Lions plan to pound the ball with only two tailbacks?

By Chris Cluff  |   Monday, September 01, 2008  |  Comments( 4 )

Detroit Lions
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Well, now that Mike Martz is long gone from the Detroit Lions, it has become quite apparent that a former defensive line coach is in complete control.

The proof is in the players sitting on the roster after Saturday’s cuts, as Rod Marinelli, the former D-line skipper of the Tampa Bay Bucs now in his third season as Detroit’s head coach, kept 11 defensive linemen and just six offensive skill players – four receivers and two tailbacks.

That could change if the Lions decide to sign running back Rudi Johnson, whom the Cincinnati Bengals cut on Saturday. But for now, the Lions’ only running backs are rookie Kevin Smith and veteran Tatum Bell, with Artose Pinner having been cut and Aveion Cason (ankle) and Brian Calhoun (thigh) put on injured reserve Saturday.

That’s not the best roster planning for a team that has pounded the drum all offseason about the fact that it plans to pound its running game this season. If the Lions don’t sign another back, like Johnson or Shaun Alexander, they’ll be rolling the dice by keeping just Smith and Bell.

Just as they are gambling by keeping only four wideouts: Roy Williams, Calvin Johnson, Shaun McDonald and Mike Furrey.

This arrangement is such a departure from the past couple of years, when Martz was the offensive coordinator and the Lions kept a total of nine or 10 backs and receivers.

Now that Mad Martz is gone, Marinelli is going cuckoo for the other side of the ball. Not that the Lions can’t use some improvement on defense – they ranked 22nd and last in his first two years. But he’s playing it perilously thin on offense, where the Lions have had plenty of injury problems over the years.

He should know that if the Lions can actually run the ball this year, they could challenge for the title in a seemingly wide-open NFC North.

With Martz in charge the past two years, the offense ranked seventh and ninth in passing yards and 32nd and 31st in rushing yards. Marinelli wants to fix that imbalance, but can he do it without balancing his roster numbers a bit better?

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About Chris Cluff

Chris Cluff spent 10 years as an editor and sportswriter for The Seattle Times. He was a key figure in the newspaper's coverage of the Seahawks, particularly during their Super Bowl run in 2005. He also has written two books on the Seahawks: "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Heart-Pounding,...
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