Five Things Lions Must Do To Win In 2005

Detroit has talent up and down the roster and are only thin at a few key positions. If the team can avoid major injuries and find a few playmakers they could be in position late in the season to claim their first division crown in years. Here's what needs to take place ...

ALLEN PARK - After five years on the job, Lions president and chief executive officer Matt Millen has assembled the most talent-laden roster since the days of Bennie Blades, Chris Spielman and Herman Moore.

Detroit has talent up and down the roster and are only thin at a few key positions. If the team can avoid major injuries and find a few playmakers they could be in position late in the season to claim their first division crown in years.

Here's what needs to take place:

5. Young linebacking corps must gel
Detroit has what every team desires at the linebacking corps a mix of veterans and youth, speed and strength, but make no mistake, young players will play the key roles. Third-year players Boss Bailey and James Davis will join second-year men Alex Lewis and Teddy Lehman to form the nucleus of this group. Essentially they will be the players Detroit will count on, while veteran Earl Holmes will provide senior leadership. If Bailey, Lehman and Davis can gel and be productive, look for Detroit's defense to make a huge jump up in total defense. Concerns over the status of Bailey's knee though are worrisome.

4. Safety tandem must shut down deep ball
Four-year safety Terrence Holt is on the hot seat. Holt has shown playmaking ability in his limited time on the football field, but now he's being thrown quite literally into the fire. Holt will be the starter and be counted on to eliminate the deep balls (29 touchdown passes allowed) that got behind the secondary last season. Teaming with Holt is veteran hitter deluxe Kenoy Kennedy. Kennedy is not generally known for his coverage skills, but rather for his sure tackling ability. That could be cause for concern in the Lions' version of the two-deep zone under coordinator and former defensive back Dick Jauron. The Lions must design a scheme that puts these two in a position to succeed. Still, it would be tough not to be at least better than last year's duo of Brock Marion and Bracy Walker.

3. Difference makers must emerge
Detroit has some talented players on the roster, most notably Shaun Rogers, Boss Bailey, Charles Rogers, Kevin Jones and Dre' Bly. It's time for those guys to step up and be difference makers. Certain players have a flair for making plays that change the outcome of games. It isn't always the most talented or skilled players, sometimes it comes down to the ones with the most football saavy or those who put in the extra time to study their opponents tendencies. Will those difference makers emerge for this year's Lions squad?

2. Quarterback play must improve
Whether it turns out to be Joey Harrington or Jeff Garcia under center when the regular season starts, Detroit needs a true trigger man who can make the offense sing. It's not going to be enough to manage the offense in 2005. With weapons like Rogers, Roy Williams, Marcus Pollard, Jones, Mike Williams and Kevin Johnson, this offense ought to be among the top ones in the NFC. If not, it's time to clean the slate and bring in a big-name free agent to get it done. There's too much talent to waste it.

1. Stay healthy
If there's anything that can derail a team's post season hopes, it's injury. Boss Bailey's knee, Rogers' collarbone and Fernando Bryant and Roy Williams' ankle injuries all cost the team on the field last season. Sure, there will be injuries over a four-game preseason and 16-game regular season, but the good teams find a way to overcome them. Give GM Millen credit for signing quality backups and establishing depth on the pre-training camp roster - including the possible late signing of Ty Law - and letting coach Mariucci sort them all out. With concerns already being voiced over Bailey's knee, it's good to know Detroit has people who can play in reserve.

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