ALLEN PARK - New head coach Rod Marinelli embarks on what is sure to be a critical period of his tenure as head coach of the Detroit Lions; getting the locker room in order. Last year, Detroit's locker room splintered with controversial ex-quarterback Joey Harrington as the central figure.
In Harrington, Detroit got a player who was antitypical of an NFL quarterback. CBS sports sideline analyst Tony Siragusa, a former defensive tackle with the Baltimore Ravens summed it up this way; "he's the kind of guy that's on the other side of the club than I am. He's, uh, he's over there with the champagne and caviar, and also the strawberries and chocolate."
Harrington was a polarizing figure in the locker room, some players sided with him as he tried to hold on to his starting position, while others - most notably corner Dre' Bly - openly campaigned for an end to the Harrington era.
Head coach Rod Marinelli decided Harrington would be the first of likely many more to come who don't fit into his concept of team.
"I've decided to move in a different direction with the quarterback," said Marinelli of his decision to send Harrington home rather than have him participate in the team's voluntary off-season conditioning program."
Marinelli knew having Harrington - who clearly was himself divided about whether he wanted to stay in Detroit - working with the team would run contrary to the "all for one" mentality he's trying to instill.
While some have pointed the finger at Bly and view him as a bad teammate, the fact is that Bly, in his role as the team's undisputed leader of the defensive unit, expressed what many players, who lacked the security he possess, were feeling. His words carried weight with the organization who knew he was expressing the general frustration of the group.
Coach Marinelli's voluntary conditioning program is likely going to grease the skids for the exits of some others as well.
While the program is voluntary, Marinelli is going to be demanding and thorough in putting the players through their paces. The objective is to turn Detroit from the finesse team it was under head coach Steve Mariucci to a tough, physical, power team.
It was not lost on observers that Detroit played at a high level early in games, but the team's effort faded badly in the second half. That is simply a team unprepared to work, something that Marinelli wants to eliminate.
One area to watch closely in the team's development are the offensive and defensive lines. Marinelli, a defensive line coach by trade, will put a keen focus on developing a dominant group.
Detroit has in the last few days signed three offensive linemen; tackle Courtney VanBuren, guard Rex Tucker and tackle Barry Stokes who were noted as big, physical power players albeit mostly injured. They also will likely add at least one more member to that group in the NFL draft, perhaps as early as the first round. That group will be put through its paces and the strongest and toughest will survive, the rest will be run off.
In the receiving corps, the coach will wade through the group of talented underachievers and find out who's willing to fight for playing time and who wants to rest on their laurels. The bet here is that much maligned receiver Charles Rogers flourishes with a clean slate and a coaching staff that truly means it when it says "may the best man win."
While the team's locker room isn't nearly as divided as has been painted in some corners, there are a few malcontents and posers who'll be quickly exposed. Some will be benched, others will be waived and there are likely to be some surprises.
In fact, a few "name" players may end up as ex-Lions and their cuts may be head-scratching at first, but the bottom line is the most talented players don't always show up on Sundays and don't always win. Taking plays off will be a thing of the past and will be replaced by exhaustive workouts with the goal of "winning every snap, winning every down" as Marinelli likes to say.
The balance though, is that you can't line up with a bunch of workout warriors and expect to win. Some guys are just better than others, not matter how much the others work. Marinelli will have to establish the line where talent and effort come together that's acceptable to him.
So don't be surprised if a few won't buy into his program. That's O.K. It's a natural part of the building process of a winning franchise. In fact, that is Rod Marinelli's main function as the head coach of the Detroit Lions; instilling the team mentality, the way the franchise will go about its business under his regime. The players must know what is and what isn't tolerated and exactly what's expected of them.
The x's and o's of the way the offense and defense functions can wait until later when coach Martz and coach Henderson gets the team in the post draft minicamp. Right now, in the offseason condition program, its all about attitude, desire and hunger. Who wants to be here, who's willing to work for those coveted spots as starters and those last few roster spots?
That's just the way coach Marinelli likes it.