- The Washington Times - Friday, February 20, 2009

INDIANAPOLIS

In one respect, new Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz is in a decent situation.

The Georgetown graduate and longtime Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator can’t take the Lions backward in 2009. Detroit was 0-16 last year.

And Schwartz and play caller Scott Linehan can start the rebuilding process by using the first overall pick on whatever offensive piece they want.

“That’s the best thing about the NFL system as opposed to some of the other sports - the NFL does offer a chance to turn it around fairly quick,” Schwartz said Thursday at the NFL scouting combine.

Now the bad news. The Lions are in complete desperation mode. They have to correct years of mismanagement under Matt Millen (although he’s good enough for NBC) by making the right decision with the first pick, and, for that matter, the 20th pick they heisted from Dallas for receiver Roy Williams.

Schwartz, who interviewed for the Washington Redskins’ opening last year, knows whoever the choice is - Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford, Southern Cal passer Mark Sanchez or Baylor left tackle Jason Smith - he has to hit on it.

“This is my first exposure to [the top pick] and hopefully my last,” Schwartz said. “It is a different animal.”

Different because of the financial commitment and different because of the expectations the pick brings. For a team like Detroit, do the Lions select the best player, even if it’s a left tackle, or do they pin their hopes on a quarterback, which is essentially a 50-50 proposition?

Schwartz compared the Lions’ situation to blackjack.

“You can go play in Vegas at the $5 tables and play for a couple of hours and make bad decisions and lose $100 and then go have some fun,” he said. “You play at the $5,000 and $10,000 tables and you make bad decisions, you’re walking home, not flying home.

“This is an opportunity to add a great player, but you need to make sure. There’s not only a lot of money at stake, and it’s an opportunity we can’t let pass.”

For a team like the Lions, they have only one decision - take the quarterback or see whether the Patriots want the pick for Matt Cassel.

Tackles on display

The top three offensive tackles were weighed and measured before meeting with reporters Thursday. Smith (6-5, 309) looks like an NFL left tackle.

Smith, who hopes to be taken by the fifth pick, delivered the line of the day.

“When I’m on the field, I take a lot of pride in physically assaulting somebody,” he said.

Franchise frenzy

Fourteen players received the franchise tag this year, from New England’s Cassel to Carolina pass rusher Julius Peppers. The group even included two special teams players - Atlanta punter Michael Koenen and Cincinnati kicker Shayne Graham.

Falcons coach Mike Smith said the decision to tag Koenen was easy considering he is also their kickoff man and Atlanta set an NFL record with fewest punt return yards allowed last year (49 the entire season).

Sanchez will throw

That Sanchez will throw during the combine should classify as a shock. Most of the quarterbacks don’t attempt one pass during because they want to be on their home campus with receivers, tight ends and running backs.

Stafford won’t throw this week, so Sanchez - projected as the second quarterback on the board - could improve his stock with a good performance. Count Schwartz as impressed.

“You want to see guys who have that confidence,” Schwartz said. “It does speak a little bit to a coach that a guy has confidence to go out and throw at 7 in the morning or at midnight and will say, ‘Hey coach, whatever you need.’ ”

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