Anticipation often follows the Detroit Lions as a new season approaches, but this year seems to be different.
On the eve of training camp, Lions' head coach Steve Mariucci addressed the media with his annual pre-camp briefing, and the excitement was evident. Besides Mariucci's tone and thrilled responses, it is obvious that the team Detroit is fielding this year is going make some noise. Or, at the very least, has the potential to make alot of noise.
"There are a lot of pieces in place," said Mariucci Friday evening, "It's going to be a lot of fun for this coaching staff and this organization to see how fast we can do it. It's going to fun for the fans to see how fast we can do it. They're going to enjoy watching Joey Harrington play with a supporting cast that is full of speed and athleticism. Our offensive line has grown up. We have a bunch of young linebackers and we've added to our secondary with some experience.
"There is reason for optimism," continued Detroit's second-year head coach, "I think the fans are going to enjoy watching guys like Kevin Jones, Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, Boss Bailey and Dré Bly perform, grow and develop into real fine NFL football players."
Each of those players haven't been in Detroit longer than Mariucci, either joining the team last year or drafted last April. And that type of vast improvement in talent is something that has been missing in the Motor City for years.
Previously, a Lions' off-season might include the signing of a solid free-agent or two, and a decent draft. Generally, though, the team relied upon existing yet mediocre personnel to get the job done. Entering 2004, it's difficult to find a facet of the Lions' team that doesn't have big number potential.
"I hope it is and I think it can be," said Mariucci, on whether or not the offense can be more capable than in the past. "I expect this offense at some point to be very explosive. How fast we can do that remains to be seen."
One ingredient, first round pick Roy Williams, has yet to sign and missed the reporting deadline, but Mariucci shrugged off any worries that the holdout would be elongated.
"I would prefer that he would be in here by now," said Mariucci. "We're still hopeful that he will be here very soon.
"I'm sure that Tom (Lewand) and (Roy's) agent, Ben Dogra, will get together again soon and work it out so that we have him in here very shortly."
Defensively, optimism is also apparent.
"(Our defensive staff) put together a brand-new playbook," said Mariucci, also commenting highly on defensive coordinator Dick Jauron, saying he's 'got it all'.
"How well we use those young linebackers (James Davis, Boss Bailey, rookie Teddy Lehman); how we rotate the defensive line; those decisions will be important as we go. I expect (the defensive staff) to have a real plan and to implement it gradually."
Overall, the 2004 rendition of the Detroit Lions draws an interest and a stimulation that is different. From the amiable confidence that Mariucci seems to emit, to the talented young stars that reside on the roster, the entire league -- not just the city of Detroit -- is buzzing.
"We're all excited to get started. It's been a good off-season, a very productive off-season from a conditioning standpoint as well as getting healthy, our draft and free agency acquisitions and so on and so forth. Now it's time to go."