PRE-TRAINING CAMP OVERVIEWALLEN PARK -- The Lions will have a new look in several areas -- and not only in the personnel they will have lining up in their first season under new head coach Rod Marinelli.
Yes, there will be personnel changes -- most notably at quarterback, two offensive line positions, middle linebacker and defensive tackle -- but there were be major changes in offensive and defensive philosophies.
The West Coast offense is history. The Lions will play the intricate offensive style which proved so productive for Mike Martz during his years as a coordinator and then head coach at St. Louis.
And the Lions under defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson are expected to take a much more aggressive approach in pressuring the quarterback as well as attacking ball carriers and receivers.
Kitna was originally signed as a backup to push Joey Harrington in the Mike Martz offense but when Harrington wanted out, Kitna became the top candidate for the starting job in 2006. McCown, who had an up-and-down first four NFL seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, will be given a shot at winning the No. 1 job but it appears Kitna has the inside track. Although he will be 34 years old in September, Kitna hasn't taken many hits in the past two seasons as the backup to Carson Palmer at Cincinnati and age should not be a factor. He has experience as a starter both in Seattle and in the pre-Palmer era with the Bengals, and seems to have picked up on Martz's offense quickly. McCown has plenty of arm strength but has not shown the consistency necessary to win at the NFL level. At the age of 27, he still has time to develop. Orlovsky was relatively unheralded when the Lions drafted him out of Connecticut in the fifth round last year but the team likes his arm strength and his attitude. He will compete with McCown for the backup job and -- if nothing else -- is likely to stay as the No. 3 quarterback.
One of Martz's top priorities in training camp will be to get the Lions running game back on track. They were a flimsy 26th overall in rushing, averaging only 91.9 yards per game on the ground. Jones, who had an impressive 1,133 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie in 2004, suffered through a disappointing second season with 664 yards, a 3.6-yards per carry average and five TDs. He had injury problems in the second half of the season and was the victim of former coach Steve Mariucci's determination to use a three-man rotation at the RB position. He might be a one-cut runner but Martz seems determined to get production out of him. Bryson is a quality backup at the RB position, a capable blocker, runner and receiver. Calhoun, a third-round draft pick out of Wisconsin, has good quickness and will get a chance to compete with Pinner and Harris for the third RB slot on the depth chart. Schlesinger, 34, is showing the wear of 11 seasons as a lead blocker and special teams demon but Marinelli likes his dedication and he should be good for at least one more season.
TIGHT END: Starter -- Marcus Pollard. Backups -- Dan Campbell, Casey FitzSimmons, Sean McHugh, Kori Dickerson, Darius Williams.
The addition of Campbell gives the Lions the experienced blocking TE they have been lacking in recent seasons and that should make a difference in the running game. Pollard, at 34, can still run and, although he had more drops than the Lions expected last season, he is still a reliable and dangerous receiving threat. FitzSimmons can make the short to intermediate receptions and is a valuable contributor on special teams.
This is the group that stands to gain the most from the presence of offensive coordinator Mike Martz and don't think they don't know it. Roy Williams, who caught 99 passes for 1,504 yards and 16 touchdowns in an ill-suited, impotent West Coast offense in his first two NFL seasons, could become a legitimate top tier receiver in Martz's offense. He has size, speed and strength but still has to show he can play over injury and must eliminate the occasional drops from his game. The jury is still out on the Lions' other two first-round receivers -- Rogers and Mike Williams. Rogers has been hampered by two broken collarbones and last season sat out a four-game drug suspension, then came back with a lackadaisical attitude. Mike Williams has to control his weight and it's safe to say he has to develop better work habits if he hopes to play for Marinelli and Martz. Bradford brings the veteran presence needed on a young WR corps and Drummond, the kick returner, is hoping to get playing time in the slot. Vines made it the hard way, as an undrafted player, without significant speed but he's a willing worker and a reliable receiver. Furrey has played in Martz's system before, which gives him an edge.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Jeff Backus, LG Ross Verba, C Dominic Raiola, RG Damien Woody, RT Kelly Butler or G/RT Rex Tucker. Backups -- C Brock Gutierrez, G Frank Davis, G Fred Matua, G Barry Stokes, C/G Tyrone Hopson, T Victor Rogers, T Jonathan Scott, T Courtney Van Buren.
The Lions will have a new look up front in 2006 and they need it. Last year's offensive line play was only slightly short of a total disaster. The presence of respected veteran line coach Larry Beightol should help, in both coaching the mechanics of the job and scheming. Raiola is not big enough to go head-up against the bigger DTs in the league so if he's not used right, he gets mauled. Look for Beightol to correct that situation. Verba and Tucker were both signed as UFAs and are expected to make an immediate upgrade at LG and RT respectively. Verba -- who sat out the 2005 season after a misadventure in Cleveland -- and Woody give the Lions their best guard combination in years, although Woody has to win his on-going battle with the scales if he is to play at a high level. Backus, a five-year veteran, is a hard-nosed player who stands to gain significantly from Marinelli's tough approach. He needs contact work in practice to prepare himself and will get much more of it under the new system than he got under Mariucci. The addition of veterans Stokes and Van Buren upgrade the line depth; rookies Matua, Davis and Scott have a chance to develop.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LE Cory Redding, LT Shaun Rogers, RT Shaun Cody, RE James Hall. Backups -- DE Jared DeVries, DE Kalimba Edwards, DT Marcus Bell, DE Bill Swancutt, DE Damian Gregory, DT Tyoka Jackson, DT Cleveland Pinkney.
This is a group that will be watched closely for several reasons. Most notably, Rogers might be the most talented player on the team but he's a big man who doesn't always lay it on the line on the practice field. Marinelli and defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson had to push him at times in off-season workouts but if he buys into the system, he could add to his Pro Bowl reputation and become a truly dominating player. With the departure of Dan Wilkinson, Cody moves into the front four, bringing less bulk and strength but adding speed, quickness and athletic ability inside. The other key man in this group is Edwards, a long and lean DE who never quite fit in his previous four NFL seasons. With Henderson's penchant for attacking the quarterback, Edwards will have a well-defined role this year. Hall had a career year with 11.5 sacks in 2004 but is a blue collar worker more than a sack producer. In DeVries and Bell, the Lions have role players who fit nicely and play well in the d-line rotation.
Henderson and linebacker coach Phil Snow know who their linebackers will be but they're still uncertain how they're going to line up on Sept. 10 in the season opener against Seattle. Bailey and Lehman are coming off off-season surgeries and were unable to participate in the off-season mini-camps, so they're starting from scratch, possibly in new positions. With a premium on running to the ball and going sideline to sideline in Henderson's system, the Lions plan to move Bailey from SLB to MLB. Lehman, who was originally projected as an MLB, could play at SLB or backup Bailey. The big question is whether Sims, the No. 1 pick in the April draft, will be ready to take over the WLB job which has been occupied by Davis. Lewis has the speed and athleticism to handle coverage responsibilities in the nickel and dime packages.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Fernando Bryant, RCB Dre' Bly, FS Terrene Holt, SS Kenoy Kennedy. Backups -- CB Jamar Fletcher, CB Keith Smith, CB Stanley Wilson, S Jon McGraw, S Idrees Brashir, S Daniel Bullocks, S Vernon Fox, CB Dee McCann, CB Marcus Hicks, CB Antonio Malone, CB Harrison Smith, S Marcus Demps.
Although he missed the Pro Bowl last year for the first time in his three seasons with the Lions, Bly remains the ringleader of the defensive secondary. He had six interceptions and is a playmaker, inevitably matched up with the opponent's top receiver. Bryant has to stay healthy, something he has been unable to do in his two seasons with the Lions, so this is an important year for him. He will be challenged by Henderson and has to make plays. The Lions parted company with veteran CBs Andre Goodman and R.W. McQuarters, preferring to go with youngsters Smith and Wilson, with Fletcher providing some veteran influence as well. Kennedy didn't have the impact expected of him in his first season in Detroit but should flourish in Henderson's system. Holt is the incumbent at FS but could face a stiff challenge for his job from Brashir or second-round draft pick Bullocks.
Although Hanson is 36 years old and entering his 15th NFL season, special teams coach Chuck Priefer believes he is good for at least another one or two seasons. He is consistent on field goals and places the ball well on kickoffs. Harris is solid as Hanson's holder and led the NFL last season with 34 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line. Muhlbach, a two-year veteran once described by Lions president Matt Millen as "the Nolan Ryan of long snappers," is fast and accurate delivering the ball on punts, field goals and extra points. Drummond, a Pro Bowler in 2004, is coming off a subpar season in which he averaged only 6.0 yards on punt returns and 22.0 on kickoff returns, in part because he again battled injuries. Curry, Fox and FitzSimmons lead Priefer's coverage teams.