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NFC North Preview: Detroit Lions


After 5 seasons in Green Bay, Bill Schroeder joins the Lions for 2001

When William Clay Ford Jr. hired Matt Millen as the club president and CEO before last season, Detroit Lions fans expected the franchise to assume the rugged personality displayed by the former linebacker during his 12-year career.

Too often, however, the Lions resembled the ball carriers Millen had leveled on the field.

The problems began behind center. Ty Detmer and Charlie Batch started as the team's top quarterbacks, but neither excelled. Consequently, Mike McMahon begins 2002 as the starter.

McMahon, a fifth-round draft pick in 2001, offers energy and excitement but not much experience as the Lions move into their new stadium, $315 million Ford Field. How long he will retain his job is anyone's guess, inasmuch as the Lions used the third pick in the 2002 draft on quarterback Joey Harrington.

Running back James Stewart, working behind an offensive line that averages 314 pounds, should be the team's biggest strength. A defense that ranked twenty-sixth qualifies as its biggest weakness.

Linebacker Chris Claiborne and defensive tackle Shaun Rogers offer hope for improvement. But second-year coach Marty Mornhinweg has his work cut out for him.

What's new


  1. QB Joey Harrington, Oregon
  1. DE K. Edwards, South Carolina
  1. Andre Goodman, South Carolina

Lack of team speed haunted the Lions last season, a deficiency the team addressed during the offseason. Veteran receivers Herman Moore and Johnnie Morton have been replaced by Az-Zahir Hakim (Rams) and Bill Schroeder (Packers).

Hakim, a former fourth-round draft choice, was the third option in St. Louis' high-flying offense. In four seasons with the Rams, he caught 16 touchdown passes. Hakim also was an electrifying punt returner, averaging 11.4 yards per return. Schroeder averaged more than 900 receiving yards per year during the last three seasons (1999-2001), and his 9 touchdown catches in 2001 were a career high.

Detroit's secondary, which tied Indianapolis and New Orleans for the most touchdown passes allowed (30) last season, should be much improved thanks to the addition of free-agent safeties Brian Walker (Dolphins) and Corey Harris (Ravens). Walker started every game for Miami during the past two seasons and tied for the AFC lead with 7 interceptions in 2000.

Harris replaced an injured Kim Herring at strong safety for Baltimore during the 2000 playoffs and started all 16 games for the Ravens last season. He's also is a solid kickoff returner.


LITTLE BIG MAN: In 2000, Stewart rushed for 1,184 yards after signing as a free agent from Jacksonville. (In club history, only Barry Sanders and Billy Sims have rushed for more yards in a season.) In 2001, injuries limited Stewart to 685 yards, and the Lions ranked twenty-eighth in rushing.

CLOSE CALLS: Detroit lost 10 of 12 games by 10 points or less, including nine straight from Weeks 5-13.

APPLYING PRESSURE: Defensive end Robert Porcher posted 11 sacks last season to become the franchise's all-time leader with 851/2 career sacks and earn his third Pro Bowl selection. Unfortunately, Porcher did not receive much help. His tally represented 35 percent of the team's sack total of 31, which tied for twenty-fifth in the NFL, and no other Lions player recorded more than 4 sacks.


Offense: 16 (28 rush, 6 pass)

Defense: 26 (23 rush, 25 pass)

Reprinted from the 2002 preview issue of NFL Insider

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