Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Verba, Woody Conspicuous By Their Jewelry

Ross Verba has played in the NFL since 1997. He was the first rookie to start at left tackle in a Super Bowl -- a victory, too. He was out of football in 2005, a contract holdout from the Cleveland Browns, but he's started 100 of the 106 games he's played in the league. He's never played in a Pro Bowl, but he's been dependable. He will be the Lions' starting left guard, partly because of his assertion shortly after hitting town: "I don't NOT start."

Damien Woody will start at right guard for the Lions. He's been to two Super Bowls, winning both. He's an eight-year veteran who has Pro Bowl potential. He's also as reliable as they come, and durable.

Verba and Woody, "big uglies" in the interior offensive line, will join left tackle Jeff Backus, center Dominic Raiola, and right tackle Rex Tucker in holding they key to the Lions' offense in 2006.

Jon Kitna? Terribly important. Just ask Joey Harrington. Or Scott Mitchell. Or Chuck Freaking Long.

Kevin Jones? A maybe-stud at running back. Perhaps even a fantasy footballer's dream someday.

Roy Williams? Loads of NFL GMs would love to have big #11 catching passes for them, and the last time you could say that about a Lion receiver, Herman Moore and Brett Perriman were in town.

Mike Martz? Football followers love to use the word "genius". Martz has been called that, because of his convoluted offensive schemes, and his myriad of plays. 400 and counting, last I checked.

But none of the above people matter -- NONE of them -- if Verba, Woody, Backus, Raiola, and Tucker don't block, open holes, and generally control the line of scrimmage on a consistent basis. Kitna doesn't have time to throw. Jones won't have anywhere to go. Williams won't be a factor. Martz will go from genius to dunce.

One of the first things new head coach Rod Marinelli said at his introductory press conference in January was that he believes in the notion that success in the trenches will equal wins in the standings. It also goes along nicely with his "Pound the Rock" mantra. Naturally, his pedigree as a defensive line coach figures into that reasoning.

But it's sound reasoning. The Lions haven't had a top-shelf offensive line, a steady, cohesive unit, in years. Even when the great Barry Sanders was a whirling dervish in Detroit, folks were slow to give the offensive line credit. "Barry does it by himself," they cried. Often it was true. So the idea of putting the team's fate into the hands of men who stand 6'5" and weigh 300+ pounds isn't new -- to football. But it hasn't always been the case in Lionland.

Verba and Woody are two precious commodities, more so than the other three "O" linemen, because of something they are able to wear on their cigar-like fingers: a Super Bowl ring. The team has too few players who have such jewelry. Dre Bly is another. But scanning the team's roster, those three should be all you'll find, who've won the Big One.

The last time the Lions won the Big One, it was called the NFL Championship. Dwight Eisenhower was president. You'd be hard-pressed to find 50% of today's younger pro football fans who have even heard of Dwight Eisenhower. Or Bobby Layne. Or Joe Schmidt. Or George Wilson. All are dead but Schmidt, by the way.

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