Scouting The Lions: Mariucci's Choices

From starting quarterback to running back to wide receiver, Detroit coach Steve Mariucci has plenty of decisions to make before the Lions come to Minneapolis Sunday. Get the expansive report on the state of the Lions.

Quarterback Joey Harrington has struggled the last two games, but it appears unlikely Lions coach Steve Mariucci is ready to make a quarterback change, even on an interim basis.

Backup quarterback Mike McMahon got a few more snaps than usual with the first offense Wednesday when the Lions began preparations for their game Sunday at Minnesota, but Harrington still got most of the work.

And it is clear that Mariucci is much more interested in getting Harrington back on track than he is in getting into a quarterback-juggling situation that creates confusion on the team.

After the first six games of the season, Harrington had a passer rating of 94.5 — third in the NFC to Daunte Culpepper of Minnesota and Donovan McNabb of Philadelphia — and had thrown 12 touchdown passes to just four interceptions.

In the last two games, however, Harrington has struggled. He had a 63.7 passer rating in the lethargic 17-10 loss to Washington and an anemic 32.5 passer rating — completing just 11 of 33 passes — in the 23-17 overtime loss at Jacksonville.

Harrington says there is no great mystery to his problem.

"I need to be more accurate," he said. "That's the only thing. We haven't played very well as an offense, and when you're the quarterback and the guy who's supposed to be taking the team down the field, you need to be accurate on everything.

"Even though we haven't played extremely well, there have been chances for us to hit some plays, and I've missed a couple balls I shouldn't have. That's the biggest thing. I just need to be more accurate."

Mariucci has been reserved in his comments regarding Harrington's slump but has shown no indication all season — regardless of how Harrington struggled — to make a quarterback change.

It appears he will try to stick with Harrington the rest of the season to see how he reacts to the difficult situation and whether he can get himself out of the slump.

"Prior to the last two games, as you recall, he was ranked third in the NFC in passing efficiency and doing a pretty darned good job," Mariucci said. "Then a couple of tough games and you want to see a guy bounce back."

Harrington took the first steps in that direction Wednesday after attending the funeral of a family friend — apparently at his home in Portland, Ore. — on Tuesday, his day off.

"Anytime you're in those kind of situations it really does put back into perspective what's important," he said. "When I came back today, I felt fresh. I felt grounded again. My head wasn't swirling and things in my life are back in line again."

The Lions will find out Sunday in Minneapolis whether his passes line up as well.


DRUMMOND'S ROLE ON RETURNS

After returning punts 55 and 83 yards for touchdowns in the Lions' game at Jacksonville, Eddie Drummond is leading the NFL with a 15.2-yard average on 20 punt-return attempts. He is also third in the NFC with a 25.9-yard average on kickoff returns.

It has been suggested that with the Lions' lack of offensive punch, they might want to incorporate Drummond's skills into the receiving corps, but coach Steve Mariucci doesn't seem to be leaning that way.

"Everybody's got a role on a football team — a primary role, a secondary role," Mariucci said. "And his primary role is a return man."

Drummond is also involved on the special-teams coverage units as a "gunner," racing down the sidelines to stop the opposing team's return man.

Drummond is a third-year player, signed originally as an undrafted rookie out of Penn State. He was named the NFC special-teams player of the week and the AP's NFL player of the week for his two punt-return TDs.


LIONS LOSING

Three consecutive losses and four losses in the last five games have taken the glow off the Lions' fast 3-1 start and have created some questions regarding the progress — or lack of progress — in coach Steve Mariucci's second season.

"When we were 4-2 and had just come off a big win in New York, we were feeling like we were making some pretty good progress," Mariucci said. "Then losing three in a row is difficult on a team and frustrating for a team.

"You look to reasons why and try to get them fixed as fast as possible. In the course of a season you are going to have some ups and downs, and you've got to be able to recover."

Mariucci took over a team that was 2-14 and 3-13 in the seasons immediately before his arrival. The Lions improved to 5-11 in his first season and are 4-5 with seven games yet to go.

In a somewhat similar rebuilding situation in San Francisco, the 49ers sandwiched seasons of 4-12 and 6-10 between 12-4 seasons in 1998 and 2001. At that time, they were rebuilding because of salary cap problems.


ONE-BACK CATS

Coach Steve Mariucci's three-back rotation apparently is history. For now, at least.

Rookie RB Kevin Jones showed enough with 19 carries for 81 yards in the loss at Jacksonville to keep possession of the starting job rather than share it with Artose Pinner and Shawn Bryson.

Bryson will continue to get plays, but it will be primarily as a receiver out of the backfield, with Jones getting most of the rushing attempts.

There is speculation whether second-year FS Terrence Holt might soon start cutting in on the playing time of slowing veteran FS Brock Marion.


LIONS NOTES

  • PR/KOR Eddie Drummond is leading the NFL with an average of 15.2 yards on 20 punt returns after his 55- and 83-yard punt-return touchdowns in the Lions' game at Jacksonville. Drummond is third in the NFC in KOR with an average of 25.9 yards.

  • DT Shaun Rogers is the NFC's leading vote-getter at defensive tackle in voting by the fans for the 2005 Pro Bowl game. Rogers has been a force on the Lions' defensive front seven, which played well early in the season but has been burned by Clinton Portis and Fred Taylor for back-to-back 100-yard-plus rushing games.

  • WR Roy Williams is learning to manage his sprained left ankle well enough to continue playing although he is still far from 100 percent. Williams leads Lions receivers with 29 receptions for 459 yards and five touchdowns although he missed two games and has been subpar in three others since spraining the ankle Oct. 10 against Atlanta.



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