It was 'Sledge', the bruising, veteran fullback that opened up the last hole that Barry Sanders would run through; the same blue-collar workhorse that broke so many of his own face-masks that the organization began tracking the growing number in 2001. Schlesinger has been an icon for Detroit fans and a mirror of the city's image, a role he adopted following the departure of linebacker Chris Spielman.
He was also a Pro Bowl alternate in 2003, 2004 and 2005.
But entering his 13th season in the league, and clearly in the twilight of his career, the unrestricted free-agent is an expendable item in the team's off-season strategy.
Since the arrival of pass-happy offensive coordinator Mike Martz, Schlesinger's days have been numbered. Martz has little use for a bruising fullback in his system and many considered Schlesinger a likely camp casualty in 2006. The Nebraska product survived, partly because he adapted well to Martz's style, but primarily because of his hard-work and leadership qualifications.
During the season, that meant little. Schlesinger played sparingly with the offense, starting just four games -- the fewest since 1998 -- and never carried the ball. He was on the receiving end of just eight passes, totaling 36 yards. Although he was effective on special teams, Schlesinger also missed two games due to a hamstring pull, the second straight season in which he's been limited due to injuries.
VERDICT: Although his ability to block is unquestioned, Schlesinger's presence on the Lions' depth chart can still be described best as a 'square peg in a round hole.' Any roster opening that Schlesinger could fill in Detroit might be better left to a younger, more capable player that can be developed.
Currently, the team has no fullbacks under contract and it could remain that way entering the 2007 season.
If Detroit is going to use a fullback in this offense, it must be a player that is versatile enough to block adequately yet have the athleticism to catch the ball and run upfield. Schlesinger hasn't caught more than 10 passes in four years and hasn't carried the ball more than 10 times in five seasons.
It's likely that Schlesinger could attract attention from a more run-oriented ball club, but he is entrenched in the Detroit area and could consider retirement if the Lions aren't willing to tender him an offer.