It was new coach, same results for Detroit in
2003 as the Lions and head coach Steve Mariucci limped to a 5-11 record. Hoping to upgrade the worst offense in the NFL, the Lions made a splash at
the draft, taking talented receiver Roy Williams with the seventh-overall draft pick, then trading up to nab running back Kevin Jones late in the
first round. Both should make an impact immediately, with Williams adding to an already-solid corps of receivers that includes Charles Rogers, Tai
Streets, and Az-Zahir Hakim. As well, free agent signing Damien Woody solidifies the offensive line.
In addition to these upgrades, however, the Lions need to see some improvement from quarterback Joey Harrington, who is entering his third NFL season
and will have more talent surrounding him than ever before. The Lions' defense, which ranked 24th last season, features Dan Wilkinson and Shaun Rogers
on a solid defensive line, but has question marks at the linebacker and safety positions.
The time is now for Joey Harrington. As the Lions' starting quarterback during his first two oft-turbulent NFL seasons, Harrington has made
incremental progress but has presided over just eight wins. A coaching change, from Marty Mornhinweg to Steve Mariucci, has been one major obstacle in
Harrington's development, as has the presence of a corps of supporting talent either too young or untalented to push Detroit back toward
September 12th @ Chicago - FOX Sports, November 25th vs Indianapolis - CBS, December 12 @ Green Bay - FOX Sports
Joey Harrington, QB, Third-year, Charles Rogers, WR, Second-year, Dre' Bly, CB, Sixth-year
Roy Williams, WR, NFL Draft (7th Overall), Tai Streets, WR, San Francisco 49ers, Damien Woody, G, New England Patriots,
Kevin Jones, RB, NFL Draft (30th Overall), Fernando Bryant, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars.
James Stewart, RB, Still Unsigned, Barrett Green, OLB, New York Giants, Ray Brown, G, Retired, Bill Schroeder, WR, Tampa
With former Chicago Bears head coach Dick Jauron
on board as defensive coordinator, the Lions stayed pat along the defensive line, last year's teams strength. Defensive tackle Shawn Rogers was a Pro
Bowl alternate last year and will once again team up with Dan "Big Daddy" Wilkinson, a Sports Illustrated All-Pro in 2003, to form one of the best DT
combos in the league. James Hall is back at defensive end and will likely be paired with third-year pro Kalimba Edwards. Robert Porcher, the Lions
all-time sack leader (91), and second-year pro Cory Redding add depth to the defensive line and both should see plenty of action. Boss Bailey, Champ's
younger brother and a member of the ESPN.com and Football Digest All-Rookie teams, emerged as a future star at outside linebacker during his rookie
season. This speedy linebacker could be paired with rookie Teddy Lehman to give the Lions tremendous quickness on the outside. In the middle,
nine-year veteran Earl Holmes gives the Lions young linebacking group much needed experience. Look for the Lions to experiment with moving Lehman to
the middle and using second-year pro James Davis to replace the departed Barrett Green on the outside.
As a team, the Lions are much younger and faster than they were a year ago. Matt Millen turned two of the team's biggest weaknesses, wide receiver and
the defensive secondary, into strengths through the draft and free agency. Both positions were hurt by injuries in 2003 but have added significant
depth for the 2004 season. The defensive line should continue to be strength for Detroit.
The Lions are very young at the offensive skill positions (QB, WR, RB) and that should translate into inconsistent performances. A
similar situation exists at linebacker, especially if Lehman moves into the starting MLB role. The addition of Alexander at tight end is questionable
given his recent medical history and could turn into a problem with the release of Ricks.
A battered Lions fan base is expecting a lot from their team this year, maybe a little too much. For all their talent, the skill trio of Jones,
Williams, and Rogers have combined to play five NFL games and probably won't be consistent, even if Harrington is. If Detroit is going to contend in
an NFC North that doesn't rank among the toughest divisions in football, it is going to be on the back of a defense that, at least on paper, looks to
have been upgraded significantly. If that unit holds up, and the team's young offensive phenoms make a few big plays here and there, Mariucci and
company could be a surprise entry in the North race. There seem to be too many big "if"s for the franchise to make its first postseason appearance
since 2000, but a two- or three-game improvement is hardly out of the question.
[Edited on 13/9/04 by TRD]