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Thursday, June 12
Updated: June 16, 12:56 PM ET
 
Offseason Overview: Detroit Lions

By Peter Lawrence-Riddell
ESPN.com

2002 RECORD: 3-13
TEAM RANK (NFL): Defense (31st); Offense (28th)
ADDITIONS:
Free agents -- CB Dré Bly (Lions), RB Shawn Bryson (Bills), LB Earl Holmes (Browns), WR Shawn Jefferson (Falcons).
Draft picks -- 1. WR Charles Rogers (Michigan State); 2. LB Boss Bailey (Georgia); 3. DE Corey Redding (Texas); 4. RB Artose Pinner (Kentucky); 5a. S Terrence Holt (North Carolina State); 5b. LB James Davis (West Virginia); 6. WR David Kircus (Grand Valley State); 7a. OT Ben Johnson (Wisconsin); 7b. CB Blue Adams (Cincinnati); 7c. FB Brandon Drumm (Colorado); 7d. WR Travis Anglin (Memphis).
SUBTRACTIONS:
WR Germane Crowell (released), LB Clint Kriewaldt (Steelers), KR Desmond Howard (released), LB Chris Claiborne (Vikings), WR Jacquez Green (Bucs), DT Travis Kirschke (49ers).
Team news | Roster | More on Lions draft

Mon., June 16
Does Mariucci have enough talent to make the offense respectable?
Operating in basically the same West Coast design, Mariucci's onetime protégé, Marty Mornhinweg, stewarded the Detroit offense to statistical rankings of No. 16 in 2001 and No. 28 last season. The former of those slots is probably a good goal for the Lions this season, one toward which Mariucci should be able to nudge the offense, one that should be more reflective of the unit's talent level. There are certainly some deficiencies, and not even the mastery of Mooch can overcome many of them, but at least he has a cornerstone in second-year veteran Joey Harrington, a young and emerging star who should flourish under a quarterback-friendly head coach. First-round draft choice Charles Rogers likely will start as a rookie and Mariucci needs one of the veterans who disappointed in 2002, either Az-Zahir Hakim or Bill Schroeder, to step up. The bad news is that Hakim is coming off a serious hip injury and Schroeder still runs the kind of loose routes that drove Brett Favre crazy during their time together in Green Bay. There are two very good young offensive linemen, left tackle Jeff Backus and center Dominic Raiola, around whom to build. Starting tailback James Stewart isn't the optimum West Coast-style back, but he is a solid-effort performer and will provide his usual steadiness until Mariucci can develop a young replacement, someone like fourth-round pick Artose Pinner. In sum, there may be enough pieces of the puzzle on hand to reach respectability, but likely not much more.
After five wins in two seasons (none on the road), the Marty Mornhinweg era in Detroit came to an end with the hiring on Steve Mariucci, who had been dismissed by the 49ers following the 2002 season. After initially backing Mornhinweg and saying he would be back with the Lions for the 2003 season, Lions president Matt Millen reversed direction, and fired him once Mariucci became available. The gamble paid off when Mariucci agreed to a five-year, $25 million deal. In his six seasons with the 49ers, Mariucci compiled a 60-43 record and took the club to the playoffs on four occasions.

In Detroit, Mariucci inherits a team that is much different than the one he left in San Francisco. While the 49ers have been perennial playoff contenders and should continue to be, the Lions figure to take some more lumps before they're ready to be a playoff team.

What they've added?
The biggest addition in Detroit was obviously Mariucci. The Lions might have gone about hiring Mariucci in a bizarre way, but the end result was that they got the guy they really wanted. Mornhinweg might make a good NFL coach some day, but Mariucci is a good coach right now and will make Detroit a more competitive team.

One of the biggest difference this offseason with Mariucci is the amount of attention he demands from his players. From Day 1, Mariucci has demanded the complete attention of all of his players and so far he's gotten it.

"He's very intense," quarterback Joey Harrington told the Detroit News. "He doesn't settle for anything less than the perfect practice. It rubs off on people. It rubs off in the huddle. People are just a lot sharper out here."

In addition to Mariucci, the Lions made some additions in free agency, adding two starters on the defensive side of the ball. Cornerback Dre' Bly was signed to a five-year deal to bolster a pass defense that ranked No. 29 in the NFL. While Bly isn't a true No. 1 cornerback, he's an upgrade for a Lions team that had only 10 interceptions last season and ranked No. 31 in the NFL in pass defense. The Lions also added middle linebacker Earl Holmes through free agency. Holmes led the Browns with 128 tackles last season.

On the offensive side of the ball, the biggest addition was Charles Rogers. The No. 2 overall pick, Rogers is a local product, having played his high school football in Saginaw and his college football at Michigan State. Rookie receivers traditionally struggle in their first seasons, however, Rogers, will be expected to contribute immediately in Detroit.

Another player added in the draft who should see significant time as a rookie is linebacker Boss Bailey. Considered a first-round talent, Bailey slipped to the second round over concerns about his tackling. However, Bailey, the brother of Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey, was considered one of the best pure athletes in the draft and was a steal in the second round.
Fantasy Focus
Charles Rogers may only be a rookie, but his great college production in a strong football conference provides a glimpse of his bright future in fantasy. He caught a school-record 68 passes for 1,351 yards and 13 touchdowns for Michigan State last season, outshining past Spartan wideouts like Andre Rison, Plaxico Burress and Muhsin Muhammad. Significantly, he set NCAA and Big Ten records by catching TD passes in 13 straight regular-season games and 14 consecutive games overall. Few wideouts have entered the NFL with his combo of great physical talent and polished receiving skills. Watch him be the best rookie wideout since Randy Moss in 1998 (1,313 yards and 17 TDs). Fantasy owners who draft Rogers as their third wideout will be receiving production of a top 20 receiver. He'll be the featured wideout in Detroit's offense. Don't miss out on at least 1,000 yards and eight TDs.
-- Roger Rotter, ESPN.com Fantasy editor

What they're missing?
The Lions roster appears to be relatively set. With two second-year players among their top three cornerbacks, the Lions will keep their eyes open for any veterans who might become available.

Offensively the Lions have some of the pieces in place to take a step forward. With Harrington and Rogers, the Lions have a young nucleus for Mariucci to build his West Coast offense around. If the other receivers -- Bill Schroeder and Az-Zahir Hakim specifically -- can improve their play, the Lions should be an improved team on offense.

Running back is another position to watch. James Stewart is a workhorse and a serviceable back, but he's not a great fit in the West Coast offense. Detroit needs someone who can provide a change of pace from Stewart and give the offense more versatility. Artose Pinner, drafted in the fourth round, could be another options, although he is coming off an injured leg in the Senior Bowl.

Defensively, the Lions were terrible against the pass last season (last in the NFC and No. 31 in the NFL). While the addition of Bly will help, this figures to be a weak spot again for the Lions. With Luther Ellis, Shaun Rogers and Robert Porcher on the defensive line and Holmes at middle linebacker, the Lions should be fairly strong up the middle. However, for the team to improve on its No. 31 ranking in the NFL on defense, the secondary will need to make a big step forward.

What it all means?
The addition of Mariucci isn't going to miraculously turn the Lions into a playoff team overnight. But one thing that has been shown to be true in the NFL is that a good coach can be immediately worth a few wins. Detroit will win more than three games in 2003 and they will win a game on the road.

However, the most important thing in Mariucci's first season will be setting the foundation for the future. For all the Lions' problems, the one thing they do have is a franchise quarterback in the making and rookie wide receiver who could be a star. More important than wins in Detroit this season will be the development of Harrington and Rogers and what that means for the future.

Peter Lawrence-Riddell is the NFL editor for ESPN.com.





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