Steve Mariucci thought he had it rough coaching in Bill Walsh’s shadow in San Francisco. Now he begins another challenge as he tries to reverse the fortunes of the woeful Detroit Lions.
Mariucci makes his coaching debut for the Lions as they open the season against the Arizona Cardinals at Ford Field.
Mariucci went 60-43 as head coach of the 49ers from 1997-2002, developing the reputation as a winner and offensive guru in the process. Meanwhile, Detroit went 0-16 on the road and 5-27 overall in two seasons under former coach Marty Mornhinweg, a former Mariucci assistant in San Francisco.
The Lions’ new coach has some believing that he can turn around a franchise with one winning season in five years and one playoff victory since winning the NFL title in 1957.
“I hope I can make a difference,” Mariucci said. “But I need a lot of help.”
Not much is expected of Detroit this year, despite the arrival of Mariucci. The Lions have a big hole at running back and are below average defensively, especially at linebacker and in the secondary.
Harrington stepped in and started 12 games as a rookie in 2002. The 24-year-old quarterback threw for 2,294 yards, 12 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
Rogers was selected with the second overall selection in the 2003 draft after catching a school-record 68 passes and 13 touchdowns as a junior for Michigan State last season. He set NCAA and Big Ten records by catching TD passes in 13 straight regular-season games and 14 consecutive games overall.
Despite their obvious talent, Mariucci has tried to downplay expectations for his young stars.
“You don’t just draft them and have Hall of Famers the next day,” Mariucci said. “They have to throw and catch thousands and thousands of passes before they start becoming a threat. They’ve got to work and train and be in the film room and get knocked down on their butts and get back up.”.”
While the passing game could be a strength, the Lions’ running game took a major hit in the preseason when running back James Stewart went down with a season-ending shoulder injury.
Stewart, the team’s leading rusher the past three seasons, separated his right shoulder in the final exhibition game.
Gary rushed for 1,159 yards in 12 games as a rookie in 1999, but knee and leg injuries have limited him to 455 yards over the past three seasons.
There is no secret as to who will get most of the carries for the Cardinals on Sunday.
After winning three Super Bowls and breaking Walter Payton’s all-time rushing record, Emmitt Smith begins the second chapter of his career with Arizona.
“I feel like we’ve finally acquired a marquee player,” Cardinals owner Bill Bidwell said after signing Smith. “This is one of our biggest days since we moved to Arizona.”
Smith ran for 978 yards and five touchdowns last season while averaging 3.8 yards per carry. Although Smith broke Payton’s record last year, he’s clearly on the downside of his illustrious career.
The 34-year-old Smith begins the season as the Cardinals’ starting tailback, but he could face pressure from backup Marcell Shipp if he can’t get the job done. The 26-year-old Shipp ran for 834 yards and six touchdowns in 2002.
Arizona will struggle to score points regardless of who lines up in the backfield. The Cardinals did little in the offseason to make up for the losses of quarterback Jake Plummer and receivers David Boston, Frank Sanders and Martay Jenkins.
Journeyman Jeff Blake will start at quarterback for Arizona. Blake, who is recovering from a concussion, will have rookies Bryant Johnson and Anquan Boldin, and former Lions wideout Larry Foster as his top three receiving options.
Tight end Freddie Jones led the Cardinals with 44 receptions last season.
2002 STANDINGS: Cardinals - 4th place, NFC West. Lions - 4th place, NFC North.
2002 CARDINALS LEADERS: Offense - Plummer, 2,972 passing yards and 18 passing TDs; Shipp, 834 rushing yards and 6 rushing TDs; Jones, 44 receptions; Boston, 512 receiving yards; Shipp, Kevin Kasper and Joel Makovicka, 3 receiving TDs. Defense - Raynoch Thompson, 76 tackles; Kyle Vanden Bosch, 3 1/2 sacks; Adrian Wilson, 4 INTs.
2002 LIONS LEADERS: Offense - Harrington, 2,294 passing yards and 12 passing TDs; Stewart, 1,021 rushing yards, 46 receptions and 4 rushing TDs; Bill Schroeder, 595 receiving yards and 5 receiving TDs. Defense - Chris Cash, 87 tackles; Kalimba Edwards, 6 1/2 sacks; Chris Claiborne, 3 INTs.
2002 CARDINALS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense - 113.9 yards per game (15th in NFL); Passing Offense - 171.3 ypg (29th); Total Offense - 285.2 ypg (27th). Rushing Defense - 134.1 ypg (30th); Passing Defense - 242.1 ypg (28th); Total Defense - 376.3 ypg (29th).
2002 LIONS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense - 92.3 ypg (29th); Passing Offense - 187.1 ypg (25th); Total Offense - 279.4 ypg (28th). Rushing Defense - 122.9 ypg (17th); Passing Defense - 259.4 ypg (30th); Total Defense - 382.3 ypg (31st).
LAST MEETING: Dec. 8, 2002; Cardinals 23-20, OT. At Tempe, Ariz., Bill Gramatica kicked a 42-yard field goal with 10:48 left in overtime to help the Cardinals snap a six-game losing streak. Plummer completed 24-of-43 for 228 yards and two touchdowns.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Cardinals - RB Smith has 76 career 100-yard rushing games and needs one more to tie Payton for most all-time. … WR Foster caught 53 passes for 610 yards in three seasons in Detroit. … Rookie DE Calvin Pace tied for the NFL lead with three preseason sacks. He was selected 18th overall by the Cardinals in the 2003 draft. Lions - QB Harrington set franchise rookie records in passing yards, touchdowns and completions. … Detroit’s offensive line allowed a league-low 20 sacks last season.
2002 ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Cardinals - 2-6 on the road; Lions - 3-5 at home.
INJURIES: Cardinals - OUT: DT Marcus Bell (knee). QUESTIONABLE: S Justin Lucas (concussion). PROBABLE: T Leonard Davis (hand); C Nathan Hodel (shoulder). Lions - OUT: LB James Davis (rib); RB Stewart (shoulder-IR); CB Chris Watson (back). QUESTIONABLE: CB Dre’ Bly (ankle); WR Az-Zahir Hakim (knee); T Matt Joyce (leg); DT Kelvin Pritchett (shoulder); DE Cory Redding (knee).