Many questions to face Lions in 2007

Many questions to face Lions in 2007

The Detroit Lions might have made some progress in their first year under coach Rod Marinelli but they never got into contention, never got back to respectability, never even got to .500. Thoughts from receiver Roy Williams on his Pro Bowl appearance and more inside.

The Lions' miracle one-year turnaround simply didn't materialize.

Like just about everything else the Lions have tried for the past six seasons under team president Matt Millen, it didn't work and for the sixth consecutive season, they finished with double-digit losses. This year, there were 13 of them.

The Lions might have made some progress in their first year under coach Rod Marinelli but they never got into contention, never got back to respectability, never even got to .500.

They learned what Marinelli expects of them in terms of hard work -- more than they have given in the previous five years.

They know now that if they can't match Marinelli's commitment and dedication to the game, they might want to find another place to practice their trade.

And Marinelli found out the hard way what he has and what he lacks in terms of talent. Injuries took a heavy toll and probably skewed the evaluation process; 10 full- or part-time starters finished the season on injured reserve, including three of the four defensive line starters, five players who started at one time or another on the offensive line, and Kevin Jones, the best running back.

Perhaps more telling was the fact that Marinelli and his staff -- offensive coordinator Mike Martz, in particular -- rejected several players that the Lions' management and personnel department thought they could build on.

Quarterback Joey Harrington, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2002 draft, was not comfortable in a locker room that hard turned against him late in the 2005 season and he was traded during the off-season.

Wide receiver Charles Rogers, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2003 draft, was cut outright before the start of the regular season, unable to satisfy Martz with either his speed or his work ethic.

Wide receiver Mike Williams, the No. 10 overall pick in the 2005 draft, played in barely half the team's games and finished with eight receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown. He apparently never got down to Martz's prescribed plying weight, dropped a pass that would have won the next-to-last game of the season against Chicago and, in the final days of the season, suggested he would be agreeable to staying with the Lions if they would agree to a playing weight more acceptable to him.

Offensive linemen Ross Verba, Rex Tucker and Barry Stokes, who were brought in to shore up the front five, couldn't stay healthy. All three finished the season on injured reserve.

Defensively, the problems were not as dramatic but they were equally serious.

Defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, a two-time Pro Bowl player, was slow to buy into Marinelli's demanding work, later was slapped with a four-game suspension for testing positive to a banned substance and couldn't come back from an arthroscopic knee surgery performed during his suspension. He finished the season on injured reserve.

The linebacking corps that Millen had put together in recent drafts did not play effectively. The attempt to move Boss Bailey to middle linebacker failed, Teddy Lehman missed much of the season with injuries and Paris Lenon got a lot of tackles but very few big plays. Rookie Ernie Sims was the most effective linebacker.

And, finally, the styles of long-time friends Marinelli and coordinator Donnie Henderson, clashed. Marinelli's Tampa-2 defense wasn't Henderson's cup of tea and, although they say they are still good pals, they parted company at the end of the season.

As a result, the Lions got the slow start that many expected in a new, demanding system but they never picked up speed. After victories over Buffalo and Atlanta during a three-game span in the middle of the season, they had a chance to make a statement with upcoming games against San Francisco, Arizona and Miami.

They lost all three, launching a seven-game losing streak that eventually left them with a 3-13 record and the No. 2 pick in the draft next April.

So, where exactly does that leave the Lions for the 2007 season? That would be anybody's guess.

Marinelli, looking at the bright side, said it was good to get a look at so many young offensive and defensive linemen, who were forced into fulltime duty by injuries to the regulars.

But the Lions face many, many questions in the new season.

Jones, coming off a Lis Franc injury, may or may not be ready for training camp. Some players with that injury have made timely recoveries; others have struggled for a year or more.

Quarterback Jon Kitna was tough and durable. He took every offensive snap and threw for 4,308 yards but he was intercepted 22 times, at least once in all except three of the Lions' 16 games. With a better supporting cast, he could probably prosper but it will take a major overhaul to make the Lions competitive.

Williams excited about Pro Bowl opportunity
The NFC receiving yardage leader will play in the Pro Bowl after all.

Lions wide receiver Roy Williams, who topped the National Conference with a career-best 1,310 yards, was the NFC's first alternate in voting by fans, NFL players and coaches and he got the call to Honolulu when Torry Holt of St. Louis withdrew because of knee surgery.

"It's unfortunate that he can't go but I think if anybody can take his place, I think I can," Williams said.

Williams posted modest receiving numbers in his first two seasons with the Lions in the West Coast offense under Steve Mariucci -- 54 catches for 817 yards and eight touchdowns in his rookie season 2004, 45 catches for 687 yards and eight touchdowns last year.

In his first season with offensive coordinator Mike Martz, however, Williams -- despite more drops than the Lions coaches liked -- produced 82 receptions for 1,310 yards and seven touchdowns.

Williams is the only player off the 3-13 Lions to be selected for the Pro Bowl.

Day of reckoning
The end of the season meant a day of reckoning for two Lions -- defensive line coach Joe Cullen and strong safety Kenoy Kennedy -- for alcohol-related incidents last fall.

Cullen, who was in his first season with the Lions, pleaded no contest to one count of disorderly person/obscene conduct charges and pleaded guilty to impaired driving. The charges stemmed from two incidents that occurred last summer -- driving naked through the drive-up lane of a fast food restaurant and, in a separate incident, driving while intoxicated.

Sentencing was set for Feb. 13 and Cullen faces up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine plus court costs for the disorderly charges, as well as 93 days in jail and a $300 fine plus court costs for the impaired driving charge.

Kennedy, a starting safety the past two seasons, faced up to 93 days in jail after being arrested in the early morning of Oct. 6 while driving home from a nightclub. A blood test registered a .16% blood-alcohol level, twice the Michigan limit of .08 percent.

Kennedy was able to avoid jail time but was sentenced to 18 months probation, was given a $500 fine plus court costs and was ordered by the presiding judge to enter an Alcoholics Anonymous program. He will also have to perform five days of community service.

Attorney Joseph A. Lavigne noted that it was Kennedy's first offense and that he already had enrolled in an alcohol-supervision program.

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