Kevin Smith works as Lions’ No. 3 RB while Jahvid Best sits


Chris McCosky/ The Detroit News

Allen Park — Jahvid Best (concussion), as expected, was not cleared for practice Tuesday, amid reports that he will miss his third straight game Sunday.

ESPN, citing an anonymous league source, reported that Best would not play at Chicago. The team has not officially ruled him out.

Running back Kevin Smith, waived by the Lions after last season, was signed Monday and was working in as the No. 3 running back early in practice Tuesday.

Veteran guard Leonard Davis, signed Sunday, was working at No. 2 right guard Tuesday.

Defensive tackle Sammie Hill (foot) was the only other player not practicing. Rookie tackle Nick Fairley (foot) was practicing, though he still looked limited in the early drills.

Receiver and special teams ace Rashied Davis, who has missed six games with a foot injury, was back and looked to be at full strength. He worked as one of the gunners on the first punt coverage unit.

The Lions also made a practice squad move, signing former LSU receiver Terrence Tolliver and releasing offensive tackle Casey Bender.

Lions still looking to fill vital roster spots


Chris McCosky/ The Detroit News

Allen Park— This is a big week — possibly a make-or-break week — for the NFL. If there is to be at least a two-week free-agency period with training camp starting on time at the beginning of August — meaning if the NFL year is to start July 18 — the framework for a new collective bargaining agreement should be all but in place by the end of the week.

According to ESPN and the Associated Press, talks between the owners and players are set to resume today in New York City. After a brief bump in the road last week, it seems like progress is being made toward a deal.

So let’s be optimistic and start looking toward that free-agency period for the Lions. There’s little mystery about where they will be looking — cornerback and linebacker.

General manager Martin Mayhew made it clear during the draft, when he did not address those needs, that he felt he could better upgrade those positions through free agency or trades.

For the sake of discussion, here are five free agents at both positions that the Lions might have some interest in once the doors open on free agency.

Cornerbacks

1. Nnamdi Asomugha, Oakland: You have to list him first because he will be, arguably, the most coveted free agent on the market, and also the most expensive. But the odds of the Lions winning this sweepstakes seem long.

The Eagles and Cowboys are expected to make a run at him.

He turns 30 Wednesday, but he’s considered to be the best cover corner in the game.

His stated intention is to land on a legitimate Super Bowl contender. The Lions might be poised to end their playoff drought next season, but adding Asomugha alone won’t make them Super Bowl contenders, and his price tag might prevent the Lions from filling some other holes.

2. Johnathan Joseph, Cincinnati: This might be a more realistic option. He’s going to command about $8 million per year, according to ESPN’s John Clayton, which is no bargain but far less than Asomugha.

Plus, Joseph is 27 and isn’t far behind Asomugha in terms of his shutdown abilities on the edge. He has 14 interceptions in his career, three last season in 12 games.

Joseph might have more suitors than Asomugha, because he’s perceived to be more accessible. The Bengals won’t go out without a fight, and the Texans, Seahawks, Redskins, Buccaneers, Eagles and Cowboys could be in the mix.

3. Chris Houston, Detroit: It’s not completely clear how much the Lions want to re-sign Houston. They liked him, for sure, but they didn’t offer him an extension last season. They were hoping they could get him on another one-year deal to take a longer look before committing to him long-term.

But, he was their best corner last season and unless they strike it rich with one of the free agents previously mentioned, they will have to woo him back.

4. Chris Carr, Baltimore: The Lions made a run at him before last season. He’s 28 and has been a steady, if not spectacular, player for seven seasons.

He doesn’t have the size (5-foot-11, 180) that Mayhew likes at corner, but he plays with the aggression and toughness that the GM covets.

5. Ike Taylor, Pittsburgh: Three years ago, maybe, this guy would have been at the top of the wish list for a lot of teams. But he’s 31 now; still productive, but clearly, he’ll be negotiating his last big contract.

But at 6-2, 195, he has the size the Lions want at corner and he has shown throughout his career that he is an above-average cover man.

The question is, does he have three good years left? Two?

Linebackers

1. Stephen Tulloch, Tennessee: He has a history with coach Jim Schwartz. He has an expressed fondness for the Lions’ aggressive style of defense and he has said he’d love to play behind the Lions’ talented defensive front.

He might be the most underrated linebacker in the game; for sure, he’s the most anonymous guy who’s made 281 tackles the last two seasons, and he’s still just 26.

He’s a middle linebacker, though. So to sign him would mean moving DeAndre Levy to weak-side linebacker. It’s a position that Levy played at Wisconsin and one he said he wouldn’t mind going back to at the professional level, but the Lions are reluctant to move him out of the middle.

2. Ben Leber, Minnesota: He’s a little bit older (32) but has been a consistently productive outside linebacker for 10 seasons.

It seems like Leber expects an address change next season. Here’s what he told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

“The reality is if they (Vikings) were really, really wanting me back, then maybe something would have been said before the lockout. I had a good meeting with coach (Leslie) Frazier and (vice president of player personnel Rick) Spielman at the end of the year. Each side expressed how much I’d like to be here and finish my career here.

“I am hopeful and hope that I can come back and be a Viking again. But I’m also a realist, and I’ve been through this process before. It’s not always up to you, and you have to be willing to move on.”

3. Kirk Morrison, Jacksonville: He’s 29 and coming off his least productive year. After averaging more than 130 tackles for six years with the Raiders, he had 89 tackles for the Jags.

But he’s still considered one of the best and most durable middle linebackers available. He’s played in 95 straight games.

There’s a good chance Jacksonville will work hard to keep him.

4. Thomas Howard, Oakland: Howard lost his starting outside linebacker spot last season to Quentin Groves, but he is a player a lot of scouts believe is ready to break out.

He’s just 27 and had a three-year stretch — from 2007-2009 — when he started and produced 106, 96 and 97 tackles.

He would be a lower-profile signing than somebody like Tulloch, or even Tampa Bay middle linebacker Barrett Ruud, who has been mentioned as a player of interest for the Lions, but he would also be a lot more affordable — especially if the Lions spend big to get a corner.

5. Thomas Davis, Carolina: Interesting case here. A first-round pick in 2005 and a productive player for a couple of years, but he tore his anterior cruciate ligament twice in a seven-month span and missed the entire 2010 season.

Dr. James Andrews, who performed both surgeries, said that he will be able to return to football this season. The question will be whether or not he regains the explosiveness he had before the injury.

If he does, there’s a lot of good football left him in.

He’s 28.

The Lions ‘D’

Where the Lions ranked in various defensive categories last season:

Scoring defense — 19th (23.1 points per game)

Total defense — 21st (343.6 yards per game)

Passing yards — 16th (218.6 per game)

Rushing yards — 24th (124.9 per game)

Sacks — Sixth (44 total)

Interceptions — Tied for 19th (14 total)

chris.mccosky@detnews.com

(313) 222-1489

Joe Barksdale Jr. plans to be ready


Tom Markowski/ The Detroit News

Detroit— To Joe Barksdale Jr., it’s all about the preparation. It’s a day-by-day process built on the traditional values of family, religion and hard work.

If one is prepared, no situation or challenge is unmanageable.

On April 29 Barksdale, a 6-foot-5, 325-pound offensive tackle from Louisiana State and a 2007 graduate of Detroit Cass Tech, patiently awaited his number to be called in the NFL draft. He had the assurance of family members, his trust in God and the satisfaction of knowing his work was about to pay off.

When Barksdale was selected in the third round, 92nd overall, by the Oakland Raiders, he took it in stride. Despite some mock drafts tabbing him for the middle rounds, some as late as seventh, he listened to his coaches at LSU.

“ESPN was talking sixth or seventh round,” Barksdale said. “Everyone was talking sixth or seventh round. I knew I wasn’t going past the fourth, just by what my coaches were saying. Things happen for a reason. I’m happy to go with Oakland, win some games and win a Super or two.”

Timing is everything

Barksdale must continue to play the waiting game. Rookies can’t sign a contract because of the NFL lockout. Barksdale did sign with an agent, Isaac Conner of a3 (Allegiant Athletic Agency), and continues to work out, over two hours a day, four days a week with his personal trainer, Charles Fobbs, a former Cass Tech assistant coach, to be ready when the contract dispute ends.

“Nobody knows when it will end,” Barksdale said. “All you can do is stay in shape. I take care of what I have control of. It’s like the motto at my fraternity: “Do thy duty that is best and leave unto the Lord the rest.”

Fobbs said the lockout hurts the free-agent rookies, not the players who were selected in the draft.

“If I’m the owner or GM, I have to use what I have,” Fobbs said. “I can’t trade for one. Then there are the free-agent veterans. Who are you going to sign, a free agent out of college or a free-agent veteran? You’re going to see a lot of players go to the (Canadian Football League). And why not? You have a chance to play and have someone watch you. It would behoove the owners to watch them. And it won’t cost you anything.”

Barksdale said he’s not bothered by the lockout. He’s confident the upcoming season will be played. He said his agent takes care of his financial needs, what little there are.

“I don’t spend a lot of money,” Barksdale said. “I never had a lot of money. Maybe five dollars in my pocket and that’s it. You give someone who never had candy before some fat-free twizzlers and they’re good.

“I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I need money for gas to see my girlfriend (in East Lansing). My hobbies are simple. I have an IPOD, a MacBook. The MacBook is starting to run my life. And I listen to music and play video games.”

Game plan

Barksdale said he didn’t play football as a means to go to college. Going to college wasn’t a choice. His parents, Joe Sr. and Rita Barksdale, made that clear. That’s one reason they sent their son to Cass Tech, to prepare him for college. The plan was for Barksdale to become an engineer. That changed.

Fobbs saw something special, tremendous potential, when he worked with Barksdale as a freshman at Cass Tech. Fobbs convinced Barksdale’s parents to trust him with their son.

“Back then I knew he could play on Sundays,” Fobbs said. “The long shot was, do the parents do what they’re supposed to do? Do they trust me to take their son to Texas for a week in January? I had to educate them. He couldn’t go to family reunions. They couldn’t schedule doctors’ appointment during the school year. He had to be mine.”

Barksdale, who didn’t play football until his freshman year, began to realize his potential late in his sophomore season. Quickly he became a dominant lineman on both sides of the ball. After his senior season, he was named The Detroit News No. 1 Blue Chip prospect.

After researching schools he chose LSU over Ohio State. Fobbs said Barksdale made his selection based on the number of offensive linemen from LSU that made it to the NFL. That’s preparation.

Barksdale started for three seasons at LSU, at right tackle the first two and at left tackle his senior year. He was named second team All-Southeastern Conference his senior year and helped LSU win the Cotton Bowl.

“I expect to start right away,” Barksdale said of his opportunity with the Raiders. “My goal is to play 12 years. I want to play forever.

“I do love football. I know it will be hard when it’s over. When I’m done, I’ll coach and take that money they give me to coach to charity. If you play 12 years, you won’t need more money. I won’t want to work a normal job when I’m done. No 9-to-5 for me. I’m going to ride this train until the tracks run out.”

tom.markowski@detnews.com

(313) 223-4633

ESPN’s Mel Kiper: Lions’ Nick Fairley ‘will have immediate impact’


The Detroit News

ESPN’s Mel Kiper, draft expert, has identified his early-impact players from the first round of last week’s NFL draft. And while Lions tackle Nick Fairley wasn’t among the top three players mentioned by Kiper, Fairley did warrant mention among Kiper’s “notables.”

“Nick Fairley will have an immediate impact, but it’ll be hard to say how much of it is him alone, particularly with Ndamukong Suh,” Kiper wrote. “But if they can work off each other early, look out.”

Advertisement



Kiper’s top three early-impact defensive players from the first round were linebackers Von Miller of Texas AM (Broncos) and Aldon Smith of Missouri (49ers), and end Robert Quinn of North Carolina (Rams).

Kiper later revealed his immediate impact players from rounds 2-3, and his list included Lions receiver Titus Young of Boise State.

“Several teams took a hard look at him late in round 1, and Detroit saw a ton of value while passing on other needs, and I liked their decision,” Kiper wrote.

Lions might gamble on strong defensive end class


Chris McCosky / The Detroit News

Fifth in a series of previews for the NFL draft.

Allen Park— Why in the world would the Lions draft a defensive end with the 13th overall in next week’s draft?

Advertisement



The defensive line, as a unit, was without question the strength of the defense last season and everybody is coming back. The ends are especially well-stocked with starters Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril, productive reserves Turk McBride and Lawrence Jackson, plus developing second-year end Willie Young.

No way the Lions use their first on a defensive lineman, right? Wrong.

“Sometimes when you add a player, it might not make sense on the face of it,” general manager Martin Mayhew said before the Combine in February. “But if you see what’s on the horizon and you look down the road and around the corner, it does make sense.”

All four primary defensive ends were injured at various times last season, and Vanden Bosch will be 33 and coming off neck surgery, so you can’t have enough talent there, especially when it is the foundation of your defensive scheme.

“That has to be the strength of our team in the future and it’s a big part of our defensive philosophy,” Mayhew said. “There are a lot of intriguing guys here (in the draft), a lot of good defensive ends and a lot of versatile guys who can play outside and rush from the inside. That is definitely an area we will look to address.”

The accumulation of talented defensive ends and, more specifically, pass rushers, is becoming a league-wide trend. Former coach and ESPN analyst Jon Gruden explains why.

“There is a premium on pass rush,” he said in a teleconference last week. “You don’t want to have to blitz five, six, seven guys to get there. You want to be able to get there with four, if you can for sure, and use seven men in coverage.”

That’s especially critical for the Lions, since they have had some well-documented deficiencies in the secondary over the years.

“Defensive ends are a premium in this draft,” Gruden said. “I think this is an outstanding class of defensive end. (Da’Quan) Bowers, providing his knee is healthy, and Robert Quinn at North Carolina, Aldon Smith is special at Missouri. I think J.J. Watt is a physical guy coming off the edge, like Ryan Kerrigan at Purdue. Adrian Clayborn has some excellent tape. There are a number of good pass rushers in this draft.”

The Lions have taken close looks at Smith, Bowers and Cal’s Cameron Jordan. Mayhew talked about Bowers, who led the nation in sacks, on Thursday.

“There is some concern about Bowers’ medical condition,” Mayhew said. “Our doctors have evaluated him and we don’t share that concern.”

Bowers had knee surgery in January and there have been conflicting reports about how ready he will be next season — and beyond.

“He’s not in pristine physical condition, according to our doctors,” Mayhew said. “But we are not concerned about his health in terms of playing football in the future.”

Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz have talked about having ends that are versatile enough to rush effectively from the inside and outside. Watt, Bowers and Smith certainly fit that bill, but there is a good chance none will be around by the time the Lions are set to pick.

Smith would be an intriguing choice. He’s only 21 and still raw. He likely wouldn’t make a huge impact next season, but Mayhew made it clear Thursday the draft is for the future.

Smith is listed at 263 pounds, but projects to play at 275 when he grows into his frame. Right now he can squat 700 pounds, so he’s explosive inside and outside.

The talent pool is deep enough that they could get a solid defensive end even in the second or third rounds.

“If you select well, the whole draft is pretty sound,” Mayhew said. “Defensive line is really deep and that’s good. We really have improved our football team by improving our defensive line, but we can still add to that group.”

By most accounts, the cream of the defensive tackle crop — Alabama’s Marcell Dareus, Auburn’s Nick Fairley and possibly Corey Liuget of Illinois — will be gone before the Lions pick.

Long time coming

Before drafting Ndamukong Suh last year, the Lions last took a defensive lineman with their first pick in the 1995 draft. The list:

2010: DT Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska (No. 2)

2009: QB Matthew Stafford, Georgia (No. 1)

2008: OT Gosder Cherilus, Boston College (No. 17)

2007: WR Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech (No. 2)

2006: LB Ernie Sims, Florida State (No. 9)

2005: WR Mike Williams, Southern California (No. 10)

2004: WR Roy Williams, Texas (No. 7)

2003: WR Charles Rogers, Michigan State (No. 2)

2002: QB Joey Harrington, Oregon (No. 3)

2001: OT Jeff Backus, Michigan (No. 18)

2000: OT Stockar McDougle, Oklahoma (No. 20)

1999: LB Chris Claiborne, Southern California (No. 9)

1998: CB Terry Fair, Tennessee (No. 20)

1997: CB Bryant Westbrook, Texas (No. 5)

1996: LB Reggie Brown, Texas AM (No. 17)

1995: DT Luther Elliss, Utah (No. 20)

Top defensive ends J.J. Watt

6-6/292, Wisconsin

There doesn’t appear to be a weakness. He has an elite first step, quick, violent hands, great athleticism, can rush inside and on the edge and has uncanny timing on batting down passes.

Da’Quan Bowers

6-4/280, Clemson

The NCAA leader in sacks and tackles for loss has all the tools, power, strength, leverage. The only question is his surgically-repaired right knee. Teams are split on how long he will last.

Robert Quinn

6-4/265, North Carolina

He is smaller than the other elite players, but he’s faster (4.65 40) and more athletic. Some scouts think he’s too one-dimensional and raw. Others think he is a budding game-changer. Didn’t play last season.

Aldon Smith

6-4/263, Missouri

Scouts love his length, strength and power, but mostly they like his versatility. He is a beast of an inside rusher and explosive off the edge. He has excellent lateral movement, as well.

Cameron Jordon

6-4/283, California

Athletic and disruptive. Has a non-stop motor on the field. His happy-go-lucky demeanor masks a fierce competitiveness. He can play from a stance in a 4-3 or standing up in a 3-4.

Top defensive tackles Nick Fairley

6-3/291, Auburn

This is a mean, dynamic pass rusher with all the tools to be a Pro Bowler. But his bust potential is just as high. Concerns about his motivation and character persist.

Marcell Dareus

6-3/319, Alabama

Probably as complete and safe a top-three pick as there is in the draft. Will draw double-teams whether he plays in an odd or even front. Great power and strength, plus he is technically sound.

Corey Liuget

6-2/298, Illinois

There is concern about his weight, but his ability to penetrate at the point of attack is a perfect fit for a 4-3 system. Some worry he’s a one-year wonder.

Muhammad Wilkerson

6-4/315, Temple

Impressive at stacking and shedding blockers and finding the ball, but he’s raw. He will need a lot of help with technique. Hasn’t had to learn how to use his hands, which he’ll have to do.

Marvin Austin

6-1/309, North Carolina

Not NFL-ready, but he’s thick, ran a 4.83 with a Combine-best 1.64 10-yard split. But he is still a bit immature. High risk-reward quotient here. Like Quinn, he didn’t play last season.

NFL draft

When: April 28-30, Radio City Music Hall, New York

TV: April 28 and 30 on ESPN (8 p.m. and noon), April 29 on ESPN2 (6 p.m.); all rounds on NFL

Format

Round 1: 8 p.m. April 28

Rounds 2-3: 6 p.m. April 29

Rounds 4-7: noon April 30

Detroit News position previews for the NFL draft

chris.mccosky@detnews.com

(313) 222-1489

Prince Amukamara doesn’t fare well in ESPN stats analysis


Tim Twentyman / The Detroit News

ESPN analyst JC Joyner thinks Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara, a candidate to be selected by the Lions with the 13th pick, is rated far too high in this year’s NFL draft.

And he’s got data to prove it.

Advertisement



Joyner broke down the statistics of Amukamara and some of the draft’s other corners and found that he lagged behind.

“In fact, his performance level placed him well behind some other cornerbacks that are considered borderline first-round choices,” Joyner wrote.

In the 10 games in which the Cornhuskers faced FBS competition (Kansas State, Texas, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Iowa State, Texas AM, Colorado, Oklahoma and two games against Washington), Amukamara was targeted 37 times and gave up 17 completions for 297 yards (8.7 yards per catch average) with three touchdowns. On plays over 30 yards, Joyner notes that teams completed three of their four attempts against Amukamara for 161 yards.

Amukamara gave up 11 completions/defensive penalties in 20 vertical pass attempts, according to Joyner, which equates to a 45-percent success rate. That would have ranked 82nd in that category at the pro level last season. The 14.1 vertical yards per attempt (YPA) and 16.6 stretch vertical YPA would also have placed him in the bottom quarter of the league in those categories.

Joyner admits that Amukamara’s numbers were skewed by his performance against Oklahoma State star wideout Justin Blackmon (Blackmon went 3-for-6 for 144 total reception/penalty yards and a touchdown), but writes that even if you subtract that game, he still gave up a nearly 50-percent completion rate on all other passes.

Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith is considered another draft candidate for the Lions. In an eight-game sample (Colorado State, California, Hawaii, Georgia, Missouri, Baylor, Oklahoma and Nebraska), Smith was targeted 21 times and gave up eight completions for 73 yards, or a 3.5 YPA. He also had a 3.6 YPA on passes of more than 11 yards and a 2.3 YPA on seven passes of 20 yards or more.

“The Georgia game included two targets in which Smith was covering consensus No. 1 wide receiver A.J. Green, both of which fell incomplete,” Joyner notes.

ESPN Insider is a premium site at ESPN.com. To subscribe, go to espn.com/insider.

Good news? Lions’ Ndamukong Suh won’t grace ‘Madden’ cover


Tim Twentyman / The Detroit News

Ndamukong Suh has avoided the Madden curse.

The Lions defensive tackle lost to Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the first round of ESPN.com’s bracket-style competition, which will determine which player graces the cover of the newest installment of the popular video game “Madden NFL 12.”

Advertisement



Rodgers, a No. 1 seed in the bracket, got 72 percent of the vote and faces Rams quarterback Sam Bradford in the second round.

Appearing on the Madden cover is considered an honor for NFL players, but past cover boys also have experienced a decline in performance, usually due to an injury.

ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. changes tune on Lions’ pick at No. 13


Tim Twentyman / The Detroit News

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has released his second mock draft — and he’s changed his mind on the Lions pick at No. 13.

He has Detroit selecting Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith, after originally going with UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers.

Advertisement



“Smith is a late riser, a good player on a bad team and a guy who got less attention partly because quarterbacks wouldn’t put a ball near him this past season,” Kiper writes. “But the film is stacking up now, and it proves why NFL personnel are really high on him. The final test for Smith will be whether he grades out well in Indianapolis (combine). Based on what I know, he will, and he offers the Lions the cornerback help they need without having to sacrifice on value at this stage in the draft.”

Kiper still has Auburn tackle Nick Fairley going No. 1 overall to the Panthers.

The biggest riser on the board is Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. After predicting he’d be the 10th pick by the Redskins in his first mock draft, Kiper now is forecasting Newton to be off the board at No. 3 to the Bills.

ttwentyman@detnews.com