Rookie Charlie Batch took over the team's reigns early in the season and displayed many characteristics that a Lion QB hasn't shown in years. Batch is a tough, vocal leader for this offense and exudes the poise of a tested veteran. The Lions traded Scott Mitchell to the Ravens and handed his backup role to the Redskins' Gus Frerotte. Frerotte is a capable backup but his presence won't threaten Batch's starting position. The team will probably enter the season with former Notre Dame star Ron Powlus as their third-stringer.
Opponents took advantage of Batch's inexperience and almost exclusively put eight men in the box to stop Barry Sanders. Sanders' 1,491 yards is an amazing accomplishment considering his almost non-existent blocking. FB's Tommy Vardell and Corey Schlesinger were valuable in short-yardage situations. Vardell improved as a lead blocker in base formations and Ron Rivers did a good job of spelling Sanders when called upon. With Sanders entering his 11th season, the Lions might be looking to add a young guy in the middle rounds to groom as Sanders' eventual successor.
Perennial Pro-Bowler Herman Moore didn't reach the 1,000-yard plateau for the first time since 1993. However, Moore finished season extremely well once Batch started looking his way. Johnnie Morton led the team in receiving yards and has the deep speed that all offenses need. There is optimism in Detroit that the team can rival Minnesota and San Francisco's three-receiver sets if rookie Germane Crowell continues to improve. Training camp acquisition Brian Stablein (UFA) appears to be a perfect No. 4.
This is a position that sorely needs to be addressed in the off-season. UFA David Sloan is on the verge of becoming one of the league's top TE's but he can never stay healthy long enough to prove his worth. Starter Walter Rasby is fine blocker and although his role should be as a backup, he remains valuable because he's a positive presence in the locker room. If the team decides not to bring Sloan back, they will have to commit a high pick to this area.
Proponents of this unit will point to the eight-man fronts they faced to explain their struggles. While that might be partially the case, this OL lacks the talent to get it done. RG Jeff Hartings and LOT Ray Roberts are the closest thing this team has to a solid linemen. C Jim Pyne stuggled badly last season and was picked up by Cleveland in the expansion draft. LG Mike Compton and RT Larry Tharpe are average at best and would simply be backups on other teams. Look for the Lions to spend a high second round pick on a young tackle to dethrone Tharpe.
LDE Robert Porcher and DT Luther Ellis are very good players and will greatly benefit from the addition of Baltimore's James Jones. Jones is the big, run-stuffing tackle that the Lions have lacked for years. DT Dan Owens suffered a possible career-ending injury late in the season and Kerwin Waldroup and Tracy Scroggins have proven they are not the answer at right end. The Lions could easily take a RDE with their first round selction.
The Lions conquered their first off-season objective when they re-signed MLB Stephen Boyd, who was named a Pro Bowl alternate after another strong season. Boyd has turned into a mirror image of his mentor Chris Spielman. Rob Fredrickson left for Arizona and Boyd might be moved outside to fill his void. Allen Aldridge never fit into the weak-side role after coming from Denver where we played MLB. Backup MLB Richard Jordan received some valuable time when Boyd was injured and he made plays every time he got a shot. If Boyd is moved outside, look for a strong competition between Jordan and Matt Russell for the starting job in the middle.
The Lions have spent two No. 1 picks and a No. 2 that past two years to influx some young speed and talent in their secondary. CB's Bryant Westbrook, Terry Fair, and Kevin Abrams each struggled in man coverage, often getting beat deep. These young corners all have great natural ability but need to refine their technique in the off-season in order to fulfill expectations. FS Mark Carrier had a fine season as a stabilizing influence on the younger players and probably deserved Pro Bowl recognition. SS Ron Rice (UFA) has worked hard to become a solid player and although he supports the run well, he still has trouble matching up in man coverage. Reserve Robert Bailey is a solid nickel back but this unit was hurt by the defection of Gregg Jeffries to the Dolphins.
Rookie Terry Fair justified his first-round draft status more as a return specialist than at CB. Fair, who led the NFL in kickoff returns with a 28.0 avg. and 2 TD's, struggled on punts but repeatedly improved field position on kickoffs. PK Jason Hansen connected on 29-of-33 field goals, though hardly any were pressure kicks. P John Jett had a decent year but the Lions will probably audition others in the pre-season.