ALLEN PARK - Whether it's a smoke screen of their real intentions or not, the Detroit Lions are taking a long look at pass catching threats this week. Tight end Alex Smith of Stanford is expected to visit the Lions today. The Lions recently signed veteran tight end Marcus Pollard, but at 33, Pollard is expected to be a stopgap. Detroit also has veteran Casey FitzSimmons, but he has limited ability.
Smith could give the Lions their first true combination pass catching blocking tight end since pro bowl tight end David Sloan departed in free agency. At 6-foot-4, 258-pounds, Smith runs a 4.75 - 40 and caught 52 balls for 706 yards and three touchdowns for a 4-7 Cardinal squad.
He is viewed by many scouts as a work in progress - a player with great hands and the size and strength needed to be a solid blocker, but short on technique. He is expected to be available in either the second or third rounds but could go ahead of some higher rated tight ends because of his great size and hands.
Yesterday, Detroit had visits from South Carolina wide receiver Troy Williamson and Oklahoma receiver Mark Clayton. Williamson has been a fast riser up many teams draft boards, with fast being the operative word. At 6-foot-1, 238-lbs, the junior flanker ran a blazing 4.38 - 40 in an impressive post-combine workout. Despite being less heralded than some other highly rated receivers, Williamson has credentials. He posted a 43-catch, 835-yard, seven touchdown season and is gaining a reputation as an explosive playmaker. He has reached the point where he has moved up several team's draft boards to become the consensus #2 receiver behind only Michigan's Braylon Edwards and just ahead of USC's Mike Williams -- another receiver the Lions have met with.
Many felt Clayton would come out a season ago and be a sure first round pick, but instead, the 5-foot-10 senior elected to return for his senior season. Clayton's stock dropped a bit after a 66 catch, 876 yards (13.3 avg.) eight touchdown season. He is still expected to be a first round pick along with the aforementioned three. Detroit could be hoping to snare Clayton in the second round where he would be a true steal. If selected by Detroit he could make veteran Az-Zahir Hakim expendable. Clayton is productive and durable and his size and stature make him a solid fit for the slot receiver position in the west coast offense.
It is common for teams to arrange visit with players they are considering and in some cases, with players they are not considering to throw up a smoke screen to their real intentions. However, the interest in receivers by Detroit appears to be genuine. With Charles Rogers, Roy Williams and Hakim all hampered by injuries at some point during last season, Detroit had to go with career backups and journeymen to fill their receiving corps at the end of the season. Lions head coach Steve Mariucci would love to see some depth on the offensive side of the ball and that could happen if Detroit trades down to acquire extra picks.
Detroit is likely to spend their first overall pick, if they keep it, on a defensive player.
INSIDE TRACK: The Lions re-upped with veteran corner and restricted free agent Chris Cash, a former sixth round pick from the University of Southern California. Cash signed a two-year deal with terms undisclosed. He has lost for much of the 2003 season when he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in training camp.
The team also re-inked veteran linebacker Wali Rainer to a two-year deal. When first signed from the Jacksonville Jaguars, Rainer was viewed as a possible starter and replacement for the departing Chris Claiborne but instead has found a niche on the team as a special teamer and backup linebacker.
Lions Taking Long Look At Receivers
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