I feel bad for Jeff Backus. I really do. Along with fellow Detroit offensive lineman Dominic Raiola, Backus has the unenviable distinction of being the main “link” that traces the Lions from a team on the brink of the playoffs in 2000 to the present day disaster.
Backus was the first draft pick taken during the Matt Millen tenure, deemed at the time a consolation prize because the player Millen wanted, Steve Hutchison, was drafted one spot earlier by Seattle. While Hutchison (a great friend of Backus going back to their playing days at University of Michigan) ascended to future Hall of Fame status at guard and became the highest paid offensive lineman in the league, Backus (also at one time the NFL’s highest paid O-lineman) has been mired in the awful muck created by the Millen un-dynasty. To his credit, Backus has never missed a start in a Lions uniform, has played through numerous injuries and has a reputation around the league as a competent, if not solid, left tackle.
However, one head-scratching play from the Lions loss to Minnesota in week 2 has me convinced that Backus has given all he has to this organization and simply has nothing left, whether he wants to admit or not. At the beginning of the second half, Backus was lined up against pass-rushing demon Jared Allen with no tight end to his side to help the oncoming rush. When the ball was snapped, Backus inexplicably gave Allen a weak forearm shiver and then moved to block inside. Allen cruised around the end to deliver a bone-rattling hit on rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford, causing the ball to come loose. As the ball bounced on the turf Backus stood there sheepishly looking at the ground, looking as if he had forgotten to always pounce on a loose ball no matter what. That’s taught to O-lineman in football 101.
Whether Backus blew his blocking assignment or not is a moot point. The bigger issue is that Backus’ mental health related to football is in critical condition and that brain fart of a play illustrates his fragility.
Its my belief that Backus is convinced he will never win with Detroit. He has conceded to himself that he has obvious shortcomings as an NFL lineman and this puts him in a precarious position. Once he believes he can’t win, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading to wretched false starts and other assorted penalties Backus seems to rack up at the most critical of times.
I’m sure Jeff Backus is a great guy and a wonderful family man. But the Lions organization needs to give Backus and his family a fresh start in a new city. Backus more than anyone deserves it for enduring his loathsome time in Detroit. Please Martin Mayhew, send him somewhere warm as a gift for all his pain and suffering, you might be able to get a 2nd or 3rd round draft pick for him. Let Ephraim Salaam and Jon Jansen battle it out at tackle for the remainder of the season and then use the certain-to-be-extremely high draft pick in 2010 on a franchise left tackle to protect Stafford for the next 10 years.
Do it. Put Backus out of his misery.