by | Feb 25, 2009 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

It’s silly season again.

The NFL draft is a few days away. At some point in history, the draft went from an insider thing to an outsider thing. That is when it got silly. It used to be a bunch of bleary-eyed football coaches in small rooms with chalkboards. Now there are endless TV updates, devoted Web sites, all-day Internet conversations, talk radio shows – all about which team might take which player with which pick.

Why people are so fascinated by this always puzzles me. Maybe it’s the thrill of shopping with other people’s money. Here in Detroit, we start talking about the draft a bit earlier than most places, usually around November.

Now it’s April. And so Wednesday, in the confines of their beautiful practice facility, Matt Millen and Rod Marinelli held a news conference for an eager media to talk about things they can’t talk about, players they’re not sure they’ll take, and a pick they may not keep.

“Would you take Calvin Johnson at No. 2?”

“We wouldn’t hesitate,” Millen said.

“Would you take JaMarcus Russell?”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Well, if one is gone, then the other will be available, so haven’t we just figured this out?”

“Possibly,” Millen said. And he laughed.

Possibly not.

The roll call of saviors past

I’m not sure I learned a lot at the news conference, although I did hear some terms that, even with 25 years in this business, perked up my ears. For example, I heard players categorized as “good motors” and “good hips.”

And when I asked Marinelli to rank positions that are the fastest to become starters in the NFL, he went into a wonderful explanation of pass rushers’ learning curves that included this: “Different hands, different sets, center slide, center slide, white chip on him, different looks.”

White chip? Isn’t that an ice cream?

It’s funny. It’s sad. It’s the Lions. I feel badly for these guys. If they don’t talk, fans get angry. If they do talk, fans get angry. Draft fans are a particularly vicious lot (or have you never heard the booing at Madison Square Garden)? But around here, people want a draft pick who will save the Lions single-handedly.

Well. Here are a few first-round draftees who were supposed to do that: Chuck Long, Andre Ware, Reggie Rogers, Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers.

None of them worked out.

Ah, but this year will be different!

No, it won’t.

The roll call of candidates

But let’s shop anyway: After all, my theory is that the draft in Detroit is so big because it’s the only time of the year that we are near the top. We’re No. 2! You think fans in Indianapolis are wasting brain cells on the draft? No way. They’ve still got Super Bowl hangovers.

But in Detroit, this is our time to shine. Football HAS to deal with us.

So here’s who the Lions will and won’t pick:

•JaMarcus Russell, QB. Great prospect. Possible franchise quarterback. Take him! But the Lions have two QBs and young throwers take time AND WHO HAS TIME? Don’t take him!

•Calvin Johnson, WR. Tall. Fast. Best athlete in the draft. Take him! Right. He’d be our fourth first-round receiver in five years. What? They don’t laugh at us enough? Don’t take him!

•Joe Thomas, OT. Great offensive lineman. Could play 10 years. Take him! But offensive linemen take a long time to develop and WHO HAS TIME? Don’t take him!

•Adrian Peterson, RB. He was a no-brain No. 1 pick before he got hurt. Great running back. Take him! But he did get hurt. And what about Kevin Jones, a first-round running back just a few years ago? Don’t take him!

•Gaines Adams, DE. A pass rusher. You win with defense. Take him! But he’s a bit small. And as Marinelli said, you got the “center slide, center slide, white chip on him.” I don’t know what it means, but it scares me. Don’t take him!

So what have we solved? There could be a trade. Or several. But we gotta know. We gotta know now.

So Matt and Rod told us what they know. For now. Which could change. Which might not change. Which depends on things. We’re not sure which things.

Said Millen: “Sometimes, nothing happens.”

We’re Lions fans. You’re telling us?

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or He and his mother, Rhoda, will discuss and sign copies of “For One More Day” at 8 tonight at Borders, 612 E. Liberty, Ann Arbor.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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