(ALLEN PARK) - New coach Steve Mariucci is preparing for his second minicamp of the off-season, this one directed specifically at the Lions passing game.
Mariucci will put his team through the paces for the next four days, beginning on Tuesday. The Lions would like to get a headstart on improving their overall efficiency with their passing attack while attempting to help starting quarterback Joey Harrington improve upon last year's 59.9 passer rating, worst among the NFL's 32 starting quarterbacks.
Harrington's rating can be directly traced to a number of factors, being a rookie starter in the NFL, an inconsistent receiving corps, injuries to several key players and an inability to check down on passing plays.
Harrington addressed all of those factors in an earlier minicamp press conference.
"Last year we didn't have as many chances to 'check the ball down' as we would have liked last year," said Harrington. "I think [Charles Rogers] will definitely help us to get those smaller steps to get first downs. [Defenses] can't drive [to] the underneath routes as quickly if you've got that threat deep."
Harrington should have more help in improving his numbers and those of the overall passing attack with the presence of rookies' Rogers, the team's No. 1 draft pick (No. 2 overall) and sixth-rounder David Kircus of Grand Valley State (MI) university and seventh-round pick Travis Anglin of Memphis. Newly signed free agent Shawn Jefferson along with holdovers Az-Zahir Hakim, Bill Schroeder and Scotty Anderson are all expected to be better in 2003. Tight end Mikhael Ricks was a pro bowl alternate at the "Z" tight end position.
Overall, Detroit ranked 25th in passing yardage, but averaged just 198 yards per game through the air, all indicators of why Mariucci would devote a camp specifically to improving the passing game.
The rushing game for Detroit, while only totalling 1,477 yards for the season (much of that thanks to James Stewart's 1,021 yards rushing, good for 17th among NFL backs) averaged a respectable 4.1 yards per carry. Contrast that with Detroit's average of 5.49 per pass play, worst in the NFL.
The camp runs Tuesday through Friday. All sessions are closed to the public.