Harrington, Lions Will Go Deep

Last year, the Detroit Lions offense was fortunate to complete even the most elementary pass play. Loaded with speed and talent at wide receiver, and the presence of the running game, the first week of training camp has proved Harrington and Co. can go deep. And they will.

Entering a brief break from the rigors of training camp this weekend, enthusiasm is abundant in Allen Park and the Detroit Lions training camp facility. You would be hard pressed to find many negatives.

Almost a full week ago, the excitement regarding the Lions and the kick-off of training camp centered on third-year quarterback Joey Harrington, and his plethora of offensive talent. Following a disappointing 5-11 season marred by injuries and poor play, the additions of rookies Roy Williams and Kevin Jones, and free-agent acquisition Tai Streets has spawned not just local but national optimism of the Lions.

They haven't disappointed.

Harrington has been impressive thus far in training camp, becoming more familiar with the complex west coast offense, and easily becoming the most impressive quarterback taking repetitions. He is also taking full advantage of his new options.

"It's nice, very nice, having those guys out there," said Harrington. "Having Roy (Williams) and a healthy Charles (Rogers), Stephen (Alexander) and Casey FitzSimmons playing really well and having Kevin (Jones) in the backfield gives us so many options."

In 2003, Harrington struggled en route to a 63.9 quarterback rating, almost a full 10 points below the league average. In 2004, his production is expected to increase significantly.

"I see improvement in Joey in the practices right now," said head coach Steve Mariucci. "I've seen it in the mini camps and I certainly see it in training camp. He's having an excellent training camp."

"His leadership ability is improved; his knowledge of the system (is improved). His familiarity with what we are doing is very good. He's starting a rhythm up with these young receivers. It is going to take time in the 1,000s of throws into 10,000s throws, you know? We're going to get better as time goes on. How fast he can show improvement from efficiency and production remains to be seen, but I expect it to happen. It is going to get better and better as time goes on with these young players."

Those young players are also incredibly explosive, which according to Mariucci, will likely open the deep game. Last year, Harrington's per attempt average was just 5.20 yards, almost a full two yards below opponents. And the Lions lacked the ‘big play.'

"Because of the speed and size of our receivers, yes," said Mariucci. "I think because we have a run game and the threat of the run game, you are going to see more safeties in the box, which puts corners one-on-one with our receivers, which encourages you to take a shot every now and then and that sort of thing."

Harrington, meanwhile, believes it's dependent upon the offensive strategy.

"The way we attack people is based on this offense," said Harrington. "If you watch the people that have been successful in this offense, (Joe) Montana, (Steve) Young, (Jeff) Garcia, (Brett) Favre, (Donovan) McNabb, they could dink and dunk and check down all the way down the field and then they'll pop the big one."

With the speed flaunted by Williams, last-year's second overall pick Charles Rogers, and slot receiver Az-Zahir Hakim thus far in camp, the opportunities will likely be present, and certainly aren't slowing down. Neither is the optimism.

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