QUARTERBACK: Starter -- Joey Harrington. Backups -- Mike McMahon, Rick Mirer.
In his third season, Harrington is much more confident and comfortable. More importantly, he has more weapons to work with in RB Kevin Jones, WRs Charles Rogers and Roy Williams. With capable receivers he'll make more downfield throws, fewer dumpoffs and the Lions should be far more productive. Will make the occasional scramble for a first down if it's there, although that's not his game. McMahon remains in the backup role, despite his lack of accurate passing. Mirer didn't really get a chance to compete for the No. 2 job and isn't likely to get much playing time.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Kevin Jones and FB Cory Schlesinger. Backups -- RB Artose Pinner, RB Shawn Bryson, RB Paul Smith, RB Avon Cobourne and FB Stephen Trejo.
Jones gives the Lions their best big-play threat since Barry Sanders retired five NFL seasons ago and he's likely to get most of the carries, although Mariucci plans to make liberal use of Pinner and Bryson also. Pinner catches the ball well and runs hard; Bryson is the most experienced in pass protection. Smith is a good athlete but plays with such abandon he's frequently nicked up physically.
TIGHT END/H-BACK: Starter - Stephen Alexander. Backups - Casey FitzSimmons and John Owens.
Alexander and FitzSimmons might become Harrington's new best friend when he's getting pressured and looking for a hot receiver. Both catch the ball extremely well and have the ability to find holes in the defense. Between them, they could catch 40-50 balls easily. Owens is primarily a blocker.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Charles Rogers and Roy Williams. Backups -- Az-Zahir Hakim, Tai Streets, Eddie Drummond, Reggie Swinton, David Kircus.
Compared to what he's had to work with his first two years with the Lions, Harrington must feel like he's hit the jackpot. Rogers and Williams both are big receivers with speed, leaping ability and are good - but not necessarily great yet - ball catchers. Both have big-play potential but opposing defenses can't double both of them, so Harrington should find this situation to his liking. Hakim and Streets give the Lions additional veteran threats in three-receiver and four-receiver sets.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Jeff Backus, LG David Loverne, C Dominic Raiola, RG Damien Woody, RT Stockar McDougle. Backups -- G/T Matt Joyce, G/C Tyrone Hopson, T Kelly Butler, T Victor Rogers, G Zach Wilson, G David Miller.
Two new starters in the offensive line - Woody and Loverne - but the Lions are stronger and more settled up front than in recent years. Backus and McDougle are solid pass blockers, not Pro Bowl performers at this stage of their careers, but a major reason the Lions gave up only 11 QB sacks last season. Raiola is best as a run blocker, capable of pulling to lead the play or getting out to block on screen passes. Woody, the Lions' major free agent acquisition, firms up the right side significantly. Joyce can back up all of the line positions except center. The rest of the depth is extremely inexperienced.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LE Robert Porcher, LT Dan Wilkinson, RT Shaun Rogers, RE James Hall. Backups -- Kalimba Edwards, Jared DeVries, Kelvin Pritchett, Cory Redding, Marcus Bell, Colin Cole.
The plan to install Edwards as the fulltime RDE and pass rusher came apart when Edwards failed to show any pass rush flash and then began feeling discomfort in the groin area where he underwent two sports hernia surgeries. The line is still in a state of flux but it appears Hall will go back to RDE, Porcher and DeVries will play at LDE and Hall will go back to LDE when Edwards comes in as a designated pass rusher, assuming he's healthy enough to play. The tackles are solid, hard to run on and can be a disruptive force inside because teams can't double both Rogers and Wilkinson.
LINEBACKER: Starters -- SLB Donte' Curry, MLB Earl Holmes, WLB James Davis. Backups -- Teddy Lehman, Alex Lewis, Wali Rainer, Andrew Battle and Boss Bailey (injured).
The Lions are extremely thin and inexperienced at the linebacker positions, especially with Bailey out until at least some time in October after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery during training camp. Curry can handle the strong side until Bailey comes back, as long as he remains healthy but Davis has precious little experience at the weak side and the rookie Lewis was injured for most of training camp. Lehman is still learning to get off blocks and make plays but is viewed as the MLB of the future. He also played at the Sam linebacker to get experience.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Fernando Bryant, RCB Dre' Bly, FS Brock Marion, SS Brian Walker. Backups - CB Andre Goodman, CB Rod Babers, CB Chris Cash, CB Keith Smith, CB Chris Kern, S Terrence Holt, S Bracy Walker.
Bryant and Bly give the Lions a pair of smallish but aggressive and capable corners. Bly proved his worth last year and Bryant seems to be cut from the same mold - young players who are willing to take calculated risks and play with confidence. They're also good on run support, and have experienced backups in nickel back Goodman and Cash. The safeties aren't kids any more but the Lions gambled that Marion can give them at least one or two seasons of leadership and play at FS; Holt is more of a FS type, although he might get playing time at SS if Brian Walker is not effective.
SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Jason Hanson; P Nick Harris; LS Bradford Banta or Jody Littleton; H Nick Harris; PR Eddie Drummond; KOR Eddie Drummond.
Hanson remains one of the NFL's most under-appreciated standouts, simply because he hasn't gotten enough opportunities during his first 12 NFL seasons. He is extremely accurate and hasn't lost that much of his leg on kickoffs. Harris is adequate on punts and Hanson likes kicking out of his holds. Drummond can make things happen on both PR and KOR when he's healthy, and it looks like the Lions will keep Reggie Swinton as a backup as insurance against a third consecutive year of injuries for Drummond.
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