Work in Sports
Will RB Stewart make fans forget you-know-who?
The Detroit Lions open their training camp at Saginaw Valley State University in Saginaw, Mich., on July 19. Here are a few questions from Sports Illustrated's Dr. Z, followed by CNNSI.com's perspective on some of the issues facing the Lions this season. SI's season preview will post Aug. 23.
Dr. Z wants to know:
1.) Sept. 3, season opener. Things are rough down in New Orleans. Saints leading, going into the fourth quarter. What's this? A hot dog vendor is climbing out of the stands. Running onto the field. Ripping off his white coveralls, and there's a football uniform underneath ... and ... and ... it's BARRY SANDERS! Signed to a contract early that morning. A big secret by the club. Hello, city desk ... hold the edition ... we got ourselves a STORY here! What I want to know is: Why are you waking me up from this lovely dream?
2.) Joining the offensive line is the heaviest twosome in history, 730 pounds of talent or whatever you want to call it, rookie Stockar McDougle (350 pounds) and injured holdover Aaron Gibson (380 pounds), neither of whom has played a down in the NFL. And will this supply the mush, make that the push, that the attack needs, or will it merely cause a great celebration at Burger King and McDonald's?
3.) New tailback James Stewart has a history of injury and there isn't much behind him. QB Charlie Batch is coming back from a broken leg and his backups are a pair of traveling journeymen, Mike Tomczak and Steve Stenstrom. Have the Lions left themselves with a case of the shorts here?
The Lions can make the playoffs if ... James Stewart is the running back Detroit is banking on. A feature back for the first time, Stewart has shown flashes of potential, but is prone to injuries. Greg Hill, the Lions' top rusher in 1999, had just 542 yards and scored two touchdowns. If "Little Man" can withstand eight games on carpet, the Lions could roar. (Psst. Stewart averages 4.03 yards per carry on grass, 3.41 on turf.)
Pivotal games: The Lions should be 1-1 entering a crucial four-game stretch against NFC Central opponents -- with three of the games at the Silverdome: Sept. 17 vs. Tampa Bay, Oct. 1 vs. Minnesota and Oct. 8 vs. Green Bay. The Lions travel to Chicago on Sept. 24. Should the Lions win three of those division games....
On the hot seat: Stewart is easily the guy under the microscope. A mega-million-dollar contract [$25 million for five years] raises expectations into the Barry Sanders stratosphere. If the Lions young offensive line -- Detroit took a mammoth offensive tackle in the first round for the second consecutive year, grabbing Oklahoma's Stockar McDougle to team with '99 first-round pick Aaron Gibson -- can open the holes, Stewart had better hit 'em.
Up-and-comers: Receiver Germane Crowell may be the most exciting receiver in the NFC Central save Randy Moss and Keyshawn Johnson. Entering his third season, Crowell burst onto radar screens last season with 81 catches for 1,338 yards and seven touchdowns. At 6-foot-4, 201 pounds, he's a threat in the Moss vein: He can out-jump most defenders in the red zone. The emergence of Crowell sets up an interesting duel as Herman Moore returns from an injury-plagued 1999 season.