It's early and Mooch's Lions have roared

Sure, it may only be one game, but Detroit has every reason to be optimistic that winning is right around the corner.

Call it fate, the luck of the draw, or just plain and simple solid football, the Lions couldn't have asked for a better start to the 2003 season. Head coach Steve Mariucci couldn't have drawn up a better scenario as he prepared the team for the regular season opener against the Arizona Cardinals.


Coming off a 3-13 season in 2002, the Lions were in dire need of something positive to happen to them. The oft-criticized Vice President and Chief Executive Officer of the Lions, Matt Millen had a blessing fall into his lap and the jack of all trades football man knew what he had to do.


Hiring Steve Mariucci was simple and the Lions now can see that a team that has suffered through mediocrity for most of the past fifty-seasons has a reason to be excited. There have been many good Detroit teams during that period, but the past two seasons have generated all of five victories and Millen was on the hot-seat.


"As an organization, we knew that Steve (Mariucci) was a good fit for what we are trying to accomplish here," Millen recently said. "We figured that the team lacked direction and confidence, so we made the move and it has worked out better than we ever expected, especially this soon."


Facing an Arizona team that is not expected to be very competitive, much less good in the 2003 season, the Lions had the opportunity to get off to a solid start to the 2003 season. Ranking near the bottom defensively last season, the Cardinals were almost as good as being a hand-picked selection for the season opener.

"Starting off with a win is a great thing and a necessary thing and very important to us so on we go," Mariucci said. "We know that we have a tough schedule out in front of us, we have to be a better team if we are going to compete with the next four opponents before our bye week."

Working to improve the attitude and talent on the roster, Mariucci and Millen worked closely together to change the perception of the team, from the inside out, almost from the moment that Mariucci came on board.

"One thing that we wanted to do when I got in here, was to take the time to evaluate the players we have here and see what we really had," Mariucci said. "Just because a team only wins three games in a season, doesn't necessarily mean that there is not a good talent base in place."


That talent base, questionable at best that was accumulated by Millen and his predecessors was a direct reflection on the organization not being in tune from the scouting and coaching aspects through the needs on the field.


"You can't make a square peg fit in a round hole, it just doesn't work. That is some of the situation that we have here and we are working to fitting the players to the scheme and to play to the strengths of our players," Mariucci recently said. "You can see that we are far from a finished product, but we are progressing and will continue to grow."


Encouraged by the talent the team has assembled in the past two college player drafts, Mariucci has something to work with in Detroit. In some aspects building the Lions can be compared to the job he did in San Francisco when the team was forced to release many talented players due to salary-cap issues that hampered that organization.


"That situation in San Francisco that Mooch (Mariucci) worked through was a great job of coaching, organizing, and rallying of a team," Millen said. "With a young player like Joey Harrington (second-year quarterback) here, we wanted to make sure that we got the players to build around him. He is a talented kid that should be very successful in our offensive system, if anything he fits all the qualities that this offense requires."


One of those players would be a game-breaking wide receiver to compliment the young quarterback and provide the foundation for Lions teams to come.


"Getting a wide receiver that can change the complexion of the game was an aspect of the team, the game that we felt was lacking in our evaluation of the team. Anytime that you have the opportunity to get a big receiver that can run, catch the ball, and make things happen, you don't pass on that opportunity," Mariucci said. "That is where we were with Charles Rogers. This kid has all the talent in the world and needs to be on the field getting the experience he'll need to become a very good football player."


"Those two (Harrington and Rogers) are two instrumental players that we have here to build upon, we have allot of work to do before we become a good football team. The effort is there from the players and coaches' everyday and with that we'll become better. Like anything else, it is a learning experience."


One down and 15 to go, but you have to like the Lions chances with Mariucci standing on the sideline.

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