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2 DETROIT Lions
Josh Elliott
August 28, 2000
In a pass-happy division, the play of a suspect secondary will determine whether a postseason berth is in the offing
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August 28, 2000

2 Detroit Lions

In a pass-happy division, the play of a suspect secondary will determine whether a postseason berth is in the offing

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PROJECTED LINEUP
WITH 1999 STATISTICS

Coach: Bobby Ross
Fourth season with Lions (69-59 in NFL)

Offensive Backs

QB

Charlie Batch

71*

270 att.

151 comp.

55.9�%

1,957 yds.

13 TDs

7 int.

84.1 rtg.

RB

James Stewart#

30*

249 att.

931 yds.

3.7 avg.

21 rec.

108 yds.

5.1 avg.

13 TDs

RB

Sedrick Irvin

230*

36 att.

133 yds.

3.7 avg.

25 rec.

233 yds.

9.3 avg.

4 TDs

FB

Cory Schlesinger

315*

43 att.

124 yds.

2.9 avg.

21 rec.

151 yds.

7.2 avg.

1 TD

Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen

WR

Germane Crowell

57*

81 rec.

1,338 yds.

7 TDs

WR

Johnnie Morton

62*

80 rec.

1,129 yds.

5 TDs

WR

Herman Moore

123*

16 rec.

197 yds.

2 TDs

TE

David Sloan

248*

47 rec.

591 yds.

4 TDs

K

Jason Hanson

168*

28/29 XPs

26/32 FGs

106 pts.

PR

Desmond Howard

253*

18 ret.

11.6 avg.

1 TD

KR

Terry Fair

333

34 ret.

22.1 avg.

0 TDs

LT

Ray Roberts

6'6"

320 lbs.

14 games

14 starts

LG

Stockar McDougle (R)#

6'6"

350 lbs.

12 games

12 starts

C

Mike Compton

6'6"

298 lbs.

15 games

15 starts

RG

Jeff Hartings

6'3"

295 lbs.

16 games

16 starts

RT

Aaron Gibson

6'4"

380 lbs.

0 games

0 starts

Defense

LE

Robert Porcher

47 tackles

15 sacks

LT

Luther Elliss

45 tackles

3/2 sacks

RT

James Jones

45 tackles

7 sacks

RE

Tracy Scroggins

36 tackles

8/2 sacks

OLB

Allen Aldridge

69 tackles

3 sacks

MLB

Stephen Boyd

127 tackles

1 int.

OLB

Chris Claiborne

66 tackles

1/2 sacks

CB

Bryant Westbrook

35 tackles

0 int.

SS

Ron Rice

106 tackles

5 int.

FS

Kurt Schulz#

47 tackles

3 int.

CB

Terry Fair

53 tackles

3 int.

P

John Jett

86 punts

42.3 avg.

#New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 139)

Every week he heard the screams—"You suck!" or "That guy's killing you!" or "You are god-awful!"—and every week, the fans were right. Hampered by hamstring injuries that sidelined him for six games and slowed him even when he was on the field, cornerback Bryant Westbrook often wondered how much worse things could get. Early in the morning of June 12 he found out: On his way home from a night out after a minicamp practice, West-brook was arrested and charged with driving under the influence, the second such incident in 13 months. "As the cop was walking up to my car, I knew then I had to change everything," recalls Westbrook. "And I have. I was sick of the shame. Looking back, I don't know what I was thinking."

Westbrook wasn't solely to blame for the wretched performance of the secondary—the defense ranked 27th in the league against the pass—but this year the pressure on him could be even greater. The team will be without its vocal defensive leader, free safety Mark Carrier, who signed with the Redskins in the off-season. Opposing quarterbacks will no doubt test Westbrook and third-year cornerback Terry Fair early, and how the duo responds could mean the difference between a playoff berth and last place in the NFC Central. "In this division we see someone great every week, from Randy Moss to Keyshawn Johnson to Marcus Robinson, so it falls to our comers to step up," says secondary coach Richard Selcer. "As young guys, Bryant and Terry were asked to do a lot last year, and maybe Bryant came back too quick from his injuries. But we were fighting a war out there, and we needed him."

Two hamstring injuries forced Westbrook to miss a total of six games and, far worse, destroyed his confidence. He regrets returning so soon after his second injury, against Green Bay on Nov. 21, because when he did, he was overly cautious and ineffective. "I was a hurt pony going against thoroughbreds, and it got worse and worse," says Westbrook. "This year, that's over with. I'm in great shape; I'm not partying anymore."

Westbrook, the fifth selection in the 1997 draft, was a horse in camp this summer, flying to the ball and showing no signs of favoring his hamstrings. After each practice he gathered the other cornerbacks, and they would run extra sprints together, long after most players had left the field. With each run Westbrook put more distance between himself and his 1999 season. "I was getting by on athletic ability before," he says, "but now I treasure what I have, and you know what? I like the work."

After missing the final five games last season with a broken right hand, Fair has been slow to return from off-season arthroscopic knee surgery, and that concerns coach Bobby Ross. "He can't afford to miss practice, so it disappoints me that he wasn't ready to go," says Ross.

Even if the starting corners were healthy, depth at that position is still a major concern. That makes the development of fourth-year man Kevin Abrams, who missed all but four plays last season with a broken left foot, a must. Former Bills safety Kurt Schulz, a bruising ball hawk, should ably replace Carrier on the field if not in the locker room, but strong safety Ron Rice, who separated his right shoulder in camp but is expected to be ready for the opener, has to improve. Says Ross, "Our guys can't afford the injuries they've had in the past."

That statement could as easily be applied to an offense that makes this a playoff-caliber team, provided that newly acquired running back James Stewart and third-year quarterback Charlie Batch avoid the injuries that have plagued them. Stewart, the former Jaguar who signed a five-year, $25 million free-agent deal, has impressed the staff with his unexpected quickness. But his durability—he missed 13 games in 1998 with a knee injury—remains a question. A broken right thumb cost Batch five games last year, and a broken right knee (suffered in the June minicamp) kept him out of most of camp. Mike Tomczak, 37, took most of the snaps, but he broke his right leg last Friday. Veteran Stoney Case is next in line, though the Lions hope Batch is ready for Week 1.

The strong-armed Batch should benefit from the three-receiver sets that Ross installed to take advantage of one of the NFL's finest pass-catching trios: Germane Crow-ell, Herman Moore and Johnnie Morton. Ross raised eyebrows in the off-season when he suggested that for the first time in almost a decade, Moore—the franchise's alltime leading receiver who caught only 16 passes during an injury-plagued 1999—would have to compete for a job in the two-receiver sets. But Moore downplays any controversy. "With the three of us, and with a tight end like ['99 Pro Bowl selection] David Sloan, we create so many problems," Moore says. "And you can't ignore what Johnnie and Germane [a combined 161 catches, 2,467 yards, 12 touchdowns] did last year."

It's a sign of the times. Even the Black-and-Blue division has turned pass-happy, and Westbrook is well aware that he'll have to be at the top of his game for the Lions to contend for a playoff spot. "We all know that we'll only go as far as our secondary takes us," he says. "That's on me, and I say we're ready—right now."

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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