Millen: Lions have a better core
By James Royer
June 18, 2003
ALLEN PARK, Mich. - After watching from the sidelines as the Detroit Lions participated in five mini-camp sessions in a span of 12 weeks, Matt Millen may feel like he is holding a polaroid in his hand.
The Lions' president and CEO has a pretty good idea of how the team is supposed to look after the spring practice sessions. So far, the image Millen holds in his hand looks good, but he will have to wait until training camp to see exactly how the picture will develop.
"There were some good things that came out of the mini-camps," Millen said. "There was good teaching, good familiarity with coaching. You have a better idea of what your players are capable of. There are a lot of good things that come out of it and now you just wait for the next step which is to put the pads on."
The Lions have over 35 new faces on the roster heading into training camp after a busy off-season that saw the additions of a new head coach in Steve Mariucci, 11 draft picks, 18 undrafted free agents and six unrestricted free agents. While the team looks better on paper, Millen said he wants to reserve judgment until the team puts the pads on during training camp. That will be the true litmus test.
"That is what all of us are waiting for," Millen said. "There are some positions that are hard to evaluate without pads."
With or without pads, the one reason Millen feels optimistic about the 2003 season is that the core of the team appears to be much stronger than in past years.
"The core of the team is much bigger," Millen said. "It is a completely different team from where we were just two years ago. If you look at the spots where we feel good about what we have compared to last year or the year before, it is a night and day difference."
When Millen took over the general manager duties in 2001, he was faced with the daunting task of taking an aging roster and rebuilding it with youth and speed. With cornerstones like Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers along with Jeff Backus, Dominic Raiola, Kalimba Edwards, Shaun Rogers, Chris Cash and Andre' Goodman in place, Millen feels the makeup of the team has a much better and bigger core.
"I think that is where we have gotten a lot better," Millen said. "It is not necessarily your top 22 players, but the top 45 who give you a better feel for where you are at. Compared to two years ago, there were a lot of things open. There are fewer questions now. I know the team better and I think our talent level is better. I think we are faster."
One area Millen knows the roster must be better is in the defensive secondary. Detroit ranked 31st in pass defense in 2002, but with the influx of young talent in Cash and Goodman, along with the signing of Dre' Bly and an improved linebacking unit, the Lions are optimistic they can make huge jumps this season.
"Defensively, I am anxious to watch us come together," Millen said. "Dre' Bly has blended very well. Chris Cash is fighting and Andre' Goodman keeps getting better."
One of the biggest positives, however, may be due to one individual who will never step onto the field. Millen feels the presence of Mariucci has helped to strengthen the Lions core and change the atmosphere.
"There is a difference in the attitude and there is a difference in the atmosphere," Millen said. "Guys have an excitement out there. All of those things are a real positive. I think they want to be led and I think Steve wants to lead them. All of those things are positives."