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Published: Friday, 4/28/2006

Lions' Millen and Marinelli say they're on same page

Maybe this NFL draft will be different for the Detroit Lions.

Maybe this year Lions president Matt Millen will climb out of the muck of the past, awake from the nightmare that this franchise has become and use Detroit's first-round pick to acquire a potential starter who's also a solid citizen and has a great work ethic.

One day away from the 2006 draft and six years into Millen's reign as the Big Kahuna, the Lions' talent search has reached a crossroads.

High on the list of potential first-rounders for the Lions, who have the No. 9 overall selection, are Texas defensive back Michael Huff, Florida State defensive tackle Brodrick Bunkley, Florida State linebacker Ernie Sims, Tennessee defensive back Jason Allen, North Carolina State defensive tackle John McCargo, Southern California offensive lineman Winston Justice and Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler.

The Lions held their annual pre-draft press conference Wednesday featuring Millen, new coach Rod Marinelli, and much ado about nothing.

While Millen and Marinelli played it close to the vest regarding the Lions' most intimate draft secrets, Millen emphasized this year's selection process will be different.

No, Millen still has final say on all draft picks.

And don't rule out Millen giving legitimate consideration to Vernon Davis, the speedy Maryland tight end who plays like a wide receiver, despite the Lions selecting receivers with their last three first-round picks.

However, Millen made headlines when he admitted that his my-way-or-the-highway strategy on draft day hasn't produced the desired results.

"When we started this process, the one thing that became clear is whenever we would speak about personnel, the common thread we always came down to was the same type of guy. I need to pay attention to that and get the right type of person," Millen said. "There are times when I haven't done that.

"I think if we pick and make the non-talented issues a little bit more of a priority, we're better off because we're going to get the right kind of player."

A defensive-minded head coach, Marinelli won't divulge how players such as Huff, Bunkley, Sims, Allen and McCargo rank on Detroit's draft board.

Marinelli spoke cautiously about certain players possessing physical and mental characteristics the Lions believe in. Those who don't have those qualities, no matter how talented, are less likely to become Lions.

"It's about how hard the man is willing to play. Then you look at how hard he's willing to be coached," Marinelli said. "So you've got to find the type of men for whom football is so important that I've got to lock them out of the facility. That's what I'm looking for and that's what I'm going to find."

Millen and former coach Steve Mariucci had differing opinions on players and didn't always see eye-to-eye on draft day. For now, Millen and Marinelli anticipate working together.

"I don't think that will be a problem at all," Millen said.

"We've been on the same page all the way," Marinelli said. "We're looking for the same guy."

Long-suffering fans would like to see the Lions take Huff, a hard-hitting safety and cornerback. Most draft experts have Huff pegged as a top-10 pick. He might be available. Huff would stabilize the secondary in Detroit's new Cover 2 defense. If Millen and Marinelli are really on the same page, Huff makes the most sense for a team in need of immediate defensive help.

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