It's hard to fault Steve Mariucci for being optimistic.
Even if he's very, very optimistic.
Entering his third year as head coach of the Detroit Lions, Mariucci's first two seasons in the Motor City were forgettable. With injuries causing (and reinforcing) a severe lack of talent and depth for consecutive seasons, the team has compiled just 11 wins.
Following Friday's inaugural training camp practice session in Allen Park, however, things were noticeably different -- and Mariucci's abstruse grin spilled over into his comments.
"We are back at it and that is what we all love," Mariucci said during a post-practice press briefing. "We are in the grass and we are starting our quest to make this team a heck of a football team. The energy level was good and the attention to detail was good."
And so was the talent.
In 2005, Detroit's arsenal has been fully equipped. After several sharp drafts and free-agent acquisitions, the Lions have cultivated a talented roster core with plentiful depth. It is, perhaps, the most gifted set of athletic prowess to represent the city of Detroit in over a decade.
Short only rookie wide receiver Mike Williams (whose holdout is expected to be brief) and kick-returner Eddie Drummond (whose might be a bit longer), the team reported intact -- and healthy.
"I also think we look like we are in pretty darn good shape ... I see that with some of our veterans," Mariucci said. "You are always going to see that with rookies because they train out of necessity, but guys like Damien Woody, Dre Bly and Shaun Rogers look great and they look like they are in top shape. I think it shows that they are committed.
"When the commitment comes from your leaders that sets the tone and sets the example which everybody follows and that is where we are right now."
The Lions also welcomed the return of wide receiver Charles Rogers, who spent the last two seasons on IR with a bum shoulder. On at least two occasions Friday, Rogers forced cornerback Dre' Bly to grab jersey. Meanwhile, linebacker Boss Bailey, sidelined last season with a repaired knee, returned in limited action.
The collection of youth, talent and most promising, the potential, has garnered attention league-wide.
Prior to training camp, several annual NFL magazines pegged Detroit to take the division -- primarily behind the reasoning of the talent infusion. It is a cosmic shift from the past several years, which -- pretty accurately -- placed the team in the division cellar.
But on Friday, Mariucci stopped short of making any post-season predictions, but has reminded his team that the Super Bowl will be in their own back yard.
"Our guys understand what the goal is and they see that Lombardi Trophy all over the place, but we would like our players to see it in person," he said. "We remind them that the Super Bowl is in Detroit and we would like to be in it."
Holdouts? Mike Williams, the Lions' 10th overall pick in the draft, officially became a holdout Friday morning by not reporting on time. Second-round pick Shaun Cody, meanwhile, reported 15 minutes after practice began after reaching a four-year agreement. Sources close to the situation have told LionsFans.com that Williams and the Lions are in dispute over the signing bonus, but many details -- including performance-based incentives -- have been worked out. The situation with kick/punt returner Eddie Drummond isn't as yielding. Drummond has refused to sign the Lions one-year tender offer, but the team is apparently unwilling to negotiate any other deal -- leading to a potentially lengthy holdout. Detroit, however, seems content using free-agent pick-up R.W. McQuarters in his place
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