April 26, 2009 at 11:57 pm

Bob Wojnowski: Commentary

Lions' 'plan' doesn't look too hopeful

Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz, left, quarterback Matthew Stafford, safety Louis Delmas and tight end Brandon Pettigrew are all part of the Lions' plan. (Jerry S. Mendoza / Associated Press)

Allen Park -- The Lions say they have a plan. They say it so earnestly, from general manager Martin Mayhew to coach Jim Schwartz to new quarterback Matthew Stafford, it's actually believable.

But I sure don't see it yet.

And that's the underwhelming revelation after two days of watching the Lions try desperately to avoid drafting defensive players. The roster of an 0-16 team is so horrible, the needs so great, it's going to take a long time for any semblance of their alleged plan -- build a big, tough physical team from the inside-out -- to take shape.

We knew that, but after watching the Lions bypass crying needs at middle linebacker, offensive line and defensive line with their top picks, it slammed the ugly point home. Mayhew and Schwartz said they weren't "drafting for Opening Day," which loosely translates to: "Have you seen what we have? This is going to take forever, folks! Back off!"

There's a downside

If ever a team in the history of the NFL was not expected to win now, it's the Lions. That lack of urgency is annoying, and it peeves fans. It also explains why Mayhew and Schwartz believed they could take the huge gamble on Stafford, knowing a rookie quarterback on a bad team is a terrible formula. That was a move for the future more than for 2009.

It also explains why they had the arrogance to draft Oklahoma State tight end Brandon Pettigrew in the first round, as if they could afford such a luxury. And it helps explain why they grabbed Western Michigan safety Louis Delmas in the second round, rather than USC linebacker Rey Maualuga, who could have given them the thumper in the middle that Schwartz craves.

The downside to the new regime's plan is, it's going to build so slowly and deliberately, restocking with little regard for position, it'll plead it can't be held accountable for several years.

The upside is, maybe, just maybe, that means they won't be idiots and rush Stafford to play. Schwartz said the $41.7-million guaranteed money man will play when he's ready, but Daunte Culpepper's apparent rededication to football might buy the Lions some time. I hope it does. I hope Stafford suffers from severe clipboard chafing from standing and watching most of the season. It's not what the guy wants to hear, but if the Lions are going to stick to their plan of patience, they can't toss the rookie in with one of the worst rosters in the NFL.

Asked if he'd be disappointed if he didn't start right away, Stafford was diplomatic.

"I don't know if disappointed would be the word," he said. "I'm going to fight like hell to get out there as soon as I can. But if they don't feel I'm ready, I understand that. It's going to be a process. There's no quick fix in football."

'I don't get it'

Ah, so the young man already has his talking points. The Lions have gone for the quick fix before and it blew up.

Replenishing for one season was not their goal, and that's how they justify drafting Penn State receiver-kick returner Derrick Williams in the third round instead of some big ol' trench guy. Same with TCU running back Aaron Brown in the sixth round.

Honestly, I don't quite get it. Were those skill-position guys way, way better than any offensive or defensive lineman? When, exactly, is this big, tough physical team going to be constructed? It's almost like drafting Stafford No. 1 gives the Lions a shiny shield, a card of hope to play when needed.

Stafford sounds like a good guy and a smart guy. He's almost too polished in his formulaic responses, saying all the right things about welcoming the challenge here. I don't think he can have any idea what he's stepping into. The challenge is enormous, and it didn't seem to get much smaller after this draft.


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