The 2006 season has been disastrous for the Detroit Lions. It has been a year
filled with injuries, failures and losses. However, underneath the frustration of
another losing season lies a foundation for the future.
The Lions are currently 2-14, with the sixth-worst defense and eighth-worst offense (based on yardage) in the league – there doesn't seem to be much hope, let alone a foundation. However, a look at the recent past of the Lions next opponent, the Chicago Bears, may provide some optimism.
Lovie Smith, a pupil of Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy, became head coach of the Bears in 2004. The Bears finished with two more losses than the previous year (5-11) and the league's 21st ranked defense and 32nd ranked offense -- all in Smith's first season. Despite the appearance of failure, the season was a success as the foundation for a successful future was in place.
"Well, if you look at our first season," said Smith. "We laid a foundation our first season. It's what we did in Tampa, it's what we did here in Chicago and that's what I see happening in Detroit. We didn't finish strong our first year… But, we still laid a foundation to build on and that's what I see happening in Detroit and with what Rod (Marinelli) is trying to do."
Marinelli, also a pupil of Dungy and a friend of Smith, is trying to build the same foundation in Detroit. The results of the season may not be what he is looking for; however, the long run is more important according to Smith.
Smith: "Rod is - of course we talk - as far as how he's handling it, I mean, it's tough when you're not doing as well as you would like. But again, we're not talking about a sprint. It's a longer race than that and you get some things done and each day you try to do a little bit more."
Some of the media and fans have already lost hope in Marinelli, and have been calling for his firing. However, one season isn't enough time to build.
"All I know is Rod Marinelli is an excellent football coach," said Smith. "He has a plan and when you bring someone in they normally give you time to implement your plan. It's hard to put that plan into play immediately."
The assortment of injuries scattered across the team, especially on the offensive and defensive lines, has been a deterrent to the success Marinelli is trying to have. However, Marinelli attempts to find the positives in the injury situations.
"…No it is what it is. That's all I can say," said Marinelli. "It is what it is and you just move forward and hopefully some of these other men come up. We had some guys really step-up last week that we didn't know that much about. (They) got an opportunity and really played well."
When the Lions study game film of the Bears this week they should take a good look. As it will provide more than preparation for this weekends game, it may provide a glimpse into what Marinelli is trying to build in Detroit. The construction of a winner isn't an overnight task, rather it's an ongoing process – and the lack of immediate success doesn't mean the building hasn't already begun.
Smith: "We were in a tough spot in Tampa. We were in a tough spot here, but our team was 7-9 when I got here. So, it's not like we were starting from scratch and Rod was in a tough situation. And again, in Tampa we made it work and of course we made it work here. I believe the same thing will happen in Detroit. I just hope it doesn't happen this weekend, of course."
The following players have been listed on the Detroit Lions' injury report: G Ross Verba (groin) is out, LB Teddy Lehman (hamstring) is doubtful and TE Marcus Pollard (hamstring) is questionable. T Jeff Backus (foot), CB Fernando Bryant (concussion) and WR Eddie Drummond (hip) are probable. Backus, Lehman and Verba each missed a portion of team practice Wednesday.
The team announced Wednesday that they have placed DT Marcus Bell and RT Barry Stokes on the reserve injured list and released RB Anthony Sherrell. The Lions also signed DT Langston Moore and RB Lamar Gordon to the active roster and DE Matthew Rice and G Dave Yovanovits to the practice squad. No contract terms were disclosed. The Lions now have 14 players on injured reserve.
The Lions have been decimated with injuries at two of the most important positions (offensive and defensive line). This weekend the offensive line will feature only two starters from the begging of the season (T Jeff Backus and C Dominic Raiola), the defensive line will feature only one starter from the begging of the season (DE Cory Redding), but he won't be playing the position he started the season at (defensive end) and will be moved inside to play defensive tackle.