Lions mailbag, Part 1: Character will help keep Jarrad Davis in Detroit's plans
Allen Park — With a loss to the Raiders last Sunday, the Detroit Lions' playoff hopes are pretty dim at the halfway point. The team's defensive woes have been the source of fan frustration this week, especially when they see a great season by quarterback Matthew Stafford being wasted.
The mailbox is packed, as usual, so let's get to part one of our weekly two-part mailbag.
► Question. Do you think it’s at all likely we move on from Jarrad Davis this offseason? Jahlani Tavai was drafted for this defense and Christian Jones was given an extension, but the linebacking corps definitely needs a change. — @JustJake981
► Answer. I just don't see it.
There aren't many similarities to Teez Tabor, Davis' college teammate and former second-round pick who was bounced by Detroit well before the end of his rookie deal. The Lions still genuinely believe in Davis' on-field abilities, even if they remain wildly inconsistent to this point.
Plus, as we've mentioned many times in this space and elsewhere, the team's brass is enamored with the young linebacker's football character. He leads through both his words and actions, elevating the work ethic and expectations of those around him.
The team can't get enough of those guys in the building right now, as they continue to press toward establishing a culture built around hard work and sacrifice.
► Q. Do you sit anywhere near Dan Miller during games, and if so, does he jump out of his chair calling games? — @bdrfab
► A. In most NFL stadiums, I'm probably within 50 yards of the broadcast booth, but they're sectioned off in a private room. The closest I come to their world is when they're gracious enough to invite me on for a pregame segment a few times per season.
So, honestly, I can't tell you if Miller is jumping out of his seat during the game's biggest moments. I'll make sure to ask Lomas Brown next time I see him.
What I can say is Miller is exceptional at what he does. He conveys natural excitement, has good football knowledge and doesn't hold back from offering an honest critique when merited, which isn't true of all team-employed broadcasters.
Maybe we can push for the Lions to put a camera on Miller during the broadcast, like the WWE did with their excitable and exceptional announcer Mauro Ranallo. Something tells me it wouldn't be nearly as entertaining.
► Q. What young Lions player has the most to gain over the next eight games? — @ekaseta
► A. In this case, you're looking for future contributors who will benefit from experience down the stretch. Generally, that applies to first- and second-year players you expect to have a significant role going forward.
Not surprisingly, my initial focus goes to the team's first three draft picks from this past offseason: tight end T.J. Hockenson, linebacker Jahlani Tavai and safety Will Harris. That's not to say the other rookies won't benefit from extra opportunities, but those three are looked at as foundation pieces, with Harris' timeline accelerated by the team's decision to trade Quandre Diggs.
With each of the trio, they've already gotten their feet wet and shown flashes, but there's so much development ahead. For Hockenson, he's going to need to continue to learn how to process the different coverage looks thrown at him, and, more importantly given his early showing, sharpen his technique when blocking.
Tavai has made an admirable adjustment from the competition level he faced at Hawaii to what he's seeing in NFL. Now it's about quickening his play processing and continuing to sharpen his fundamentals, particularly with his pad level and hand placement when taking on blocks in run support.
Harris, like Hockenson, plays a complex position with a wealth of alignment and assignment responsibilities. Experience will be invaluable and will allow him to play faster in his second season.
► Q. When do Bo Davis and Al Golden receive any heat? It is their units, particularly Al’s, that consistently fail. — @_Smails_
► A. It's a fair question, and I believe the reason position coaches are the last in line for criticism is because they exist in the background and we don't fully understand what they're being asked to do.
It's easier for us to look up the chain of command, to coordinators and head coaches, considering they're regularly forced to be held publicly accountable through media sessions. Plus, they are ultimately responsible for teaching and setting expectations for the assistants.
Of Detroit's assistant coaches, my favorite conversations, as few and far between as they are, have been with Golden. He offers honest critiques and shares information in an informative, but easy to process way. When I ask him questions, I often feel like I'm learning something from his answers.
That doesn't necessarily make him a good coach. I don't have an opinion there, since, as noted, it's difficult to assess beyond the obvious performance of the position group. But if his unit continues to under-perform, yeah, he could be in trouble this offseason.
The thing to remember about Golden is he was a Jim Caldwell hire, retained by head coach Matt Patricia. Plus, Golden is coaching his boss' favorite position, so the spotlight is going to be burning brighter there, fair or not.
► Q. Any chance Jalen Reeves-Maybin gets more time with Jarrad Davis poor PFF rating? — @hockeyslap
► A. First, let's be clear: Even though most NFL teams have a working relationship with Pro Football Focus, indicating they respect the service's work and data collection, they don't give a damn about the analytic site's grading.
The Lions have internal grades, based on actually knowing player assignments, and those are what they use to determine playing time.
Many of us, including myself, are curious about the possibility of getting Jalen Reeves-Maybin more involved. In a defense that demands problem solving, it couldn't possibly hurt to get one of your most instinctual players on the field more often, even if he's undersized by schematic standards.
Both Patricia and coordinator Paul Pasqualoni were asked about Reeves-Maybin this week, and nothing in their answers suggested a change was in the cards. Of course, this could be a coaching staff not wanting to tip its hand, but the third-year linebacker has played just two defensive snaps the past month.
► Q: What's the energy like in the locker room? Do you get the feeling that the players believe that can win? — @lamos_mary
► A: Outside of Slay breaking ranks a couple of times the past few weeks, starting with his venting about the Diggs trade, plus more recent comments about the puzzle pieces being put in the wrong places, it's been business as usual. The emphasis here is on business.
Where culture and buy-in were an issue a year ago, particularly with some of the roster's veteran players, it's just not this year. There's a workmanlike, head-down attitude that permeates throughout the locker room.
As for whether they believe they can win, there's no question. At what point have the Lions not been competitive this year? Sure, the defense hasn't been able to get a stop in some games, but the team has been in every contest until the closing minutes. Everyone knows they're a couple of plays away from flipping those results, it's just a matter of doing it.
► Q. Is it just the overall team defense in general or has Snacks regressed? — @AustinDanieI
► A. When we're talking about the season on the whole, the regression had been across the board. Only a handful of defenders have been playing up to the standards of their previous body of work, and even with those players, there have been lapses.
With Damon Harrison and Trey Flowers, another player who generated a lot of early-season criticism, they both got off to slow starts. It's probably not a coincidence both of those defensive leaders also missed extensive practice time during the offseason due to injury.
That said, both Harrison and Flowers have been turning a corner in recent weeks. Speaking specifically on Harrison, since that was your question, I believe the past two games have been his best and he's closing in on playing at his previously established level.
► Q. Why not bring back Ryan Santoso who was with them in camp instead of Wile? — @JMart1539
► A: Santoso is a unique player to have in training camp because he can both punt and kick field goals. By having that versatility, it allows the Lions to save a roster spot, while preserving both Sam Martin and Matt Prater's legs.
But Santoso, despite showing a big leg, always struggled with consistency. He was never close to showing Martin's level of consistency with ball placement.
With Martin hurting, the Lions wanted ability, not versatility. Matt Wile has posted some pretty good numbers during his career, and it's a bit surprising he wasn't already on a roster.
► Q. Why is the coaching not able to fix the defense? — @Fallout_Xav
► A. If Patricia and his staff can't figure it out, I don't know why you'd expect me to have the answers.
There are multiple camps of thought here. First, the scheme isn't good, but I have a difficult time believing that since Patricia's units regularly held opponents under 20 points per game in New England.
Another option is the personnel isn't good, which is also tough to understand since you have a top run-stuffing defensive tackle, a top free agent at defensive end and some clear talent in the secondary. Your best argument is the linebackers aren't good enough, which is fair.
That leaves us with the talent struggling to understand the scheme and consistently execute what is being asked of them, which, by extension is a coaching problem.
These struggles wouldn't have been all that surprising in Patricia's first year, but the way they've lingered, and in many cases, worsened in Year 2 is troubling and beyond my ability to explain.
► Q: Is the new running back Bo Scarbrough going to play, or just sit on the practice squad? — @willnabby
► A. With the way the Lions have churned the practice squad, releasing many players a day or two after they sign, I can't promise you Scarbrough will be here tomorrow. Until he's added to the active roster, I'm not going to spend too much time thinking about him.
► Q. As a child, did you ever write to NFL players asking them to cut you a check for $25? — @CKKHW
► A. In case any of you missed this story, Jason Hanson showed up in the press box at Detroit's last home game. He gathered media members around and shared a laminated letter he received from his playing days, where a young boy had written him asking for $25, since Hanson had missed a short field goal that prevented the boy and his father from having the winning square in an office pool.
It turns out that boy was MLive reporter Kyle Meinke. The scene was amusing as it sounds, especially when Hanson cut Meinke a check with an apology in the memo line.
As for me, no, I've never written an athlete demanding any amount of money, although I'm pretty sure I sent off a few baseball cards in self-addressed stamped envelopes seeking autographs a handful of times.
I don't recall getting any of them back. Thanks a lot, Jeff Bagwell.