PAWS FOR THOUGHT: Lions need a tight end

Lions' insider Mike Fowler shares his insight on several issues facing the Detroit Lions, including the struggling tight end position. Mike has a certain former Viking in mind. Also, a youth movement in Detroit? Rod Babers, James Davis and others ready to step up. Much more inside, including Mooch's return to San Fran.

(ALLEN PARK) - One of the great mysteries of the 2002-03 NFL season was how in the world Mikhael Ricks was selected to the Pro Bowl as an alternate. Put that one in the same category as Brendan Stai receiving the "Erik Andolsek award" as the Lions best interior lineman about a month before being traded away because management felt he couldn't play.

Detroit has been struggling with the position all year with Ricks slow recovering from injury. Things are so bad that Detroit turned to undrafted rookie Casey Fitzsimmons, who played seven-man football in Montana as their go-to- guy at the position. That's why the release of Byron Chamberlain by the Minnesota Vikings should at least raise some eyebrows. Chamberlain was one of six players reinstated for drug related suspensions this week. Reinstated with Chamberlain were Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Jimmy Smith, safety Lee Flowers of the Denver Broncos, running back Mike Cloud of the New England Patriots, defensive tackle Josh Shaw of the San Francisco 49ers and linebacker Keith Newman of the Atlanta Falcons

However, Chamberlain was the only one who was released. Vikings coach Mike Tice let Chamberlain go for being out of shape. The veteran reportedly weighed in at about 269-lbs. He was his most productive when his weight was around 242. Perhaps not coincidentally, Chamberlain was suspended by the league for Ephedra usage.

The Lions ought to perform due-diligence on a player who has performed throughout his career. The eighth-year veteran caught 54 balls in 2001 and 34 in just nine starts last season. Contrast that with Ricks, who caught 27 balls in 12 starts in 2002 and had his best season four years ago when he caught his career high 40 in 1999. If weight is Chamberlain's only problem, he ought to be highly motivated at this point since he will not collect a dime of his $775,000 contract after being released by Minnesota.

Time for youth movement on defense?

That question ought to be at least raised in light of the potential displayed by Lions 5th round pick James Davis of West Virginia, third round pick Cory Redding of Texas and New York Giants fourth round pick Rod Babers.

"As you know, we had several new players in the game," said Lions head coach Steve Mariucci. "We activated James Davis, our rookie linebacker [and he] played about 12-15 snaps. Rod Babers, a new corner that we picked up (earlier this season), played primarily in the kicking game and did a heck of a job."

Davis continues to show signs of being the proverbial "diamond in the rough" and was on the field this week after being shelved as "inactive" due to an injury suffered in the final preseason game. Veteran Earl Holmes played his best game of the season with seven tackles and a sack against Denver, but don't be surprised if you see a changing of the guard as the season wears on.

Meanwhile Kelvin Pritchett, now in his 14th season continues to play well in spot duty, but rookie Cory Redding has shown, like Shawn Rogers did in his rookie season, that he is able to get penetration when he's in the ball game. Detroit should give Redding more snaps and allow his young legs to energize the defensive line play. Meanwhile Rod Babers, who played exclusively on kick teams, showed the ability to tackle well and the speed that caused Detroit to release rookie Blue Adams. Babers is the future nickel back for this team and may press for playing time as the season progresses.

ROAD WARRIORS?: Circle Sunday's game in your pick'em contest and go with Detroit to win on the road for the first time in three years. San Francisco is in a free-fall under new head coach Dennis Erickson and the finger pointing is at an all-time high in the Bay Area. The media are all over John York and Terry Donahue for canning perennial success Steve Mariucci in favor of Erickson.

The pro and anti-Bill Walsh factions are sniping at each other inside the 49ers headquarters. Talk shows are calling for Erickson to be fired in favor of Dennis Green right now.

Meanwhile, Erickson has drawn a line in the sand against temperamental wide receiver Terrell Owens stating that future outbursts on the sidelines "will not be tolerated any longer.'' Owens went into a very public tirade directed at offensive coordinator Greg Knapp. Owens also made some thinly veiled remarks directed at quarterback Jeff Garcia who has struggled to pick up Erickson and Knapp's offense. Garcia labeled Owens' attitude as "a sickness."

Mariucci admitted that returning to the Bay Area is going to be every bit as emotional for him as a player who was released returning to face his old team. “It sure is, absolutely," Mariucci admitted. "Drew Bledsoe or Jerry Rice playing against their old teams – it just happens now much more often than it used to and it’s always a neat story. It’s very common that teams will have players, coaches and front office people coming back. It’s going to be very commonplace.”

REUNITED: Give the NFL credit for a masterstroke of marketing to have so many reunion games in one weekend. Consider the following:
- Mike Holmgren will return to Green Bay as the Seahawks head coach
- Emmitt Smith returns to Dallas in an Arizona Cardinals uniform.
- Mariucci returning to the Bay Area as the Detroit Lions pilot.
- Tony Dungy and the resurgent Colts face his old Tampa Bay squad.


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