ALLEN PARK -- The day is finally at hand, the day Rod Marinelli has been waiting for most of his life, even though he might not even have not even known it until recent years.
Not the start of the off-season program. Not the mini-camps or the organized team activities.
Nearly six months into his new job as the Lions head coach, it's time for the start of training camp. Players in helmets and pads. Contact. Hits. Finally, the real thing.
It's Marinelli's firm belief that games are won through preparation, toughness and hard work. And he has been waiting for July 28, the day the Lions begin practicing in pads.
"It's hard to teach skill at this level without pads," Marinelli said. "That's key. The other phase is your body needs to get hardened. Sometimes when you keep a team really fresh early, you come out of the blocks early, you feel pretty good but your body has a tendency to get worn down because it's not used to the hitting."
The Lions can expect to spend a lot of time in pads during their first training camp under Marinelli.
In fact, it sounds like they will be in pads for at least the start of every session during two-a-days on the Allen Park practice field.
"We'll start in pads and I'll see as we go," Marinelli said. "If you think it's alright, you take 'em off if that's the right thing to do at that time. It's a judgment thing as you go. You don't want to just be locked into something, but that's how we'll start."
That will be a change for players who have been on the Lions roster in recent years. Under former coach Steve Mariucci, the team often worked without pads in one of the two-a-day workouts. Mariucci was concerned with keeping players fresh.
Although his approach is different, it is also Marinelli's intention to avoid that wearing-down process in 2006. He is more interested in getting the game-hardening than keeping them fresh in the early weeks of the season.
"I've always been around teams that finished strong at the end of the year and that's always been in my mind. There's a different conditioning you get when you're in pads. You can run all day but when it's body pushing and body shoving, that's a whole different world."
If players can fight through practice field fatigue during two-a-days in the Michigan July heat, he believes they will be ready for the Sunday afternoon battles in October and November and they will be able to avoid many of the injuries that can beset them as the season progresses.
"I worked for Tony Dungy and that's how we practiced," Marinelli said. "And most of the guys on this staff, their background, where they come from, it's been like that. Dick Vermeil was with Mike Martz. Physical. Tippy Brown was with Jimmy Johnson.
"I don't know if it's old school or anything but a lot of guys continue to do that today. It's just a philosophy; it's not so much a system but it's how you've been brought up in this profession."
MARTZ THE MAN?: The most watched individual in the Lions training camp might not even be Marinelli or one of the players; it might be offensive coordinator Mike Martz.
The Lions offensive players seem to have bought into the theory that he really is an offensive genius, a motivator and innovator capable of bringing the offensive explosiveness to Detroit that he developed in St. Louis.
Marinelli is doing nothing to discourage his players' faith in Martz.
"There's no doubt," Marinelli said, referring to Martz's credentials as a builder of offenses. "That's what I said to you men and ladies before, when I was pursuing him to get him here.
"I would go into that personnel meeting and I could see the young talent on this football team and I just thought it was imperative that he became a Lion. I know how good he is. I think he's even better than I thought he was."
CAMP CALENDAR: July 27 -- All players report to training camp; July 28 --
Two-a-day workouts begin; Aug. 5 -- Ford Field scrimmage, open to the public;
Aug. 11 -- exhibition opener against Denver; Aug. 24 -- Kickoff luncheon, hosted
by Economic Club of Detroit.
THE DEN MESSAGE BOARD: Lions fans, the Den message board is hot with discussion, debates and more right now as camp approaches! Talk with other fans and make your season predictions, discuss fantasy football or more. The Den is also now equipped with a "Camp Marinelli Countdown" ticker! Go