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Sunday, August 31, 2003
Lions get much-needed help at running back

Associated Press

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The running-back depleted Detroit Lions acquired Olandis Gary from the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, giving the team another option for replacing injured starter James Stewart.

"Given the health of our situation at tailback, a trade was a possibility, so we pursued it," Lions coach Steve Mariucci said. "He gives us another veteran back on board.

"We don't know how long James will be out so we felt to shore up that situation, adding a back like Olandis Gary gives us a bit of a security blanket."

Stewart is expected to miss up to six weeks after dislocating his right shoulder in Detroit's preseason finale, a 22-16 loss to Buffalo on Thursday.

In exchange for Gary, the Bills will receive an undisclosed draft pick.

The move made sense for both teams, as the Bills, anticipating the midseason activation of injured rookie Willis McGahee, already were well-stocked at the position behind starter Travis Henry.

Gary, 28, is entering his fifth NFL season and joined the Bills last spring as a free agent after spending his first four years with Denver.

Playing behind Clinton Portis last year, Gary managed just 147 yards rushing in 13 games, including two starts. His best season came as a rookie, when he had 1,159 yards rushing and seven touchdowns in 12 starts with the Broncos.

Gary was expected to get limited playing time in Buffalo, as Henry is coming off a breakout season in which he finished fifth in the league with 1,438 yards rushing last season.

Without Stewart, who led Detroit in rushing the past three seasons, the Lions had no proven backup to step in. Detroit's choices were limited to Shawn Bryson, who's coming off knee surgery; Avon Cobourne, an undrafted free agent out of West Virginia; and Autry Denson, a four-year journeyman who the Lions cut Sunday to make room for Gary.

Mariucci said he will not select a starting running back until later in the week, after he sees Gary practice.

"It's a win-win situation overall for everybody," Gary's agent, Frank Murtha, said. ``Buffalo gets something for Olandis, and he gets a chance to come in and certainly play a significant amount until James returns to health. ... And that was his goal, to get back on the field in an extensive way."

Curiously, the Lions were one of several teams Gary considered before signing with Buffalo last April.

Murtha said Gary chose Buffalo instead of Detroit because of fears the Lions were going to select a running back high in the draft.

The trade was announced as part of the teams' moves to cut their rosters to the NFL maximum 53 players.

The Bills placed third-string quarterback Travis Brown on the injured reserve list, meaning he will miss the season. Brown dislocated his middle finger during Buffalo's 28-24 preseason victory over St. Louis on Aug. 23.

Buffalo also released six players, including defensive end Marcus Jones, a six-year veteran attempting to make a comeback after missing last season with a knee injury.

Jones spent his first six seasons with Tampa Bay before being released by the Buccaneers.

Also released by Buffalo were defensive end Grant Irons, receiver Rodney Wright, defensive back Scott Turner, running back Ken Simonton and quarterback Jason Johnson.

By cutting Johnson and placing Brown on injured reserve, the Bills are left with two quarterbacks, Drew Bledsoe and backup Alex Van Pelt.

The Lions cut 13 players, including nine-year veteran offensive guard Tony Semple and rookie wide receiver David Kircus.

Semple, a fifth-round draft pick in 1994, had the most seniority on the Lions' offense.

"We had to release some veteran guys and that's what I enjoy least about coaching in the National Football League and saying goodbye to a guy like Tony Semple," Mariucci said.

"I told him that I hope he stays in shape, because we may choose to call him back, because he's certainly capable of being on our football team."

Three players who appeared in games for the Lions last season -- tight end Matt Murphy, safety Lamar Campbell and offensive guard Kerlin Blaise -- were cut.

The Lions also released guard Tyrone Hopson, offensive tackle Ben Johnson, defensive ends Jonathan Taylor and Antwan Lake, linebacker Jody Littleton, and cornerback Gerald Dixon.

Veteran defensive tackle Luther Elliss was put on the reserve/non-football injury list and linebacker Brian Williams was put on injured reserve.