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Stafford is key to Lions defense

This NFL preseason we keep hearing about how the Detroit Lions defensive line has shown vast improvement from last season and will be depended on to carry the team’s questionable squad.

If you  watched either of the Lions’ first two preseason games, it’s clear this group is aggressive and will be wreaking havoc, collapsing pockets  and causing Percy Harvin-type migraines for their opponents.

Coach Jim Schwartz worked overtime to revamp the front four that includes newly-acquired veterans Kyle Vander Bosch and Corey Williams as well as No. 2 overall draft pick, Ndamukong Suh. This unit will be a force no doubt but the key player to keeping points off the opponent’s board this season is actually on the offensive side of the ball; his name is Matthew Stafford.

Stafford, who ranks near the top of the Top 50 Athletes salary list, has shined thus far in the preseason and has done well showing off Detroit’s new offensive weapons like wide receiver Nate Burleson, rookie running back Jahvid Best and tight end Tony Sheffler. With wideout Calvin Johnson thrown in the mix, Stafford has been showing great poise this preseason and opting for longer, structured drives as opposed to looking for the homerun ball to Johnson.

Yeah, it’s preseason and we know the Lions were 4-0 in preseason the same year they went on to their Matt Millen-infested 0-16 record but the good news is, Stafford is orchestrating 10, 11 and 14 play drives this preseason and that may be the key to this team’s success.

If Stafford can learn to utilize the new two tight end formation the Lions are implementing and  control the ball and clock, keeping the team’s sieve-style unit off the field, expect these 2010 Lions to compete.

The Lions’ defense is suffering some significant personnel losses including the season-ending injury to linebacker Jordan Dizon and the nagging groin injury that has severely limited second-year standout Louis Delmas. Not keeping veteran tackling machine Larry Foote who wanted to stay in Detroit may come back to haunt the Lions, especially after the Dizon injury

Over the past few years opposing quarterbacks have feasted on Detroit’s defense making career days out of what should have been ordinary Sundays.

I don’t expect to see embarrassing opening game plays like the 60+ yard bomb that Matt Ryan smoked the Lions’ defense on in his first play of his NFL career or the multi-career-days so many running backs have put up against the team’s former defenses, but regardless, there is still a lot of work to be done and that’s why Stafford is the key.

Stafford has brought hope to Detroit and their loyal fans and thus far is showing he can handle carrying the team on his shoulders. Question will be, can he maintain ball control and keep the team’s demise off the field.

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NFL preseason injuries piling up

With the preseason kickoff literally days away, many NFL teams have been bitten by the injury bug during this year’s camp.  When the Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals start things off on Sunday night, the ‘Boys will be doing it without an integral part of their future. 

The Cowboys were the first NFL team to begin training camp and they were also the first to suffer a significant injury when rookie wide receiver Dez Bryant went down with a high ankle sprain on July 30th. Bryant, an Oklahoma State product, was drafted twenty-fourth overall and has drawn comparisons to Terrell Owens who was signed by the Bengals as a free agent.

Bryant who drew criticism for not carrying veteran Roy Williams’ pads in the ongoing NFL rookie ritual, was awarded jersey No. 88 the day after he signed with the Cowboys.  That number carries a lot of responsibility in Dallas as it was the jersey worn by legend Drew Pearson and eventual Hall of Famer Michael Irvin. Bryant is expected to remain on the sidelines for about six weeks, taking him out of preseason play and jeopardizing his ability to see action in the first game of the regular season. 

The Denver Broncos have been hit especially hard throughout camp including the injury of running back Knowshon Moreno.  Moreno was injured early and is expected to miss the rest of training camp and preseason play.

Joining Moreno is Elvis Dumervil who has been sidelined with an injured chest muscle.  Dumervil was the leader last season in sacks and was awarded for his efforts last month with a five year contract valued at just over $58 million dollars.  The contract is a record for his position as it offers just over $43 million in guarantees. 

Sources indicate that Dumervil may be out for five months, meaning it is likely he will miss the entire season.  Add to this dilemma the fact that Darrell Reid remains injured and has not yet participated in training camp and the Broncos are without a proven pass rusher as they enter preseason play.

There’s bad news for the Green Bay Packers too. Safety and four-year veteran Atari Bigby will need arthroscopic ankle surgery and will have the procedure on Friday.  Bigby is confident that he will not miss a significant amount of playing time but Packers Coach Mike McCarthy would not comment about a possible time table for a return. 

Staying in the NFC North, Detroit was riding high just days ago after the signing of second overall pick Ndamukong Suh.  With news that safety Louis Delmas has a lingering groin injury the celebration has become a bit more conservative as the severity of the injury remains a question mark to the Lions.

Delmas is a big piece of the puzzle for a Lions team that hopes to improve dramatically on the defensive side of the ball. Though Delmas admits that surgery has been discussed he is adamant that it is not the option he expects saying this on his Twitter account:

@LouisD_26 I am not having a season ending surgery dont believe everything you hear… click here to read more . . .

The Washington Redskins remain hopeful that Albert Haynesworth will be at full strength soon but he has not participated in training camp due to his inability to pass the required conditioning test.  The test was required for Haynesworth after he sat out on the mandatory mini-camp in June due to personal objections with new coach Mike Shanahan’s direction of the defense.

Haynesworth first failed the test on July 29th and 30th before sitting out the next two days and attempting it again on Monday before quitting due to knee stiffness.  Haynesworth has not attempted the test since Monday and an MRI was conducted that revealed no structural damage in his knee. 

Adding insult to injury is the fact that analyst Mike Golic passed the test with relative ease earlier this week on ESPN.  Golic is an NFL veteran who has been retired for sixteen years and currently works for ESPN. 

The Minnesota Vikings are on standby as they await the retirement decision of quarterback Brett Favre and the veteran says that decision is centered around his ankle injury.  Favre was rumored to have sent text messages to certain teammates and Vikings officials on Tuesday but was later found working out with the local high school team in Mississippi. 

However, on the same day as the rumors of retirement began, Vikings kicker and friend Ryan Longwell spoke to Favre and indicated retirement had never come up during discussion.  We have since learned that Favre will meet with Dr. James Andrews next week to discuss the success of his ankle surgery. 

While the actions of legendary quarterback Brett Favre would most likely be difficult for even the most skilled of gamblers to bet on, it seems clear from the statements of other Vikings players that Favre would be welcomed back to the locker room regardless of when the decision is made.

Used with permission of the author.

Cade Caldwell is an Atlanta-based sportswriter and contributor to Sports Climax.

Copyright ©2010 Sports Climax, LLC

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