Draft May Not Cure All of Lions Voids

Despite four strong moves in free agency - signing guard Damien Woody, cornerback Fernando Bryant, wide receiver Tai Streets and safety Brock Marion - the Lions probably have more holes than they can adequately fill in the draft. Much more inside, including draft strategy, free-agency updates, and more.

Despite four strong moves in free agency - signing guard Damien Woody, cornerback Fernando Bryant, wide receiver Tai Streets and safety Brock Marion - the Lions probably have more holes than they can adequately fill in the draft.

But they should be able to made serious inroads into getting back to respectability and laying a foundation to compete in the NFC North by 2005.

Coach Steve Mariucci and president Matt Millen don't necessarily look at it that way. Mariucci already is on record saying the Lions can compete this year if they get a few well-placed additions in the draft.

That might be asking a lot, however, of a team coming off consecutive seasons of 2-14 in 2001, 3-13 in 2002 and 5-11 last year.

Last week, for instance, Millen was still working at filling glaring holes at right guard and weakside linebacker.

The latest guard candidate was Larry Allen, the 10-year Dallas guard who is being shopped by Cowboys coach Bill Parcells, presumably for a trade before the start of the draft.

The linebacker position - vacant after the loss of Barrett Green to the New York Giants - would be available to free agents Ian Gold of Denver or Warrick Holdman of Chicago if either is willing to play for what the Lions are willing to offer.

If the Lions can get those two jobs filled before the draft, they might actually come close to competing in the NFC North, as Mariucci has suggested.

DRAFT STRATEGY -- If they stay at No. 6 in the first round, they are almost certain to get one of several top players - tight end Kellen Winslow, wide receiver Roy Williams or safety Sean Taylor. But team president Matt Millen might prefer to pass on the high-impact player at No. 6 for a chance to acquire additional picks later in the first and second rounds. Because of the depth of the draft at wide receiver and the likely availability of a solid running back in the late first or early second, the deal might actually make sense for the Lions. One problem: There always seem to be more teams willing to trade down for additional draft picks than teams eager to trade up and part with their extra draft picks.

TEAM NEEDS going into the draft -- Wide receiver, running back, tight end, safety, outside linebacker.

WR -- The Lions drafted Charles Rogers with the No. 2 pick a year ago and if they could land another top receiver this year, they'd have a matched set that quarterback Joey Harrington could work with. Even if they don't land Larry Fitzgerald or Roy Williams with the No. 6 pick overall, they could take a quality receiver later in the first or even in the second. Michael Clayton, Lee Evans or Reggie Williams could upgrade the Lions receiving corps.

RB -- The Lions had the NFL's least productive running game last season, averaging less than 84 yards per game, and - going into the draft -- have done nothing to improve it. They are counting on improved production from Artose Pinner and Shawn Bryson, two backs who were limited last year as they came off serious injuries and surgery, but Millen and Mariucci would like to add another tailback in the draft. They like both Steven Jackson and Kevin Jones but probably would not take them at No. 6, which means that - barring a trade - they will probably look for a back in the second round and hope a player like Michigan's Chris Perry will be available.

TE -- By the end of the 2003 season, the Lions were starting an undrafted rookie - Casey FitzSimmons - ahead of Mikhael Ricks and two late-round draft picks from 2002, John Owens and Matt Murphy. FitzSimmons caught the ball well and Ricks eventually made some plays when pressed into duty after the team's receiving corps was decimated by injuries. But the Lions don't have a full-service tight end capable of making the tough catch over the middle, stretching the field or inline blocking. That's why they would like to have Kellen Winslow Jr. available when they draft.

S -- The addition of free safety Brock Marion and cornerback Fernando Bryant alleviates some of the immediate pressure in the defensive secondary, but the Lions still need to upgrade the safety position. Brian Walker, expected to start at strong safety, has not played up to expectations the past two years, Marion is 34 years old and Terrence Holt still has much to learn about the NFL game in spite of a promising rookie season. Sean Taylor might not be as glamorous a selection as Winslow but he might be just as good a player in two years.

OLB -- If the Lions land a weak-side linebacker in free agency before they get to the draft table, the pressure comes off. If not, they'll be looking for an outside backer - possibly late in the first day of drafting - probably to compete with last year's fifth-round pick James Davis for the starting job.

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES -- No big surprise but - for the third consecutive season - the Lions will not play a Monday night game.

In fact, the Lions have no prime time exposure whatsoever and, except for their Thanksgiving Day game against the Indianapolis Colts, they won't have any nationally televised games.

Their record over the past three seasons - 2-14 in 2001, 3-13 in 2002 and 5-11 last year - doesn't make them an attraction and they also lack the star power that appeals to the Monday night television audiences.

Coach Steve Mariucci said he was not surprised that the Lions didn't make the Monday night list. "We'll play on Monday night when the networks feel we're an interesting team to watch for the entire country, and that day will come soon," he said.

The Lions have had only one Monday night game since Barry Sanders retired five years ago. That was a 2001 game against St. Louis in which they were 35-0 losers.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I got to sit and watch training camp last year and I think I wouldn't mind sitting and watching it this year, too. (laughing) No, I'm looking forward to it. It's definitely where you set the tone for the season, where you establish yourself. So I'm looking forward to the grind of training camp." -- Running back Artose Pinner, who missed his rookie training camp last year recovering from a broken left ankle and ligament damage.

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