Detroit Lions to Watch in Jets-Lions Game
After months of anticipation and even more speculation, the Detroit Lions finally return to football the evening of Friday, August 9.
But at the same time, the Detroit Lions are going to be playing football at Ford Field. Even when you consider that it's only a precursor to "real" football, it's still exciting.
Once you get past the initial "football is back" hype, though, remember that preseason games are exciting for a completely different reason than any other games. They're exciting because the team finally gets a chance to see how their new acquisitions play in a game situation, and how far their returning players have come.
It's not a "real" football game, but it's a worthy precursor in which we can get a first look at some of the Lions' most interesting players, new and old.
Who are those guys and what makes them so interesting? Well, you're here to find out, aren't you?
Reggie Bush, RB
Arguably the Detroit Lions' most important pickup in the 2013 offseason, Reggie Bush has a lot left to prove.
He said so himself in an interview with Tim Twentyman at DetroitLions.com.
Certainly, while Bush isn't going to prove anything to anyone in a preseason game, it will be a great first look at what he can do in the Lions system for a couple of drives.
Just don't get your hopes up too high. The truly intriguing wrinkles Bush adds to the offense probably won't show up against the Jets, or at any time in the preseason.
That's something the Lions should want to keep under wraps until the regular season. No reason to give opposing coaches any meaningful game film to study.
Ashlee Palmer, OLB
The Lions' competition for starting outside linebacker is open, but according to the Lions' unofficial depth chart, Palmer is leading the pack.
Of course, practice sessions are no time to gauge a potential starter, so Palmer will be someone to keep an eye on. How well does he know the scheme? Is he where he needs to be? Is he making tackles?
Linebackers don't play a position that can be judged by their stat line. Tackles are misleading, and any other stat is rare enough to be generally misrepresentative. If Palmer comes up with an interception or forced fumble, it doesn't necessarily mean he had a good game. If he does neither, it doesn't mean he had a bad game.
Playing linebacker is all about discipline and knowing where you're supposed to be, and that doesn't show up on the stat sheet. It will show up on the game film.
Håvard Rugland, K
Håvard Rugland is about to play in his first career football game, at any level.
Everything he's done to this point is about to be moot, other than that he earned the right to participate in a Lions preseason game.
So we know Rugland can kick. He has gone basically toe-to-toe (no pun intended) with six-time All-Pro David Akers in training camp, and given himself at least a chance to win a job in the NFL.
But now it gets very real. Rugland will be surrounded by a (small) crowd and 11 people lined up against him who really want to block his kicks.
This is the moment that we see whether "Kickalicious" is an NFL kicker, or a Norwegian guy with a cool trick shot video.
All the Draft Picks
Really, I could have filled the rest of these with draft picks.
How will Ziggy Ansah fare in his first NFL action?
Does Darius Slay look like an instant starter?
How much playing time will Larry Warford get, and how will he fare?
The questions go on, with the later draft picks all going something like, "so what does this guy have to offer?" This is the first time any of these players will go up against NFL-caliber competition (though that's a loose term to describe who plays in the second half).
This game will be far too soon to draw any conclusions about these players, but it's a good time for them to formulate some introductions.
Patrick Edwards, WR
After impressing as a highly-touted undrafted free agent in 2012, Patrick Edwards has flown somewhat under the radar in 2013.
He hasn't escaped the notice of the Lions coaching staff, which listed him as a second-stringer at both wide receiver and kick returner on their unofficial depth chart.
Granted, the Lions' wide receiver unit isn't the deepest on the team, so the fact that Edwards has seemingly rocketed up it should be taken with a dose of realism.
Still, it looks like Edwards has a real shot to be an impact player in both the offense and on special teams, and he still has something to prove. That means he'll be playing this preseason game like it means something, and that alone makes him worth keeping an eye on.
Louis Delmas, S
It looks more and more like Louis Delmas' knee is going to have to be managed in a long-term sense.
It's no longer a simple matter of nursing Delmas back to health, then letting him go full-tilt. It's about managing his injury to maximize his playing time.
Delmas deserves respect for trying to continue his career through what appears to be (but is not confirmed to be) a chronic knee problem, but it raises some worries.
For starters, will Delmas play in this preseason game at all? If he does, how much? One defensive series? Two? Select plays?
And more importantly, when Delmas does play, will he look like the first safety chosen in the 2009 NFL Draft, or will he look like a guy nursing a knee injury?
The answer to that question will answer many more about the fate of the Lions' secondary this year.
Kellen Moore/Thaddeus Lewis, QB
It's not really fair to highlight one without the other here.
Both Kellen Moore and Thaddeus Lewis will be battling it out for the Lions' third quarterback spot (assuming there is one), and even though they'll be going up against third- and fourth-string defenses with offenses to match, they both have something to prove.
Moore has to show that he's grown tremendously from his rookie season both in terms of decision-making and arm strength.
Lewis has to show how his greater NFL experience gives him an edge over the incumbent Moore, who is better-acquainted with the offensive system.
At the point in the game that Moore and Lewis will get in, stats won't be that important. The coaches will be watching for footwork, confidence, arm accuracy, situational awareness and good decision-making. Whether or not those things result in catches and yards is secondary, and more up to the receivers.
For quarterbacks, the second half of a preseason game is perhaps the only time that a good decision that results in an incompletion is markedly better than a bad decision that results in a touchdown.
Nick Fairley, DT
Nick Fairley has been all over the news this season, for markedly better reasons than he was last season.
This offseason, he has guaranteed a Super Bowl via Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk, declared himself and his linemate Ndamukong Suh the best defensive tackle combo in football via Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com and made headlines by losing roughly 15 pounds from where he played last year via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
Last season, you may recall defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham expressing some frustration with Fairley's lack of maturity, as he struggled to get into shape in training camp, via Anwar S. Richardson at MLive.com.
This year, head coach Jim Schwartz said, via Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com, that Fairley reported to camp "in great shape," even compared to where he was in minicamp.
Now, after all the talk, the reports, the hype, fans get to see Fairley in action.
Better yet, fans may get to see him in action against maligned former Lions guard (and current Jets guard) Stephen Peterman. So enjoy that.
Chaz Schilens, WR
Speaking of Lions-Jets connections, former Jets receiver Chaz Schilens is about to face off against his old team in the first game with his new team.
Of course, while interesting, it's mostly irrelevant. What's relevant is whether Schilens can play receiver.
He's buried on the Lions' unofficial depth chart, but that may be more a product of his short time on the roster than his actual skill level. When the Lions play the Jets, Schilens will have been a Lion for two weeks and two days. That's probably not enough time for the Lions to consider moving him up the depth chart.
However, if Schilens starts to prove himself with a notable impact in this preseason game (that could mean catches, blocks, special teams plays, you name it), that should begin his ascent.
It's unlikely that he rises higher than fourth on the depth chart by the time the season starts, but at least that gets him on the roster, which is a lot better than where he stands now.