Exclusively Millen: Lions GM Cautiously Optimistic

Dressed in a heavy sleeveless black pullover atop his Honolulu blue t-shirt and shorts on this hot, humid summer afternoon, Detroit Lions president and general manager Matt Millen is going over scenarios in his mind ... exclusive interview with Lions' GM Matt Millen inside, including thoughts on the team, Joey Harrington and more.

ALLEN PARK - He's hovering, he's watching, he's pacing, he's prowling.

Dressed in a heavy sleeveless black pullover atop his Honolulu blue t-shirt and shorts on this hot, humid summer afternoon, Detroit Lions president and general manager Matt Millen is going over scenarios in his mind.

Perhaps he's just daydreaming about the day his franchise quarterback Joey Harrington hits his franchise receiver Charles Rogers late in a pivotal game to win the division championship.

Maybe he's going over trade scenarios to acquire that one player that puts the Lions over the top and into that elusive Super Bowl appearance.

Could it be that Millen is evaluating the talents of one of his many draft picks who are working to learn the intricacies of head coach Steve Mariucci's playbook?

It could be any or all of these scenarios, but Matt Millen is never too far away from the Lions practice field, especially when a practice is taking place.

Can you blame him? This is his baby, for better or for worse.

Millen endured and maybe even put the Lions franchise through arguably one of the worst periods in its history. Detroit suffered through 2-14, 3-13, 5-11, and 6-10 seasons over the last four years. That's a combined total of sixteen wins and fourty-eight losses.

As he learned how to run an NFL franchise on the fly, there were the inevitable mistakes made in dealing with players, front office hirings that didn't work out(personnel man Bill Tobin and front office official Kevin Warren), and some lapses in judgement that slipped off his lips that got wide coverage.

Another low blow came when he became the first NFL official fined for violating the NFL's miniority hiring policy when he moved to fire Marty Mornhinweg and quickly snap up Steve Mariucci after the latter's surprising dismissal in San Francisco.

He was fined $200,000 by the league.

All those things together would have gotten a lot of people fired, but not in Detroit, not with the loyal Ford family running the franchise. They see things differently. They think Millen has learned from his mistakes and is poised to become one of the top front office men in the NFL.

They rewarded him with a five-year extension and the job security that goes along with a deal of that magnitude. The Ford's and many NFL observers believe that the Lions franchise is about to turn the corner.

That's because during those four dark years there was a silver lining; draft picks, very high draft picks and bunches of them.

Millen has used those picks wisely, acquiring Harrington (3rd overall in 2002) and Rogers (2nd overall in 2003) but also left tackle Jeff Backus (18th overall, 2001), center Dominic Raiola (2nd round, 2001), wide receiver Roy Williams (7th overall, 2004), wide receiver Mike Williams (10th overall, 2005), running back Kevin Jones(30th overall, 2004), defensive end Cory Redding (3rd round, 2003), defensive tackles Shaun Rogers (2nd round, 2001) and Shaun Cody (2nd round, 2005) linebackers Boss Bailey (2nd round, 2003) Teddy Lehman (2nd round, 2004), James Davis (5th round, 2003) and Alex Lewis (5th round, 2004) and safety Terrence Holt (5th round, 2003).

These players form the nucleus of the most talented Lions team since the 1991 squad that posted a 12-4 record.

He added to those picks with some solid free agent signings such as guards Rick DeMulling and Damien Woody, tight end Marcus Pollard and receiver Kevin Johnson. On the defensive side of the ball he added tackle Dan "Big Daddy" Wilkinson, linebacker Earl Holmes, corners Dre' Bly and Fernando Bryant along with safety Kenoy Kennedy.

With talent at nearly every position, things are looking up for Millen. He's endured all the criticism that comes from being atop a losing franchise, but now, it looks as if the team is ready to finally turn the corner and compete for the division championship and maybe even the conference title.

We caught up with Millen for a one-on-one interview as training camp broke late last week.

Q: When you look at what you see on the field, the team you've assembled, are you satisfied with what you have?

MILLEN: "The young talented guys, the guys we have to be playmakers, they're not disappointing, they're just still in the middle of a learning curve. I've been very pleased with the quarterback and that whole situation. Now they're not where I want them to be yet, but the competition's good, they're pushing each other, they're making strides, I'm happy with that."

Q: Are they making the kind of progress in this camp that they should be making:

MILLEN: "We're [still] a little bit behind I think, we're still playing a bit too high as a team. That's kind of normal except I'm anxious to watch this week because I want to see our pad level get down. The weather's cooperating all that stuff has been really good. I have a couple of concerns with different positions but we're healthy - that's a good thing - we're managing all that stuff pretty well."

Q: Does this team have the 'difference makers' that a team must have in order to compete for the division title?

MILLEN: "You got to have them. Every team has got to have them if you're going to be successful. We have some....we have the potential to have some. Roy's (Williams) got it, Charles (Rogers) has got it, Kevin Jones has it, Mike Williams has it, Boss Bailey's got it, Shaun Rogers has it...Dre' Bly. We have enough guys who can make plays. [Joey] Harrington, if we calm him down, he'll be right in the middle of it, he'll be fine."

Q: Is this the year that the Lions take a St. Louis Rams or Carolina Panthers-type giant leap forward?

"You'd want that to happen. You hope that it happens and I expect that to happen, but until it happens.... like we have these guys that have the potential, but that's a four-letter word in this league, you know that. Now they have to go do it. Just go do what you're capable of doing. We're not asking you to do anything more than they're capable of, but I don't want them to do anything less than what they're capable of [doing]. If you do that, we'll be fine.

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