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Is this the year Joey Harrington grows up?

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  • Is this the year Joey Harrington grows up?

    Cowboys cornerback Mario Edwards was barely into his end zone celebration last October, following a 27-yard touchdown return of another Joey Harrington interception, when Lions coach Steve Mariucci went to the bullpen. With a little more than four minutes left in the first half, Harrington was out. Mike McMahon was in.

    "He's the head coach," Harrington says. "He was doing what was best for the team."

    Nice try, Joey, but we're not buying it. And neither are you.

    "Was it the best for me?" he says. "No."

    That benching, though just for one game, was embarrassing, but it had an overriding message, one that will reverberate throughout the 2004 season. "Maybe he learned he's got to play well to stay in there," Mariucci says.

    Harrington, the third overall pick in the 2002 draft, is entering his third year as the Lions ' starter. In the West Coast offense family, the third year is the Big One. Patriarch Bill Walsh believes quarterbacks must grasp the intricacies of the scheme by the third season, or they'll never get it. All of Walsh's descendants feel the same way. "I do understand the third-year concept," says Mariucci, a Walsh scion. So, Harrington had better play more like he did against St. Louis in the 2003 season finale -- 26-of-36, 238 yards and three TDs in a 30-20 win -- than he did in that 38-7 Dallas debacle (5-of-13, 30 yards, two picks), or he could find himself looking for work.

    The Lions don't want their high-priced quarterback to fail, so they went on an offseason talent hunt designed to bolster an offense that produced only 22 touchdowns last year. Free agency brought in wideout Tai Streets (*****), sturdy guard Damien Woody (Patriots) and tight end Stephen Alexander (Chargers). On draft day, the Lions selected Texas wide receiver Roy Williams with the seventh overall pick and traded up to grab speedy Virginia Tech runner Kevin Jones with the 30th selection. And receiver Charles Rogers , the second overall pick in '03, is healthy after missing the last 11 games because of a broken collarbone.

    The overhaul has created some rare football excitement in Motown, which watched attentively as Carolina went from 1-15 to the Super Bowl in two seasons -- with free-agent pickup Jake Delhomme under center for the championship run. Another season below .500 (the Lions have had three straight), and significant blame will fall on Harrington. "That's the nature of this business; that's the nature of this league," Harrington says. "Welcome to the NFL."

    Lions president and CEO Matt Millen already has had to deny reports that Harrington needs to produce this year -- or else. But there clearly is a sense throughout the organization that Harrington can't afford another erratic performance like last season's (17 touchdowns, 22 interceptions, 55.8 completion percentage). "People are impatient," offensive coordinator Sherman Lewis says. "They look at where he was drafted and expect a lot." Harrington closed well last year, completing 96-of-158 passes for 843 yards and five TDs, with three interceptions, in the final five games. Now, Harrington must be even better -- for an entire season.

    To this point, Harrington hasn't provided compelling evidence he's a first-rate NFL quarterback, though his arm certainly is strong enough, and he's mobile. "I think he's a front-line guy in terms of his release, mechanics and arm strength," says Mark Dominik, the Buccaneeers' director of pro scouting. But inconsistent decision making, impatience and a tendency to force throws cost Harrington last year. Those problems can be attributed to youth or are indications that he is a poor fit in the offense, which requires precision.

    "He does stupid things," says one NFC pro personnel director. "You look at some of the balls he throws, and sometimes you say, 'This kid's a bust.' But he has too many tools to be a bust." The same personnel director thinks Harrington needs to use his speed more. He might buy time against the blitz, but he doesn't run enough. "He needs to be more of a gunslinger, like Brett Favre ," the personnel man says.

    Mariucci defends Harrington -- to a point. He attributes some of the interceptions to "tipped balls, great defensive play or times when his vision wasn't as clear downfield" but allows there were some decision-making problems. Because last season was only Harrington's second as an NFL starter and also was his initial experience with Mariucci, consideration must be given to the learning process. "He made improvements in areas that didn't show up in the stats, things like leadership, knowledge of our offense and other defenses," Mariucci says. That progress needs to continue, because Favre, Donovan McNabb , Daunte Culpepper , Peyton Manning , Chad Pennington and Tom Brady , who are the benchmarks for quarterback development, all had reached the postseason by the end of their third seasons.

    No matter how much Harrington developed, the Lions knew last year's primary receiving unit of wideouts Bill Schroeder , Az-Zahir Hakim and Scotty Anderson and tight end Mikhael Ricks wasn't good enough. Rogers was supposed to help greatly last season, and his two TD catches in the season-opening win over Arizona were cause for great optimism. When he went down, during practice October 7, it was a crippling blow. A healthy Rogers, combined with the tall, explosive Williams and reliable Alexander (46 catches with San Diego in '02; out most of '03 because of a groin injury), will make a big difference. "They should make (Harrington) more comfortable," an NFC defensive coach says. "Now he doesn't have to win every game by himself. When you have good guys around you, you get more at ease."

    But even Mariucci isn't expecting Rogers and Williams to be stars this year. "Rarely does a rookie receiver have a good year," Mariucci says. That's why the addition of Streets, who caught 47 passes last year and 72 in 2002 and knows the West Coast scheme, is so important. He and Hakim -- who likely will spend more time in the slot, his preferred position -- will be counted upon heavily, at least early in the season. "You need guys who have been in the system, who have that game experience, no matter how young and fast you are," Harrington says. Jones should add a much-needed burst to a ground game that averaged a league-low 83.6 yards per game last year. Though receivers tend to struggle in their first seasons, backs typically need less time to adjust.

    Regardless, the Lions will be a younger team. Harrington admits he was intimidated at times the past two seasons by all the experience in the huddle. Schroeder, running back James Stewart and fullback Cory Schlesinger were in their ninth seasons last year. Now, Harrington will be surrounded by people closer to his age (25), a comforting factor. "People were expecting me to lead a group of veterans, when I didn't even know what was going on in the playbook," Harrington says. "It was a fine line I had to walk."

    There is youth in the line, too. Woody, 26, a five-year vet with two Super Bowl rings, will help greatly, particularly in the ground attack. "You didn't have to be afraid of their running game last year," the NFC defensive coach says. "You could sit back and play for the pass." Woody also should provide leadership for center Dominic Raiola and tackles Jeff Backus and Stockar McDougle , all of whom should be through with their growing pains.

    In the end, though, it comes down to Harrington. If the offense sputters, he's responsible. Raiola, perhaps his closest friend on offense, notices a difference in Harrington's familiarity with the scheme and overall confidence. During a two-minute drill in minicamp, Mariucci called out plays and Harrington was right there with him, shouting, "I got it; I got it."

    "There's definitely a sense that he's getting closer," Raiola says. "He's more familiar with the offense and what he can and can't do."

    Good thing. The West Coast clock is ticking.

    Michael Bradley - The Sporting News

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  • Nick
    Garcia set to take physical for Lions
    by Nick
    INDIANAPOLIS -- Quarterback Jeff Garcia will take a physical -- probably in the next two days -- as part of the Lions' due diligence in their search for a qualified veteran backup for Joey Harrington.

    Coach Steve Mariucci said Friday that he expects Garcia to be examined "as soon as we can" by Lions doctors at the NFL scouting combine.

    "We are trying to determine who the best addition would be to our pitching staff," Mariucci said. "And he's a candidate."

    Garcia, 35, was a three-time Pro Bowl quarterback for Mariucci when they were together with the San Francisco ***** in the late 1990s and early 2000s. But Garcia was disappointing last season at Cleveland and was released Tuesday.

    Since then the Lions have been in touch with Garcia and his agent, Steve Baker, and Mariucci said the physical is the first step toward possibly signing him.

    Although other quarterbacks are available or will become available at the start of free agency next week, Garcia is considered by many as the leading candidate for the Lions because of his background with Mariucci's West Coast offense.

    "He has some familiarity, obviously, with the system, but that's not the only thing we're taking into consideration," Mariucci said. "It's got to be a fit. It's got to be right for that player coming in, it's got to be right for us, and he's got to understand the situation we have.

    "Joey is the starter so -- for him, specifically -- that would be different than going to Cleveland last year.

    "So when I say we have to go through the process, we have to get the physical done first. Then we have to discuss those sort of things and see if it works for everybody before we start talking with agents and contracts. That's the third thing that has to happen."

    When he left San Francisco a year ago, Garcia insisted on going to a team that wanted him as a starter. After a subpar season with the Browns, it is uncertain whether he still feels that strongly about not being considered a backup.

    "Haven't spoken to him about that," Mariucci said, "but we would need to."

    Mariucci has been reluctant to endorse Harrington as the Lions' long-term quarterback, so many have questioned his intentions -- whether he is truly interested in signing a backup or whether he's looking for a player capable of unseating Harrington.

    Mariucci indicated the quarterback roles would be determined gradually, whether the Lions sign Garcia or another veteran.

    "We wouldn't name a new starting quarterback the next day, before minicamps," Mariucci said. "Joey is the incumbent right now, and he's the starter. He would have to be -- you know -- beaten out, or somebody's got to be there ready to go in case he gets hurt."

    Aside...
    -02-26-2005, 11:07 PM
  • Nick
    Mooch Ponders Lions QB Change
    by Nick
    Mooch Ponders Lions QB Change

    ALLEN PARK, Mich. - Joey Harrington kept his job for at least another day.

    Detroit coach Steve Mariucci said Monday he had not decided whether to bench Harrington this week against Minnesota in favor of backup quarterback Mike McMahon.

    Harrington has struggled as the Lions (5-8) have lost six of their last seven games and he might be coming off the worst outing in his three-season career.

    He was 5-of-22 for 47 yards in a 16-13 loss at Green Bay, which overcame a 13-0 deficit in the second half.

    "We haven't made any decisions, but we are evaluating our passing game," Mariucci said.

    Harrington said Mariucci did not talk to him about a possible change on Monday, but is well aware that his coach was peppered with questions about it.

    "If there's anything it's going to do, it's going to make me work harder," he said. "I'm not going to go home and cry about it."

    McMahon said he would be surprised if Mariucci made a move to make him the starter Sunday at home against the Vikings (7-6).

    "When there's been opportunities to make a change, he hasn't," McMahon said.

    Not long ago, Harrington was credited for helping the Lions turn it around after winning an NFL-low 10 games over the previous three seasons.

    When the Lions were 4-2, Harrington had thrown 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. In the last seven games, he's thrown as many TDs (five) as interceptions.

    "I'm not worried about making plays to keep the job," Harrington said. "I'm worried about making plays to win a football game."

    Mariucci didn't praise Harrington in many ways, but did compliment his work ethic.

    "He's bound and determined to be as good as he possibly can be," Mariucci said. "He's here late, he's here on days off, he's studying film. He really works at it. I'll give him that.

    "I have confidence in Joey. I have faith in Joey. Would I like him to play better? You bet."

    The Lions have lost 19 games and won 10 since Mariucci returned to his home state after being fired in San Francisco with a 60-43 mark over six seasons.

    Despite the lack of success with the Lions, Mariucci has remained upbeat and enthusiastic in front of cameras and reporters. That wasn't the case Sunday at Green Bay, where he looked very glum.

    Did the loss bother him more than any other the past two seasons?

    "Yeah, it did," Mariucci acknowledged softly.

    Detroit not only lost a game on Sunday, it lost a great opportunity to make the playoffs in the muddled and mediocre NFC with its first win in Wisconsin since 1991.

    Roy Williams said the Lions should have won and anybody who saw the game knew...
    -12-13-2004, 09:38 PM
  • Nick
    Sources say Lions considering releasing Harrington
    by Nick
    Sources say Lions considering releasing Harrington
    Wednesday, January 12, 2005
    By Tom Kowalski

    ALLEN PARK -- Quarterback Joey Harrington's career in Detroit might be over.

    According to sources close to the situation, the Detroit Lions are considering releasing Harrington in late February, prior to paying him a scheduled $3 million roster bonus.

    In addition to the bonus, Harrington will make nearly $5 million in salary for the 2005 season -- there has been heated debate within the Lions organization about whether to make the additional financial investment in Harrington.

    "That decision hasn't been made yet," said a Lions source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "We're looking at all the options."

    According to several sources, Lions president Matt Millen wants to bring Harrington back but the team's offensive coaching staff wants to go in another direction. After Sherm Lewis was forced out of his offensive coordinator job one day after the regular season ended on Jan. 2, he wrote letters to Millen, team owner William Clay Ford and vice chairman Bill Ford Jr., stating that the Lions would never win with Harrington playing quarterback.

    Lewis, who officially "retired" following the season, said Harrington didn't have the intangibles to be a winning quarterback in the NFL. Lewis' letter did not come as a surprise to anyone in the organization because he was never in Harrington's corner. Still, it shows the level of disagreement between the different factions.

    Millen was in San Francisco for a scouting trip on Tuesday and was unavailable for comment.

    Members of the Lions front office, coaching staff and scouting department are expected to meet several times over the next five weeks to discuss whether Harrington will return. While money will be an issue, it won't be the deal-breaker in either situation (whether they keep or cut him).

    By cutting Harrington now, the Lions would face an immediate salary cap hit of $5.5 million, but it wouldn't affect their ability to re-sign their own free agents and pursue other unrestricted free agents.

    The debate will be whether the Lions believe Harrington is the player who can ultimately lead the Lions to the Super Bowl.

    One of the factors in deciding whether to keep Harrington is Detroit's other available options. Backup quarterback Mike McMahon, who had the support of both Mariucci and Lewis, doesn't appear to be a candidate for the 2005 season.

    Because the Lions would have to release Harrington prior to the start of the free agency signing period and the college draft, there is no guarantee who the Lions could acquire. Other quarterbacks, who are currently in backup roles, could also be available via trade.

    According to sources, Millen wants to make sure that --...
    -01-12-2005, 06:50 AM
  • RamsFan4ever
    A Look At The Opponent - Detroit
    by RamsFan4ever
    A Look At The Opponent - Detroit
    Saturday, September 30, 2006

    By Duane Lewis
    stlouisrams.com

    The Detroit Lions were one of 10 teams to make a coaching change in 2006, tapping Rod Marinelli as the man to lead the franchise. Marinelli comes to the Lions from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he spent 10 seasons as defensive line coach, and from 2002-2005 also served as assistant head coach.

    Known for his hard-nosed coaching style, Marinelli looks to turn around a franchise that has not had a winning season since 2000 and has not earned a postseason berth since 1999. The Lions are off to an 0-2 start as they organization learns the Marinelli Way of football.

    Detroit tabbed veteran Jon Kitna as their quarterback. The Lions offense had their best performance last week against Green Bay scoring 24 points, 11 points more than they had scored in the first two games combined.

    Kitna had his best game of the young season last week against Green Bay, completing 25 of 40 passes for 342 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. Kitna completed seven passes to WR Roy Williams for a career-best 139 yards and one touchdown. Williams' 16 receptions (for 245 yards) this season ties him for the team lead.

    RB Kevin Jones leads the Lions rushing attack. The third-year back from Virginia Tech rushed for 81 yards and one touchdown on 17 carries last week and was effective in the passing game with five receptions for 44 yards.

    Jones leads the Lions in rushing with 160 yards on 43 carries (3.7 avg) and is tied with Williams for the team lead in receptions with 16 for 127 yards.

    A pair of former Rams are in the Lions' receiving corp. Former receiver/safety Mike Furrey is third on the team with 14 catches for 160 yards. Az Hakim was recently signed by the Lions and made his first receptions of the season last week. TE Dan Campbell is averaging over 21 yards per catch with five receptions for 106 yards. RB Shawn Bryson is a threat in the passing game as he caught a 37-yard touchdown pass from Kitna last week.

    A trio of sixth-year players anchor the left and middle of the Detroit's offensive line. Jeff Backus has started every game at left tackle since being drafted by the Lions in the first round of the 2001 draft. Veteran G Ross Verba, in his 10th NFL season and first with the Lions, made his first start of the season last week. Dominic Raiola is in his fifth straight season as the Lions' starting center. He and Backus have combined to start 146 consecutive games.

    The right side of the Lions' O-line is manned by a pair of eighth-year players. Guard Damien Woody has been a starter his entire career. After starting his career in New England, Woody has started every game for the Lions since coming to Detroit in 2004. Rookie T Jonathan Scott made his first start at right tackle last week in place of another...
    -09-30-2006, 02:23 PM
  • RamWraith
    Rams will likely use `max protect' blocking against Lions
    by RamWraith
    Sunday, October 01, 2006
    By Tom Kowalski
    The Detroit Lions defensive line knows exactly what it is going to see when it lines up today against the St. Louis Rams -- a solid wall of humanity.

    In football lingo, it's called "max protect." It's when an offense realizes its line is overmatched by the defensive line and keeps in running backs or tight ends -- or both -- to help block.

    After the Lions got five sacks against the Seattle Seahawks in the season opener, the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers both went to max protection against Detroit, and it worked. The Lions were held without a sack in both games. That means the Rams will do precisely the same thing.

    To overcome that strategy, Lions head coach Rod Marinelli said his team must do a better job in coverage, not try to use more blitzes.

    "We're always looking at things to offset it. When you (face) max protect, you don't want to blitz. You have blockers picking it up, that's when you want coverage. The more (players) they keep in, the more you want out," Marinelli said.

    Opposing offenses know they have to deal with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Shaun Rogers first and foremost. If he's allowed to be disruptive, as he was against the Seahawks, the Lions defense begins to swarm.

    "Up front, they're really, really good. Shaun Rogers is a big player, great playmaker, and I know his capabilities," said Rams quarterback Marc Bulger, who has been sacked 10 times in three games this season. "It's going to be a tough matchup, but I'd say as far as I can see the front four is the strength right now."

    While the Lions have been hurt in the passing game, they're allowing only 2.8 yards per rush and have yet to give up a rushing touchdown.

    "Well, nobody's been able to run the ball against them," said Rams head coach Scott Linehan. "We certainly want to have us a running game that's effective and I haven't seen anyone do it yet. The defensive line is pretty stout. I think that's an issue because that's where you start offensively -- in finding ways to run it."

    St. Louis running back Stephen Jackson is averaging 4.2 yards per carry, but has yet to score a touchdown. In fact, wide receiver Torry Holt is the only offensive player to score. He has two receiving touchdowns and kicker Jeff Wilkins has the Rams' other 35 points. The Rams have yet to score more than 18 points in a game this season.

    "We have a new offense. We've kicked a lot of field goals, but we've been moving the ball so it's not like we're not getting a lot of first downs and not being able to move the ball, so we're happy with that aspect," Bulger said. "We know it's going to take patience any time you have the same system in for eight or nine years and try to change it. We're 2-1, so whether we're doing...
    -10-01-2006, 06:45 AM
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