The Detroit Lions don't appear to be much of an obstacle in the season opener, given the fact they're coming off a miserable 2-14 season. But the Dolphins are well aware that the Lions have only one way to go.

The Dolphins have been expressing a lot of respect toward the Lions this week as the teams prepare for Sunday's regular season opener at Pro Player Stadium.

For example, just check out these comments from linebacker Zach Thomas.

On Lions starting quarterback Mike McMahon: "McMahon is an athlete. He can hurt you with his scrambling. He'll put pressure on the defensive line."

On Lions fullback Cory Schlesinger: "Schlesinger, I think, is the best fullback out there. I played against him in the preseason. Man, he can bring the hat."

Finally, on the Detroit offense: "They've got a lot of speed. They're definitely going to spread the field and try to hit some big plays on us."

The Lions have made a lot of changes since last season, most notably at wide receiver (Bill Schroeder and Az-Zahir Hakim) and in the secondary (former Dolphin Brian Walker, Eric Davis).

They also landed Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington with the third overall pick in the 2002 draft. But while Coach Marty Mornhinweg compared Harrington to Troy Aikman, Harrington will begin the season at McMahon's backup.

"We're in a great situation at quarterback," Mornhinweg said. "Joey Harrington has progressed as quickly as any quarterback ever has. I firmly believe he could go in and function very well, but to play the way we expect our quarterback to play, it's going to take a little more time."

The strength of this Detroit team clearly is the defensive line, and Ricky Williams says he's expected a battle up front.

"They have a lot to prove after last year," he said. "They did a good job against the run in the preseason. It's going to be hard for us to establish the run. They play hard and they rally to the ball. They have some great athletes on their defensive line. It's going to be a challenge for us."

Of course, oddsmakers think the Dolphins will have an easy time of it on Sunday.

But defensive end Jason Taylor has a quick answer for those who are worried about the Dolphins taking Detroit lightly: "No. Not in this league. Who thought New England would win it last year or Baltimore would win it the year before. You have to be ready to go each and every week. We realize that and we'll be ready."

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