Detroit Lions; An Offensive Look

Looking to rebound from two disastrous seasons, the Lions appear primed to regain some respect and confidence under head coach Steve Mariucci.

When the opportunity to grab Steve Mariucci became a reality, Matt Millen may have saved many Lions fans from further disappointment, as well as his job.

In Mariucci, the Lions have secured the services of a coach that has been successful at the professional level. The offensive minded is a little more conservative in his offensive approach in comparison to his predecessor, Marty Mornhinweg, a former offensive coordinator under Mariucci in San Francisco. As anticipated, there have been limited problems in the transition to the new head coach, except that the expectation level has grown and the organization is now a much more confident.

While Detroit's offense is in good hands, the defense is another story. The Lions allowed more points per game (28.2) during last year's 3-13 team. Linebackers Earl Holmes, Wali Rainer, and rookie Boss Bailey have been brought in to improve a weak linebacking group. A secondary that was nearly as ineffective in the 2002 season gets a facelift with defensive backs Dre' Bly and Terrence Holt.

The Lions expect to be better on the defensive side of the ball, but it is going to take time. In the off-season the Lions looked to improve their team speed and athleticism, while taking on a more physical approach defensively. The Lions are a developing team, they are a work in progress.

Harrington has the tools and attitude to be a very successful NFL QB. Not the strongest of arm, Harrington is the proto-type west coast offense quarterback. Having tremendous mechanics, an ability to move in the pocket, Harrington will thrive in this Lions offense, especially under a proven winner, as Mariucci is. Harrington commands respect in the huddle, an attribute that was lacking on the 2002 Lions team and one that has quickly become contagious in Detroit under Mariucci.

Harrington spent last season learning on the fly, playing on a bad football team under a head coach that was overwhelmed. The offensive line must improve in 2003 for Harrington and the Lions to improve in 2003. Last season, Harrington was under an onslaught of pressure from the moment he stepped on the field and performed well, especially for a rookie quarterback.

Behind Harrington sits former starting quarterback Mike McMahon. McMahon does not possess the passing skills of Harrington, but is a very capable backup that has become a favorite of Mariucci due to the fire and passion he brings to the team.

Mariucci loves to run the football, he strongly believes that the pass and run feed off one another and he does not want to be a one-dimensional offensive football team. It remains to be seen just how much the Lions will throw the football in his first year in Detroit. The Lions lack the depth at the running back position that Mariucci had in San Francisco with the one-two punch of Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow. James Stewart is an underappreciated player, behind him is where the questions remain in the Lions backfield.

James Stewart ran for 1,021 yards and four touchdowns last season, he is the Lions starting running back. Behind Stewart lines up rookie Artose Pinner, Shawn Bryson, and Luke Staley. Pinner, coming of a broken leg may help the team later in the season, Staley has been the most productive of the running backs in Lions camp and may be playing himself onto the roster and Bryson would appear to have the upper-hand to be the team's second running back when he returns from injury. One issue that will be watched closely this season is that neither Stewart nor Bryson are ideally suited for the West Coast offense, much in contrast to the younger athletic running backs Pinner and Staley who are almost dead-ringers for this offense.

Leading the way for Stewart will be fullback Cory Schlesinger. Schlesinger is an excellent lead blocker and will be a factor in the passing game, as the West Coast offense utilizes the fullback in the passing game, when a viable fullback is present.

With the addition of wide receiver Charles Rogers, the Lions have added a receiver that could develop into one of the best due to his combination of size, speed, and athletic skills. At Michigan State, it appeared that Rogers dominated the competition at will, stardom will not come as easy for Rogers in the NFL, but he has all the physical tools, as well as having the right quarterback to help him become one of the most productive receivers in the game. One area of concern that the Lions coaching staff is working on are that of Rogers' lapses of concentration. The receiving corps was enhanced by the addition of Michigan State's Rogers, who possesses a lethal combination of size, speed and leaping ability. Rogers, along with Harrington are being counted on to be the structure that leads the Lions back to respectability and beyond.

Detroit has a collection of wide receivers behind Rogers that are somewhat intriguing, but lacking is the overall youth and talent that this West Coast offense will need in 2003 and beyond. The Lions are very high on sixth-round pick David Kircus, he has been consistently improving in training camp, but is raw and will need time to develop. Az-Zahir Hakim has been hampered with a knee injury required surgery and he is also coming off hip-surgery. Scotty Anderson was not expected to have an impact in the roster competition at the receiver position, but has quietly put himself into position to make the team. A couple veterans that may be on their last legs are Bill Schroeder and Shawn Jefferson. Jefferson is still serviceable, but is not nearly the receiver he was a few short seasons ago and Schroeder simply does not apply himself on the field. Possessing very good speed, Schroeder drops too many balls, pulls up on too many catchable passes, and has done nothing in this training camp to warrant a roster spot, even on a Lions team that is looking for playmakers.

Injured tight-end Mikhael Ricks provides the Lions with a viable option at tight-end, when healthy. The athletic Ricks has shown the ability to be a threat downfield and should benefit from the attention that the opposition will pay to Rogers.

In what the coaching staff has deemed an area that most improve, the offensive line has been under intense scrutiny from the day that Mariucci was named head coach of the Lions. Knowing that Harrington and a young Lions offense will not grow and taste success if he continues to run for his life on a weekly basis, Mariucci is looking for consistency from the offensive line.

Starting at the offensive tackle positions, Jeff Backus at left tackle and Stockar McDougle at right tackle, the Lions lack athleticism on the corners of the line. Both players are much better run-blockers than they are in pass-protection, especially on the right side of the line where McDougle can dominate in the running game. Expect the Lions offense to have a right-handed flavor during the season, with Stewart and Bryson gaining the majority of their yardage running behind McDougle. Matt Joyce is a competent backup for the Lions are the tackle positions.

Questions remain with the interior of the Lions line. Veteran Ray Brown and Eric Beverly are the starting guards. Brown, a 40-year old former Pro-Bowl player with the San Francisco still has some gas left in the tank and should provide the team with leadership and experience. Beverly is a serviceable lineman that provides versatility and consistency, his athletic ability and good footwork should prove beneficial in the line scheme of this Lions team. In the Lions new offensive scheme, the team does not need mauling-type linemen at the point of attack, but consistency will be critical to the success of the offense. To this time in training camp, the Lions have struggled along the offensive line.

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