- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 21, 2006

Since linebacker turned broadcaster Matt Millen became Detroit’s general manager in 2001 with no coaching or front office experience, the Lions have been the NFL’s laughingstock.

Detroit, 2-12 this year, is 23-71 in six seasons under Millen. The next worst team during that span is Arizona at 31-63.

And yet, Millen, now on his fourth coach — Rod Marinelli succeeded Dick Jauron, the interim replacement for Steve Mariucci who took over for Marty Mornhinweg — survives. No one knows if owner William Clay Ford will finally wake up and fire Millen when they have their state of the franchise sitdown after the season.

But make no mistake, Millen certainly is responsible for the dismal state of the Lions, who have just three players left that he inherited. Detroit was 46-50 in the six seasons before Millen’s arrival, making the playoffs three times.

An NFL scout didn’t blame rookie coach Marinelli for Detroit’s six straight losses, especially since eight of their starters —including Pro Bowl defensive tackle Shaun Rogers and top running back Kevin Jones — are hurt.

“Marinelli is very well respected and liked by that team,” the scout said. “I think their battle cry will be to make life as comfortable as they can for a coach they respect. It’s certainly not going to be for Matt Millen.”

Detroit is one of just two teams — Houston being the other — to rank in the bottom quarter of the league in yards, points, yards allowed and points allowed.

Some of the Lions’ woes stem from the failures of three of Millen’s five top 10 draft picks. Quarterback Joey Harrington, third overall in 2002, went 18-37 with a 68.3 passer rating in four seasons. Receiver Charles Rogers, second overall in 2003, caught just 36 passes before being cut by Marinelli this summer. And receiver Mike Williams, 10th overall in 2005, had 29 catches as a rookie and only four this year after being beaten out by Arena League product Mike Furrey.

Then there’s 2002 second-rounder Shaun Rogers, who was suspended for the first four games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Rogers had surgery on his right knee while suspended and never returned to practice before going on injured reserve. And Rogers, never a workout warrior or team leader, missed the entire preseason with a shoulder injury.

“The thing we’ve got to do is get Shaun in top shape,” Marinelli said. “Hopefully, we’ll get him cleaned up, get all the surgeries he needs, get him rehabbed, get him ready for the offseason [conditioning program]. Hopefully, he sees the direction we’re going. He can be a force.”

While Rogers’ attitude is at issue, the 23-year-old Jones’ health also is a serious concern. The Lisfranc injury to Jones’ left foot was so severe that he could miss all of 2007.

Saban to Tide? — NFL.com is reporting that Dolphins coach Nick Saban remains the leading candidate to fill the vacancy opened by Mike Shula’s firing at Alabama. If Saban does leave, he would again be succeeding a Shula (albeit twice removed in Miami since Jimmy Johnson and Dave Wannstedt coached the Dolphins between him and NFL Hall of Famer Don Shula).

Fallen star — David Carr, the first draft pick in Texans history, looked like he finally had blossomed early this season. However, Carr has just one touchdown pass in the past eight games and threw four interceptions in last Sunday’s 40-7 loss to New England. That’s hardly a positive prelude for Sunday’s date with Indianapolis. The Colts are 10-0 against the Texans and have sacked Carr 33 times.

“He’s my boy,” Colts Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney said of Carr, who has been sacked 40 times this year.

Brownout — Cleveland is 1-11 in AFC North games under second-year coach Romeo Crennel with eight of those losses by at least 10 points.

Gone in a New York minute — Jets quarterback Patrick Ramsey, who started 23 games for Washington from 2002 to 2004, has been dropped to third string in New York behind rookie Kellen Clemens. Ramsey, who’s due a $1.4-million roster bonus this spring, is sure to be cut before that.



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