Saturday, August 27, 2005

By Nick Wagoner
Senior Writer

Tickets for family and friends of the Rams are usually hard to come by, but for Monday night’s third preseason game against Detroit, it will be more difficult than ever.

There are plenty of Rams with connections to Motown that will almost certainly be putting their tickets to good use. One player has a history of playing for the Lions, one grew up in Detroit idolizing Barry Sanders and another has a brother that now plays for the Lions. That doesn’t even make mention of the prominent former cornerback that now suits up in the Detroit silver and blue.

A HAPPY RETURN

Linebacker Chris Claiborne’s return to Detroit after playing his first four seasons with the Lions isn’t a happy one because of all of the fond memories Claiborne had of playing there. Rather, Claiborne’s return will be joyous because of the team he is now playing for and the position he is playing for said team.

“It was all right, it was all right,” Claiborne said of his time in Detroit. “Nothing outstanding, it was all right.”

Not exactly a glowing endorsement for his time there, but Claiborne did begin his career with the Lions so he will always have some memories of it. Detroit chose Claiborne with the ninth pick of the 1999 NFL Draft.

Claiborne entered the league as a big-bodied middle linebacker, seemingly a perfect fit for the rough and tumble NFC North Division (then the Central). But the Lions didn’t keep Claiborne at middle linebacker, instead choosing to move him to the outside where he could use his speed and play in space.

“I don’t know why they brought me in to play outside,” Claiborne said. “I guess in a lot of ways, I can run on the outside. I was a big body that can run on the outside in that division. It’s power football there and that’s what they wanted.”

When the Lions finally realized that Claiborne was better suited to playing inside, he had one of his best seasons in the NFL. Claiborne played all of the 2002 season and part of the 2001 season inside for Detroit and had a pair of excellent seasons. In 2001, Claiborne made 167 tackles with four sacks, two interceptions and three forced fumbles. He followed that in 2002 with 145 tackles, four and a half sacks and three interceptions.

After nearly signing a free-agent contract with the Rams after the 2002 season, Claiborne packed his bags for Minnesota, where he went back to the outside for two injury-plagued seasons.

When Claiborne hit the free agent market again this past offseason, he knew what was most important. It wasn’t signing bonuses or length of contract, but whether he was going to get his chance to again be the man in the middle.

“That was the No. 1 priority,” Claiborne said. “There were no other choices involved.”

THE ROOKIE HOMECOMING

Ronald Bartell has been inundated with ticket requests for the better part of this week. The reason for that is simple: Bartell hails from Detroit where he played high school football for Renaissance High.

That means that almost all Bartell’s family and friends have been flooding his cell phone and e-mail with ticket requests. As of Wednesday, Bartell had received about 30 ticket requests, but expected that number to grow as the week wore on.

“You get to play in front of family and friends who don’t normally get to see me play, that’s always exciting,” Bartell said. “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get all of those (tickets) though. It’s crazy.”

Most players are only allotted a certain number of tickets for friends and family, but they can trade or barter with teammates for more if the situation dictates. As a second-round rookie out of Howard, Bartell signed a nice contract, but said even he doesn’t know if he could afford to pay for all of the ticket requests.

“(It’s) a lot more than I am willing to pay,” Bartell said. “I wish I could, but nothing in life is free so we’ll see. It’s a lot more than what we are getting paid right now. I might have to go in the bank.”

Bartell said he will feel some pressure playing in front of his friends and family. He also is looking to continue to improve enough to get playing time in the secondary. His position on the team is safe, but there is still plenty of opportunity to work in on nickel packages as the third cornerback.

As it stands, he is probably trying to play catch up with Corey Ivy as the team’s third corner, but with a pair of preseason games left, he will get a chance to prove himself.

If all of that pressure wasn’t enough, Bartell gets to make his first appearance on Monday Night Football.

“I really haven’t even thought about that,” Bartell said. “Thanks (for the reminder). It’s always exciting to play a game and test yourself against other receivers in the league and to do it at home and on Monday night I couldn’t have asked for any better opportunity right now.”

Don’t expect Bartell to get the deer in headlights look too much, though. Bartell did like the Lions growing up, but it was more because of his love for the man wearing No. 20 than the team itself.

“I would say (I was) a big Barry Sanders fan, not really a Lions fan,” Bartell said. You know how that goes.”

BROTHERHOOD OF THE HOLT

Terrence and Torry Holt have taken considerably different paths to get where they are in the league. Torry Holt was a top-flight pick, starting from day one for a Super Bowl-winning team. Terrence Holt was a fifth-round choice and toiled as a reserve for his first two seasons.

Now, the Holt brothers will get their first chance to line up across from one another as starters. Torry Holt said he is so proud of the player his brother has become.

“I’m excited for him,” Torry Holt said. “When I watch him on film I always get a little choked up, a little teared up just seeing him as a little youth running around and now he’s a professional athlete and I have an opportunity to go against him. It just brings a lot of joy, a lot of smiles to my face.”

Terrence Holt’s first pair of seasons in the league weren’t exactly on par with his superstar brother. He made 27 tackles last year after a rookie season in which he made 28 tackles with three interceptions.

“I am just honored to be his brother and just to see what he went through, the patience that he has shown there in Detroit to continue to work hard and earn that spot as a starting free safety – nobody gave him anything, he earned that spot – so I am excited,” Torry Holt said. “It’s going to be fun going up there, visiting him and then going out there on the football field and putting it on the line.”

Of course, Holt will get to line up across from another friend. Cornerback Dre Bly starts for the Lions after spending his first four seasons in St. Louis.