First, addition by subtraction. Touchy-feely coach Steve Mariucci is gone after15 wins in less than three seasons. Quarterback Joey Harrington and hisunfulfilled potential were shipped off to Miami. Now a team in need of toughlove is getting it from new coach and Vietnam vet Rod Marinelli. An offensewith talent will flourish in the hands of coordinator Mike Martz. And face it,the Lions are due. Their last playoff win was 16 years ago; before that, in1957.
There's little doubt that the Lions will be a tougher team. Predictably,Marinelli ran a physical, no-nonsense camp, at one point sending his playersthrough five straight days of two-a-day practices in full pads. "We want tobe physical," says Marinelli. "We want to run the ball on offense andtrample the run on defense. The only way you can prepare to do those things isin pads."
It is a classicformula, as old as team sports: Replace a soft coach with a tough one."Look, I was a big fan of Mooch," veteran cornerback Dré Bly says ofMariucci, "but things just got out of control, and he got fired because ofit. Matt [Millen, club president] brought in a coaching staff that he thinkscan get the most out of guys, and that's key because the talent differences inthis league are small."
Left tackle JeffBackus has spent all five of his NFL seasons with Detroit, losing 38 more gamesthan he has won. "What Coach Marinelli has demanded from us, the way thewhole staff has worked, has been unbelievable," says Backus. "But wewon't know where we stand until something goes wrong. We've had a tendency tolose hope when things go bad."
To cure theoffense, which ranked 27th in the NFL, Marinelli turned things over to Martz, anifty bit of ego sublimation that will be tested in times of crisis. "It'snot about me, it's about the Lions," says Marinelli. Martz's attack will berun by Jon Kitna, whose solid 2003 season in Cincinnati was rewarded with abenching in favor of Carson Palmer. Kitna is a respected workhorse but only36-43 as a starter in his nine-year career. Few Lions doubt that he will be anupgrade from Harrington. "Good leadership, smart player, very few mistakesin practice," says Backus.
Third-yearwideout Roy Williams should benefit most from the changes at quarterback andoffensive coordinator. No flop thus far, with 99 catches for 16 touchdowns intwo seasons, he could have a breakout year. The 6'2" Williams says thatMartz's vertical, catch-and-run attack suits him better than Mariucci's WestCoast system. "Too much stop-and-go in the West Coast," says Williams."Big guys are not made for stop-and-go."
Marinelli and newdefensive coordinator Donnie Henderson have installed the Cover 2 schemeMarinelli ran at Tampa Bay. To make it effective, the Lions will need quickdevelopment from rookie linebacker Ernie Sims, continued solid work fromhulking tackle Shaun Rogers and improved secondary play beyond the reliableBly.
Failing any ofthat, the players can draw strength from "pounding the rock,"Marinelli's pet motivational tool brought from Tampa Bay and signified by aboulder that sits in the middle of the locker room to encourage playing onedown at a time. Says Marinelli, "Winning is all about doing thingsright."
17 at Chicago
24 GREEN BAY
1 at St.Louis
22 at N.Y.Jets
19 at Arizona
23 MIAMI (T)
3 at NewEngland
17 at GreenBay
31 at Dallas
NFL rank T25
Opponents' 2005 winning percentage .473
Games against playoff teams 4
AN OPPOSING TEAM'S SCOUT SIZES UP THE LIONS
> At somepoint the situation between Rod Marinelli and Mike Martz is going to get ugly,especially if the Lions start losing. Marinelli will want to do one thing, andMartz will want to take over and throw the crap out of the ball.
> Everybodyin the league loves Roy Williams.
> Theoffensive line is decent, but in Martz's system the line has to be better thandecent because the quarterback needs a lot of time to throw. Left tackle JeffBackus is their best lineman.
> The Lionsare in a bad way with Charles Rogers and Mike Williams. With all the money theyhave tied up in those guys, they're going to have to cut one or both of them,or that situation could be a real cancer on this team.
Jon Kitna is morelike a good backup. But you'd have to say he's an improvement over JoeyHarrington.
A 2002second-round draft choice out of South Carolina, Edwards almost signed with theBrowns in the off-season but instead agreed to a five-year contract extensionwith the Lions. The 6'6", 265-pound Edwards averaged five sacks per seasonin his first four years and had a career-high seven takedowns in '05, butteammates expect more. "In Coach Marinelli's defense Kalimba is going toget a chance to run straight up the field and get the quarterback," sayscornerback Dré Bly. "That's going to showcase his talent."
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COACH RODMARINELLI (0-0 in NFL), first season with Detroit
JON KITNA (NewAcquisition)
COREY BRADFORD(New Acquisition)
ROSS VERBA (NewAcquisition)
HT 6' 5"
ERNIE SIMS (R)(New Acquisition)
SACKS 2 1/2
SACKS 1 1/2
SACKS 5 1/2
PARIS LENON (NewAcquisition)
SACKS 1 1/2
DANIEL BULLOCKS(R) (New Acquisition)
(R) Rookie (college statistics)
NFL RANK (RUSH/PASS/TOTAL) OFFENSE 26/26/27 DEFENSE 24/13/20