After adding former 49er assistant Patrick Morris as his offensive line coach, Lions' head coach Steve Mariucci still has plenty of decisions left to make.
One, in particular, is in regards to the defense.
Both Mariucci and team president Matt Millen apparently have to decide whether to make a long-term commitment to current defensive coordinator Kurt Schottenheimer, who has one year left on his contract, or to go in another direction entirely.
Millen and Mariucci were not entirely unhappy with Schottenheimer's job, although the Lions finished 24th overall in total defense. In victories against Green Bay and St. Louis in the final five weeks of the season, the Lions defense held Ahman Green to 57 yards on 13 carries and held Marshall Faulk to 35 yards on 12 carries.
If it's up to Lions president Matt Millen, defensive end Robert Porcher will be back next fall for his 13th season with the Lions.
"We talked to him, we'd like to have him back," Millen said. "It's just a matter of juggling, getting the numbers right."
Porcher, 34, said before the Lions' final game of 2003 he would wait to make a decision on continuing his career until after meeting with Millen and coach Steve Mariucci.
It appears likely -- because the Lions want him back and apparently feel he can be productive for at least another season -- that Porcher will be back for 2004.
Under terms of the two-year contract he signed with the Lions last season, it is believed Porcher has a $500,000 roster bonus due in March as well as a $3 million base salary.
Although Porcher is the Lions career quarterback sack leader with 95 1/2 and has been selected to three Pro Bowls, his production has fallen the past two seasons. Since his 11-sack season in 2001, he had 5 1/2 sacks in 2002 and 4 1/2 sacks in 2003.
MILLEN ON GIBBS
Millen said he was not surprised when Joe Gibbs agreed to return to the NFL as the head coach of the Washington Redskins, a team he directed to three Super Bowl championships during 12 seasons from 1981-92.
"When I talked to him last year, he wanted to talk about X's and O's and schemes," Millen said. "That part didn't surprise me.
"The part surprised me was how it got it by his wife," he said, laughing.
Millen, who played under Gibbs with the 1991 Redskins, said he doesn't believe Gibbs will have a problem getting back into the game. Millen, in fact, expressed an interest in Gibbs prior to hiring Steve Mariucci as his head coach last year.
"All he has to do is look in Dallas with Parcells and Carolina with Henning," Millen said. "They're doing the same things. There's a little difference but they're going to run the football, they're going to control the line of scrimmage, they're going to run play-action and play solid defense. That's his game plan.
"In Washington, I personally think it's a great move, a great hire. I think the world of Joe Gibbs; he's the best coach I've been around. Just watching him, he'll be good for the young quarterback, he has the makings of a good line down there and they'll be fundamentally sound.
"They will pass protect, they will adjust. They'll do all the things Joe Gibbs is great at. He has speed outside with Laveranues Coles, he's going to do some things."
QUOTE TO NOTE
"I think the world of him, I'm a huge Joe Gibbs fan. As long as he comes up to Detroit and falls on his face, I'll be happy." -- Lions president Matt Millen on Gibbs, who will coach the Redskins in a game against the Lions next season at Ford Field.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Coach Steve Mariucci and Lions president Matt Millen have begun their off-season talent search. The first stop was the East-West Shrine game practices and -- like the rest of the NFL coaches and personnel managers -- will continue through the Senior Bowl and the scouting combine.
Millen feels he has a foundation in place but will be looking to get younger and faster again this year, now that Mariucci has had a full season to determine the holes the Lions need to fill to improve on their 5-11 record.
Free agency will be especially important. It's likely Millen will try to fill at least two or three crucial needs by signing unrestricted free agents in early March -- at least one starting caliber cornerback and one or two starting caliber guards.
After that it will be a question of determining what the Lions can get out of the draft with an emphasis on a safety, a tight end and a running back.
FREE AGENT UPDATE
The free agent market has a number of quality cornerbacks coming out but some of them -- including Champ Bailey of Washington -- might find themselves carrying the franchise tag, which limits their availability. The Lions are hoping to find at least one potential starter among the UFAs.
The Lions also will be watching to see what the Tampa Bay Buccaneers do with WR Keyshawn Johnson, who was inactivated for the final portion of the 2003 season. They like his toughness as a blocker and his willingness to work over the middle.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: LG Eric Beverly (A dependable player who is probably better suited to a backup role than starting); OG Ray Brown (After 18 years it's finally over); RB Shawn Bryson (Not a lead RB but has quality as a backup and catches the ball well, Lions want him back); CB Doug Evans (Signed when the Lions CBs were all hurt and gave them some good playing time, probably won't be re-signed, however); OLB Jeff Gooch (A good nickel LB and special teams player, might get more money elsewhere); OLB Barrett Green (Has enough speed to make him valuable but sometimes over-thinks situations and assignments); DE James Hall (Was the steadiest of the Lions DEs in 2003 and will be retained as a starter); WR Shawn Jefferson (Almost 35 years old, coming off a torn meniscus, a great guy and good player but probably won't be re-signed); P John Jett (Very steady punter whose torn calf muscle ended his season prematurely); DT Kelvin Pritchett (Good player in the d-line rotation and good in the locker room); CB Otis Smith (Played surprisingly well after being signed late in camp but he'll be 39 years old before the 2004 season starts, probably won't be re-signed); RB Paul Smith (Signed late in the season and impressed with his toughness on special teams and ability as a backup RB, the Lions want him back); S Bracy Walker (Good special teams player and backup at SS, Lions would like to re-sign him).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: WR Scotty Anderson (Averaged 19.1 yards on 17 catches before an ankle injury ended his season but Lions still question his toughness); S Julius Curry (Spent most of the season on the practice squad, will probably be re-signed); P Nick Harris (Was not consistent as the replacement for injured John Jett but might go to camp in 2004); QB Mike McMahon (Completed only 29 percent of his passes in limited playing time in 2003 but he'll be tendered because the Lions like his athleticism); WR Reggie Swinton (Filled in adequately on returns when Eddie Drummond was hurt and has speed, which makes him a keeper); FB Stephen Trejo (Almost exclusively a special teams player, is expendable).