4 Detroit Lions Even with a dangerous set of wide receivers and a promising young quarterback, mediocrity will be the team's lot in the first year of Life After Barry

Aug. 30, 1999
Aug. 30, 1999

Table of Contents
Aug. 30, 1999

1999 NFL Preview

4 Detroit Lions Even with a dangerous set of wide receivers and a promising young quarterback, mediocrity will be the team's lot in the first year of Life After Barry

While walking to lunch one day during training camp in Saginaw,
Mich., Lions chief operating officer Chuck Schmidt got wistful
about the Barry Sanders era, which, of course, ended coldly late
last month when Sanders's agents phoned in his retirement in a
conference call. "Despite how this happened," said Schmidt, "I'd
really, somehow, like to thank Barry for all the great years,
all the years of service to the team and to Detroit...." His
voice trailed off. Then he resumed. "If I ever had the chance,
if we could ever find him."

This is an article from the Aug. 30, 1999 issue Original Layout

The Lions have no time for emotion now. Life After Barry begins
on Sept. 12 in Seattle against one of the best defenses in the
NFL, and Detroit must find ways to make up for the loss of
Sanders, who accounted for 35% of the team's total yards in
1998. Detroit spent the month after Sanders's shocking
announcement scouring the waiver wire for a replacement, but
it's likely the man who starts in the Kingdome will be Sanders's
understudy, Ron Rivers, with rookie fourth-round draft pick
Sedrick Irvin waiting in the wings.

Whoever the Lions settle on will get plugged into the same
change-of-pace attack that offensive coordinator Sylvester Croom
devised during the off-season. "We didn't take a play out of the
playbook when Barry retired," Croom says. "We were planning to
do some different things anyway. We're going to push the ball up
the field more. We'll play more four-wideout formations and also
have lots of three-wide sets so we can get [third receiver]
Germane Crowell on the field more. Don't be surprised to see us
go one-back on first down. The difference is, we won't be
concerned as much with getting one player 25 to 30 touches a
game. You had to get Barry his volume, because you knew he was a
home run threat. The problem was, we didn't hit too many home
runs with Barry last year. [He had four touchdowns.] So we knew
we'd be spreading the field more vertically even before Barry

The Lions won't contend for anything in the NFC Central other
than fourth place, but that doesn't mean they won't be exciting
to watch. Wideouts Herman Moore and Johnnie Morton combined for
2,011 receiving yards on 151 catches last year while getting used
to rookie triggerman Charlie Batch. Putting Crowell, who as a
rookie in 1998 averaged a gaudy 18.6 yards per catch on 25
receptions, in the lineup will help when Moore and Morton are
double-teamed. Without Sanders that should be on most passing
downs. "Germane could really hold the power in this offense,"
says Moore, "because he could be the one guy running free."

Don't expect the plodding 5'8", 205-pound Rivers to be running
free too often: He has carried 85 times for 427 yards during his
four years in Detroit. Give him credit for honesty if not
quickness. When asked what he takes from his time playing behind
Sanders that will help him this season, Rivers laughs. "Nothing,"
he says. "Absolutely nothing. You know, I'd watch film with
Barry, trying to see what he saw. But I can't do what he does.
Who can?"

The 5'11", 217-pound Irvin is being groomed more as a
change-of-pace back, so expect Detroit to see who's available
after teams make their final cuts in early September before
solidifying its depth chart at running back. Whoever lines up in
the backfield won't take much pressure off Batch and his
receivers. "We know how teams will probably play us," says Batch,
who started 12 games as a rookie. "Instead of being aggressive
against the run, teams will sit back and make us run. We've got
to get teams to respect us by spraying it around and making lots
of different things work."

While Sanders's shocking retirement has cast somewhat of a pall
over the team, there is also the hope that the remarkable
inconsistency of the offense over the years--Sanders is the
NFL's alltime leader in carries for negative yardage--left with
the future Hall of Famer. The number of second-and-12s, usually
the result of Sanders's trying to make something happen and
getting trapped behind the line, is sure to drop. That's a
misplaced glass-is-half-full attitude if there ever was one, but
as Moore says, "Now we won't live and die with the running game."

The Lions are talking a good game, which is easy to do in the
preseason. But they'll find out soon enough that their new
offensive philosophy and assortment of weapons won't make up for
Sanders's absence.


COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT TRINGALI JR./SPORTSCHROME Under the gun Without much of a running game to go to, Batch may feel even more like a target than he did as a rookie.COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO


Sept. 12 at Seattle
26 at Kansas City
Oct. 3 Open date
24 at Carolina
Nov. 7 ST. LOUIS
14 at Arizona
21 at Green Bay
25 CHICAGO (Thurs.)
12 at Tampa Bay
19 at Chicago
25 DENVER (Sat.)
Jan. 2 at Minnesota


1998 Record 5-11 (4th in NFC Central) NFL rank
(rush/pass/total): offense 10/19/14; defense 25/8/15

1999 Schedule strength NFL rank: 10
Opponents' 1998 winning percentage: .520
Games against playoff teams: 6


Last season Charlie Batch became the fifth rookie quarterback
since 1980 to start as many as 10 games after not being drafted
in the first round. The two before Batch did not exactly
distinguish themselves in their sophomore seasons.

Quarterback, team Round Year Starts W-L-T Att. Comp.

Charlie Batch, Lions 2 1998 12 5-7 303 173

Tony Banks, Rams 2 1996 13 5-8 368 192
1997 16 5-11 487 252

Chris Chandler, Colts 3 1988 13 9-4 233 129
1989 3 1-2 80 39

Jack Trudeau, Colts 2 1986 11 0-11 417 204
1987 8 5-3 229 128

David Woodley, Dolphins 8 1980 11 6-5 327 176
1981 15 11-3-1 366 191

[Quarterback, team] [Year] Yds. TDs Int. Rating

[Charlie Batch, Lions] [1998] 2,178 11 6 83.5

[Tony Banks, Rams] [1996] 2,544 15 15 71.0
[1997] 3,254 14 13 71.5

[Chris Chandler, Colts] [1988] 1,619 8 12 67.2
[1989] 537 2 3 63.4

[Jack Trudeau, Colts] [1986] 2,225 8 18 53.5
[1987] 1,587 6 6 75.4

[David Woodley, Dolphins] [1980] 1,850 14 17 63.1
[1981] 2,470 12 13 69.8


While playing high school and college football in Southern
California, Chris Claiborne always wanted to be the sack man. He
was too good, though, as a high school middle linebacker to be
allowed to run free, and he patrolled USC's middle for the past
three seasons so well that the Trojans never thought of moving
him. But because the Lions already have a strong middle
linebacker in Stephen Boyd, Claiborne, the ninth pick in April's
draft, will finally get his chance to rush the passer as a weak
outside linebacker. "I'm confident," Claiborne says, "that I'm
going to prove they made the right decision."


Coach: Bobby Ross
Third season with Lions (61-51 in NFL)

Offensive Backs PVR*

QB Charlie Batch 99
303 att. 173 comp. 57.1% 2,178 yds. 11 TDs 6 int. 83.5 rtg.

RB Ron Rivers 156
19 att. 102 yds. 5.4 avg. 3 rec. 58 yds. 19.3 avg. 1 TD

RB Sedrick Irvin (R)[1] 145
272 att. 1,167 yds. 4.3 avg. 28 rec. 210 yds. 7.5 avg. 10 TDs

FB Cory Schlesinger 292
5 att. 17 yds. 3.4 avg. 3 rec. 16 yds. 5.3 avg. 1 TD

Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen

WR Herman Moore 51 82 rec. 983 yds. 5 TDs
WR Johnnie Morton 73 69 rec. 1,028 yds. 2 TDs
WR Germane Crowell 172 25 rec. 464 yds. 3 TDs
TE David Sloan 229 11 rec. 146 yds. 1 TD
K Jason Hanson 152 27/29 XPs 29/33 FGs 114 pts.
PR Sedrick Irvin (R)[1] 145 2 ret. 11.5 avg. 0 TDs
KR Terry Fair 343 51 ret. 28.0 avg. 2 TDs
LT Ray Roberts 6'6" 308 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Juan Roque 6'8" 333 lbs. 13 games 1 start
C Mike Compton 6'6" 297 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Jeff Hartings 6'3" 283 lbs. 13 games 13 starts
RT Tony Ramirez 6'6" 296 lbs. 16 games 7 starts


LE Robert Porcher 62 tackles 11 1/2 sacks
LT James Jones[1] 55 tackles 5 1/2 sacks
RT Luther Elliss 50 tackles 3 sacks
RE Tracy Scroggins 27 tackles 6 1/2 sacks
OLB Allen Aldridge 69 tackles 3 sacks
MLB Stephen Boyd 112 tackles 4 sacks
OLB Chris Claiborne (R)[1] 120 tackles 5 sacks
CB Bryant Westbrook 74 tackles 3 int.
SS Ron Rice 92 tackles 3 int.
FS Mark Carrier 55 tackles 3 int.
CB Terry Fair 57 tackles 0 int.
P John Jett 66 punts 43.8 avg.

[1] New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college
year) *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 122)
[2] 1997 statistics