Back in April I talked with New Era Scouting's David Syvertsen about the draft, and now he is back again to talk about the upcoming NFL season. (You can now follow David on Twitter, where he will be providing scouting notes all season long for both college and pro football.)
Pride of Detroit: Matthew Stafford was named the Lions' starting quarterback, getting the nod over Daunte Culpepper. What has Stafford shown in the preseason to justify this decision?
David Syvertsen: If Stafford came into the league from a spread offense where his keys were short and simple, this would have been a terrible decision. However he came from a Georgia offense that plays an NFL style pro set. On top of that, Stafford impressed scouts and coaches across the league with not only his throwing ability, but his NFL ready know-how when it came to breaking down NFL defenses. Scott Linehan made it simple for him but as the preseason progressed, he was given more and more responsibility when it came to controlling the offense. Instead of taking a couple steps backward like most rookies, Stafford really excelled as the weeks went on. His performance against the Colts was the point where I was 100% confident the job was his. He looked decisive and confident, two "musts" for a young quarterback. Everyone knows the ability is there in his arm, but what he showed in between the ears was what really got him that starting job.
(Rest of interview is after the jump.)
POD: Based on the play-calling in the preseason, it seems screen passes and dump offs to running backs are a staple of Scott Linehan's offense. How can those types of plays be used to serve as a way of countering blitzes?
DS: Screens and dump offs are a huge part of every offense, it's just that not every team has the personnel to make it work on a consistent basis. Linehan loves to use his backfield to create another level for a defense to work against and if executed efficiently, Calvin Johnson will be seeing one on one matchups downfield more frequently. Combine that with a young quarterback and an unknown in the trenches, you will be seeing a lot of those short throws. When a defense wants to get pressure on Stafford via the blitz, and that will be every week, the linebackers will often rush their way through the line and neglect the dump off lanes. Once the ball is in the hands of the running back or tight end, they'll have much more space to work with. Those are the kind of plays that can turn into an all-of-the-sudden 20 yard gain. Once that occurs, defenses will be more hesitant at the point of attack thus it is absolutely vital that Stafford knows where his safety nets will be when he is blitzed. Any time a blitz is coming, it is a gamble for the defense because it decreases the amount of tacklers in space beyond the box. If Stafford and company can be effective with those dump offs and screens, the pressure put on via the blitz will be minimized because the defense will avoid shooting themselves in the foot.
POD: The biggest concern for most Lions fans is depth on the defensive line, especially at defensive tackle. Sammie Hill, a fourth-round pick who was described as a project, is penciled in as a starter right now. Just how tough is it going to be for someone like Hill -- no matter how much progress he has made -- to be an effective starter this early in his career?
DS: While I'm confident the Lions are going to be a better defensive football team this season because of the new coaching staff, the team's defensive line is weak across the board. No matter who starts at the defensive tackle positions, Schwartz understands how to rotate his players. While Sammie Hill is not starting material, he will see plenty of action on Sundays this fall. Don't get caught up in who starts; these guys are going to split a lot of snaps unless someone really steps up. Hill has the physical tools to make an impact but the players that are surrounding him will make the difference, for better or worse. He struggled against the different forms of double teams in the trenches this preseason and if he doesn't have strong play from the guys next to and behind him, those struggles will only continue. However, if he can be put in a position where he has limited assignments and he can just fire off the line, he could be a difference maker as the season goes on.
POD: Staying on the defensive line, Grady Jackson isn't expected to be an every-down type of player. How will the Lions use Jackson to get the most out of him?
DS: Again, if the personnel is there, Schwartz will rotate his defensive line as much as any coach in the league. Jackson has not been an every down player in a long time, and he is only getting older. While he is still capable of being a 2 gap plug, Schwartz will need to really count his snaps out there if he wants an effective Jackson past Halloween. I suspect we will see a lot of Jackson early and late in games on potential running downs. Teams love to control the ground game early on because it disrupts the gameplan. Late in games when you're trailing, and the Lions will likely be in that position frequently, you want a run defender in there creating a new line of scrimmage. On top of that, you'll likely see him on the 3rd/4th and shorts for obvious reasons.
POD: Sticking with the subject of using players based on different situations, where do you see Aaron Brown fitting into the Lions' offense? He's got great speed and athleticism but isn't really an every-down back. It's tough to keep him off the field, though, as he has a great play-making ability.
DS: When it comes to the majority carries, Kevin Smith and Maurice Morris will be the guys. They both play power football and fit in with what Linehan will try to do on offense. I don't see Aaron Brown taking away a lot of carries from those guys unless one of them gets hurt, or their production is severely lacking a few weeks from now. With that said, on an offense that needs to score more points, Brown is a guy that needs the football. Can he be depended upon on as a receiving back? Well the hands and playmaking ability are there but one thing that he must improve on is his blitz pickup and pass blocking. It is the most overlooked aspect of the running back position among fans but he will not see the field if he is a liability to Stafford's blind side. The Lions may try to get him on the field as a slot receiver and get creative with him in the screen package, or possibly throw him in there as a return man. But as far as the running back position goes, it may be another year or two before we really see him as an every week factor.
POD: Thanks to David for taking the time to answer my questions.