Frustrated Lions QB expects to 'make plays' next season

Being the NFL's worst-rated passer last season chafed Joey Harrington.

'It was terrible. I've never, ever, ever been in that position,' the Lions quarterback tells the Detroit Free Press. 'I hate being average.'

Harrington's rookie passer rating of 59.9 was below the level of past starting rookie quarterbacks Drew Bledsoe (65.0), Kerry Collins (62.0), Tim Couch (73.2), Peyton Manning (71.2) and Jake Plummer (73.1). All five had more touchdown passes than Harrington, and only Collins and Manning had more interceptions.

Only Bledsoe in New England and Collins in Carolina came into the league playing for substantially better teams than Harrington did. The Detroit Lions went 3-13 last year.

For perspective, Dallas' Troy Aikman was in a situation somewhat similar to Harrington's when he quarterbacked the Cowboys to one win in 1989. He completed 52.9 percent of his throws for 1,749 yards, nine TDs and 18 interceptions, with a 55.7 rating.

The next year, playing for an improved Cowboy team, Aikman still threw more interceptions than TDs, but his completion percentage, yardage and QB rating all went up.

Detroit coach Steve Mariucci says quarterbacks improve greatly in the second season. For Harrington, it'll be a matter of recognizing the defensive coverage, making accurate throws, running the two-minute offense effectively and making plays ÑÊif the coverage breaks down, for example, the Lions want him to run some rather than merely throw the ball away to avoid a sack.

'I expect to make plays now, whereas last year I may have told you that I did,' Harrington says.

Mariucci says Harrington is making progress.

'His head was swimming in this camp a year ago because it was all new to him,' the coach says. 'He's light-years ahead of that.'

Other quarterbacks have enjoyed good second seasons even without the baptism by fire that Harrington experienced last year.

Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper completed 62.7 percent of his passes for 3,937 yards and 33 TDs in his second NFL season. San Diego's Drew Brees completed 60.8 percent for 3,284 yards and 17 TDs.

Last year, Chad Pennington took over as New York Jets' starting quarterback in his third season and completed 68.9 percent for 3,120 yards and 22 TDs. He had only six interceptions and fashioned a 104.2 passer rating.

Can Harrington reach such heights with the Lions? He will enter Detroit's training camp next week as the No. 1 quarterback, but backup Mike McMahon also expects eventual NFL success of high magnitude.

'I keep on looking at my goal, which is to become a starting quarterback, to win a Super Bowl and to become a Pro Bowl quarterback,' McMahon tells the Detroit News.

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