Lions turnaround might not be so swift

For all of the 'pound the rock' and 'keep chopping wood' gospel that Lions' head coach Marinelli has preached, for all of the hard work and pushing his players toward toughness, there is scant indication the Lions are ready to burst from the starting blocks as serious contenders in the NFC North.

COACHING: Rod Marinelli, first year.
REMEMBERING: 2005 record: 5-11, third in the NFC North.
PREDICTING: 2006 regular season record 7-9

Keep in mind, these are the Detroit Lions we're talking about.

This is a team with one playoff win in the past 48 seasons, a team that has never participated in a Super Bowl.

This is a team that has enjoyed only six winning seasons in the past 22 years and has not won a division title since 1993 when it finished 10-6 under Wayne Fontes.

This is a team that has won a grand total of 21 games in the past five years and is on its fourth coach in six seasons under president Matt Millen.

To expect an immediate turnaround for new coach Rod Marinelli might be asking a little too much. Or probably a lot too much.

For all of the "pound the rock" and "keep chopping wood" gospel Marinelli has preached, for all of the hard work and pushing his players toward toughness, there is scant indication the Lions are ready to burst from the starting blocks as serious contenders in the NFC North.

Millen -- for one -- expects opening day to be just the start of what the Lions will become during the 2006 season.

"It better not be the finished product," he said. "We better get better as the year goes on."

The Lions will not be the soft, undisciplined team that fell to 5-11 and got coach Steve Mariucci canned 11 games into the 2005 season, but it appears they will have a considerable way to go before they're ready to play at the level of toughness and perfection demanded by Marinelli and his coordinators, Mike Martz with the offense and Donnie Henderson with the defense.

The unspoken hope at the Allen Park headquarters is that the Lions will stay alive through the early weeks of the season as a work in progress and begin paying dividends in the second half of the season, a la the Miami Dolphins in their first season with Nick Saban last year.

Marinelli's major accomplishment of training camp was to set the standard of expectations high. He pushed the Lions through two-a-days in sweltering heat, working them in full pads at every opportunity, preaching accountability and testing their toughness -- mental and physical -- with a day trip to Oakland for the third preseason game.

They took the five-hour flight to the Bay Area, spent a couple of hours resting in a hotel, played the game (losing 21-3 to the Raiders) and making the return flight to Detroit, all in a span of 24 hours.

The Lions got some things accomplished in training camp. Jon Kitna established himself as the quarterback and offensive leader, Roy Williams established himself as the big-play receiver and Kevin Jones showed occasional indications he can headman an invigorated running game. Rookie linebacker Ernie Sims and safety Daniel Bullocks, the two top draft picks, proved they are ready to play in the NFL.

But Marinelli did not get everything done he wanted or needed to get done in training camp.

Injuries limited his ability to get all parts working in sync. Guard Damien Woody (hand) and tackle Rex Tucker (knee) missed virtually all of training camp, as did Pro Bowl defensive tackle Shaun Rogers (shoulder) and middle linebacker Boss Bailey (ankle). It remains uncertain when linebacker Teddy Lehman (foot) will get off the PUP list.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Lions have initiated major changes under first-year coach Rod Marinelli, offensive coordinator Mike Martz and defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson, and not all of them will be up and running for the season opener.

It's not only a matter of learning new and more aggressive systems; there is also the matter of getting all of the personnel on the field and up to speed. A number of veteran players -- including DT Shaun Rogers, MLB Boss Bailey, SLB Teddy Lehman, RG Damien Woody and RT Rex Tucker -- missed most or all of training camp with injuries and have yet to be fully acclimated.

That doesn't mean the Marinelli will pull in the reins on his coordinators early in the season. Look for Martz and Henderson to push the envelope in their attacking styles and it's up to the players to handle the job.

PLAYER TO WATCH:

WR Mike Furrey -- A year ago, he was making the adjustment to playing free safety for Mike Martz in St. Louis, on his way to a four-interception season. This summer he successfully made a return to wide receiver and has maintained his position as the No. 1 slot receiver going into the regular season. Gets open, runs good routes and is a tough receiver.

DRAFT PICKS TO STICK:

Rd. 1/9, WLB Ernie Sims, Florida State -- Has all of the qualities coach Rod Marinelli was looking for in a weak-side linebacker -- good instincts, runs to the ball and delivers a blow. Will be a starter in his first NFL game.
Rd. 2/40, S Daniel Bullocks, Nebraska -- Bring a strong physical presence to the secondary and he can play either FS or SS.
Rd. 3/74, RB Brian Calhoun, Wisconsin -- Hasn't pushed for a starting job but has too much speed and quickness to ignore. Can make a contribution on special teams while he adjusts to the NFL.
Rd. 5/141, OT Jonathan Scott, Texas -- Not likely to play a lot, lining up behind indestructible LT Jeff Backus, but he'll get a chance to develop as the season progresses.
Rd. 7/247, LB Anthony Cannon, Tulane -- Can earn his keep on special teams while he convinces the Lions he can play defense in the NFL.


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