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3 Detroit Lions

Sept. 05, 2005
Sept. 05, 2005

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Sept. 5, 2005

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3 Detroit Lions

Whether he'll admit it or not, Joey Harrington is entering a make-or-break season for a team that needs his arm to make the jump to the playoffs

JOEY HARRINGTON might be the NFL player under the most pressure this season. The Lions, who haven't had a winning season since 1997, have surrounded the fourth-year quarterback with pricey linemen; three wideouts and a running back who were all first-round draft picks; and a tight end who was a favorite target of Peyton Manning's in Indianapolis. But if Harrington is feeling the it's-all-on-you heat, he's doing a good job of hiding it. He insulates himself from the pressure, it seems, by simply not acknowledging it. In fact, when one of the Detroit dailies delivered free papers to his doorstep for a week as a trial subscription, he dumped them in the trash without even taking them out of the wrappers.

This is an article from the Sept. 5, 2005 issue Original Layout

"Why would I want to read what someone outside of my locker room and coaching offices thinks of me, when the only people who matter to me are the people on this team?" Harrington says. "If there's a headline that says JOEY STINKS, well, that would sell papers and get people to read it, but I'll tell you, it doesn't matter to me."

What matters in Detroit is that Harrington has to take a major step in his development and become a much more efficient passer. Coach Steve Mariucci, formerly a quarterback mentor to Steve Young in San Francisco and Brett Favre in Green Bay, wants the signal-caller in his passer-friendly offense to complete 65% of his throws. Harrington hasn't come close to that number since arriving in Detroit as the third pick in the 2002 draft; his completion percentages in his first three seasons were .501, .558 and .560. Because the Lions picked up 35-year-old free agent Jeff Garcia in the off-season, Mariucci most likely won't wait long to pull a struggling Harrington. "That's going to be a feel thing," was all Mariucci, who also coached Garcia in San Francisco, would say on the subject. But it figures that an 0--2 or 1--3 start would be hazardous to Harrington's starting job.

The Lions have made slow but steady progress over the last four years, winning two, three, then five and six games. Failure to make a strong run at the playoffs in 2005, however, could endanger the Detroit career of not only Harrington but also of Mariucci. At the start of training camp, club president Matt Millen told his team, "There are better players and coaches in this room than on teams that have won the Super Bowl. It's time." When the boss says that--and a week later ownership announces it has signed the boss to a five-year extension--you know 7--9 just won't do.

"We will win," Harrington says. "There's no other option. We have a running back [Kevin Jones] who rushed for more yards than anyone else in the last eight weeks of last season. We've got one of the most talented receiving corps in the league. We've got a great core of linemen. We're ready."

Is Harrington? "It took Brett Favre three or four years to dominate," says wideout Roy Williams, who was the seventh pick in '04. "It took Donovan McNabb a while. We believe in Joey. I think what Matt Millen did in the off-season, drafting Mike Williams [the USC wideout, at No. 10], will really help too. Can't ever have too many explosive players. Explosive plays win games."

The other talented wideout is Charles Rogers, the second selection in the '03 draft who broke his collarbone in practice before the sixth game of his rookie season and suffered a similar, season-ending injury on Detroit's third snap of '04. On the second day of camp this summer Rogers fell hard while lunging for a pass over the middle. Two good signs: He caught the ball and then got up and ran with it. An underrated addition is tight end Marcus Pollard, a free-agent signee out of the Colts' scoring machine. With 159 catches over the last four years, he gives Harrington the sure-handed tight end he hasn't had in Detroit.

For all the talent around Harrington, however, it's still up to the quarterback to turn the offense into a winning unit. Raising his completion percentage 10 points would only be the first step, but he has to give his coach a reason to be patient. "Over the years this organization has played musical chairs at quarterback," Mariucci says. "Over the past 35 years we've had one Pro Bowl quarterback--Greg Landry, in 1972. We need continuity at the position. Joey's better, and [Garcia] has been to Pro Bowls. How our quarterback plays is going to be vital." --P.K.

PLAYMAKER

Eddie Drummond's 2004 season ended after he injured his right shoulder in a Thanksgiving Day loss to the Colts, but that didn't keep the return specialist from earning his first Pro Bowl selection. Drummond, a four-year veteran out of Penn State who joined the Lions as a free agent in 2002, led the league in punt-return average and was second in kickoff returns last year. The 5'9" 185-pounder took back two kickoffs and a pair of punts for touchdowns.

An Opposing Scout's View: Enemy Lines

I am shocked, and I don't use that word often, at how Joey Harrington has struggled to adjust to the speed and pressure of the pro game. Steve Mariucci finally has an alternative in Jeff Garcia, who won't shrink against a good pass rush.... I know he missed a year, but Mike Williams has huge hands and the physicality to be very good. He reminds me of Michael Irvin.... It's questionable whether Damien Woody has the desire to be a dominating guard. I didn't see it last year.... The most underrated player on this team is James Hall, who could be a 10-sack guy or better.... Those two Winnebagos in the middle of the defensive line, Shaun Rogers and Dan Wilkinson, are the best tackle tandem in the league--when Wilkinson feels like playing.... The real Achilles' heel is the secondary. Dre' Bly covers well, and he can be physical, but Brett Favre and Daunte Culpepper have to be licking their chops about going against the rest of that secondary. The Lions will stop the run, but that won't do much good if teams are throwing for 300 yards. Their only hope back there is that Kenoy Kennedy [a free agent from the Broncos] will be an intimidating presence.

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2004 statistics

2004 RECORD: 6--10

NFL RANK (rush/pass/total): OFFENSE 19/23/24 DEFENSE 15/20/22

COACH: Steve Mariucci; second season with Detroit (68--60 in NFL)

OFFENSE

ROY WILLIAMS

POS. WR

PVR 49

REC. 54

YARDS 817

TDs 8

MARCUS POLLARD [New Aquisition]

POS. TE

PVR 104

REC. 29

YARDS 309

TDs 6

JEFF BACKUS

POS. LT

HEIGHT 6'5"

WEIGHT 305

GMS. 16

STARTS 16

KEVIN JONES

POS. RB

PVR 18

ATT. 241

YARDS 1,133

AVG. 4.7

REC. 28

YARDS 180

AVG. 6.4

TDs 6

RICK DeMULLING [New Aquisition]

POS. LG

HEIGHT 6'4"

WEIGHT 305

GMS. 11

STARTS 11

JOEY HARRINGTON

POS. QB

PVR 127

ATT. 489

COMP. 274

% 56.0

YARDS 3,047

TDs 19

INT. 12

RATING 77.5

DOMINIC RAIOLA

POS. C

HEIGHT 6'1"

WEIGHT 295

GMS. 16

STARTS 16

CORY SCHLESINGER

POS. FB

PVR 270

ATT. 4

YARDS 7

AVG. 1.8

REC. 10

YARDS 91

AVG. 9.1

TDs 3

DAMIEN WOODY

POS. RG

HEIGHT 6'3"

WEIGHT 325

GMS. 16

STARTS 16

KELLY BUTLER

POS. RT

HEIGHT 6'7"

WEIGHT 334

GMS 0

STARTS 0

JASON HANSON

POS. K

PVR 215

XPs MADE 28

XPs ATT. 28

FG MADE 24

FG ATT. 28

PTS. 100

CHARLES ROGERS*

POS. WR

PVR 158

REC. 22

YARDS 243

TDs 3

DEFENSE

BOSS BAILEY*

POS. OLB

TACKLES 88

SACKS 1 1/2

INT. 1

JAMES HALL

POS. RE

TACKLES 48

SACKS 11 1/2

DAN WILKINSON

POS. RT

TACKLES 23

SACKS 1 1/2

DRE' BLY

POS. CB

TACKLES 38

INT. 4

EARL HOLMES

POS. MLB

TACKLES 111

SACKS 0

INT. 0

KENOY KENNEDY [New Aquisition]

POS. SS

TACKLES 82

SACKS 2

INT. 1

SHAUN ROGERS

POS. LT

TACKLES 68

SACKS 4

TERRENCE HOLT

POS. FS

TACKLES 20

SACKS 0

INT. 0

CORY REDDING

POS. LE

TACKLES 40

SACKS 3

FERNANDO BRYANT

POS. CB

TACKLES 50

INT. 0

JAMES DAVIS

POS. OLB

TACKLES 79

SACKS 3 1/2

INT. 0

NICK HARRIS

POS. P

PUNTS 92

AVG. 40.9

NEW ACQUISITION

*2003 stats

PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 170)

SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER

11 GREEN BAY

18 at Chicago

25 Open date

OCTOBER

2 at Tampa Bay

9 BALTIMORE

16 CAROLINA

23 at Cleveland

30 CHICAGO

NOVEMBER

6 at Minnesota

13 ARIZONA

20 at Dallas

24 ATLANTA (T)

DECEMBER

4 MINNESOTA

11 at Green Bay

18 CINCINNATI

24 at New Orleans (S)

JANUARY

1 at Pittsburgh

(T) THURSDAY

(S) SATURDAY

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: T22 Opponents' 2004 winning percentage: .488 Games against playoff teams: 6

"I know he missed a year, but Mike Williams has huge hands and the physicality to be very good."

 

PHOTOJAMES R. MORTON/WIREIMAGE.COMSHARPER IMAGE Harrington must be more accurate in Detroit's passer-friendly offense.PHOTODONNA MCWILLIAM/APBLYPHOTONFL/WIREIMAGE.COM