Allen Park - The Detroit Lions are coming off a 2-14 season in 2001, and also a off-season that saw many of the long time Lions leave Pontiac as well as the team moving to downtown Detroit. But the question is what are the biggest battles that are worth watching in training camp and the pre-season in 2002?
1. Rookie quarterback Joey Harrington vs. Mike McMahon: The Lions drafted Harrington with the third overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft, and most people inside the Lions organization think that Harrington will be playing by the sixth game of the season if not sooner. Mike McMahon is the starter going into training camp, but his position on the depth chart is not set in stone.
2. The back-up running back position: James Stewart is the starter but there are a few guys looking to be his back up. Luke Staley, the Lions seventh round pick, Lamont Warren, who was the back-up last year, and Aveion Cason, who came in during the season last year and played some in the final weeks of the season. The Lions have been impressed with Staley's ability and think that if he can stay healthy he could be a steal, and be a good back-up running back and a third down back. Cason has improved a lot in the off-season and also has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Warren who backed-up Stewart last year was released and then re-signed with the Lions in the off-season. The Lions are hoping that both Staley and Cason can beat out Warren for the two back-up running back spots.
3. The Tight End battle: The Lions have been impressed with Mikhael Ricks pass catching skills and his ability to block is better then the Lions thought when they signed him. After him there is (are) two spots that are open,. John Waerig, who was on the roster last year at the end of the season, along with Brad Banta who was mainly a long snapper last year, and the Lions two draft picks John Owens and Matt Murphy. Banta who made the roster last year as a long snapper didn't do a very good job and made too many errors, the Lions would like to replace him if they can find someone else to be a long snapper as well as have another spot on the team. The Lions like their two rookies; Owens is the better blocker of the two with Murphy being the better receiver. Owens has shown some ability to catch the ball and Murphy is getting better as blocker as he gets stronger. Waerig and Bradford might get caught on the outside looking in.
4. Starting Right Defensive End: The Lions have three players that might get a shot at starting or they might just switch depending on the down and distance. The Lions like "Special K" as the Lions veterans call Lions second round pick Kalimba Edwards, but right know (now) he is just not big or strong enough to play every down on the right side of the defensive line. So that leaves either James Hall or Jared DeVries as the starter, Hall is the better pass rusher and DeVries is better at stopping the run. DeVries is a valuable player because he can also play inside at the defensive tackle spot and could see sometime there as well. Both players along with Edwards will get playing time at the right defensive end spot, a sleeper player to watch out for is John Taylor who was drafted in the fourth round this April.
5. Other starting outside linebacker beside Barrett Green: The Lions re-signed Brian Williams this off-season who last year they signed late in the season. Williams played in the Lions final two games and Co-led the Lions in tackles with 13 (ten solo) in first action against the Bears and in his first start as a Lions he had nine tackles (six solo) in the final game against the Cowboys. The Lions also signed Jeff Gooch in the off-season from Tampa Bay. Gooch is a play-making linebacker who has the ability to start and started for Tampa Bay in 1998 and played all 16 games and had 72 tackles. The other player that might have a chance to start is Clint Kriewaldt, but that is a long shot. Gooch is faster then Williams but Williams is stronger and bigger.
6. The Starting Wide Receivers: Az-Zahir Hakim and Bill Schroeder where signed in the off-season and Germane Crowell who was coming off a knee injury was re-signed this off-season. The Lions plan on using all three wide receivers a lot this season. Hakim came to Detroit because he wanted to be a featured receiver in the Lions West Coast offense. Hakim is an electrifying player with breakaway speed and the ability to make the big play. Bill Schroeder is a big, strong receiver with good speed and hands who has played in the West Coast offense when he was in Green Bay. Crowell has been injured the past two seasons and is looking to stay healthy for a full 16 games in 2002. The Lions would like it if Crowell and Hakim where the starter with Schroeder been the third receiver. When the Lions go to three wide receiver set, they would like to use Hakim in the slot.
7. Stephen Trejo vs. Brock Olivo: These two players will be battling for the back-up fullback position behind Cory Schlesinger. Trejo made the team last year as an un-drafted rookie free agent, and played both fullback and tight end last season. He also played on special teams, he needs to show more ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and get his pad level down to make the team this year. Olivo lead the Lions in special team tackles last year with 21, but he doesn't have great pure fullback skills, because he lacks great size.
8. Starting Safeties: The Lions signed 3 free-agent safeties, Brian Walker, Corey Harris, Bracy Walker and re-signed Lamar Campbell. There is some talk that Lamar Campbell could move back where to the cornerback spot where he started his career because the lack of depth there. Brian Walker most likely will start at free safety with Corey Harris starting at strong safety. But there could be a lot of options with the safeties because Brian Walker can play both free safety as well as strong safety, Campbell is a free-safety with Harris and Bracy Walker being only strong safeties. Another option is that Campbell could be the starting free-safety and Brian Walker the starting strong safety. The Lions have moved all four of these players around and are looking for the best combination of the two.
9. Cornerback battle: The Lions signed veteran cornerback Eric Davis to add to their secondary this off-season. The Lions are still waiting to see what is going to happen with Terry Fair and his foot, and they still have veteran corner Todd Lyght who the Lions would like as their nickel corner. Then after those three players there are rookies Andre' Goodman and Chris Cash who look to make the team this year. The Lions also have veteran Jimmy Wyrick, and Chidi Iwuoma who started the last game of last season against the Cowboys. The Lions also have Crance Clemons an undrafted rookie in camp this year as well. The Lions would like to keep six cornerbacks on their roster this season, and are hoping that Terry Fair will be back to full strength before the start of the season. If Fair is back to full strength with his foot injury, and Davis and Lyght are able to perform at a high level those three will be the Lions top three corners with Goodman, Cash as their back-ups and then the Lions will keep one of the other three.
10. Undrafted rookie(s) to make the team: The Lions usually keep one or two undrafted rookies that make the 53-man roster each year. This year players that have the best chance to make the 53 man roster or at least the practice squad are: Linebacker Josh Thornhill out of Michigan State, Wide Receiver/Running Back Eddie Drummond out of Penn State, Defensive Tackle Kenny Jackson out of Ole Miss, Defensive Tackle Antwan Lake out of West Virginia, Offensive Tackle Marcel Howard out of Iowa State, Cornerback Crance Clemons out of Texas-El Paso, Running Back James Mungro out of Syracuse, and Safety Abdul Howard, out of Florida State. Some other free-agents rookies to watch in camp are WR Labrone Mitchell, Georgia, WR Pierre Brown, Wayne State, LB Robert Chapman, Southern, and LB Ken Philpot, Eastern Michigan.
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