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Published: Friday, 8/22/2003

Harrington for now needs to be role player

Joey Harrington is the key figure in the Detroit Lions' return to respectability. If he succeeds, in all likelihood so will the Lions.

Lions chairman William Clay Ford ordered team president Matt Millen to select Harrington with the third pick in the 2002 NFL draft. Millen later compared Harrington to Joe Montana.

Time out.

It's pointless to compare Harrington to all-time greats.

Let's hope Harrington can be as effective as Jeff Garcia, who new Lions coach Steve Mariucci coached to Pro Bowl success with the 49ers.

The Lions aren't paying Mariucci $5 million a year for him to ask Harrington to be the next Montana. For the time being, Mariucci is going to ask Harrington to hand the ball to James Stewart and take whatever passing lanes the defense leaves open.

With Stewart essentially a straight-ahead runner and rookie receiver Charles Rogers still feeling his way around, Detroit's offense lacks a true playmaker.

Mariucci has basically said that Harrington is still learning the offense. The Lions don't have the ingredients for Mariucci to take the wraps off Harrington.

Until further notice, Harrington will have to be satisfied with being an expensive role player.

Some second-guessers have suggested that Harrington and No. 2 QB Mike McMahon should switch roles, with Harrington becoming McMahon's understudy.

The message seems to be that McMahon gives the Lions the best chance of winning.

I'm rejecting the message because Harrington, not McMahon, is Detroit's quarterback of record.

That's been the story of the Lions. At the first sign of trouble - panic.

Harrington is coming off a so-so exhibition performance against the Bengals. He didn't appear all that sharp, but he was also the victim of some key drops.

The result was a 23-10 Detroit loss. So what? It was a preseason game. Organized practice.

I'd like to reiterate that changing quarterbacks is a bad idea.

The knock on McMahon when the Lions drafted him in the fifth round out of Rutgers was that while he's extremely mobile, he isn't an accurate passer. Two years later that perception hasn't changed.

The Lions have to become stronger on offense and defense before they can be considered a legitimate playoff contender.

It'll be interesting to see how Mariucci handles Harrington. As the biggest-name coach to change teams in the off-season, we'll see if he allows his ego to control his thoughts.

Mariucci shouldn't feel pressured to showcase his young quarterback, throwing 30-35 times a game. Harrington isn't ready for the extended workload.

Lions fans are tough on quarterbacks. Detroit QBs are only as good as their last pass.

Harrington, though, isn't a rookie anymore. He needs to have some success this season.

He also needs Mariucci to continue to believe in him.

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