|2004 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE|
Quarterback Joey Harrington #3 of the Detroit Lions.
Getty Images/Otto Greule
September 12th @ Chicago - FOX Sports,
November 25th vs Indianapolis - CBS,
December 12 @ Green Bay - FOX Sports
Star Power: Joey Harrington, QB, Third-year, Charles Rogers, WR, Second-year, Dre' Bly, CB, Sixth-year
Notable Additions: Roy Williams, WR, NFL Draft (7th Overall), Tai Streets, WR, San Francisco 49ers, Damien Woody, G, New England Patriots, Kevin Jones, RB, NFL Draft (30th Overall), Fernando Bryant, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars.
Notable Subtractions: James Stewart, RB, Still Unsigned, Barrett Green, OLB, New York Giants, Ray Brown, G, Retired, Bill Schroeder, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Offensive Overview: If you're looking to draw a smile from Lions' third-year quarterback Joey Harrington, simply mention the team's off-season acquisitions. Rookie running back Kevin Jones provides the Lions with talent in the backfield that hasn't been apparent since Barry Sanders' early retirement. Roy Williams, a seventh-overall pick, former Pro Bowler Stephen Alexander and a serviceable Tai Streets join last year's second-overall pick Charles Rogers to give Harrington plenty of offensive options. Harrington, meanwhile, has displayed flashes of brilliance in the pre-season, grasping the complex West Coast offense and taking advantage of his targets. The Lions were the only team to score on each of its opening possessions in every pre-season game. He also has protection. The Lions allowed a league-low (and best) 11 sacks last year. Free-agent acquisition Damien Woody (New England) has helped solidify the line even further. There is a youth movement in Detroit. Keyword being "youth." While the Lions' potential is certainly vast, it also has to be realized. Detroit still hasn't won a road game in the last 24 attempts, and they will rely heavily upon untested talent to get them over the hump. Youthful mistakes, especially on offense, can throw a game plan off-balance. The young Lions must grow up fast. Steve Mariucci's West Coast offense was successful in San Francisco – with the proper talent. The Lions have the pieces lined up in 2004, but execution by a youthful group is necessary. Expect some fireworks, and some duds.
Defensive Overview: CB's Dre' Bly and Fernando Bryant can finally make fans feel secure in the secondary. Bly, a Pro Bowler, exceeded expectations last year as a shut-down cornerback. Opposing team's threw away from Bly, focusing on the other side of the field that was manned by four different players. Bryant's signing secures that side of the field, and will allow the team to focus on stopping the run more. A defensive line that features tackles Shaun Rogers and Dan Wilkinson is imposing to any offense, and the Lions have speed and talent at LB as well with second-rounder Teddy Lehman starting outside of veteran MLB Earl Holmes. Behind Bly and Bryant resides … well … not much. SS Brian Walker will miss the season after knee surgery, while the aging Brock Marion is solid but not spectacular at FS. The Lions will plug fellow veteran Bracy Walker at strong safety, handing the team one of the most youthful-challenged safety duos in the league. Injuries ravaged the LB core during training camp. The Lions lost projected starter Boss Bailey to injury. Bailey is expected to miss up to six games. His replacement, Donte' Curry, has been a career special teams man. Holmes is serviceable in the middle and Lehman is still learning the ropes. At DE, Kalimba Edwards nor Cory Redding has stepped up to produce a strong pass rush. James Hall, on the other end, is solid, but not a playmaker. The Lions need to sign another SS, and perhaps DE if possible. The cornerback position and the middle of the defensive line must produce otherwise the unit could collapse. Lions' defensive coordinator Dick Jauron practices a bend-but-don't-break philosophy. If things go bad, the latter of that philosophy would be unavoidable.
Special Teams Overview: Jason Hanson enters his 13th year in the league, and only seems to get better with age. He has remained one of the league's elite kickers since 1991. If the Lions have had any position on the team in the last decade with zero concern it's at kicker. Nick Harris is a solid punter, but nothing special. Eddie Drummond returns from an injury-consumed 2003 and will be the team's punt and kick-return specialist. Drummond has excellent vision, speed and awareness. The coverage units on punt returns has been suspect during the pre-season, but the Lions will likely have those kinks worked out in time for September 12th.
Playoff contender? Sure, why not. The Lions have the talent to challenge the rest of the division, and nine wins is not unattainable if everything clicks. One thing is certain: The Lions will break "the streak", and grab their first road win early in 2004. Keep an eye on September 12th.