It's time for the Detroit Lions to once again get ready to report for offseason courses in Remedial Football 101. Without question, this was one of the most disappointing seasons for this franchise in the at least the last 25 years. If Matt Millen and Steve Mariucci fail to get this Gridiron-Edsel turned around with a playoff birth in 2005, then both of them need to get fitted for their complementary Russ Thomas and Darryl Rogers rubber masks and matching pink slips to wear to next year's NFL Unemployment Dance.
By the way, if you are under the age of 18 or have any sort of medical condition, please look away. The following final grades for the 2004 Lions offense aren't for the faint of heart (Note: the first grade is for the first eight games and the final grade is for the season).
Quarterbacks Overall: First Half C+ Final D+
After 47 cotton-pickin' seasons, you think the Lions could have found an answer to their quarterback situation. . . . Nope, the Curse of Bobby Layne lives on in Motown.
Joey Harrington: C+ D-
Harrington started strong with an opening week win in Chicago and managed the offense well during the team's 4-2 start. Then, the wheels came off. Despite the emergence of Kevin Jones, his performance during the final half of the season, (with the exception of the second Vikings game), was simply rancid. His inaccuracy remains his biggest problem. His second and third biggest problems, the Neanderthal game planning and his stone-handed receiving corps, are out of his control.
Is Joey the Lions' quarterback of the future? Yes . . . at least for next season.
Mike McMahon: Incomplete Incomplete
McMahon only played extensively this season during the second half of the Thanksgiving Day Massacre versus the Colts. If he ever becomes more than an NFL backup, it will be in another city.
Rick Mirer: Who Cares? Ditto
Can anyone still believe that this guy was taken second-overall by the Seahawks after the Pats took Drew Bledsoe first-overall back in 1993?
Running Backs Overall: First Half C+ Final B
This is a good group, led by one of the most exciting young runners in the NFL. It took five years, but I think they have finally found a replacement for that Barry dude.
Kevin Jones: Incomplete B+
Even when healthy, Jones was largely missing from the Lions' game plans during the first half of the season (I don't know why either). Nevertheless, he was among the NFL's best at his position during the second half of the year. If he improves in pass protection and works on his receiving skills, he will reach Lion immortality very soon.
Shawn Bryson: B+ B+
He should be a mainstay as the teams 3rd down back for years to come. A solid player who does everything that is asked of him.
Artose Pinner: C+ Incomplete
Performed OK during the first half of the year. Was inactive for the last seven games of the season due to the emergence of Jones and the solid play of Shawn Bryson; will likely stick around for a while due to his small contract and his all-around abilities.
Cory Schlesinger: B- C+
The rust is starting to gather on this veteran warrior. The missed blocks and dropped passes this season were tough to watch. It's a shame that for the early years of his career under Wayne Fontes and Bobby Ross, he was essentially used only as a battering ram. It took Marty Mornhinweg, of all people, to see Sledge's true value as an all-purpose fullback.
Stephen Trejo: C+ Incomplete
Played the best game of his career in the victory over the Giants; depending on the recovery of Paul Smith, and a possible newcomer at FB in the draft, Trejo could have a tough time making the roster next season.
Receivers and Tight Ends: First Half C Final D
Please, please, let Charles Rogers stay healthy next season. This group needs some serious upgrading (again!) before opening kickoff 2005.
Roy Williams: B+ C-
Injuries, double teams and rookie fatigue all took their toll on Williams. He must learn to play with pain and work on his consistency and focus to eliminate the costly drops down the stretch this year. A healthy Charles Rogers and a revamped offensive scheme could result in big things for this guy as a NFL sophomore.
Az Hakim: B- D+
Hakim is what he is, an electrifying receiver with maddening bouts of inconsistency. If he restructures his contract so that he is being paid 3rd or 4th receiver money, then the Lions should keep him. Otherwise, it should be farewell Az this offseason.
Tai Streets: D F
If someone ever makes an NFL version of the Invisible Man, Streets should star in it. The only reason this guy is not the worst free agent signing of the Millen regime is because Russ Thomas Jr. also once signed Bill Schroeder.
Reggie Swinton: C+ B-
I grade these guys based on what is expected of them, which is why Reggie's end of season mark is higher then Roy Williams. Swinton filled in admirably down the stretch as a receiver, making some clutch catches during his brief time on the field. I see this guy becoming another Aubrey Matthews or Jeff Chadwick, a solid role player who could have a place on this team for the next few years.
David Kircus: Incomplete Incomplete
He can tell his grandchildren one day about the TD catch and run he made versus the Cowboys earlier this season. How many of us real world chumps wouldn't give up a body part to be able to make just one play like that in the NFL?
Stephen Alexander: C+ D
He could be Streets' sidekick in the Invisible Man. I think the Lions should have a ceremony where David Sloan comes back and officially gives his "Hands of Stone" nickname over to Alexander. Why the Lions want to keep this guy around is beyond me. Keeping John Owens on the roster instead would have been a lot cheaper. By the way, that's not just me talking. There are people I have spoken to inside the walls at Allen Park that wonder why Owens (who was picked up on wavers by the Bears after his release) never got on the field here either.
Casey Fitzsimmons: C- C-
An average player who has seemed to plateau in his second year; he must get stronger and become a better blocker if he is going to stick around beyond next season.
Offensive Line: First Half D Final B-
Stockar McDougle: C- B-
Played like Larry Tharpe (remember him?) for the first half of the season and like a competent OT for the second half. He is still way too heavy (listed at 367 lbs) and remains vunerable to speed rushers and quick guys with a double move. If he and his agent Drew Rosenhaus ask for too much bread this offseason, I say let him walk. Stockar is not worth premier RT money, period.
Damien Woody: C B
This guy would be an absolute force if he would shed 30 pounds. Although he is listed at 320; if he weighs an ounce less than 350, then I have a palm tree farm up in Pelston I'd like to sell ya'. Woody is a damn' good football player, but he is B.S'in' himself if he thinks that extra weight helps him. He did not play like a Pro Bowler this season. However, his leadership in the lockeroom and mentoring of his fellow linemates proved invaluable in the late season development of the Lions' running game, as well as in the second half improvement of Dominic Raiola and McDougle.
Dominic Raiola: F B-
Let's credit Raiola, as well as Woody and O-line coach Pat Morris for turning around Dominic's season and probably saving his Lions career to boot. Raiola's improvement over the course of the year was phenomenal. Let's hope he has finally turned the corner for good.
David Loverne: D- D-
I think Shirley would have played a hell of a lot better this season. Is she a free agent?
Matt Joyce: D- C+
Did a nice job in the second half stepping in for the putrid Penny Marshall, he like Bryson and Swinton, could have nice career as role players on this team for years to come.
Jeff Backus: C C+
I hate to say it, but this guy has just not impressed me this season. Like McDougle and Raiola this season, Backus will be playing for his Lion future in 2005 (the final year of his contract).
Special Teams: First Half A Final B
Jason Hanson: A- A-
Still solid in all areas and a pretty good tackler too.
Eddie Drummond: A Incomplete
Congrats to the former free agent from Penn State for grabbing his first All Pro selection this week. . . . Now if they could ever get an entire team around this guy.
Reggie Swinton Incomplete C
Reggie was disappointing filling in for Eddie Drummond; but let's cut Reggie some slack, Eddie in 2004 would have been a tough act to follow for anyone not named Mel Gray.
Offensive Coaching: First Half D- Final F
There is nothing more I can write on this subject that I haven't already written about this season. It was bad across the board. I never again thought I'd see a Lions' offense as bad as the horse manure outfit that Darryl Rogers threw out there during his nightmarish tenure. . . . Now I have.
This coaching staff and their players have a lot of work to do over the next 9 months.
Question or comments: reach Doug Warren at LWarren12@juno.com