Pre-season prognosicators have already shelled out their regular season predictions with a generalized, usually dull and negative outlook on the Detroit Lions' prospects for 2004.
Using the "experts" logic, combine the Lions incredibly youthful ball club and last year's five-win total and the result is another struggle with marginal improvement. Fair enough, but not incredibly insightful nor imaginative. Lions' fans are owed an annual pre-season outlook that raises hopes and expectations, and traditionally ends in stomach-turning disappointment. They wouldn't want it any other way.
So, optimistically speaking, the potential the Lions harbor is second to none ... in the entire league. That is difficult to dispute, considering the talent that has been added to this year's roster.
Although the additions of receiving targets Roy Williams, Stephen Alexander, a solidified offensive line, and the return of second-year receiver Charles Rogers is obviously noteworthy, the success of Detroit might hinge solely on rookie tailback Kevin Jones.
Jones, stolen late in the first round by Lions' president Matt Millen in April, racked up 1,600 rushing yards as a junior at Virginia Tech last season including an average of 6 yards per carry. The former Hokie also added 21 touchdowns on the ground last year, and two of his most productive games were against ranked opponents (Miami and Pittsburgh).
Besides his lack of viable targets in 2003, many of third-year quarterback Joey Harrington's struggles can be attributed to the absence of a competent running attack. The Lions were outrushed in 11 games last year, winning three of five in which they outrushed the opponent and keeping the other two (including a 20-16 loss at Denver) close.
Jones might provide that missing ingredient.
Successful west coast offenses, the strategy used by head coach Steve Mariucci, usually call for a fleet-footed, multi-faceted running back. Mariucci had Garrison Hearst while at San Francisco, Mike Holmgren has the talented Shaun Alexander in Seattle, and Andy Reid made the most out of Deuce Staley in Philadelphia. Even Mike Sherman reintroduced the west coast offense in Green Bay in 2003, using Ahman Green extensively before a second-round playoff exit.
Ah, so is Mooch and Millen's plan slowly becoming unveiled?
Many analysts believe Jones can have the same impact as Clinton Portis did during his rookie year in Denver, in which the former Miami tailback rushed for an NFL rookie record 1,500 yards and 15 touchdowns. If that success can be duplicated by Jones, who shares similar running styles but with a bigger body frame than Portis, a talented passing offense would be released.
Jones will receive help from fellow running back and last year's fourth-round pick Artose Pinner, including an already solid offensive line that was upgraded with the addition of Pro Bowl guard Damien Woody.
While speculation isn't exactly worth its weight in gold, it is at least enough of an inviting prospect to consider -- even into "expert" predictions. And although Jones' onfield production could be just the opposite, thus the Lions, your moment of zen is the thought of Jones having a Portis-esque year. A very real possibility, and that possibility could only mean ... playoffs?
"Playoffs!?" - Jim Mora.