim Schwartz. 2. Ron Rivera. 3. Todd Bowles.

- The 49 shots the Red Wings surrendered during Monday’s loss at Dallas were the most since 1991. I didn’t think they could possibly play that poorly defensively. Chris Osgood played one of his better games. If he hadn’t, the Red Wings would have allowed double digits in goals.
- My Hall of Fame ballot this year included: Rickey Henderson, Jim Rice, Bert Blyleven, Alan Trammell, Jack Morris, Lee Smith and Andre Dawson. Just couldn’t bring myself to vote for Mark McGwire. Not sure I ever will.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

News Conference Was Unfair To Lions Candidate Schwartz

I thought the way the Lions held a news conference for head coaching candidate Jim Schwartz Monday was unfair to Schwartz.
It seemed as if team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew were putting him to the test to see how he does with the media in the news conference setting that has become such a firestorm in recent years.
In theory, it would seem like a smart thing to do - a test under fire. Problem is, it's far too public an exam given that Schwartz isn't the head coach yet.
I didn't think there was anything wrong with his, "It's probably time to replace Bobby Layne" line. Especially when it is taken in context. But if he does get the job, it's something people will never forget. It will be mentioned before the draft. And after the draft. It will be mentioned a lot when a Lions' quarterback struggles. It could become to Schwartz what Marty Mornhinweg's "The bar is high" was to him, and Rod Marinelli's "We're going to pound the rock" line was to him.
That alone far outweighs whatever benefit the Lions got during their hiring process.

Random Thoughts

- When the Lions name a head coach, the key isn’t necessarily going to be just the coach himself. It’s going to be the staff of assistant coaches he puts together.
In retrospect, wasn’t that Rod Marinelli’s great downfall? Mike Martz may be one of the most decorated offensive coordinators in the history of the NFL, but Marinelli had trouble overcoming his presence his first two years. He also didn’t pick a defensive coordinator in Donnie Henderson that fit his scheme. Obviously, his son-in-law Joe Barry wasn’t the answer, either. Nor Jim Colletto on the offensive side of the ball when Martz departed.
The problems ran deeper than the coordinators. The Lions staff from top-to-bottom was lacking. The Lions had similar issues with Marty Mornhinweg’s staff. That’s why it is important when the Lions hire a coach it is not just based on what he knows, but who he knows, and who he is able to get on staff.
It will make or break the next Lions head coach.

- Do we know more about the Pistons after they split their four-game trip West? Not really. But we will know more after they play six games in eight days, while working Richard Hamilton back into the lineup.

- Those waiting for Michigan’s basketball team to fold, might be waiting a long time. The Wolverines look like an NCAA tournament bound team to me. Laval Lucas-Perry has definitely made U-M much more formidable. He can shoot and is a smart player. Averaging 26 minutes of playing time and 12 points per game is more than could have been expected. What a boost to an what had been an already emerging squad.


Friday, January 09, 2009

There Doesn't Appear To Be A QB Worthy Of First Overall Pick

My impression from the BSC title game Thursday is that I wouldn’t take Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford with the first overall pick. I know that’s harsh, given that it was just one game and he had such a spectacular season overall.
But in this particular game, I didn’t see the same caliber of athlete I saw in previous games. I think the main reason is that Florida probably has the best raw material in college football. It provided a more realistic view of how Bradford stacks up athletically with NFL players than, say, Texas Tech or even Texas. He seemed more slight of build. His arm strength is OK, but doesn’t appear to be exceptional. He needed to make plays. He wasn’t able to so. At times, he looked more like a "system" quarterback than he did before. In terms of the measurable factors (arm strength, size, even speed) Georgia QB Matthew Stafford appears as the better pro prospect. He played three games against Florida in his career - one well (in 2007) and two poorly. Stafford’s lack of consistency makes him questionable with a real early pick in the draft.
Both are being projected as top five picks in the upcoming NFL Draft by some gurus. I’m not sure if it will play out that way. Now if they drop down to 19th or 20th, it would be more reasonable for the Lions to take one of the two with their second first-round selection. They need to take a QB with one of their first five selections because it is such a glaring hole, but the dropoff after Bradford and Stafford is considerable. That could change if USC QB Mark Sanchez decides to come out. Apparently he is pondering doing so. But would he be worthy of the first overall pick? Doesn’t appear so. Sanchez was surrounded by the best talent of them all at USC.

Random Thoughts

- Tim Tebow will probably go back to Florida, but count me among those who feel he is a better pro prospect than he is being given credit for. I don’t care if he never takes snaps under center or if Alex Smith didn’t make it after playing in Urban Meyer’s system at Utah, Tebow is an extraordinary athlete and a winner. You saw the game? Who was the better QB - Tebow or Bradford? Look to me like Tebow - hands down.

- In my opinion, Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is a more viable candidate for the Lions head coaching job than Jason Garrett. The Lions need to think defense first. And look at what the Titans defense has done lately compared to the Cowboys offense?

- And so Grady Sizemore and Curtis Granderson are both on the USA team for the World Baseball Classic. Who starts in center field if both are in the lineup? Talk about picking between elite defenders, eh?

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Seems Like Conklin Could Get It Done In Playoffs

Chris Osgood is healthy again and played well the other night in Minnesota, but overall hasn’t Ty Conklin been the Red Wings’ best goalie so far this season?
There is little doubt, unless he is injured or totally collapses from a performance standpoint, which is unlikely, Osgood will be the Red Wings’ goalie to open the playoffs.
But what if they had to turn to Conklin, either because of injury or because of ineffective performance by Osgood?
Conklin has played in just one playoff game. He is very unproven that way. I think he would do well. It does seem like the better the competition, and the more the stakes are raised, at least since he’s been with the Red Wings, the better he has played. Doesn’t seem like he allows a lot of soft goals, either. Conklin has proven what he did last season with Pittsburgh when forced into regular duty wasn’t a fluke.
The playoffs do present such scenarios. Did just last year with Osgood replacing Dominik Hasek. He was as unlikely a hero. While Osgood did have the ‘98 championship under his belt, he hadn’t won a playoff series since until last season.

Random Thoughts

- Purdue’s shocking 0-2 start does seem to open a window of opportunity for Michigan State to win its first regular season Big Ten title since 2001. The Spartans are playing exceptionally well. Then again, Bo Ryan and Wisconsin are still looming undefeated so far in conference play.

- Alexis Gomez hasn’t done much since he left the Tigers. Come to think of it, he didn’t much before he joined the Tigers. Maybe he’ll regain the magic after signing a minor league contract this week. He sure came through in the ‘06 ALCS ,didn’t he?

Monday, January 05, 2009

How Much Credibility Does Millen Have Left As An Analyst?

I used to wonder - a lot of times aloud - when Matt Millen was team president of the Lions why he insisted on staying in the job.
He was a really good player. And he was a terrific broadcaster, who was clearly on the rise at FOX. It seemed like he was pretty good at everything in life - except for running an NFL franchise. And he did run the Lions into the ground.
Now that he has returned to network television, I just wonder how Millen, who is going to be part of NBC’s Super Bowl coverage, is going to fly. It isn’t going over too well around this town for obvious reasons, but there isn’t the same type of animosity from the rest of the nation toward Millen.
He’ll be judge strictly on his credibility. Especially if he stays in studio, Millen’s position will be to critique organizations and players and coaches rather than specific plays. I have a feeling there will be constant pointing to his record with the Lions.
It’s where staying with the Lions for so long might come back to bite Millen. This wouldn’t be nearly the same issue if he had departed three years ago after his initial five-year contract with the Lions would have expired.
Note: To read my column in Monday’s Oakland Press about Millen go to, click on the sports banner and then "columns."
Random Thoughts
- If the Lions are planning to draft a quarterback in the first round, either at first overall or what will probably be 20th overall with their second first-round choice, Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey would make some sense as head coach. He did an excellent job of developing Falcons rookie quarterback Matt Ryan this season. Mularkey did not have similar success with J.P. Losman when he was the head coach at Buffalo, but it’s often forgotten that Losman was setback by a leg injury he suffered his rookie season.
- I wonder if Rex Ryan is really that good of a defensive coordinator or whether it’s the stellar players on the Ravens’ defense like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed that set it apart. I mean former Ravens’ defensive coordinators Marvin Lewis and Mike Nolan didn’t exactly set the NFL world on fire as head coaches, did they?
- Beating Illinois at home Sunday and avoiding an 0-2 start to the Big Ten season was necessary for Michigan’s basketball team to contend for an NCAA tournament bid. The Wolverines must hold homecourt in Big Ten play whenever possible to finish .500 or better in the conference to secure the NCAA bid, which they haven’t received in a decade. The Wolverines’ chances of being able to do that would have been greatly reduced had they lost Sunday. Illinois had Purdue on the road, so it wasn’t an easy victory to secure.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Mixed Review On Matthew Stafford

It’s not like I haven’t seen Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford play before. I have seen him play several times before Thursday’s Capital One Bowl against Michigan State. It’s just I never have watched him before with such anticipation.
And I don’t what kind of line to get from him as the potential first overall pick in the upcoming in NFL Draft based on his performance.
He was dreadful in the first half. He played as if he was uninterested. In the second half, he made several brilliant throws. Two standout in particular: The one where he looked off the receiver to the outside and then gunned the ball over the middle, and his touchdown pass to Knowshon Moreno.
The first one was an example of his arm strength. The second was pure touch. Obviously, this kid is talented. He also comes from more of a pro style system than most college teams are running in this era of the spread option. Stafford isn’t a statue. He did show some speed when he scrambled.
NFL teams have to be concerned about his lack of consistency. Stafford seemed to mirror his season in a way Thursday. Hot or cold. Never in-between.
From what I have been able to ascertain, Stafford is going to be one of those quarterbacks teams either fall in love with and want among the first three overall picks, or he will drop like a stone - kind of like Brady Quinn. What that means for the Lions is they can go in another direction with the first overall pick and may still be presented with the possibility of Stafford being there with their with second first-round selection, which will probably be 20th overall.
One way or another, they must take a QB early in the draft. And it will be the most important selection they make.

Random Thoughts

- I do love the Winter Classic. Thought it was pulled off very well at Wrigley Field Thursday. It was actually a fairly fast-paced game - more so than the previous outdoor games. But it can’t be more than a once-a-year event. That’s what makes it special.

- First the Sharks, now the Blackhawks. The Red Wings are leaving little doubt they remain the premier team in hockey.

- The most underrated athlete in this town is Rodney Stuckey. He is the floor leader of the Pistons. Given the veteran presence on that team, and some of the strong wills, that says a lot for a second-year guard from a remote outpost like Eastern Washington.