First, addition by subtraction. Touchy-feely coach Steve Mariucci is gone after
15 wins in less than three seasons. Quarterback Joey Harrington and his
unfulfilled potential were shipped off to Miami. Now a team in need of tough
love is getting it from new coach and Vietnam vet Rod Marinelli. An offense
with 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, in
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 players
through five straight days of two-a-day practices in full pads. "We want to
be physical," says Marinelli. "We want to run the ball on offense and
trample the run on defense. The only way you can prepare to do those things is
It is a classic
formula, as old as team sports: Replace a soft coach with a tough one.
"Look, I was a big fan of Mooch," veteran cornerback Dr� Bly says of
Mariucci, "but things just got out of control, and he got fired because of
it. Matt [Millen, club president] brought in a coaching staff that he thinks
can get the most out of guys, and that's key because the talent differences in
this league are small."
Left tackle Jeff
Backus has spent all five of his NFL seasons with Detroit, losing 38 more games
than he has won. "What Coach Marinelli has demanded from us, the way the
whole staff has worked, has been unbelievable," says Backus. "But we
won't know where we stand until something goes wrong. We've had a tendency to
lose hope when things go bad."
To cure the
offense, which ranked 27th in the NFL, Marinelli turned things over to Martz, a
nifty bit of ego sublimation that will be tested in times of crisis. "It's
not about me, it's about the Lions," says Marinelli. Martz's attack will be
run by Jon Kitna, whose solid 2003 season in Cincinnati was rewarded with a
benching in favor of Carson Palmer. Kitna is a respected workhorse but only
36-43 as a starter in his nine-year career. Few Lions doubt that he will be an
upgrade from Harrington. "Good leadership, smart player, very few mistakes
in practice," says Backus.
wideout Roy Williams should benefit most from the changes at quarterback and
offensive coordinator. No flop thus far, with 99 catches for 16 touchdowns in
two seasons, he could have a breakout year. The 6'2" Williams says that
Martz's vertical, catch-and-run attack suits him better than Mariucci's West
Coast system. "Too much stop-and-go in the West Coast," says Williams.
"Big guys are not made for stop-and-go."
Marinelli and new
defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson have installed the Cover 2 scheme
Marinelli ran at Tampa Bay. To make it effective, the Lions will need quick
development from rookie linebacker Ernie Sims, continued solid work from
hulking tackle Shaun Rogers and improved secondary play beyond the reliable
Failing any of
that, the players can draw strength from "pounding the rock,"
Marinelli's pet motivational tool brought from Tampa Bay and signified by a
boulder that sits in the middle of the locker room to encourage playing one
down at a time. Says Marinelli, "Winning is all about doing things