First Look: The Detroit Lions

Formerly an underachieving team with a dysfunctional front office, the Detroit Lions now look to start anew under the hand of head coach Rod Marinelli. With the focus on team play and discipline, the Lions are trying to raise their station from spoilers to stars. Here is a First Look at the team the Seahawks will travel to Ford Field to face this Sunday.

UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS

QUARTERBACK: Starter - Jon Kitna. Backups - Dan Orlovsky and Josh McCown.

Kitna, signed in March as a backup to Joey Harrington, has been the No. 1 quarterback since the day Harrington was traded to Miami. He has the experience needed for the job, has the necessary leadership qualities that have allowed him to make a quick connection with his new team and has the physical tools to move the Lions offense. Kitna will have some challenges, especially early in the season. He is playing with a new team, new receivers and learning the ins and outs of the Mike Martz offense as quickly as he can. He has never had the strongest arm in the NFL but Martz feels he is adequate to make all the throws necessary in a 260-play playbook. The only competition at the QB position has been for the backup job. Although McCown has by far the greater experience and the added dimension of scrambling ability, he was playing behind Orlovsky through much of training camp and the pre-season. Orlovsky is not particularly mobile but is less likely to bolt the pocket and has good arm strength. There is a chance Orlovsky and McCown could be used interchangeably in the backup role if needed.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters - RB Kevin Jones, FB Cory Schlesinger. Backups - RB Shawn Bryson, RB Brian Calhoun, RB Arlen Harris.

The Lions will go into the regular season with a running back best described as still a work in progress. Jones, trying to come back from a disappointing second NFL season, has locked down the starting job and the hard-working Schlesinger quickly earned the respect of Martz and coach Rod Marinelli as the starting fullback. But the running game has been slow to come together, in part because the right side of the offensive line - guard Damien Woody (wrist) and tackle Rex Tucker (knee) missed most of training camp and the pre-season with injuries. Although the running game was overshadowed in Martz's Greatest Show on Turf in St. Louis, it is a necessary element in his offense and he is determined to make it work in Detroit. Bryson provides a quality backup at both RB and FB, Harris has experience in Martz's offense and looked good early in camp, and the Lions coaches like the potential they see in Calhoun's speed and quickness.

TIGHT END: Starter - Casey FitzSimmons. Backups - Marcus Pollard, Dan Campbell, Sean McHugh, Dave Pearson.

FitzSimmons, who at times seemed to be hanging onto his backup position by a thread in his first three seasons in the NFL, has been a hit with the new coaching staff. He will still make his contributions on special teams but Martz likes his work ethic, his short-to-medium range as a receiver and moved him into the starting job, with Pollard being used primarily in the H-back role. Pollard is still the best receiver among the TEs and runs well for a 34-year old beginning his 12th NFL season. Campbell missed much of training camp with an elbow injury but gives the Lions the luxury of a pure blocking tight end for the first time in several years.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - WR Roy Williams, WR Cory Bradford. Backups - Mike Furrey, Glenn Martinez, Eddie Drummond, Mike Williams, Shaun Bodiford, Devale Ellis, Scottie Vines (PUP).

Marinelli and Martz have been peculiar in their handling of the receivers. Aside from establishing Roy Williams and Bradford as the starters, the depth changed on almost a daily basis without explanation. Roy Williams' role is clear. He is the Lions' most dangerous big-play receiver and should prosper in Martz's system if he can steer clear of the bothersome injuries that occasionally bothered him in his first two NFL seasons. Bradford provides a veteran presence and is a role model for some of the younger receivers. Furrey's experience in Martz's system in St. Louis has made him valuable in the slot, with Drummond, the PR/KOR, also getting playing time there. The mystery of training camp was the status of Mike Williams and Charles Rogers, both former first-round draft picks who had fallen out of favor with the previous coaching staff and had to convince Marinelli's staff they were willing to work, arrive at meetings on time, stay healthy and stay clean. Rogers was cut in the final roster trimming.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Jeff Backus, LG Ross Verba, C Dominic Raiola, RG Damien Woody, RT Rex Tucker. Backups - C Brock Gutierrez, G/C Rick DeMulling, T Kelly Butler, G Barry Stokes, T Jonathan Scott, G Frank Davis, G/C Fred Matua, T Clint Stickdorn.

Once they are all healthy the Lions will have applied to much-needed patches to last year's offensive line. Verba, who sat out the 2005 season after escaping his contract obligations in Cleveland, has moved into the LG position between Backus and Raiola, and should make both of their jobs easier. The other newcomer to the OL is Tucker, whose experience should make him a steadier, more effective performer at RT than Butler, who was thrown into the job last year with virtually no experience in the NFL. The arrival of new OL coach Larry Beightol has also provided a lift. He's tough and demanding but has made a good connection with his players. Backus has not missed a start in five NFL seasons and has the security of a new long-term contract he signed earlier in the summer. The Lions are hoping he will lift his level of play with Beightol's focus on fundamentals. Raiola is too small to handle the NFL's big NTs but is effective when he's pulling and leading plays. Woody missed most of training camp and the pre-season with a broken wrist but when he controls his weight he can be very effective. DeMulling and Stokes are the most experienced and valuable of the backups.

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, Lynn McGruder, Claude Harriott.


It didn't help that Rogers fell and injured his shoulder in the opening days of training camp, missing virtually all of camp and most of the preseason. That meant he missed the conditioning, which is important to a man his size, as well as the indoctrination into defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson's system. That could mean a slow start for the 340-pound Pro Bowl DT but he can dominate when he gets it going. Cody stepped in nicely for DT Dan Wilkinson, who was released to take a job in Miami and Redding is coming off probably his best training camp in four NFL seasons, showing more pass rush ability than he had previously. Hall is what he is - a hard worker who is solid against the run and can occasionally get to the QB. Bell, Edwards and DeVries provide a solid defensive line rotation and Swancutt made progress as a backup in his second training camp.

LINEBACKERS: Starters - SLB Paris Lenon, MLB Boss Bailey, WLB Ernie Sims. Backups - James Davis, Alex Lewis, LaVar Woods, James Hargrave, Donte' Curry, Anthony Cannon, Teddy Lehman (PUP).


The good news is that Sims, the Lions' No. 1 pick in the draft, progressed as Marinelli and Henderson had hoped. He's fast, he's a hitter and has good instincts. He moved to the starting WLB position before the third game of the season and they expect him to stay there for years to come. The bad news is that Bailey was slow coming back from off-season ankle surgery and Lehman, a projected starter, was even slower coming back from a foot injury. Bailey doesn't have prototypical MLB size but in Henderson's defense he can be effective because of his speed, athletic ability and his ability to make plays all over the field; he missed the first two pre-season games, however, and will be learning as he starts the regular season. Lehman might open the season on PUP, leaving the SLB job to Lenon with Lewis, Woods and Davis playing the primary backup roles.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Fernando Bryant, RCB Dre' Bly, FS Terrene Holt, SS Kenoy Kennedy. Backups - S Daniel Bullocks, CB Jamar Fletcher, CB Keith Smith, CB Stanley Wilson, S Jon McGraw, S Idrees Brashir, CB Dee McCann, CB LaMarcus Hicks, CB Harrison Smith, S Marcus Demps.

The Lions should be better and deeper in the secondary than they have in recent seasons. Bly remains the leader and one of the team's most effective playmakers, good in coverage and aggressive going after the ball on interceptions. Bryant, who couldn't stay healthy his first two seasons in Detroit, made it through camp and the pre-season unscathed and has to play at a quality level. Bullocks, the Lions' second-round pick in the draft, is pushing Holt for the FS job but Marinelli feels he can use his top three safeties almost interchangeably with little concern of the free or strong designation. Fletcher is an experienced backup, as is McGraw and Brashir. Smith and Wilson are progressing but not necessarily at the pace Marinelli would hope for.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Starters - PK Jason Hanson, P Nick Harris, H Nick Harris, LS Don Muhlbach, KOR Eddie Drummond, PR Eddie Drummond. Backups - H Jon Kitna, LS Dominic Raiola, R/KOR Shaun Bodiford, PR/KOR Devale Ellis, PR/KOR Brian Calhoun.

Hanson is 36 years old and entering his 15th NFL season but has shown no sign of losing either his leg or his consistency on field goals and extra points. Harris is dependable as Hanson's holder and is one of the NFL's best at dropping 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 Bowl returner in 2004, did not play at the same level in 2005 and did not show the same burst in the pre-season this year. Rookies Sims, Bullocks and Cannon have been contributors on special teams coverage units.


NEWS & NOTES:

The Lions practiced on the indoor field in helmets and shorts on Monday at the team headquarters and training facility in Allen Park, MI. Head Coach Rod Marinelli introduced the Lions 2006 team captains this afternoon. QB Jon Kitna, CB Dre Bly, DT James Hall, C Dominic Raiola and LB Donte Curry were chosen by their teammates and coaches to represent the Lions for the entire season.

The following players have been signed to the Lions eight-man practice squad: S Marcus Demps, WR Devale Ellis, DE Claude Harriott, CB Dee McCann, TE Sean McHugh, C Dave Pearson, DT Cleveland Pinkney and T Clint Stickdorn.

Detroit Head Coach Rod Marinelli will make his regular season coaching debut this week against Seattle, the 2005 NFC Champions, at Ford Field. The Lions are 3-0 in regular season openers at Ford Field and will face the Seahawks for the first time since moving into their new home. The two teams have met nine times in the regular season with Seattle holding a slight 5-4 series edge. Sunday's game will be televised live by FOX, with Dick Stockton handling play-by-play, Daryl Johnston adding color commentary and Tony Siragusa reporting from the sideline.

Sunday's game can be heard live in Metro Detroit on the team's flagship station, WKRK 97.1 Free FM and on the Lions Radio Network's 34 stations throughout Michigan, northern Ohio and Canada. The Lions Radio Network can be accessed worldwide over the Internet via Detroitlions.com and NFL.com Field Pass. Nationally, the Lions Radio Network is also aired on Sirius Satellite Radio (Ch. 155). Sunday's game will be broadcast nationally on the Sports USA Radio Network, featuring play-by-play announcer Larry Kahn and color commentator Tim Pernetti. Reporting from the sidelines will be Troy West.


LIONS HEAD COACH ROD MARINELLI TRANSCRIPT - MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 4th:

Opening statement on the decision of season team captains:
"The reason I wanted a chance to visit with you right now is to announce our captains. I'm very proud of it. We took a vote last week and it was the vote of the team and each staff member. It's something I believe in very strongly, and my background has been that. They did a great job - the team chose these men - it's the team's responsibility. Once you choose these men, there's fellowship on their part, and they put these men in the position of leadership. There's responsibility; tremendous responsibility goes when you're a season captain. Ups and downs - still got to be a captain, if you're injured - still got to be a captain - nobody's in the tank. The men they've chosen, I was tickled to death with. Could have been other guys too; but, on defense you have James Hall, he's really been a fine defensive end here, real strong guy. Dre (Bly), our corner, is one. On the offense it's Jon Kitna and Dominic Raiola and on special teams it's (Donte) Curry. Those are great men - their work habits

Will there be game captains as well? "No, no. These men represent our team. This is the Detroit Lions right here, for me I don't like to shift the mandates - bam, that's who we are. They're going take the sword, and here we go."

On the emphasis he puts on toughness and if these men typify that: "The team chose them, and that's what's really important. They are seeing the same things that we are seeing, and that's exciting."

On which staff members got to vote:
"Just coaches. Each coach got to vote one vote. Every coach and each player - one vote each. We voted who they wanted for all of that, everybody who they could see as a leader. I tried to make it not so much offense/defense but leadership."

Opening statement following practice: "Good work today. We came out in no pads. Why, I wanted to do that is to get as many guys up in practice as I could and that was good for us. That was good for us. I think just about everybody was practicing; they got good work in today. It's the players' day off tomorrow. We've just got to do what we do and understand our opponent. The process is getting better. We're kind of cutting the cord and getting going."

On how RT Rex Tucker looked in practice:
"It was good - I mean it's unbelievable. It must be the water they drink down in Texas, him (Tucker) and (Dan) Campbell. He (Tucker) went out and worked on it, it was exciting. We'll see how he feels tomorrow and get him in pads on Wednesday and see how we're going."

Is Wednesday the official day to list an injury: "Yes, we'll see how he (Tucker) goes, and why not? After what I saw today he was moving pretty good, so we'll see."

Will Tucker start on Sunday vs. Seattle if he's healthy?
"We'll wait and see. I probably feel a little more comfortable with Barry (Stokes). Its two veterans that are working, we'll just have to see how he (Tucker) progresses during the week and how he does in pads."

Has the backup quarterback been decided: "Not yet. Rep-wise, I think Josh has done a great job. We feel good about where Josh is at right now."

How much preparation for Seattle was done today? "A lot, it was all Seattle all day. We introduced them this morning and we've been on them for a while as a staff. Actually they'll see some of the same things we've been running - without saying their names - but now it was just a full day, all of our meetings. This Monday is exactly like a Wednesday to a tee. So we repeat Wednesday twice; Mondays is Wednesday and Wednesday is Wednesday. What it does, it allows you to get all of your cards in, get detailed and any problems we had we can make sure their right on Wednesday. We'll be in pads on Wednesday and hopefully get some good fundamental work."

Has the coaching staff been looking at the waiver wire? "I feel pretty decent right now. Now it's just about if there is a good player out there that fits what we want to do and how we want to do things. We always have to look and try to make tapes on guys and know where they're at."

On which three players will start at linebacker: "Not really sure, we'll kind of let it play out during the week. Right now Alex (Lewis) worked at the 'Sam' backer today; Paris worked at the 'Mike' who also can play 'Sam'. Ernie (Sims) is just going to play 'Will' - don't mess around with him. Boss is a 'Mike' and you have LeVar (Woods) in the mix and everything. So right now we're kind of rotating those four to five guys in all the positions. If somebody goes down we're in good shape, so that's the biggest thing right now. We'll play it out as the week goes."

On LB Alex Lewis' performance at strong side in the last game: "Really good. He is so explosive. The one side, the 'Sam' backer in our package, he's the one backer we'll blitz a little more than the others. The 'Sam' is one and the 'Will' is two. He becomes an edge rusher for us. He's (Lewis) a really explosive player now, I'm very happy with his progress, the kicking game, everything. He really has come alive. He'll keep working this week and he's played all 'Sam' today and I plan on him doing it tomorrow."

 


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