Preseason: The good, the bad and the unclear
The faster the final exhibition game Thursday at Buffalo gets over for the Detroit Lions, the better.
The real games can’t come soon enough.
Here are the three best things, the three worst things and then three things that aren’t so clear coming out of this preseason for the Lions:
1. From early indications, the makeover of the defensive line couldn’t have been executed much better.
They added the experience of Jason Jones and Israel Idonije at defensive end, along with the youth and athleticism of draft picks Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah and Devin Taylor. The biggest concern there is how soon will Ansah return to practice amid speculation he might have sustained a concussion in Saturday’s practice.
Assuming he’s going to be okay, if you put it together with the anchors in the middle – Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley – this has the makings of a havoc-wreaking defensive front that could set the tone for the entire defense.
The more pressure they apply, the greater the chance to force turnovers, which is what this defense needs to do to be competitive.
We’ve praised this defensive line in the past, though. It’s time they live up to the hype.
I think they will.
2. Some people shook their heads when the Lions used a fifth-round pick on a punter, but they had to do it.
Few people had heard much about Appalachian State’s Sam Martin, but he has come in and shown he’s going to be a weapon.
The defense needed a punter with a strong leg to occasionally help flip field position, and that’s exactly what Martin can do. He’s a rookie so there could be some ups and downs at times, but he has the talent to make a difference.
What’s more, he’s also helped improve the kickoff-coverage team because his kicks – like his punts – get such good hang time.
3. Running back Reggie Bush has been so effective in the passing game that some are wondering whether he might be the No. 2 receiver in reality.
As many suspected when he was signed, Bush is going to make an impact because he can turn a little screen pass into a big play.
He has fit in perfectly – both in the offense and in the locker room – and quite likely will catch more balls than anyone other than Calvin Johnson.
1. As good as Bush has been in the pass game, the Lions’ running attack in the preseason has been as bad as ever, at least with the starting offense.
Bush has rushed for 21 yards on 17 carries. That’s a 1.2-yard average with 6 yards being the longest gain.
The problem probably isn’t Bush as much as it is the first-team offensive line, which has replaced three starters.
It could all change in the regular season when defenses put an emphasis on stopping Johnson and the pass game that it helps open up the run more, but so far the new-look front hasn’t been able to run-block.
2. With Johnson out the last two games, the opportunity was there for one of the other receivers to emerge.
That hasn’t happened, raising some doubts about their ability to get separation and whether they’re still missing a threat on the outside to complement Johnson.
Nate Burleson (broken leg) and Ryan Broyles (knee surgery) still have to prove in game competition that they’re back to form following season-ending injuries.
The biggest disappointment, however, has been that once again the optimism over Patrick Edwards’ off-season performance didn’t carry over into the preseason games (four catches for only 16 yards).
No surprise that there are reports of the Lions shopping around to try to find a NFL-caliber receiver to put on the other side of the field from Johnson.
3. Because of their track record for lacking discipline, the Lions’ five personal-foul penalties – and 11 total infractions for 102 yards – is cause for concern.
Coach Jim Schwartz had to make a statement. He did that by benching defensive end Willie Young for the rest of the game after Young was called for taunting New England quarterback Tom Brady for no apparent reason other than foolishness.
Does that finally send the message? Or is someone going to have to lose a job one of these times?
Former NFL player John Lynch, an analyst for FOX, called the penalties “selfish.”
“That kills your team,” Lynch said. “It goes to the coaching staff.”
1. Ask any offensive lineman and he will tell you how important it is to have continuity up front with players who have worked together a lot.
The Lions, on the other hand, have continued to have a revolving door of candidates to take over at right guard (Larry Warford, Dylan Gandy, Jake Scott) and right tackle (Jason Fox, Corey Hilliard, LaAdrian Waddle).
No one has emerged as the clear-cut choice and that’s probably a bad sign so late in the preseason.
2. There’s also been no definitive winner for the return-specialist jobs.
Undrafted rookie Steven Miller, a 5-foot-7 speedster, was the first choice on both kick and punt returns in the all-important third preseason game.
But he never got a chance to return a kick and he’s returned four punts this preseason for a measly 4.5-yard average. The highlight has been that he’s had no ball-security issues in games.
The choice on kicks apparently comes down to the inexperience-but-upside of Miller, the experience of six-year veteran Micheal Spurlock (one return for 26 yards) or possibly Edwards.
On punts, Miller, Spurlock (four returns for a 5.5-yard average) and Edwards (two returns for 4.5-yard average) are also the top options. Edwards broke the longest return of the preseason but it was called back because of a penalty.
Ideally, someone would have made a bigger impression by this point, but that’s difficult to do when there are so few opportunities.
3. The No. 2 starting cornerback job, opposite Chris Houston, remains a source of concern after rookie Darius Slay (second-round pick) had some rough moments against the Patriots.
Veteran quarterbacks are going to try to pick on the rookie. Slay seems to have the confidence needed at that position to bounce back and keep improving. We’ll see.
The Lions thought they had a decent back-up plan in eight-year veteran Ron Bartell, just in case the young cornerbacks weren’t quite ready. But Bartell suffered a shoulder injury early in the camp and then struggled when he returned.
The secondary definitely was upgraded with the addition of safety Glover Quin, but this cornerback spot and the ongoing health issues of the other safety, Louis Delmas, make you wonder.
Several key Lions – Suh, Johnson (bruised knee), Ansah – continue to be held out of practice.
Schwartz refuses to comment on injuries this close to the regular season, including whether Ansah indeed suffered a concussion.