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 Pressures on Harrington... article 
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Pressure is on Harrington to lead Lions now

By Alan Hancock
(June 22, 2005) -- "With the 10th pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions select Mike Williams, wide receiver from USC."

Almost immediately after Commissioner Paul Tagliabue made that announcement at April's draft, eyebrows raised around the NFL. Hadn't the Lions already spent top-10 picks in each of the last two drafts on wide receivers? Weren't there pressing needs on defense that needed to be addressed?

But there was at least one person who saw the pick coming.

"I had a feeling they were looking at him," said Lions quarterback Joey Harrington. "Things just fell into our lap there and I'm not complaining."

With Williams joining a receiving corps that includes 2004 first-round pick Roy Williams, who led the Lions with 817 yards on 54 catches as a rookie last year, and Charles Rogers, who was the second overall pick in 2003 and is finally healthy after two injury-shortened seasons, there seems to be little that Harrington could complain about. Throw in the addition of veteran receiver Kevin Johnson through free agency and running back Kevin Jones coming off a 1,000-yard effort in his rookie season, and it appears as if Harrington has every reason to have high hopes for the 2005 season.

But if Harrington's three seasons in the NFL have taught him anything, it's that things don't always work out as planned.

"I'll be excited as soon as we can keep everybody healthy," Harrington said while in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., practicing for the EA SPORTS NFL Quarterback Challenge. "Last year we had Roy and Charles, which should be plenty, but we couldn't keep either of them healthy. The possibilities are there, but just like any other team in this league, the teams that win games are the teams that stay healthy."

Injuries have slowed the Lions offense in recent years, with Rogers limited to a total of five games after breaking his collarbone twice and Roy Williams and Jones both missing time with ankle injuries as rookies. But many observers believe it is Harrington himself that deserves much of the blame for the Lions offense failing to show any improvement since the team made him the third overall pick in the 2002 draft.

When he arrived in Motown, the hope was that Harrington would finally become the franchise quarterback the Lions have searched for since Bobby Layne retired in 1962. A Heisman Trophy finalist his senior year at Oregon, Harrington seemed to possess all the tools to be a successful quarterback in the NFL.

He was handed the starting job in Week 3 of his rookie season and went through many of the struggles that rookie quarterbacks endure, finishing last in the league with a 59.9 quarterback rating. The numbers have improved each of the past two seasons, but despite the arrival in 2003 of head coach Steve Mariucci, a respected offensive mind who served as the quarterbacks coach in Green Bay during Brett Favre's early years, the Lions passing game has finished 23rd and 24th in the league the last two years, respectively.

Joey Harrington could be heading into a make-or-break season.
And now that the Lions have used their last four first-round picks on offensive talent to surround Harrington, there will be little patience if the attack continues to struggle. Veteran quarterback Jeff Garcia, who played for Mariucci in San Francisco, was signed in the offseason and will likely become a fan favorite if Harrington's inconsistent play continues.

But with the pressure seemingly building on him to produce now, Harrington insists he's just worried about wins.

"The pressure that I put on myself and that we put on ourselves in the weight room and the film room is much greater than anything or anybody outside of here can put on us because we are the ones out there working and sacrificing ourselves to win football games," he said after a minicamp earlier this month. "I am tired of losing. I want to win."

And wins, of course, is what Harrington, who has a 14-30 record as a starter, needs most to prove his critics wrong. Detroit hasn't made the playoffs since 1999 and hasn't won a playoff game since 1991. If Harrington can use the talent around him to deliver on the high expectations he's faced since entering the league and end the Lions' dubious postseason streak, the ultimate Detroit dream could come to fruition: seeing the Lions make their first-ever Super Bowl and have it happen in Detroit, site of Super Bowl XL.

But Harrington, speaking with the caution learned from past disappointments, knows the team will have to crawl before it can walk.

"People say, 'Is it your goal to be in the Super Bowl?' No, I want to be in the Super Bowl, but my goal is to win the football game ahead of me," he said. "So if your goal is to be prepared and win every football game ahead of you, then the result of that goal is you'll be in the playoffs and you'll have a shot to be in the Super Bowl. Of course it crosses my mind, but it's not something that I dwell on.

"We need to win some games first."

June 23rd, 2005, 2:41 am
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