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Detroit Lions Strategy And Personnel 9-6-11

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ORCHARD PARK, NY - NOVEMBER 14: Fred Jackson #22 of the Buffalo Bills is tackled by Amari Spivey #42 and Alphonso Smith #27 of the Detroit Lions at Ralph Wilson Stadium on November 14, 2010 in Orchard Park, New York.  (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

ORCHARD PARK, NY – NOVEMBER 14: Fred Jackson #22 of the Buffalo Bills is tackled by Amari Spivey #42 and Alphonso Smith #27 of the Detroit Lions at Ralph Wilson Stadium on November 14, 2010 in Orchard Park, New York. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

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–CB Alphonso Smith was taken off the non-football injury list (broken foot) and practiced for the first time on Monday. “He’s not game-ready yet,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “It’s still going to be a while for him but it will be sooner than six weeks.” Thus the decision to release veteran Nathan Vasher and activate Smith.

–DT Nick Fairley (foot) will not be ready to play in the opener. The Lions haven’t put any timetable on his return, but he still isn’t able to practice. He got the boot off last week. “He’s working his way back,” coach Jim Schwartz said. “But there’s still a longer way to go. He’s out of the boot but not out of the woods.”

–OG Jacques McClendon, claimed from the Colts on Sunday, for now is considered a developmental player. “We like what we saw on tape,” Schwartz said. “He’s a young player and we have had success developing these types of guys. We liked him in the draft (2009). He’s a good, young player to work with.”

–DE Kyle Vanden Bosch (shoulder) said he was ready and anxious to play Sunday. He had been held out of practice the last two weeks. “The emphasis was to be ready for the opener,” he said. “I kept myself in game shape. I felt great today, like I haven’t missed a beat. Sunday can’t get here quick enough.”

–C/G Dan Gerberry, waived on Saturday, was re-signed to the practice squad. He spent all of last season on the Lions’ practice squad.

–CB Walter McFadden, released by the Raiders, was signed to the practice squad.

REPORT CARD ENTERING REGULAR SEASON

PASSING OFFENSE
A – The Lions scored 30 or more points in three of the four exhibition games and Matthew Stafford’s quarterback efficiency was stellar. He completed 77.4 percent of his passes for 356 yards with five touchdowns and no turnovers. With Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson healthy and at the top of their game, plus the tight end tandem of Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler, Stafford has all the weapons he needs.

RUSHING OFFENSE
D – The season-ending injury to power runner Mikel Leshoure was a killer for the Lions. Starter Jahvid Best is a big-play threat but he doesn’t produce much between the tackles. Leshoure was going to be the thunder to Best’s lightening. Now, the Lions will alternate veterans Maurice Morris and Jerome Harrison behind Best, and take an extended look at Redskins castoff Keiland Williams. The Lions also do not have a fullback on the roster. They will play out of one-back sets for the most part and deploy an H-back (tight end Will Heller) in short-yardage packages.

PASS DEFENSE
B – Ask Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The Lions’ front four led by defensive end Cliff Avril and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh put him under constant duress in the third exhibition game. In addition, with a beefed up linebacker corps (Stephen Tulloch, Justin Durant, DeAndre Levy) the Lions will blitz more than they did last season. The cornerbacks are far from great but solid in young veterans Chris Houston and Eric Wright. Safety Louis Delmas, healthy and with a better supporting cast in the back seven, is poised for a breakout year.

RUSH DEFENSE
C – It will be tested right out of the gate in Tampa. The addition of Tulloch and Durant certainly help fortify what was a soft run defense a year ago, but they were still vulnerable against the run in the preseason.

SPECIAL TEAMS
B – The Lions like their kick coverage unit so much that there will be many times when kicker Jason Hanson will try to land his kicks at the goal line to force teams into a return. They don’t want to concede the 20-yard line on a touchback. Hanson, in his 20th season, did not miss a field goal in the preseason. He beat out Dave Rayner in his first true preseason challenge in 15 years. The punting chores will be in the hands of rookie Ryan Donahue, who beat out reliable vet Nick Harris. The Lions are saving $1 million in salary with Donahue and gaining 10 years. The return game is in the capable hands of Stefan Logan.

COACHING
B – This is almost uncharted territory for the Lions. This is the third straight season with the same head coach (Jim Schwartz), offensive coordinator and system (Scott Linehan), defensive coordinator and system (Gunther Cunningham) and the same position coaches. That continuity enabled the team to hit the ground running despite losing the offseason program.

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