4 Detroit Lions A reinforced defense will have to hold the line while it waits for the offense to get in gear

September 01, 2002

Cornerback Todd Lyght says things have already changed for the
better in the Lions' secondary. He could see the difference in
the first preseason game, after he bit on a head fake by Ravens
wide receiver Travis Taylor. A year ago Lyght wouldn't have
played that aggressively, because he wasn't sure the safety
backing him up could cover those mistakes. But then Brian
Walker, a free-agent pickup from the Dolphins, glided over and
intercepted Chris Redman's pass. For most teams preseason
moments are nothing to get excited about, but an instantly
hopeful Lyght latched on to that one because there were so few
positives last year, when Detroit went 2-14. The secondary
figured prominently in that woeful effort, and if the busted
coverages and breakdowns in key situations persist, it will be
hard for the Lions to make significant improvement.

Detroit's best chance to win is with defense, because the
offense is suspect. Second-year quarterback Mike McMahon (three
starts as a rookie) will start ahead of first-round draft pick
Joey Harrington, the Lions don't have a true No. 1 receiver
(free-agent pickup Az Hakim, the Rams' fourth wideout in recent
years, being the closest thing), and the line got banged up in
the preseason.

By contrast Detroit has a talented defensive line led by Pro Bowl
end Robert Porcher, a playmaking middle linebacker in Chris
Claiborne and that overhauled defensive backfield. In addition to
Walker, the Lions signed two other free agents--safety Corey
Harris and 13-year cornerback Eric Davis--and drafted cornerbacks
Andre Goodman (third round) and Chris Cash (sixth). Only Lyght, a
12-year veteran, and fellow corner Terry Fair are holdovers from
last season. "We've improved the secondary," says new defensive
coordinator Kurt Schottenheimer. "We brought in two good,
athletic safeties, and we've got depth at cornerback. We just
need one guy who can consistently win battles with receivers."

Davis, playing for his third team in three seasons, and Lyght are
savvy but have lost a step. Fair, recovering from a broken right
foot when camp began, wasn't a shutdown corner before his injury.
That's why, when planning for the draft, Lions president Matt
Millen considered using his top pick on a cornerback instead of
Harrington. More than anything, this group has to stay healthy.
Last season Fair, cornerback Bryant Westbrook and safeties Ron
Rice and Kurt Schulz were sidelined early by injuries, and their
backups didn't have the experience to handle the complicated
system of then defensive coordinator Vince Tobin. As a result
Detroit yielded a 60.7% completion rate, eighth in the league.

This season Schottenheimer simplified not only the coverages but
also most of the rest of the defensive scheme. After giving up
26.5 points per game in 2001, the Lions should be more aggressive
because they have fewer keys to recognize before they begin
chasing the ball. "We didn't get a grasp of the defense last
year, and when you don't know what you're doing, you're going to
play slow," says Claiborne. "This year everybody knows where he's
supposed to be."

The Lions have also taken quickly to Schottenheimer, who they
say is more approachable than Tobin was. Porcher was impressed
with how the new coordinator handled a rookie free agent who was
struggling to understand a scheme that Schottenheimer was
diagramming in a meeting. Schottenheimer patiently scribbled the
play on the blackboard again, reiterating the responsibilities
of each defender--"and this was for a guy who might not even
make the team," Porcher says. "That definitely showed me
something."

Now the members of the secondary have to start showing their
coaches a few things. "With the guys we have, we can talk about
different ways we want to play our coverages," Lyght says.
"Corey will say how he did things in Baltimore, Brian will talk
about Miami, and I'll bring up different combinations that
worked when I was in St. Louis. We've got a lot of knowledge to
draw upon, and that's only going to help us later." --J.C.

COLOR PHOTO: JOE ROBBINS With his relentless pass rush, Porcher will give the Lions' secondary time to jell. COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS HAKIM

NEW TWIST

With the retirement of Stephen Boyd, Chris Claiborne becomes
the starter at middle linebacker. Playing in the middle at USC,
Claiborne won the Butkus Award in 1998. He was versatile enough
to play on the weak side for the last three seasons in Detroit,
but he's most comfortable calling the signals and making an
impact from the inside.

ENEMY LINES an opposing team's scout sizes up the Lions

"The Lions have more speed, especially on offense. Az Hakim
gives them a deep threat, and Bill Schroeder will get downfield,
but they don't have that big, physical guy for the intermediate
routes. If you don't have somebody working underneath, it
doesn't matter how fast your receivers are, because they won't
get open.... I don't know if their quarterbacks will be
effective. They're athletic guys who can run around and make
something happen, but they have a lot of growing to do.... The
offensive line is strong at center and left tackle. After that,
everybody else is average or worse.... They're going to miss
David Sloan. Mikhael Ricks isn't the answer at tight end.... If
Luke Staley is healthy, he could help their offense because he's
a good receiver out of the backfield. James Stewart really
doesn't fit what they want to do.... I like their front four.
Luther Elliss and Shaun Rogers play hard, and Robert Porcher is
still an effective pass rusher.... Detroit lost its most
productive linebacker, Stephen Boyd, and bringing in Brian
Williams didn't help them much. He has a bad knee. Chris
Claiborne has a lot of talent, but he needs to become a better
student of the game.... At this point in his career Todd Lyght
is best-suited to be a third or fourth cornerback.... The Lions
will win more games than last year, but not that many. They just
need a lot more help."

SCHEDULE

Sept. 8 at Miami
15 at Carolina
22 GREEN BAY
29 NEW ORLEANS
Oct. 6 Open date
13 at Minnesota
20 CHICAGO
27 at Buffalo
Nov. 3 DALLAS
10 at Green Bay
17 N.Y. JETS
24 at Chicago*
28 NEW ENGLAND (Thurs.)
Dec. 8 at Arizona
15 TAMPA BAY
22 at Atlanta
29 MINNESOTA

*Champaign, Ill.

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: 12
Opponents' 2001 winning percentage: .512
Games against playoff teams: 8

PROJECTED LINEUP with 2001 statistics

COACH: Marty Mornhinweg; second season with Detroit (2-14 in NFL)
2001 RECORD: 2-14 (fifth in NFC Central)
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): offense 28/6/16; defense 23/25/26

OFFENSIVE BACKS PVR*

QB Mike McMahon 185
115 att. 53 comp. 46.1% 671 yds. 3 TDs 1 int. 69.9 rtg.

RB James Stewart 73
143 att. 685 yds. 4.8 avg. 23 rec. 242 yds. 10.5 avg. 2 TDs

RB Lamont Warren 270
61 att. 191 yds. 3.1 avg. 40 rec. 336 yds. 8.4 avg. 4 TDs

FB Cory Schlesinger 244
47 att. 154 yds. 3.3 avg. 60 rec. 466 yds. 7.8 avg. 3 TDs

RECEIVERS, SPECIALISTS, OFFENSIVE LINEMEN

[PVR*]

WR Az Hakim [N] 88 39 rec. 374 yds. 3 TDs
WR Bill Schroeder [N] 139 53 rec. 918 yds. 9 TDs
WR Germaine Crowell 149 22 rec. 289 yds. 2 TDs
TE Mikhael Ricks [N] 233 18 rec. 252 yds. 1 TD
K Jason Hanson 241 23/23 XPs 21/30 FGs 85 pts.
PR Desmond Howard 227 22 ret. 9.1 avg. 0 TDs
KR Desmond Howard 227 57 ret. 25.4 avg. 0 TDs

LT Jeff Backus 6'5" 309 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
LG Tony Semple 6'5" 305 lbs. 15 games 12 starts
C Eric Beverly 6'3" 300 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Ray Brown [N] 6'5" 318 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Stockar McDougle 6'6" 367 lbs. 9 games 3 starts

DEFENSE

LE Robert Porcher 43 tackles 11 sacks
LT Luther Elliss 25 tackles 0 sacks
RT Shaun Rogers 60 tackles 3 sacks
RE James Hall 26 tackles 4 sacks
OLB Brian Williams 15 tackles 0 sacks
MLB Chris Claiborne 77 tackles 4 sacks
OLB Barrett Green 54 tackles 1 sack
CB Terry Fair 37 tackles 2 int.
SS Corey Harris [N] 73 tackles 2 int.
FS Brian Walker [N] 55 tackles 1 int.
CB Todd Lyght 5 tackles 4 int.
P John Jett 58 punts 43.3 avg.

[N] New acquisition
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 98)

"I don't know if their quarterbacks will be effective. They have
a lot of growing to do."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)