Practice makes perfect, or so Mariucci hopes for hapless Detroit
The Detroit Lions enter their first training camp under coach Steve Mariucci on Wednesday, but as Joey Harrington says, it feels like the guy has been in Motown forever.
'Coach Mariucci has done a terrific job of warming the team up to him and really opening himself up to the team,' Harrington says. 'He's a straight shooter, and people respect him for that.'
The Lions spent 12 offseason weeks (16 for quarterbacks) doing classroom and conditioning work and conducting minicamps, much more than other teams. Of course, the Lions, 5-27 in the last two years, have been one of the NFL's sorriest clubs.
The massive reconstruction job simply couldn't wait till training camp at Allen Park, Mich.
Mariucci, who replaced the fired Marty Mornhinweg, has told the players how to get with the program.
'How we're going to meet, how we're going to practice, how we're going to stretch, how we're going to lift, how we're going to eat. How we're going to run 7-on-7, how we're going to run from drill to drill, the tempo, what's expected, how we test these guys like you would take a test in school,' Mariucci said.
Harrington describes Mariucci as 'very intense. He doesn't settle. He doesn't settle for anything less than a perfect practice, and it rubs off on people. It rubs off in the huddle. It rubs off pre-snap. People are just a lot sharper out here.'
Mike O'Hara, veteran beat reporter of the Detroit News, notices the difference. 'The Lions bear no semblance to the aimless organization of the previous two years,' O'Hara wrote recently. 'The direction of the front office, restructured under President Matt Millen, is clearer. So is the mandate of the new head coach. É
'One of the many knocks against Mornhinweg was how little was accomplished in practice. That cannot be said of Mariucci.'
Lion fans should not expect miracles from the team or from Harrington, the Portland native and University of Oregon product. But perhaps the foundation is being laid.
The Lions drafted Charles Rogers, picturing him and Harrington as someday akin to Mariucci's former San Francisco combination of Jeff Garcia-and-Terrell Owens. But saying that each has a way to go would be an understatement.
Harrington had the NFL's worst passer rating last year (59.9). He threw 12 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions and must show he can tame aggressive and sophisticated defenses.
Rogers hasn't seen an NFL snap, sat out much of Detroit's June minicamp because of a hamstring injury and still hasn't signed. Rogers, 6-4 and fast, potentially can be Harrington's go-to guy, the transcendent player fellow Lion receivers Bill Schroeder, Shawn Jefferson and Az-Zahir Hakim will not be.
Rogers had 135 receptions, 2,821 yards and 27 TDs in his two years at Michigan State.
The Lions like Rogers' enthusiasm, but can he do much in his first season? Herman Moore, Detroit's all-time leading receiver, had 11 receptions as a rookie. Johnnie Morton, second on Detroit's list, had three.
The air attack needs to develop for Detroit to move the ball because 1,000-yard runner James Stewart can't produce without balance in the West Coast offense. An unproven Rogers and injured Hakim (hip) will be watched closely in training camp. Mariucci will call all the offensive plays this season.
To shore up a leaky defense, Mariucci and Millen drafted linebacker Boss Bailey and defensive end Cory Redding and added veteran linebackers Earl Holmes and Wali Rainier and cornerback Dre Bly. The Lions should have a solid defensive line, even with tackle Luther Elliss expected to miss camp because of a torn pectoral muscle.
'We blew a lot of stuff up,' Millen tells the Detroit News. 'There were so many places to change. É We're not great. I know we're better. I know we still have holes.'