Training Camp: Players To Watch

The issue is not whether first-round pick Ernie Sims is capable of playing at an NFL level as much as whether he will be able to avoid the string of concussions that marked his career at Florida State. Sims is among a few Lions who are "Players to Watch" in training camp.


LB Ernie Sims: The issue is not whether Sims is capable of playing at an NFL level as much as whether he will be able to avoid the string of concussions that marked his career at Florida State.

The Lions say that Sims was cleared by the team of medics that examined him and his medical records during the NFL scouting combine. Team president Matt Millen said he would not have drafted Sims in the first round if he had not been cleared by the Lions medical staff.

The fact remains, however, that Sims had no less than five concussions at Florida State and his aggressive, hard-nosed style of play makes him a candidate for head injuries.

If he can indeed avoid additional injuries, Sims brings the type of play the Lions have been lacking in recent years and the style that is sure to be appreciated by coach Rod Marinelli.

Sims has been compared to Tampa Bay All-Pro linebacker Derrick Brooks and the Lions defensive staff feels he can be extremely effective as a weak-side linebacker, capable of running down plays all over the field and also handling coverage assignments.

Sims still has to win a job, however. Marinelli and defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson didn't give him the No. 1 job in mini-camp and he won't get it in training camp unless they feel he has earned it.

RB Kevin Jones: Jones had an impressive rookie season in 2004 with 1,133 yards rushing, including 906 in the final eight games of the season, but he has yet to prove he is a consistent, every-down threat with the football.

Jones has been nicked with minor injuries in his first two seasons and the previous coaching staff never quite bought into him as the back capable of carrying the load. He shared playing time with Shawn Bryson and Artose Pinner, even when he was healthy.

Bryson is still expected to get playing time because he does the best job in blitz pickup and is also a capable receiver coming out of the backfield.

Although some still see him as a one-cut running back, Jones seems to give the Lions the best big-play potential and it is expected he will get a chance to establish himself in the Mike Martz offense, which relies greatly on the running game.

WR Charles Rogers: This is probably the make-or-break season for Rogers, the former Michigan State receiver who was taken by the Lions with the second pick in the 2003 draft.

His first three seasons have been a huge disappointment, in part because of elements beyond his control and in part due to his own poor decisions.

He suffered a broken collarbone five games into his rookie season and missed the rest of the year; he suffered another broken collarbone in the 2004 season opener and didn't play again all year; and last season he missed four games for violating the NFL's substance abuse rules, then came back with a lackadaisical attitude that didn't endear him to anyone in the franchise.

It adds up to minimal production (36 catches for 440 yards and four touchdowns in three seasons).

Despite speculation that the Lions might dump him, it seems Rogers will get at least one more chance. Martz apparently sees in him some of the things Millen thought he saw three years ago -- the speed, the ability to make acrobatic catches and the potential for big plays.

If he doesn't show it quickly, however, and if he doesn't show more effort, it could be the end of his Lions career.

DT Shaun Cody: With Dan Wilkinson playing beside Shaun Rogers the Lions had one of the most effective defensive tackle combinations in the NFL last season, but Wilkinson didn't want to start over with a new coach, a new coordinator and new demands on his aging body.

So Millen reluctantly gave Wilkinson his freedom and now the Lions look to Cody to move into the starting lineup.

Although the Lions will miss Wilkinson, his mass and his experience, there is an unspoken feeling around the Allen Park headquarters that Cody might actually fit better into Marinelli and Henderson's aggressive defensive system.

He's young, is quicker and more athletic than Wilkinson could be at this stage of his career, and he can probably do more of the things Marinelli wants from his defensive linemen. And with Rogers getting most of the attention from opposing offensive linemen, Cody will have a chance to show his stuff.

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