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Kevin Jones Ready To Pick Up Where He Left Off...
Lions tailback Kevin Jones had little playing time as a rookie due to an injury in the first half of the 2004 season, but in the last seven games he rushed for 825 yards, more than anyone in the NFL. His rush-per-carry was the leagues' best among players with at least 100 attempts. By the end of the season, opponents were already preparing to face Jones in 2005.

They better be ready to do more of the same this year.

"He is light years ahead of where he was last year as a rookie," said head coach Steve Mariucci said of the second-year halfback. "He's been through it all. He's had success, he's in better shape and he's stronger. He's very well coached-up on what we are doing. He's really developing his skills in the passing game and blocking game."

As staffer Jennifer Hadden recently noted, in 2005, Jones will have an opportunity to showcase his ability to run in the open field, due to the increased focus on the depth and talent of the passing game. Receivers Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, Kevin Johnson and Mike Williams have the potential to offensively dominate a game -- or create open routes for Jones.

"Everybody wants to talk about the big wide receivers and how we are going to make the team go," said Roy Williams. "But in my opinion it's going to be the running back that's going to make us go. As long as we can run the football it will keep another safety down there and that's going to make our job a lot easier."

Jones also believes that the passing and running games are going to complement each other this season and make for an outstanding offense. Opponents cannot gear up to stop the run, or the Lions will be able to pass successfully. Also, if they drop defenders back to stop the pass, Jones should have big holes to run through.

"I believe that a good running game is the cornerstone to any offense," said Joey Harrington. "Kevin, at the end of the season, developed into a great runner, and if he can continue that then we'll be just fine."

Continue that? How about build on it?

After watching the Lions work out earlier this month, ESPN insider John Clayton advised readers that "from the look of him on the practice field, Jones could be the league's best back this season. For one, he got bigger through a rigorous weight lifting regimen during the offseason. He's 230 pounds and looks faster than a year ago. A former 100-meter sprinter, Jones has stopped his tendency to bounce plays to the outside. He hits holes with power and authority."

Clayton summed up by adding: "The lowest selected (No. 30) of the Lions No. 1s, Jones should be the first star to emerge. ..."

And since he racked up 906 yards over the final eight games last season, the obvious question is: Does Jones think about rushing for 1,800 yards this year?

"I think about it, but I don't have a set number," Jones told Detroit Free Press sports writer Nicholas J. Cotsonika. "I just want to win. I don't want to lose anymore. We had enough of that last season. I just want to win the most games that we can and play in the Super Bowl. That's my main goal."

It's worth noting that Jones has capable backups. The versatile Shawn Bryson is as valuable as ever now because fullback Cory Schlesinger is out with a fractured fibula, and the Lions need Bryson to help fill that hole until about the third regular-season game, Oct. 2 at Tampa Bay.

Artose Pinner has opened some eyes this year. He had a strong 22-yard run against the Browns.

"I have been around Pro Bowl tailbacks several times," Mariucci said. "But from one to three, this is the deepest."

Maybe so, but I'll be very surprised if either Bryson or Pinner handle anything more substantial than minor change-of-pace duty -- with Bryson, because of his superior receiving skills, being the more likely contributor. And even then, at least according to Clayton, Jones is expected to take over Bryson's role as the third-down receiving back and be more involved in the passing game.

I agree with that notion. The belief here is that Mariucci is smart enough to fully utilize his budding superstar, who is doing everything in his power to make the coach's decision in that regard easier.

In fact, Jones is fine-tuning his body. He worked out hard in the off-season and put on about five pounds, but he has been feeling it a little bit.

"I'm trying to bring it down," said Jones, who is listed at 228. "I'm still trying to stay in shape so I can carry the load."

According to Cotsonika, Jones is relatively quiet, but he sounds like he is becoming a leader off the field as well as on. He said he learned a lot from the losses, that there were a lot of things he could have done better as far as blocking, catching the ball and knowing where to be on the field.

"Just dealing with myself and trying to be perfect in my assignments is my main thing," he said.

Asked again if gaining 1,800 yards was a realistic goal, he echoed his earlier comment.

"My goal is to win," he said. "So however many yards it takes for us to win is what I want to get."

I'm betting it'll be enough for Jones to finish 2005 as a top-10 Fantasy back. ...

Other notes of interest. ...

According to Booth Newspapers beat writer Tom Kowalski, coaches are giving Harrington more responsibility when it comes to altering plays than they have in the past.

Mariucci would prefer to see his offense get into the end zone a few more times, but he's been quite pleased with Harrington's new-found control of the offense.

"There are some things we're asking of the quarterbacks. We're allowing him to alter plays a little bit," Mariucci said Sunday. "We're giving him options at the line of scrimmage and they're all handling that pretty darn well. There are a variety of options we give the quarterback.

"Most teams have it; it's just a matter of how much you want to do it."

Mariucci believes Harrington, who is going into his fourth season of the West Coast offense, is equipped to handle the additional workload.

"Why are we giving him more? We think he can handle more and we think the team can handle more," Mariucci said. "We don't have rookies all over the place who are just trying to figure out where to line up. We can take another step or two. Are we the Colts and having [quarterback Peyton Manning] call every play at the line of scrimmage? Of course not. But, we are adding to what the quarterback is responsible for."

Kowalski went on to note that Harrington now has the freedom to make decisions in a wide range of ways. He can either alter the pass routes of the existing play, flip a play from right to left (or vice versa), change a check-with-me play (from pass-to-run or run-to-pass) or, most importantly, call a completely different play at the line of scrimmage.

"He has that authority and it's going pretty well," said Mariucci, who has been happy with Harrington's overall progress.

Another new element of Detroit's offense is that they're going to emphasize going downfield more.

"You list a couple of 'shots' (plays downfield) that you want," Mariucci said, referring to the game plan's 15 scripted plays to start a game. "They can happen anytime, anywhere, whether it's after a return or a turnover or if you get the urge."

And that urge seems likely to pay off on a fairly regular basis given the team's receiving corps.

As Detroit News beat writer Mike O'Hara noted this morning, there is almost a new cast of pass catchers from last year. Roy Williams is the only true holdover among the receivers. Rogers went out in the first game because of a broken right collarbone. Mike Williams, Johnson and tight end Marcus Pollard are all newcomers to Detroit.

As intriguing as a healthy Rogers might be, Roy Williams is a player I expect to make a strong push towards joining the league's elite receivers this year.

That's a theory Lions coordinator Ted Tollner is also selling.

"Roy's ready for a big-time year," the veteran coach told O'Hara. "Roy can do it all. I don't see any limitations with him right now. He's a hard worker. He's very prideful. He's very into the meetings, the mental part. He knows what he's doing. When he turns himself loose, he's gifted."

In addition to being fully healthy -- a severely sprained left ankle suffered in Week 4 limited his cutting ability the rest of the season -- Williams will also benefit from a full season spent at flanker.

He began his rookie season at split end, with Rogers at flanker. Rogers went out for the season in the first game and Williams eventually was moved to flanker.

Flanker is the prime receiving position in the West Coast offense. Williams will see more passes thrown his way than for any position -- a development that should (Harrington willing) result in No. 1 Fantasy receiver total this fall.