Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Lions' Decision To Bring In Brown A Rare Example Of Common Sense

As far as I'm concerned, Lomas Brown only blew one major assignment in his 11 years with the Lions.

That assignment was to keep his mouth shut and act humble prior to a certain playoff game. He failed, and miserably.

Brown, arguably the best offensive lineman in team history, was full of vim and vigor heading into a 1995 NFC Wild Card showdown with the Eagles in Philadelphia. The Lions were on a roll, having won their last seven games to finish 10-6, thus saving coach Wayne Fontes's job. Owner Bill Ford Sr. had said, after a loss in Atlanta dropped the Lions to 3-6, that the only way for Fontes to come back in 1996 was if his team made the playoffs. It was a rare public ultimatum coming from hizzowner.

So the Lions went out and won their last seven, and Brown had, himself, a rare moment of bluster.

"I guarantee we'll win down there (in Philly)," Brown crowed to the newspapers. "I guarantee it."

It didn't look like a bad prediction, albeit fodder for the Eagles' bulletin board. The Lions were the hottest team in the NFL. They had won some road games down the stretch, when every game mattered. And the Eagles weren't exactly Super Bowl contenders themselves. They were quarterbacked by Rodney Peete, first of all.

I remember saying to one of my co-workers a few days before the game, "The only way I see Fontes not coming back in '96 is if the Lions go down to Philly and lay an egg." But even I didn't believe that would really happen.

But the Lions did just that; they laid a big ole ostrich egg on the Veterans Stadium turf.

What else can you call it, when the score becomes 51-7, as it did at one point? It was 34-7 at halftime. Only a late flurry of scoring by the Lions made the final score a semi-respectable 58-37. It was Brown's last game as a Lion; he would end up in Arizona in 1996.

Brown, again thwarting a pass rush

But something tells me that Lomas Brown will make a much finer tutor than he was a prognosticator.

There's good news out of Allen Park, and that is that the Lions are letting Brown, 45, openly work with first round draft choice and offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus in a sort of tutorial/mentor/coach relationship. They figured, rightly so, that there are many worse choices to pair up with Cherilus other than Brown, who for so many quality seasons anchored the Lions' offensive line from the left tackle position. Brown, no. 75 (which should be retired, by the way, because it was also worn by another top drawer lineman -- guard John Gordy of the 1950s and '60s), was the best pass-blocking lineman I've ever seen play for the Lions. His run-blocking skills weren't bad, either, even if he fell into some unconventional habits by way of blocking for the unconventional Barry Sanders for seven years.

The move to bring Brown back into the Lions family to work with their prized no. 1 draft pick is a pleasantly surprising display of common sense and forward thinking on the team's part. Brown has told folks that he's been chomping at the bit to work with the Lions' offensive linemen for several years now. The wait might be worth it; for Brown now gets to work with the most-hyped OL the Lions have had in years.

Cherilus is penned in to be the Lions' right tackle, since Jeff Backus maintains hold on the LT position. But Cherilus played LT at Boston College, and Brown feels the rookie can be a great tackle, no matter which side he plays.

Lions rookie Gosder Cherilus at Lions mini-camp

No doubt footwork will be on Brown's agenda with the hulking Cherilus, who will come into training camp far huger than Brown ever was during his playing days. Brown, every week, gave up size and weight, but his footwork was so good that he rarely was beaten by those monster DEs and OLBs gunning for a sack. So it will be up to Brown to school Cherilus on the subtle but extremely important mechanics of footwork, to make his 6-foot-7, 320+ pound frame that much more mobile and effective from a finesse standpoint. Brown played mainly at 6-foot-4, 280 throughout his career.

Brown finally won a Super Bowl, with the Tampa Bay Bucs during the 2002 season, at age 39. It was there that he met and joined the Mutual Admiration Society with Lions coach Rod Marinelli, a Bucs assistant at the time. Perhaps it was just a matter of time, once Marinelli got the Lions job, that he'd call on Brown to impart his knowledge onto a high-profile project like Cherilus.

Can't hurt.

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