Lions hang in there with Harrington

Ex-Duck QB takes hits, but management banks on rosier future

Blame can be spread everywhere with the Detroit Lions, and Joey Harrington has garnered his share of it.

Fans, media, opposing defenses É all have thumped on the Portland native through three tough seasons in the Motor City. Fans have booed him for Detroit's unproductive offense and his interceptions. Media have ripped him for being too Pollyanna and simply not getting the job done. The bottom line in the NFL is winning, and the quarterback who led Oregon to 27 wins in 30 games is 14-30 as the Lions' starter.

Still, Detroit coach Steve Mariucci says that Harrington would be the starter next season, even if the Lions bring in a veteran QB to push him.

'Everything we've done, in my power and our power, is to play and develop Joey for the future, and he's making progress,' Mariucci says. 'He has shown improvement. We expect him to be even a better quarterback next year.'

Harrington's agent, David Dunn, says the Lion brass Ñ President and Chief Executive Officer Matt Millen, executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Tom Lewand, Mariucci and quarterback coach Greg Olson Ñ 'are all firmly in his corner.' The 'veteran's part' of Harrington's contract, as Dunn calls it, kicks in next year, when the QB is set to make $8 million. But Dunn dismisses the idea that Harrington's job could be in jeopardy because he will have a high salary in the salary cap-conscious NFL. Harrington says he is willing to renegotiate the deal.

QB sees some career-bests

'This is Joey's team,' Dunn says. 'It's been made clear by everybody in the organization, and by Joey's play.'

Harrington posted career-best numbers in yardage (3,047), completion percentage (56.0), touchdowns (19), passer rating (77.5), yards per attempt (6.23) and low interceptions (12) while operating Detroit's West Coast offense.

But the 12 picks and some fumbles came at key times. He was criticized for not being able to throw downfield. And, simply, the Lions lost 10 of 16 games, including six of the past seven by seven points or less.

Harrington feels he has grown as an NFL quarterback, but he admits 'it was a struggle to drive into work' some mornings because of the frustrations and close losses.

Injuries also kept team down

While Detroit rookie Kevin Jones came on and topped 1,000 rushing yards, Harrington worked the 2 1/2 seasons without a quality running game. Receiver Charles Rogers, the Lions' best downfield threat, has missed most of the past two years with injuries. Roy Williams, despite 54 catches for 817 yards and eight scores, played hurt and had many drops this year.

With Jones running well, a long-ball threat in the lineup and Williams healthy, maybe the Lions can play more often with a lead, and run and 'throw when we want to,' Mariucci says. '(Harrington's) played from behind quite a bit.'

Harrington made $1 million each of the past three years, in addition to the $13.5 million signing bonus that was spread over the first two years. He's set to make $20 million over the next three years Ñif he sticks with the Lions.

'I couldn't be more proud or impressed by the way he approaches the game Ñ and life,' Dunn says. 'How you handle adversity is what defines you. It's defined Joey very well. He's come out the other side, and the sky's the limit.'

John Harrington, Joey's father, says Joey seems to have developed the thick skin to get through the boos.

'It was brutal,' John Harrington says. 'No way you prepare a kid for that. Some can thrive under (the scrutiny), but it's a lot easier with a supporting cast.'