Lions get good news, but still have a problem

Although tailback James Stewart will miss next Sunday's regular-season opener, the Detroit Lions on Friday actually received relatively positive news on the veteran runner, who suffered a shoulder injury in the Thursday night preseason finale.

An MRI examination of Stewart's right shoulder showed no significant structural damage and the eight-year veteran will not require surgery for now. On the down side, Stewart probably will be sidelined for three or four weeks, after which the team will reevaluate the injury.

Stewart's goal is to return at that point, but the pace of the healing process will determine how realistic that is, and whether more treatment is necessary. That means surgery, which would end Stewart's season, has not been completely ruled out down the road.

Lions coach Steve Mariucci is hoping Stewart will return Oct. 12, the sixth week of the NFL season.

"It's a week-to-week sort of thing," Mariucci said. "It's hard to put a number of
weeks on it because every dislocated shoulder is different. I would like to hope he'll be back by the bye week."

And the Lions still don't have a viable tailback with whom to replace him for the opening month of the season.

"James said he isn't in a lot of pain, and he's always had a pretty good tolerance, so there is always a chance he can get back a little sooner," said agent Pat Dye Jr. "The shame is that he was having, by all accounts, a really strong camp."

Stewart, 31, was injured in the first quarter of the game at Buffalo when initially hit at the line of scrimmage by strong safety Coy Wire and subsequently by three more defenders. He lay on the ground for several minutes before leaving the field with his arm dangling.

The injury was described, in various reports, as both a separation and a dislocation. But if it were a severe dislocation, surgery almost certainly would have been indicated, and that probably would have ended Stewart's season.

In the 10 plays during which Stewart was on the field Thursday night, he carried seven times and also caught one pass. He was scheduled, along with the rest of the first-unit offense, to retire for the night at the end of the series on which he was injured.

During his three seasons with the Lions, the former University of Tennesse star has twice rushed for more than 1,000 yards. For his career, Stewart has registered 1,478 carries for 5,841 yards and 48 touchdowns. Stewart, who played the first five seasons of his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars, has started in 70 of 101 appearances.

The Lions tailback depth chart is perilously thin and the staff has yet to determine who will start in the Sept. 7 opener against the Arizona Cardinals.

The current possibilities are veterans Shawn Bryson and Autry Denson and rookie Avon Cobourne, an undrafted free agent. Bryson has only nine careers starts and Denson one.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.