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Under Mariucci, Detroit Is Making Fast Improvements

Wednesday, September 8, 2004; Page H12

A couple of seasons ago, the Lions were not only bad, they were old. Now, in Steve Mariucci's second year as coach, there is hope. For this often downtrodden franchise, hope, for now, is enough.

Now in his third year, Joey Harrington is in a position to become the franchise quarterback he was drafted to be. He will enjoy more talent at the skill positions than he has had before, but with a rookie running back (Kevin Jones) and two greenhorn wide receivers (second-year player Charles Rogers and rookie Roy Williams) around him, Harrington will have to play older than his years.

_____ Detroit Lions _____
Lions Section

_____NFL '04_____
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_____Team Previews_____
In predicted order of finish

NFC East
Philadelphia Eagles
Dallas Cowboys
Washington Redskins
New York Giants

NFC South
New Orleans Saints
Carolina Panthers
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Atlanta Falcons

NFC North
Green Bay Packers
Minnesota Vikings
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions

NFC West
Seattle Seahawks
St. Louis Rams
San Francisco 49ers
Arizona Cardinals

AFC East
New England Patriots
New York Jets
Buffalo Bills
Miami Dolphins

AFC South
Indianapolis Colts
Jacksonville Jaguars
Tennessee Titans
Houston Texans

AFC North
Baltimore Ravens
Pittsburgh Steelers
Cincinnati Bengals
Cleveland Browns

AFC West
Kansas City Chiefs
Denver Broncos
Oakland Raiders
San Diego Chargers

"Joey will have younger, faster players around him, and he's going to be the guy with the experience," Mariucci told reporters in July.

In addition to so much youth at the skill positions, Harrington has Damien Woody joining an offensive line that allowed only 11 sacks last season.

Before last season, the Lions gambled by giving undersized cornerback Dre Bly a big free agent contract. He became a Pro Bowler, and now the team is raving about his ability to lead the entire unit.

The Lions added a nice complement to Bly this offseason with the signing of free agent cornerback Fernando Bryant.

But more gambles will have to pay off for the defense to improve as a whole. That would mean that rookie linebacker Teddy Lehman plays at least as well as Boss Bailey, who will miss much of this season because of knee surgery, did as a rookie last year. Or that defensive end Robert Porcher can somehow play like it's 1999 again. Or that fellow end Kalimba Edwards becomes memorable for something other than his mellifluous first name.

Next year expectations should be much higher in Detroit. But for now, the only pressure will be to improve and break an NFL-record 24-game road losing streak.

This season, the chase will be for third.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company