Training camp is underway, preseason play is just around the corner and it's less than six weeks until the start of the NFL's regular season, so where are the new-look Lions of 2005?
The fact is, the Lions of 2005 have pretty much the same look as the Lions of 2004.
For the first time since Matt Millen was hired as the team president in 2001, the Lions are not looking at their No. 1 and/or No. 2 draft picks as instant starters.
There are changes to be sure - several veterans plugged into key spots in the lineup. That means Kenoy Kennedy at strong safety, Rick DeMulling at left guard, Marcus Pollard at tight end and Kevin Johnson as the No. 3 or 4 wide receiver.
All play critical roles in the higher expectations for 2005, but the Lions are no longer involved in the desperation rebuilding program that marked the first four seasons of Millen's administration. The players they added through free agency and the draft were additions to what has become a solid roster.
The biggest change in the 2005 Lions is that they now have the experience and the confidence to finally climb from the depths of the NFC North and - possibly - compete with Minnesota and Green Bay for the division title.
Keep in mind, this is a team that hasn't put together a winning season since 2000, when the Bobby Ross/Gary Moeller coached team went 9-7 and convinced owner William Clay Ford it was time for a top-to-bottom overhaul.
This is a team that went 2-14 and 3-13 under Marty Mornhingweg, Millen's first coaching choice and first major on-the-job mistake.
This is a team that went 5-11 and 6-10 under Steve Mariucci, the coach some expected to work an instant miracle.
Add them up and it's 16-48 for the past four seasons. And this is the team that some are now predicting to go 9-7 or 10-6?
Mariucci has made it clear he believes the Lions are a better team but he refuses to get caught up in the speculation game.
"You know I don't make any predictions," he said. "I don't give you any numbers but the foundation has really been put into place. We've been working for several years to put a lot of pieces of this puzzle together and, boy, we're ... getting there, and it's going to be fun.
"I guess I'm just eager to see how fast this team can come. I think it's going to be a lot of fun to watch, to see how fast this team can play some real good football."
There will be indicators to measure the Lions progress - how well quarterback Joey Harrington plays knowing he has veteran Jeff Garcia looking over his shoulder, how well the three young first-round receivers - Charles Rogers, Roy Williams and Mike Williams - mesh, whether second-year running back Kevin Jones can continue to churn out yardage at the rate he produced in the second half of his rookie season, whether the addition of Kennedy and veteran cornerback R.W. McQuarters will give defensive coordinator Dick Jauron the complete package he needs to play a more aggressive style of defense.
It's just around the corner. It's not necessarily a new-look Lions team but they're betting that on January 1, nobody's going to be looking at them as the same old Lions either.
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