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. "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.

Best Hands: Despite never having a top-notch quarterback and suffering a hip injury that abbreviated his career, Herman Moore holds almost every receiving mark in team annals. Moore (Virginia) caught 600 passes faster than anyone before him and in 1995 set what was the NFL single-season record with 123 receptions.

Worst Hands: Mark Nichols "had size and speed," according to the Detroit Free Press. "If only the 1981 first-rounder had hands."

Grading This Year's WRs: Youngsters Charles Rogers and Roy Williams could be fearsome in a year. Tai Streets and Az-Zahir Hakim have been tantalizing but inconsistent.

Grade: C plus