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Detroit Lions Team Report

Starter - Joey Harrington
Backups - Jeff Garcia, Daniel Orlovsky [r]

Starting Quarterback: Joey Harrington set career single season highs in 2004. He passed for 3,047 yards, a 56.0 completion percentage and 19 touchdowns which was good for a 77.5 passer rating. He also threw career-low 12 interceptions. Harrington became just the third quarterback in Lions history to throw for more than 3,000 yards in a season. Although Harrington has improved in each of his first three seasons, the upcoming forth season is undoubtedly his most important. The Lions have surrounded him with playmakers, improved their offensive line, and added a starting caliber back up to push him. With the return and sustained health of receivers Charles Rogers and Roy Williams and the addition of Mike Williams, Harrington is poised to take his game to the next level. With President Matt Millen calling the shots in the Motor City, Harrington will be given every opportunity to succeed. Training camp will shed more light on Harrington's status. If he rises to the occasion and wins the battle in training camp, he will be in a position to improve dramatically in his 4th season.

Backup Quarterback(s): The Lions have added enough talent to have a potent offense. All they need to make it work is solid quarterback play, and Harrington hasn't given them enough of that. Enter Jeff Garcia. He comes over from a bad fit in Cleveland after an unsuccessful stint behind a horrendous offensive line. Garcia walks in with a better grasp of Mariucci's offense than Harrington has. He is Taylor-made for the West Coast offense and will be ready to step in immediately if needed. He did go to three Pro Bowls playing under Mariucci in San Francisco which makes him an intriguing sleeper candidate. He will also mentor rookie Daniel Orlovsky (6' 4"- 224).

Running Backs
Starter - Kevin Jones
Backups - Shawn Bryson, Artose Pinner, Jamel White
Fullback - Cory Schlesinger, Paul Smith, Stephen Trejo

Starting Running Back: Kevin Jones (5'11"- 205) joins Barry Sanders and Billy Simms as the only Lions' rookie rusher to go over 1000 yards. With 1,133 yards Jones led all rookies, was 5th in the NFC, and 13th overall in NFL rushing. He also caught 28 passes for 180 yards and finished with a total of six touchdowns. Considering he split time with Artose Pinner to begin the season, battled through a high ankle sprain, and missed a game, Jones had an impressive start. The next rookie rusher was Julius Jones of the Cowboys, who rushed for 819 yards. Kevin Jones proved to be a durable back and will get a majority of the work in 2004. With the addition of a more athletic offensive guard and an excellent blocking tight end, look for the Lions to add more screens to their play calling so they can get Jones out into space more often. He is threat to score from anywhere on the field. The addition of Mike Williams signals a healthy dose of three receiver sets, which indicates Kevin Jones will be rushing against a lot of Dime defenses. If he can stay healthy, Jones should end up in the upper tier of NFL backs this season.

Backup Running Back(s): If something were to happen to Kevin Jones, Shawn Bryson (6' 1"- 230) and Artose Pinner (5' 10"- 235) are next in line. Bryson is more of a scat back, and Pinner is the more powerful back. Last season in limited duty Bryson was much more effective and will likely be the first back off the bench. Bryson rushed 50 times for 264 yards and a 5.28 average. He is an excellent receiver out of the backfield and had 44 receptions good for 322 yards. In 2003 Bryson led the Lions in rushing while still recovering from a 2002 major knee injury so he is willing to play through pain. His quickness and versatility as a receiver makes him a perfect compliment to Kevin Jones. Artose Pinner, a 4th round draft choice in 2003, should be completely recovered from his January 2003 knee injury. He has an enviable combination of power, speed and agility, and provides excellent depth to the position. Pinner rushed 57 times for 174 yards and a 3.05 average in 2004. Jamel White was signed this off season, and will contribute mostly on special teams.

Fullback(s): Cory Schlesinger (6' 0"- 247) is one of the best pure fullbacks in the league. He paved the way for Kevin Jones' 1,133 yards and is a vital piece to the Lions offense. Schlesinger injured his hamstring in September against the Eagles on the 8th play of the game. He battled through the injury most of the season but did miss two more games. The Lions lost all three of those contests. He finished the year with 4 rushes for 7 yards, but had 10 receptions for 91 yards and a career high 3 receiving touchdowns. Paul Smith and Stephen Trejo will be used primarily on special teams.

Wide Receivers
Starters - Roy Williams, Charles Rogers, Mike Williams [r]
Backups - Kevin Johnson, Eddie Drummond, Scott Vines, David Kircus

Starting Receivers: Roy Williams (6' 2"- 212) set new Lions rookie receiving records in receptions (54), yards (817) and touchdowns (8). R. Williams established himself as a difference maker. R. Williams played much of 2004 on an injured ankle, and underwent offseason surgery. He was expected to miss the 2005 mini camp, but has been working out and running routes already. A healthy R. Williams should be among the top receivers in the game for years to come. Starting across from Williams is third-year receiver Charles Rogers. Rogers (6' 3"- 217), has only played in six games, and was injured in game one last season. The offense really slowed down without him. He had surgery right away last year and is back at full health and ready to go. His biggest obstacle will be getting over the mental aspect of breaking the same collarbone twice. He has spent a lot of time in the weight room and has added 15 pounds of muscle without sacrificing his speed. The Lions 1st round pick of 2005, Mike Williams (6' 5" - 229) was clearly a case of the best player available. They will likely play him immediately in the slot, and he will serve as insurance on the outside if Rogers shoulder doesn't hold up. M. Williams plays faster than he looks, but with his size is best suited to play inside although he can play outside as well. This trio should be one of the best in the NFL. Don't be surprised if the Lions move these three around throughout games to create mismatches.

Backup Receiver(s): The offense took a hit a year ago when Charles Rogers was lost in game one and nearly came to standstill when Roy Williams was hurt. The Lions have decided they won't let that happen again. By signing Kevin Johnson (5' 11"- 195) they get a quality #2 WR who will play in the #3 or #4 role. Johnson will battle for the slot position but can move outside as insurance. He was the #1 WR in Cleveland in 2001 and 2002 before going to Jacksonville. The signing of Johnson spelled the end for Az-Zahir Hakim in Detroit but gives the Lions a very solid core of receivers. Rounding out the receiving roster is Eddie Drummond, Scottie Vines, and David Kircus. Drummond is primarily used in the return game. Vines and Kircus may struggle to make the team.

Tight Ends
Starter - Marcus Pollard
Backup(s) - Casey Fitzsimmons

Bringing in Marcus Pollard (6' 3"- 247) to replace the departed Stephen Alexander, is a significant addition to the Lions. His leadership qualities alone will be invaluable. He gives the Lions a major upgrade at the position and will be an asset in blocking (something they have lacked in a tight end for years). Pollard should continue to be a productive receiving threat for 2 - 3 more years, but Joey Harrington won't be confused with Peyton Manning anytime soon. Pollard has always been a big factor in the red zone, and it's an area Detroit needs to improve. His backup and starter in 2 TE sets is Casey Fitzsimmons (6' 4"- 258). Fitzsimmons isn't a game breaker, but is a decent all around tight end.

Place Kicker
Jason Hanson: Hanson is one of the better kickers in the NFL. He followed up his impressive 95.7% on FG s in 2003 with a solid 85.7% in 2004. He's got leg on FGs (25 career 50+ yarders) and kickoffs (14 touchbacks last year). Unfortunately the Lions haven't provided him opportunities recently - ranking 16th, 23rd, 20th, 27th, and 19th in kicker scoring the last 5 years.

Kick and Punt Returners
KRs - Eddie Drummond
Despite missing the last month of the season, return specialist Eddie Drummond had impressive totals (41 returns, 26.6 avg, 2 TDs) and was named to the Pro Bowl.

PRs - Eddie Drummond
Drummond also scored twice on PRs (matching Dante Hall as the only players ever to return two kickoffs and two punts for TDs in a year). His combined PR and KR stats made him the second ranked fantasy returner in 2004. Detroit is consistently a very good fantasy return team - ranking third in 2002 and second the last two years.

Offensive Line
Projected Starting Lineup: C-Dominic Raiola; G-Rick DeMulling; G-Damien Woody; T-Jeff Backus; T-Kelly Butler
Key Backups: T Victor Rogers; G Kyle Kosier
The Lions have the potential for a good offensive line but need to answer the huge question mark with the loss of longtime starter Stockar McDougle to the Dolphins. If Kelly Butler can come into the starting unit and do well, this unit should thrive, but until he proves himself on the field, there is a possible weak link within this unit. Look for the other four members of this group (who are all young enough to continue growing as football players) to come together nicely in 2005 to become a tighter, more effective unit. Both tackle Jeff Backus and center Dominic Raiola have Pro Bowl potential. Rick DeMulling was signed away from the Colts and is the classic overachiever with heart overcoming limited physical skills. His work ethic will be appreciated in Detroit. Damien Woody can play at both center and guard and has good athleticism but his lack of aggression can hurt his effectiveness at times. The potential is there for a good season but only time will tell if this group can come together.

Team Defense
The 2004 version of the Lions defense finished tied for 12th in sacks but no better than middle of the pack in any other significant category (against the rush #15, pass #20, points allowed #19, takeaways #23 and yards per game #22). Obviously there is plenty of room for improvement. In recent years the team has spent all its first round draft picks on offense while building the D with second through fifth round picks and a few middle tier or bargain basement free agents. The result is a club with a lot of young talent but without superstars and/or established leadership. The line is solid but lacks that standout pass rush threat that forces offenses to change their blocking schemes. James Hall might be that guy if last season wasn't a fluke. There is both youth and talent at linebacker but injuries have crippled the group for two straight seasons so it's hard to get a read on just how good they are or can be. The statistics suggest that the secondary is a weakness for this unit, but the stats don't tell the story of all the injuries they sustained in '04. When everyone is healthy they have solid corners and decent depth. With the recent release of Brock Marion it looks like Terrence Holt will finally get his chance as a starter. The addition of Kenoy Kennedy was a plus at SS but may not be as big an upgrade as some want to believe. All in all this is a unit with a lot of potential if a few things go their way.

Defensive Line
Starters - RDE James Hall, LDE Corey Redding, RDT Shaun Rogers, LDT Dan Wilkinson, DL Shaun Cody
Backups - DE Kalimba Edwards, DE Jared DeVries, DT Markus Bell, DT Corey Redding

Starting Defensive Linemen: In '04 the line was the strength of the Lions defense, but there was still room to improve and improve they did with the addition of Shaun Cody. Cody can play either tackle or end and will likely spend time at both. He figures to make an immediate impact and will provide a big boost in the pass rush from the inside. James Hall stepped up with 11.5 of their 38 sacks in '04 and is on the verge of becoming a player that forces offenses to scheme against him. The other three starters combined for just 9 sacks a year ago but the club is counting on the combination of Cody and Kalimba Edwards (who will see a lot of action in passing situations) to change that. Rogers and Wilkinson provide 700+ pounds of tough to move beef on the inside. Rogers struggled with weight issues early in his career but has matured and seems to have that problem under control. Wilkinson never lived up to the expectations that once made him the first overall pick but he is a good player none the less. The question here is how will the Lions get the most out of a line that features 6 starting quality players?

Backup Defensive Linemen: Heading into the draft Detroit was a little thin on paper. That all changed when they drafted Cody. They have versatility in both Cody and Redding and a strong pass rush specialist in Kalimba Edwards. They now have 6 starter quality linemen and a potential 7th if Jared DeVries can only stay healthy. The DL has become a very solid and deep unit that should once again be the strength of the defense. Both Edwards and DeVries had success last season as situational pass rushers, posting 7 sacks between them. Edwards started some games as a rookie in '02 and was expected to step into the lineup in '03, but he missed most of the campaign with a sports hernia. He got off to a slow start again in '04 and never reclaimed the starting job (mostly because Redding was a much better option against the run). Redding was drafted as a tackle but situations forced his move to end in the base defense. With Cody in the mix, Redding could return to tackle and work in a 3 man rotation.

Starters - WLB Teddy Lehman, MLB Earl Holmes, SLB Boss Bailey
Backups - WLB James Davis, WLB Alex Lewis, SLB Donte' Curry, MLB Wali Rainer

Starting Linebackers: Inexperience and injury at linebacker were problems for the Lions last season. Of their starters only Earl Holmes had more than one season under his belt heading into the fray and he spent much of the season flanked by a pair of rookies. Heading into '05 the injuries are healed and the playing time their youngsters received last year should prove a huge plus. Holmes will enter training camp as the starter in the middle but there could be some position shuffling to come in Detroit. Teddy Lehman replaced the injured Bailey at SLB nearly all of last season after working at WLB prior to Bailey going down. Lehman has been moved back to WLB for now, but there is speculation that he will eventually end up playing the middle. Bailey is expected to be completely healthy for the start of training camp and should reclaim his starting role. The big question here is will the Lions shake up the positions? Many people see Bailey as a much better fit at WLB where he can use his speed and believe he was wasted at SLB to begin with. The presence and versatility of Lehman gives them a lot of options. Lehman played mostly middle backer during his college career and is the heir apparent to Holmes. Holmes was the only starter who didn't miss significant time with injury last year. Durability and the experience factor may save his job.

Backup Linebackers: Davis and Lewis saw extensive action last season due to all the injuries and proved themselves to be very capable replacements. In fact Davis was so solid that his performance could impact the clubs decision on shifting positions. It could allow for Lehman to be moved inside so that the Lions can get their best 3 linebackers on the field. Curry was one of the many injured linebackers in Detroit a year ago. Both he and Wali Rainer are also dependable backups as well as special teams contributors. If they can stay even remotely healthy the Lions have a very strong and deep LB corps.

Defensive Backs
Starters - RCB Dre' Bly, LCB Fernando Bryant, FS Terrence Holt, SS Kenoy Kennedy
Backups - CB Chris Cash, CB Keith Smith , CB Andre Goodman, CB Stanley Wilson, S Bracy Walker, S Vernon Fox

Starting Defensive Backs: Defensive back is the one area of the Lions D that could use either an upgrade or at the least some guys to get and stay healthy. Their #1 corner is Dre' Bly who is a very good cover guy but falls a little short of being the proverbial "shutdown corner". He would be best suited as an excellent #2 playing opposite a Champ Bailey or Chris McAllister type. Fernando Bryant also falls into the category of solid yet unspectacular #2 corner. Somewhere along the line the Lions need to bite the bullet and either pay the big bucks for a "Fred Smoot type" free agent or use one of their early picks on the position. There are currently no defensive backs on their roster that they drafted before round 3. Injuries have been an issue with both Andre Goodman and Chris Cash going down last season, but neither of those guys are a solution even when healthy. The safety position improved with the release of Brock Marion and the promotion of Terrence Holt. The youngster brings a little more hop to his step and is a better playmaker than the aging veteran he will replace. The club signed Kenoy Kennedy early in free agency, but again this is another marginal player coming off the one good season of his 5 year career. He's certainly nothing special.

Backup Defensive Backs: One problem the Lions don't have is quality depth in the secondary (at least not at the corners). If/when healthy, Cash and Goodman are both good #3 corners though there are concerns with them both coming off injury. Keith Smith was the club's third round pick last year and played fairly well against multi-receiver sets as a rookie. The Lions spent yet another third round pick on Stanley Wilson this year, and he will also throw his name in the hat for playing time. There will be heavy competition for the nickel job this preseason with Smith the top candidate for those duties at this point. The release of Marion and promotion of Holt leaves the Lions a bit thin at safety. They signed journeyman type Vernon Fox to fill the hole. While neither he nor Bracy Walker are guys you would want as starters, at least they both have experience.

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