With the NFL draft behind us and a lockout raging on, the opportunities to talk about real football are becoming fewer and fewer. That being the case, I have sought out bloggers that cover teams that the Lions will play in the 2011 season to get a glimpse into what is going on with those teams.
Granted, this exercise presumes that no games will be lost due to the lockout. That might be a big step of faith, especially in regards to the preseason games, but I have a hard time operating under any other assumption. I know what happens when one assumes, let’s hope the labor situation doesn’t prove the old saying true. These Q&As aren’t meant to be any sort of game preview, it is obviously way too early for that. The subject teams may end up looking much different when the Lions play them compared to how they look now, but I anticipate this being a good introduction to each teams’ hopes, fears, needs, expectations, etc.
The Lions are scheduled to open the regular season against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I was able to send some questions to Patrik Nohe, the editor at the Pewter Plank, and he was kind enough to provide responses. Here we go…
Zac Snyder: I read that the Bucs turned down HBO’s offer to be featured on Hard Knocks, has there been a big fan reaction to that announcement?
Patrik Nohe: As a fan, I’m incredibly disappointed. You would be hard-pressed to find a more genuinely interesting coach in football than Raheem Morris. He’s colorful, candid and younger than one of his best players (Ronde Barber) but this Bucs team will go to the ends of the Earth for him. I do really feel a bit robbed that we won’t be privy to all of the interactions going on behind the scenes at One Buc Place.
That being said, from a football perspective it was the right move. The Bucs could use the media attention for sure, but they don’t need the distraction. Morris reached out to his mentors, guys like Tony Dungy and Herm Edwards (who was coaching the Chiefs when they did Hard Knocks in 2007) what ultimately was decided that the distraction of playing to the camera and trying to make sure the organization always looks good would take away from what will already (likely) be an abbreviated training period. No team in NFL history has ever won a game because they were on Hard Knocks, but for a young team still trying to mature in many ways, it could impact them negatively. Selfishly I’m disappointed, but in my opinion Morris, GM Mark Dominik and the Glazers made the smart football choice over the free-PR.
ZS: How have fans reacted to the selection of Da’Quan Bowers and has there been any information revealed about the true state of his knee?
PN: Fans have been ecstatic. I you could get potential top-5 value at pick 51, you’d roll the dice too. If you want the best analysis of Bowers’ knee, check out our own Dr. Mark McKenna’s analysis of the subject.
Dr. McKenna is an orthopedic surgeon and he breaks down the information available in a really fantastic way. Zac, if you don’t already have a doctor on your staff I highly recommend it. I think information on Bowers’ knee was a bit overblown, it’s certainly not healthy, but there was a bit of a doomsday feel to some of the prognoses and based on the information available, the Bucs’ public comments and Dr. McKenna’s analysis I feel pretty confident saying that once he does finally get healthy (most likely mid-season) the issue shouldn’t be much of an issue.
What gets lost a lot is the Bucs training staff does a pretty solid job of managing these kinds of injuries. Kellen Winslow has been a very good tight end since arriving in Tampa and his knees are actually worse, yet the Bucs are able to manage them and he doesn’t miss games because of it and still plays at a productive level. Cadillac Williams has blown out his knee twice and is still productive, this is a team that had medical personnel capable of rehabbing brutal knee injuries. I think Bowers will be fine, the Bucs won’t rush him and eventually he’ll be able to come in and address the chip that now resides on his shoulder with the rest of the league.
ZS: What is something you hope will change with the Bucs by the time they face the Lions in the season opener?
PN: This is going to sound absolutely bizarre, but I’m actually more hopeful something doesn’t change. I’m hoping Aqib Talib is still on the roster come week one. Despite his complicated off-the-field life, Talib is a top-tier NFL corner. Case in point the NFL alumni association honored him as the league’s best corner despite missing the last five games of the season with an injury last year. If you don’t think Talib is elite, you just haven’t watched him. That includes Lions fans who got a nice reprieve from having to deal with him at the end of last year.
Talib is an alpha corner, quarterbacks rarely attempt to attack his side of the field and the few times they do he typically ends up making a play. To quantify how much he meant to the Bucs, this is a team that finished ranked 28th against the run and had just 23 sacks all season (second to last in the league), yet they still boasted the 7th rated pass defense and were 9th in points allowed. Those rankings just don’t make sense unless you saw the Bucs secondary, particularly Talib, bailing out the Bucaneers defense on a consistent basis all of last season. The Bucs absolutely cannot afford to part ways with Talib until they find an adequate replacement. They haven’t yet, so my hope is they don’t cut him this off-season.
ZS: What are expectations like for the Bucs next season?
PN: Apparently not as high as your Lions. I have to be honest, and this is a gripe coming from the Tampa perspective but I’ve never seen a team that went 6-10 and shares a division with the defending Super Bowl champs and three of the last four teams from the NFC Championship Game (Vikings in ’09, Bears, Packers in ’10) get blown more than the Lions are right now. I’m very impressed with the young nucleus being put in place in Detroit, but I’m a little surprised the Lions are everyone’s sexy playoff pick when the Bucs took the youngest team in the NFL 10-6 last year and just narrowly missed the playoffs.
That being said, you guys go ahead and take all the headlines. I think the Bucs like to fly under the radar and it’s not like their division is much easier (New Orleans and Atlanta are mean too). Realistically I think another 10-6 year would be about right for the Bucs. They won’t sneak up on anyone this year but I think they will have a lot more talent on the field and hopefully a lot more familiarity in the offense. I look at Tampa and Detroit as being two of the most exciting young teams in the NFL, but what I like about Tampa a little bit more at this point is that their hopeful predictions don’t come with the caveat, “if their QB can just stay healthy.”
ZS: What are you most excited to see out of the Bucs and what is one thing that makes you nervous heading into the 2011 season?
PN: This lockout makes me nervous, the Bucs need all the extra work they can get. I’m not completely sure but I believe they will once again be the youngest team in the NFL for 2011. Every extra rep, every extra frame of game-film, every extra minute in the team’s weight room matters right now and whereas more veteran teams can weather this a little easier, I’d like to see the young guys like LeGarrette Blount, Mike Williams and Josh Freeman all in Tampa being able to get in work with the coaches and team trainers.
What I’m most looking forward to this season is week one, which is a huge revenge game. I won’t belittle your victory over Tampa last season (it was your first road win in 27 games at that point, enjoy it) but it left a horrible taste in the Bucs’ mouths. Case in point they way-layed Seattle the next week (38-15) and then took down the Saints in the Superdome (beating two playoff teams on the way, a knock they’d heard all year). But make no mistake about it, Detroit kept Tampa out of the playoffs last season. The Packers went instead and the rest is history. Watching the Lions drive 63 yards in overtime on two big runs (underscoring the issues the Bucs had on their D-Line last year) and then seeing Calvin Johnson abuse EJ Biggers (playing in the place of Aqib Talib) was not something that the Bucs will have forgotten and Raheem Morris is a world-class motivator.
I promise you the Bucs will be ready to go in week one to try and settle the score with Detroit and get you all started on a new road losing streak. So the Lions better come ready. Fortunately Matt Stafford should still be standing by that point so we’ll actually get to see two of the guys from the ’09 QB class play. But that’s what I’m really looking forward to. The best two young teams in football squaring off week one in a game that has a little bit meaning carrying over from last year. Who knows, maybe one day Bucs-Lions will be this decade’s Patriots-Colts rivalry, all I know is week one next season means a lot to the Bucs and I cannot wait.