Pre-Camp: Three Goals Face Lions

The Detroit Lions have three challenging goals facing them as training camp is around the corner. Among them? Adjusting to new head coach Rod Marinelli, and his tough-as-nails mentality. Breakdown of each goal inside.


Adjust to their new head coach: Coach Rod Marinelli has to complete the job he started in the off-season mini-camps, most notably setting new standards for toughness, discipline and work ethic.

In recent seasons, the Lions became a soft, undisciplined football team and the results couldn't have been more obvious. They won only 21 games while losing 59 over the past five years.

That kind of record -- and the attitude that accompanied it -- will not be acceptable for the new regime, headed by Marinelli with Mike Martz running the offense and Donnie Henderson running the defense.

Marinelli laid the groundwork for the new approach during the off-season workouts and, while most players bought into it -- or at least claimed to have bought into it -- it is noteworthy that the new, first-time head coach met some resistance along the way.

One or more players filed a grievance with the NFL Players Association -- apparently on the grounds Marinelli was keeping them on the field too long or the workouts were too physical to be conducted in shorts and helmets -- and the Lions lost two days of offseason training activities as a result.

The off-season workouts were probably only a hint of what the Lions can expect when training camp workouts begin in Allen Park on July 28. It is expected there will be more contact work than the Lions have experienced since the departure of former coach Bobby Ross during the 2000 season.
Marinelli believes there is only one way to win and that is through hard work and toughness, and his coordinators -- Martz and Henderson -- are just as demanding as Marinelli.

Establish Jon Kitna -- or Josh McCown -- as the starting quarterback: When president Matt Millen and Marinelli went after Kitna on the free agent market last winter it was clearly with the idea he would push Joey Harrington for the starting job.

Within a matter of weeks, however, all of that changed. Harrington, frustrated and beaten down after four years as the whipping boy in the West Coast offense, couldn't bring himself to return to a hostile locker room and asked to be traded.

Millen, who still believed Harrington can be a winning NFL quarterback, and Marinelli, who was willing to give him a fresh start in a conventional offense, were surprised and somewhat disappointed but agreed to give him a fresh start. They eventually traded him to Miami, then went back to the free agent market to sign McCown, a veteran of four years at Arizona.

Although Marinelli has declared the quarterback competition open, Kitna has much more experience and has shown himself to be a more consistent, productive quarterback. He took most of the snaps with the first offense during the mini-camps and offseason training activities but has yet to prove on the practice field and in exhibition games that he can run the team more effectively than McCown.

Dan Orlovsky, a fifth-round draft pick in 2005, probably does not have the experience to compete for the starting job but he has the talent to qualify as a Martz developmental project. He'll get plenty of work in training camp but will probably go into the season as the No. 3 quarterback.

Put together a workable set of linebackers: For four years the Lions have drafted fast, athletic linebackers; now they'll have to see if any of them can stay healthy and play at a productive level.

And the problem is that two of them -- second-round picks Boss Bailey (2003) and Teddy Lehman (2004) -- are coming off off-season foot surgeries that kept them out of the off-season indoctrination process.

If they're healthy at the opening of camp, it's likely Marinelli and Henderson will have Bailey playing in the middle with Lehman on the strong side, where he played much of his rookie year while Bailey was out with injuries.

Ernie Sims, the Lions' No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft, is expected to get a shot at the weak-side linebacker position, with James Davis (a fourth-year player) and Alex Lewis (a third-year player) competing for playing time.

Earl Holmes, last year's middle linebacker and most effective linebacker, no longer has the speed to play Henderson's system and was not re-signed, assuring this year's linebacking corps a new look.

CAMP CALENDAR: July 27 -- All players report to training camp; July 28 -- Two-a-day workouts begin; August 11 -- exhibition opener against Denver.

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