Cobourne's Play in Europe Raising Eyebrows

After a non-descript rookie season (10 carries for 27 yards), the Detroit Lions allocated undrafted free agent running back Avon Cobourne to the Cologne Centurions of NFL Europe. Cobourne has responded to the challenge in an unexpectedly spectacular fashion. Much more inside.

(ALLEN PARK) After a non-descript rookie season (10 carries for 27 yards), the Detroit Lions allocated undrafted free agent signee Avon Cobourne to the Cologne Centurions of NFL Europe. Cobourne has responded to the challenge in an unexpectedly spectacular fashion - becoming the NFLE's leading rusher, collecting 401 yards on 88 carries while adding 19 catches for 188 receiving yards to date.

However, Europe has not been a proving ground for NFL backs.

Last year's rushing champion, Ken Simonton of Oregon, property of the Buffalo Bills, could not crack the Buffalo lineup, getting just two carries for four yards in a Bills' uniform. Instead, the Bills drafted injured Miami running back Willis McGahee in the first round. McGahee, coming off torn ACL and PCL ligaments, sat out the season, but basically, so did Simonton.

The league's second leading rusher, Autry Denson was assigned to Europe by the Detroit. He was beat out by Cobourne in Detroit's 2003 training camp.

Still, Cobourne's performance, combined with his making the Detroit roster a season ago, has to at least raise the question if he could possibily be in the mix for a roster spot and/or playing time when the Lions start training camp this summer.

The problem for Cobourne is his eyebrow-raising performance probably came a year too late. Detroit spent second, fourth and next year's fifth round pick to trade back into the first round to nab Virginia Tech standout Kevin Jones.

In Detroit's last mini camp, Jones showed speed to the corner, strength up the middle and a second gear to get into the secondary. Detroit also returns last year's fourth round pick Artose Pinner of Kentucky. Pinner missed most of 2003 as he struggled to recover from a broken foot and an torn ligament, but got into the last three contests and rushed for 99 yards on 39 carries.

That likely leaves Cobourne with one chance to make it as a part of the three back rotation. He must unseat last year's starter Shawn Bryson, a five-year veteran who rushed for 606 yards on 158 carries. Bryson looked strong and fast in last month's mini camp - like a starter intent on taking on all challenges, including Jones, Pinner and Cobourne.

The wild card in all of this of course is Cobourne's ability to return kicks and punts. Last year, Eddie Drummond who was the Lions main kick returner, missed a large part of the season due to injury. The second time in two years that Drummond missed part of the season due to injury.

If Cobourne can show the ability to return kicks and punts effectively, he has a shot to stick with Detroit on special teams. If not, Detroit may try to deal him for a future draft pick or watch a talented player slip away with nothing in return.

If nothing else, it'll make for an interesting summer in Allen Park.

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