The Other Side

The San Diego Chargers go into what is now considered hostile territory this weekend. The Detroit Lions, once an easy target, have become solid at home. The Chargers are now the easy target – the laughing stock of the league.<br><br> We go inside the Lions camp to see just what is going on, including a place-kicker who continues to be clutch and Barry Sanders talk…

This isn't the way Charles Rogers imagined his rookie season going.

While his fellow rookie wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Andre Johnson continue to make their mark with 66 and 51 catches respectively, Rogers' season ended Tuesday with 22 receptions for 243 yards and three touchdowns in five games. Rogers, the Lions first-round draft pick and the second player taken in the draft last April, was put on injured reserve to let his broken right collarbone heal slowly and thoroughly.

At the time Rogers was injured Oct. 7 in a practice field mishap involving cornerback Dre' Bly, coach Steve Mariucci was hopeful he would be ready to play again in 4-8 weeks. Every time the Lions took x-rays of the injury it showed good progress in healing, but at the rate it was healing Rogers probably wouldn't have been able to play until the season finale Dec. 28 against St. Louis. And there was no guarantee he'd have been able to get back in shape to play by then.

"It's a disappointment but one thing I know -- I'm going to be back," Rogers said. "It's just another way you deal with adversity. It's just a part of the game. Of course, I'm disappointed, but I know I've got a lot of good football left to play and this is just the beginning."

The collarbone wasn't the only problem Rogers encountered in his rookie season. He suffered a dislocated ring finger less than a week into training camp and missed much of camp and the exhibition season.

Although Mariucci was disappointed Rogers played only five games, he was encouraged by what he saw. "He was very promising," Mariucci said. "Heck, he had 22 catches and three touchdowns very early in the first quarter of the season, so he was going to have a very productive year."

Quarterback Joey Harrington probably had the most to lose when Rogers was injured because he lost his best big-play threat. "He was just starting to get comfortable it seemed," Harrington said. "He was starting to go up after balls. He mad that (touchdown) catch in Denver and was starting to get aggressive, to make some of the catches we saw in college."

For 12 seasons Jason Hanson has been a mainstay on Lions special teams and it is not only on field goals and long kickoffs. Hanson figures he must have as many tackles as any other kicker in the NFL.

"I have a sneaking suspicion I've got to be up there in tackles for a kicker but I found out it's an unofficial stat, so there's really no way to say, `Jason has the most tackles for a kicker,' " he said. "It's not a league-recognized stat. "I don't know how many I have. I think I have 13, 14, maybe 15, maybe more. I don't know. I've made some and playing this long I've got to be up there but there's no way to know."

Although he is only 182 pounds, Hanson is very athletic and is not reluctant to make a play on a runaway kick returner, just as he did in the Lions' Thanksgiving Day game against Green Bay. With 245-pound Najeh Davenport bearing down on him and no other special teams player to stop Davenport on the kickoff return, Hanson did what he had to do -- he stopped being a kicker and became a full-fledged football player.

"Saved the game," coach Lions coach Steve Mariucci said.

Hanson has a big purple and green bruise on the side of his right thigh as proof that he made contact, but he says the hardest hit he ever took was from a smaller returner -- Glyn Milburn of the Chicago Bears -- several years ago.

"The guy that hit me the hardest was the smallest guy -- Glyn Milburn," Hanson said. "He hit me in Chicago a couple years ago. I must have thought it was my chance and he just rolled right over me. I held on but he hit me pretty hard."

Hanson is as reliable as ever on field goals. He has connected on 18-of-19 attempts, including 3-for-3 from 50 yards or more (52, 53, 54) and 5-of-6 between 40 and 49 yards. His only miss was a 43-yarder. Hanson was named the NFC special teams player of the month for November for his efforts.

For the first time since bailing out on the Lions nearly five full seasons ago, Barry Sanders stepped up and faced the music.

In a 45-minute press conference -- set up primarily to help him promote sales of his book "Barry Sanders: Now You See Him ..." Sanders answered virtually all the questions that he should have answered when he announced his retirement on the eve of the 1999 training camp. Although he acknowledged that he might have handled it better, Sanders did not apologize for leaving the Lions and coach Bobby Ross without a running game.

"I wasn't trying to put Detroit in a bad situation," Sanders said. "I was only thinking about me ... It was sort of selfish. But I sort of feel once you leave the white lines you have a right to be selfish."

Among other topics Sanders addressed:

--Why he waited nearly five full seasons to go public with his retirement explanation: "It took awhile to really come to terms with what I wanted to do and how I wanted to say it. I'm not a person that just speaks about certain things in the heat of the moment. Sometimes it's good to let time pass and be able to reflect on things."

On whether he agreed to the press conference to promote his new book: "Partly, yeah, I'm here because I just wrote a book. That's what you do when you write a book." --On whether he will attend the induction ceremonies when he eventually goes to the Hall of Fame, probably as a first-ballot inductee next August: "You've got to be joking. Will I show up? I'm sure I won't have anything on my schedule that day that will prevent me from going down there."

--On five seasons of rumors that he would make a comeback: "None of those came from me. At no time was I ever really considering it."

-- On how Lions fans feel about him five seasons after he retired unexpectedly before the 1999 season: "People that like me, they're going to like me. People that don't will find a way not to."

SD Super Chargers Top Stories