MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA'S NOW AND THEN: Michael Burton and Cory Schlesinger

Posted Jun 24, 2015

Fullbacks Corey Schlesinger and Michael Burton arrived at the Lions two decades apart, but they traveled similar paths.

Michael Burton’s offseason study to prepare for the start of training camp includes watching game tapes that are a decade or two old.

They have nothing to do with the offense the Lions are running, but everything to do with the classic style and attitude required for a fullback to excel.

Cory Schlesinger, who in 12 seasons with the Lions broke facemasks and knocked would-be tacklers on their backs as if they were bowling pins to clear the way for tailbacks, is a model for Burton to follow.

Michael BurtonFB Michael Burton (Photo: Detroit Lions)

Burton met Schlesinger near the end of minicamp at an event where veteran players shared their experiences with the Lions’ 2015 rookie class. Schlesinger and other vets gave advice on how to act on and off the field.

Schlesinger made an impression on Burton that stuck, just as he used to on opposing players.

“I think Cory would be a great guy to model after,” Burton said. “I’ve heard nothing but exciting things about him. I’m hoping I can grab some film on him and start watching. I’m sure it’s not hard to find film on him, a guy like that.”

Schlesinger’s Greatest Hits is a must-watch collection for rookie fullbacks.

Schlesinger and Burton arrived at the Lions two decades apart, but they traveled similar paths.

The Lions drafted Schlesinger in the sixth round out of Nebraska in 1995. Burton was a fifth-round pick from Rutgers. Both were primarily blockers in college, although Schlesinger closed out his college career with two touchdown runs in Nebraska’s upset victory over Miami (Fla.) in the Orange Bowl.

They are similar in physical stature. Schlesinger played at 6 feet and 247 pounds. Burton checked in at a little over 5-11 and 242 pounds at the Combine in February. He also brought a fullback attitude with him.

“I think when you have a fullback, he can be a tone-setter for your offense,” Burton said during minicamp. “He can bring toughness, like your offensive line. His job out there is to block, make way for the running back.”

Schlesinger’s advice to Burton – or to any young fullback entering the NFL – is to make the most of every opportunity, with the reality that a fullback is not considered a full-time offensive player.

“The fullback position is kind of a dying breed, but the Lions want to keep a fullback around,” said Schlesinger, who has remained in Metro Detroit and taught school since his retirement after the 2006 season.  “You’re not going to be a full-time player. They’re going to expect that player to play special teams, so you’d better get pretty excited about playing special teams.

“On third down, you’re not in there. On first and second down, goal-line and short-yardage you’re obviously in there.”

Burton’s senior year at Rutgers primed him for the NFL in terms of touching the ball. He had one carry for two years and 15 receptions for 150 yards.

Last year with the Lions, fullback Jed Collins had eight carries for 19 yards and five catches for 39 yards.

Schlesinger’s selfless playing style made him a favorite of fans and teammates. He understood his job and did it well. Game in, game out, he was as reliable as sunrise.

In seven of his 12 seasons Schlesinger blocked for a 1,000-yard runner. Barry Sanders led the list with four 1,000-yard seasons – topped by 2,053 in the magical 1997 season. James Stewart had two and Kevin Jones one.

In 12 seasons with the Lions he carried 167 times for 473 yards and five touchdowns. In only three seasons did he have more than nine carries for the year, with a high of 49 in 2002.

He was used more often as a receiver, with 197 catches for 1,445 yards and nine TDs, with single-season highs of 60 catches for 466 yards in 2001.

Schlesinger’s reputation as a punishing blocker was well deserved. The damage he inflicted wasn’t limited to opponents. Schlesinger routinely broke so many face masks that he eventually began mounting them and selling them to raise money for charities. His unofficial high for a season was 20 facemasks that were broken or bent and rendered useless.

“They were pretty good fundraisers,” Schlesinger said. “They became pretty popular. It’s the style of football I played.”

Schlesinger said he once knocked out an opposing linebacker whom he declined to identify.

“Flat on his back, eyes rolled up in the back of his head,” Schlesinger said. “He was taking a nap.  He gave it to me the play right before that. It was pay back -- the exact same play.”

Offseason workouts are without pads, so the first test of Burton’s blocking ability will come in training camp, with a progression to preseason games and the regular season, when everything counts.

“I can’t wait to get the pads on,” Burton said. “That’s when we start playing. We do a good job out (in minicamp). You’re full speed until contact. Without pads you don’t necessarily hit through contact, but you go up to hat placement and hands.

“You’re building your resume right now.”