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What to watch for in this final Lions preseason game: The champ, position battles and Kellen Moore

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The champ has already been crowned. The Lions’ team is already set. Legitimate college football is being played. I get it.

You don’t have a valid reason to watch the Lions play the Bills other than to scream at your TV like the overemotional chick in one of those terrible girl movies whenever there is a cutaway to Jim Schwartz.

But there is some intrigue.

The first, of course, is the winner of the James Mungro Memorial Award presented by (sponsor pending). George Johnson will play. Probably a lot. And when you have an opportunity to witness the glory of George Johnson on a pass rush you don’t miss that.

With the starters playing a series or two, if at all, Johnson should be in a rotation with Darryl Tapp and Larry Webster for most of the game. Do you realize what we have here? Johnson has been dominating backups. Now all of the sudden he’s going against Buffalo’s third stringers. Jeff Tuel better get his diapers ready. Ol’ Georgie boy is coming.

Outside of Johnson, the two remaining JMMA finalists are fighting for jobs.

The Lions will likely take five backs: Either three running backs and two fullbacks or four running backs and one fullback. That leaves George Winn and even Jed Collins in precarious positions.

Let’s address Collins first. Jed appeared to have the starting fullback job locked up. Then the Lions signed tight end Emil Igwenagu and told him he’d be a fullback. This could be a sign that the Lions aren’t happy with Collins and are seeking a replacement, or that Collins’ job is so secure and he’s so valuable to the team that they wanted to sign another fullback to play in this game while they preserve mighty Jed from a needless injury.

With Winn there is no gray area. He’s fighting for his Lions life. He has probably surpassed Mikel Leshoure but he still has to leapfrog one more name on the depth chart to make the team. The name is Montell Owens. Owens is a solid special teamer with the added bonus of being able to play both running back and fullback.

Winn can’t just turn into a special teams wizard. He’s got to go all Merlin on kick coverage.

If watching kick coverage and special teams isn’t your idea of a good time, first of all you’re weird. Second, then watch Kellen Moore. He might’ve won the third-string QB job, but that doesn’t mean he’s on the team. Jim Caldwell had held three quarterbacks in just one of the four years he’s been a head coach or the Ravens’ offensive coordinator. Moore might need this game more than anybody outside of George Winn.

So, yes, I’m asking to watch a fullback and kick coverage instead of a Texas A&M-South Carolina college game between two ranked teams that actually means something. But you’ll also get to see Georgie boy destroy Carson Palmer’s brother.

Don’t do it for me. Do it for George. He’s the champ after all.

Plus, they’ll be plenty of time to keep up on the collegiate games during commercial breaks.

Whatever you do, congratulations. You made it. The NFL is a week away.

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It can’t wait: The Lions have a new James Mungro Memorial Award winner in their midst

johnson

That man, wrestling for the ball? That’s the winner of the JMMA.

As men played for their jobs and coaches watched, deciding who to keep, I issued a challenge to four men: Go out and win the James Mungro Memorial Award presented by (sponsor pending).

None paid any attention, of course — they had careers and livelihoods to worry about — but  it certainly seemed like one did.

It wasn’t Greg Hickman. The fourth-string defensive tackle had a couple brief moments to engage the imagination. What if he did this all the time? How good would he be?. But that’s not how fourth-string defensive tackles are made. The Jaguars’ second- and third-string interior lineman bottled him up for most of the night. By the end, Hickman’s fate had been determined. He was one of six players the Lions cut Saturday afternoon.

It wasn’t Jed Collins. The fullback spent the preseason fulfilling his position’s stereotype. He was an unheralded blocking back, the only starter on the team nobody talked about, and never touched the ball. Friday, he delivered two crushing blocks. The Lions announcers talked about him being an ordained minister. There was hope for something more.

Early in the first quarter, Matt Stafford looked deep and found no one open. Collins jogged wide open in the flat. Stafford checked down, spotted Collins, pump faked and threw the ball away.

Later it happened again. This time: gold.

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Jed did everything I asked and maintained his identity doing it. But after three preseason games, Collins didn’t inspire the devotion required to follow his career. When Blaine Hardy, Jose Alvarez, Chris Bootcheck, Rodney Austin and Jacques McClendon do something they become life events. I never felt the same way about Collins. He deserved a better fate.

It wasn’t George Winn. On his first touch he got a first down. On his second, he hit a guy so hard a buckle on his chin strap fell off. Two carries later: Fumble. He recovered, scoring a one-yard touchdown, but finished the day with seven rushes for 13 yards. Those number don’t signify somebody who wins anything. In a different compeition, Winn get another chance. He would be one of two finalists and head into Week 4. But I can’t hold off George Johnson any longer.

In the Friday preview, I mentioned I didn’t have the same irrational love I did for Johnson in Week 2 that I had in Week 1. The fuzzy feelings came back in the second quarter. Johnson took one hard step outside, then swam inside for an virtually unmolested shot at the quarterback. I involuntarily yelled, “OH GEORGE! OH GEORGIE BOY!”

I never understood the love until then. It’s his speed. I like fast people. George Johnson is fast. His first step, his hands, his long strides — it all combines to make him play a step quicker than most. And when you’re a step quicker than most, it gives the appearance of hustle even if it’s uncelar whether you’re actually trying harder than the guy next to or not.

While I fell in love with George Johnson’s game all over again the difference Friday was his leap in post-whistle antics. In the first quarter he wrestled the ball out of a clearly down Jaguar three seconds after the whistle had gone, and earned some extra camera time because of it. In the second he got involved in a scuffle between the two teams after a Toby Gerhart run. That’s not all that spectacular — until you realize Johnson was on the sideline for the play:

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The man ran onto the field — right in front of the camera — to get involved. Great hustle. Great awareness.

Johnson has a story similar to other JMMA winners. An undrafted free agent out of Rutgers, he signed with the Tampa Buccaneers in 2010 and spent three off and on years with them, playing in a total of seven games. When Tampa Bay cut him for the final time, he moved to the Vikings. He spent the past two years in Minnesota, playing in just two games.But here’s where Johnson’s story diverges from McClendon and Austin: He’s gotten publicity. He had a training camp feature written about him and a number of stories have trickled out, in the past week or two. Johnson isn’t just our champ. His play made him the bloggers’ champ and his story made the beat writers’ champ.

Johnson will make the team. He’ll be a part of the defensive end rotation as  a pass rush specialist.  But soon the bloggers and beat writers will look elsewhere. Their focus will revolve around Calvin Johnson and Matt Stafford and “Boy, the Lions are good,” or “Boy, the Lions are bad.”

And then on some snowy day in Green Bay or Chicago or New England, Johnson is going to make a play.

Everyone else will have to think for a moment. “Who’s that guy? His number looks familiar.”

They’ll realize it after a couple seconds, but we’ll know all along.

He is George Johnson.

He’ is the winner of the James Mungro Memorial Award.

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Sunday Red Wings rumor roundup: Mike Babcock set up for return?

Every Sunday I’ll bring you a recap of all the legitimate Red Wings-related transaction and signing rumors from the previous week. I see all this stuff anyway. I figured I might as well share it with you.

  • Ken Holland tells Fox Sport’s Art Regner that he’s “not overly concerned” about Mike Babcock‘s contract situation because the two are friends. He that it will get “done when it gets done” and he’s confident they organization will keep him.
  • Via a rough translation by the Malik Report, Tomas Tatar told a Slovakian news site that the Red Wings can trade him if they want, but “Detroit is his heart” (Or something like that. It’s in Slovakian.)
  • The Malik Report also points out that although Pavel Datsyuk’s cap hit is $7.5 million this, he’ll actually make $15 million: a $10 million salary and a $5 million cap hit.
  • The Griffins hired Pat Ferschweiler as one of their assistant coaches. Most recently, Ferschweiler was as an assistant with Western Michigan. They also hired Dave Noel-Bernier to fill another spot. His most recent job was the director of hockey for a local ice rink and the Grand Rapids Blades youth program.
  • Sports Illustrated’s Allan Muir says Stephen Weiss could lose his second-line center job to Riley Sheahan quickly.
  • The Toledo Walleye signed Mike Seidel and Mike Leone. Both are forwards.
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James Mungro Memorial Award Week 3 preview: The Lions’ final four could become a final one

Will another player take the final step and become immortal?

Will another player take the final step and become immortal?

Jed Collins, Greg Hickman, George Johnson and George Winn all showed up to Lions OTAs as nobodies. In the months since then they’ve sacked and celebrated and ran and Jedded their way into our consciousness.

Now, in three days, it’s possible one of these players will never be anonymous again (in this small corner of the internet).

By Monday we could have our next winner of the James Mungro Memorial Award presented by (sponsor still pending). He’ll join the immortals: Rodney Austin, Jacques McClendon, Blaine Hardy, Jose Alvarez, Chris Bootcheck.

But this isn’t award that’s just handed out. One player must step up and win it tonight against the Jaguars. If no one does, the competition will extend into the most boring of games: preseason Week 4.

Here’s who to watch and when Friday night:

FB Jed Collins, #45: 

FB Jed Collins, #45: Collins will start at fullback again for the Lions, which means he’ll like play into the third quarter. His performance will be so consistent yet so forgettable, which — like always — will make it so … Jed.

Since the preseason is now more than half over, we no longer have to worry about media outlets reporting on our nominees

Usually this isn’t an issue for Jed because he’s so dadgum normal that no one every wants to write about him, but the Free Press did and it found a way to make him semi-intriguing.

That article is the only interesting thing we have on him. Collins has a Twitter, but Tweets sparingly. His last came on July 29. His Facebook page hasn’t been update since November, when he was still a Saint. His website, jedzilla.com, is defunct.

But he is one monstrous block, one touchdown pass, one on-field moment that proves he’s worth watching in-depth for the next few years away from changing everything. If we get that, Jed might just steal the JMMA.

DT Greg Hickman, #60: Hickman celebrates when he makes plays and celebrates when he doesn’t. Sometimes he’ll dominate, but he’s doesn’t do it enough.

The FIU grad’s biggest problem is the depth chart. Hickman is a fourth-string defensive lineman. He’s not close to making the team and could leave during the first round of cuts on Aug. 26.

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The story of Jacques McClendon and why it’s coming to precipice in the Lions vs. Jaguars game

McClendon getting some face time on ESPN.

Football came easy for Jacques McClendon.

In high school he was a three-year starter on offense and defense at the Baylor School in Chattanooga, TN. He earned All-State honors twice. As a senior he played in the Army All-American Bowl. Gatorade named him their Player of the Year in Tennessee.

Rivals ranked him a four-star recruit and the No. 2 player in the state. With other SEC offers on the table, he chose to stay home, signing with the University of Tennessee. He made his first start as a freshman, in an Outback Bowl loss to Penn State.

The next two years he played in almost every one of the Vols’ games, but only started half of them. That should’ve been the first sign. To scouts it probably was. But McClendon returned for his senior year, started all 13 games and then graduated with a master’s degree. By the time he reached the NFL Draft, he was back to the McClendon he was in high school, back to Jacques McClendon: the local boy who made it.

He, like so many others, couldn’t have been ready for the way the NFL would demolish him.

The Colts drafted him in the fourth round and let him go a year later. He joined the Lions in 2011. A year later we discovered him as an overzealous third string guard. The Lions cut him that preseason. He spent most of 2012 out of football. The Steelers added him to their practice squad for two days. Late in the season, the Falcons put McClendon on their practice squad for an extended stay. He spent the 2013 preseason in Atlanta, then went to the Jaguars in a waiver move.

In Jacksonville, he spent the season on the bench before he injuries forced him into the final two games of a lost season.

Now, after five years with five different teams, McClendon is on the precipice of the most important game of his life — and its overall result won’t matter.

Last week McClendon started at right guard against the Bears. He wasn’t terrible, but Chicago’s Jeremiah Ratliff did have him grasping at air a couple times. Rookie Brandon Linder, who is the Jaguars’ future right guard anyway, didn’t have as much trouble. Later in the game the ESPN announcers kept discussing Jacksonville’s plan to use four different centers in the game, rotating them out each quarter. McClendon was slated to take over in the fourth.

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JMMA Week 2 recap: The Final Four; Will the Lions cut the eventual winner

George Winn with the touchdown.

George Winn with the touchdown.

The competition for the James Mungro Memorial Award presented by (sponsor pending) has gone from 18 nominees to four in two weeks. Far more dramatic cuts are coming.

The first NFL cut date is Aug. 26, four days after the Lions play the Jaguars. Ninety-player rosters will become 75. Four days after that, on Aug. 30: Final cuts. Seventy five down to 53.

Next week could be the week we find our next JMMA winner. And he could be gone from the Lions four days after that.

The Lions entered the preseason with few roster spots to fill.  Most of the “no-names” that had a chance to plug one of the few holes have disappointed in these past two games, leading to their ouster from this competition.

With the latest batch of players sent to Cut City, we’re left with a final four that consists of one player guaranteed to make the team, one player almost guaranteed not to, and two players who, right now, are probably on the wrong side of the bubble.

It’s nothing to complain about. It’s just the way the great James Mungro in the sky has decreed.

Cut City

SS Jerome Couplin (The Osprey), #46,  FS Isa, OLB, Justin Jackson, #44, #42, LT Cornelius Lucas, #77, TE Jacob Maxwell, #49, OLB Julian Stanford, #49

The Osprey didn’t get in until the third quarter. When he did, it wasn’t pretty. Early on, the Raiders threw a pass to receiver stationed right in front of him. Osprey missed the tackle, but the Raiders receiver eventually dropped the ball, making the play incomplete. About seven minutes later Osprey bit hard on a play-action fake leaving Oakland’s Jake Murphy wide open in the end zone for the Raiders’ second touchdown. Any player that almost single-handedly allows a touchdown to a quarterback named “Carr” to throw can’t win this award.

Isa had two noticeable plays. The first came when Nate Freese hit a 56-yard field goal. Isa came on to the field to congratulate the kicker despite doing nothing on the play. The second was a special teams tackle. Outside of that he did nothing of significance, which is a probably good thing for a player in the secondary, but a bad thing for a player trying to win the JMMA.

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Sunday Red Wings rumor roundup: Daniel Alfredsson’s return?; Mike Green to Detroit rumors continue

Every Sunday I’ll bring you a recap of all the legitimate Red Wings-related transaction and signing rumors from the previous week. I see all this stuff anyway. I figured I might as well share it with you.

  • Ken Holland and Danny DeKeyser were scheduled to talk this week about DeKeyser’s contract, according to the Windsor Star’s Bob Duff. DeKeyser is a restricted free agent. According to the Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James, DeKeyser isn’t worried but wants a long-term deal.
  • You already know this by now, but the Red Wings signed Ken Holland to a four-year extension. Holland said he briefly talked with Mike Babcock when he re-upped, exchanging texts, but the two talk further about a contract extension for the coach when the Red Wings reconvene for training camp. 
  • Khan also had Ken Holland tell him that Daniel Alfredsson will probably return this season but won’t play every game. In the same article, Holland said he wasn’t going to make any more free agent signings.
  • The Hockey News has the latest roundup of Mike Green-to-Detroit rumors. ESPN analyst Katie Strang said she was surprised Green hasn’t been dealt yet, while her colleague, Craig Custance said he would be a “natural fit” in Detroit. 
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