(ALLEN PARK, MI) -- The NFC North is a weak division. Green Bay is on the decline, Chicago hit bottom and Minnesota isn't very far ahead of them. Then there's Detroit. After becoming a laughingstock in Matt Millen and Marty Mornhinweg's first season (a 2-14 season) Mornhinweg followed that performance up with a dismal 3-13 record in 2002. Still, in a division as weak as the NFC North, a few changes in personnel and coaching philosophy could give Detroit a chance to make an upward move in the division. We take a position-by-position look at the team and where they need to upgrade.
Quarterback: Every playoff teams needs an effective quarterback. Detroit will have a tough time getting the production it needs from this position in 2003 because they've committed to go with sophomore-to-be Joey Harrington. Harrington will be going into just his second NFL season and unless he's the exception to the rule, most NFL quarterbacks don't begin to "get it" until their third year. There's no chance of a change unless his surprising heart ailment re-occurs. Mike McMahon is likely in his final year as a Lion.
Running back: James Stewart had a very productive year and was the MVP of this team in 2002. No player contributed more to Detroit offense than Stewart. He surpassed the 1,000 yard mark without much of a passing game to speak of, but still Stewart isn't likely to be retained past 2003. Detroit wants a speed back who can give them 1,200 rushing and 600 yards receiving with the ability to take each play to the endzone. They thought Willis McGahee was their man before he suffered a catastrophic knee injury. He still may be in round three or four.
Wide receiver: This position, more than any other, needs an overhaul. Az Zahir Hakim is not a #1 and with his hip injury, he may never play up to expectations again. Bill Schroeder seemed to drop as many balls as he caught and shied away from contact at every opportunity. Larry Foster was inconsistent and Scotty Anderson disappeared for long stretches. While Eddie Drummond showed flashes, Detroit has to get consistent production. First move: draft Charles Rogers of Michigan State, second move, sign either Ike Hilliard or David Boston. Problem solved.
Tight end: Detroit re-inked Mikhael Ricks to a three-year contract. Ricks showed the speed to get down the field, but John Owens appears to be the future of the position. Matt Murphy may not be with the team past this off-season.
Offensive line: Detroit greatly improved their sack ratio from 2002 when they were the worst in the NFL. Stockar McDougle and Jeff Backus are bookend tackles, however Detroit is kidding itself if it thinks Tony Semple and Ray Brown are long-term answers. Semple is the classic overachiever, but doesn't have enough athleticism. Brown is way long in the tooth. Dominic Raiola is too small, but very quick. Detroit needs to get a guard out of the draft. Jon Stinchcomb of Georgia or someone of his ilk could be available in the third round.
Defensive line: It's the end of the line for two old veterans Luther Elliss and Robert Porcher. Porcher's situation is exacerbated by his $7 million salary and a roster bonus coming up. Detroit needs to go to the table and let Porcher know that he will be a part-time player if he re-signs. Kalimba Edwards is too good to have his path blocked by Porcher, who is clearly on the downside. Elliss has been injured so much he has very little left. He has the desire, but his body won't cooperate. He too, must become a part-time player until Detroit can address this need in later drafts. Right now, the Lions should resign both to contracts that reflect their reduced status and roll with the punches.
Linebacker: I don't care what anyone else says on this, Detroit would be crazy to allow Chris Claiborne to walk away. Claiborne is currently ranked the #2 free agent linebacker and teams will be lining up for this guy after Takeo Spikes re-signs with Cincinnati. Detroit needs to re-ink the four year veteran and then go get someone who can help Claiborne on his flanks. My second free agent signing is someone like Jeff Peterson of Indianapolis who is productive and can compliment Claiborne and speedy Barrett Green.
Safety: Safety is a weakness for Detroit. In their cover two scheme, their safeties need to be speedy cover men who can tackle. Corey Harris played well, but I'd like him better in a backup role. If Brian Walker can get healthy then I say use the third and final free agent signing to nab a safety like Tampa's Dexter Jackson or Jacksonville's Donovon Darius.
Corner: In today's NFL, teams need five good corners, especially when injury strikes. Chris Cash had a very good year and Andre Goodman came on late. Both figure into the picture, but with Todd Lyght retiring and Eric Davis not likely to return, Detroit needs to address this position strongly. Dennis Weathersby, Marcus Trufant and Rashean Mathis are all likely to be available in the second round of the draft. They may be able to add another contributor in round three.
Coaching: No matter how you slice it, its time for a change. With a proven winner like Steve Mariucci available, what is Detroit waiting for? It is inconceivable to me that the Ford's wouldn't DEMAND a move. Mornhinweg is a nice guy, maybe you can even re-assign him in the organization, but the record speaks for itself. I don't care what Millen said about "no changes", Mariucci's availability changes everything. Detroit needs to make a move.
With Mornhinweg back on the sidelines, don't expect the Lions to win more than five games in 2003. However if Mariucci is at the helm -- and Millen listens to him in personnel matters -- Detroit could be close to .500. If Detroit misses this opportunity to upgrade itself, they really are clueless in Allen Park.