Inside Track: Fixing the problems

After posting a 6-10 season in the fourth year of his rebuilding work, Lions president and general manager Matt Millen must know that the division is his for the taking in 2005. But if he's to succeed, writes Lions' insider Mike Fowler, changes must be made.

After posting a 6-10 season in the fourth year of his rebuilding work, Lions president and general manager Matt Millen must know that the division is his for the taking in 2005. Green Bay is and has been extremely vulnerable with an aging Brett Favre beginning to show signs of losing it.

Another disappointing season by the Minnesota Vikings has the franchise contemplating trading their only big play threat, Randy Moss and perhaps a coaching change.

Meanwhile, to the west, coach Lovie Smith has built a solid young defense and has re-installed former Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner back in his old post. With young Rex Grossman set to return from injury, Detroit's main competition for supremacy in the division figures to be the re-born Bears.

Many of Detroit's close losses were due to opposing offenses being able to drive by throwing passes into the intermediate zones against Detroit's young linebackers and its aging safeties. While the linebackers are likely to improve with another year of seasoning, the safeties are not.

Jacksonville's Donovon Darius is again expected to be on the market. Detroit was known to be in talks for the young strong safety but felt the market was too high. They might reconsider, since safety is one of the few positions they don't have young talent. Then again, they may consider the draft with top qualities safeties such as Georgia's Thomas Davis and Oklahoma's Donte Nicholson.

The starting quarterback position will be up for grabs when training camp begins. There is talk that Detroit will be watching the situation in San Diego very closely to see if the Chargers actually do franchise Drew Brees.

If Brees is a free agent, Detroit may make a play for him and release third-year man Joey Harrington in June, despite denials to the contrary. While Matt Hasselback is expected to return to Seattle, there are no guarantees. Detroit would likely be interested in Hasselback as well.

If not, they will likely try to secure a solid young backup like Quincy Carter of the Jets. Detroit could even trade for a player like Cincinnati's Jon Kitna or Seattle backup Trent Dilfer to provide solid competition to Harrington. They also will be looking for a young player to develop for the future. I would recommend Louisville's Stefan Lefors, a player who has demonstrated the ability to play at a high level amid competition.

The Lions would like to add a solid left guard next to Jeff Backus and will scour the free agent market to land one at a reasonable price. They hope to retain both tackle Stockar McDougle and center Dominic Raiola but only at a reasonable price.

Detroit will have some turnover in their wide receiver corps. Tai Streets will leave as a free agent and Az Zahir Hakim is expected to be a cap casualty. Detroit will likely draft a young receiver in the first day of the draft and look for a solid chain mover in free-agency. Pittsburgh's Plaxico Burress, a Michigan native and former teammate of Charles Rogers, fits the mold Detroit is looking for.

Finally, Detroit's reliance on the running game means they need a viable threat should rookie sensation Kevin Jones get injured. While Artose Pinner showed some workmanlike ability, he doesn't fit the role of a lead back. Versatile Shawn Bryson continues to impress, but Detroit might want to consider bringing in another back who can also play special teams.

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