DETROIT -- NFL preseason games are often dismissed as meaningless exhibition contests with no bearing on the season and little to offer fans, save for a gruelingly long end to a football-less offseason.
Some fans will watch in an effort to curb their craving for regular season football, tuning in to watch a few drives from the starters and tuning out when they no longer recognize the names on the back of jerseys.
Admittedly, the preseason has little bearing on the regular season (Lions fans should know that best, after a 4-0 preseason resulted in a 0-16 2009). However, there is value in watching Detroit’s preseason tilt against Cleveland tonight – and not just the first quarter.
Here are a handful of areas to watch and not to watch in order to make your viewing experience a valuable one.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR IN TONIGHT'S EXHIBITION GAME BETWEEN DETROIT AND CLEVELAND
The third-round pick out of Louisiana-Lafayette has looked exceptional during training camp practices. He is a sponge when it comes to information and seems to have daily growth spurts developmentally on the field.
With all the praise that the rookie corner is receiving, it is meaningless until he shows it on the field. He should play early, so keep an eye out for number 28 in blue. Let’s see if he can replicate his practice-field success under the Ford Field lights.
The Punting Unit
I know, there is currently a fierce battle (which might sound exaggerated when talking about punters) occurring between Ryan Donahue and Ben Graham - and we’ll talk about that later – but that’s not what I’m looking for here.
I want to see who plays the gunner positions.
Safety John Wendling is a polished veteran at playing this position and does it well but that is only one side of the field. Whoever occupies the position opposite Wendling will have a strong chance of making the final 53-man roster.
Two top candidates are Maurice Stovall and Justin Miller, who will be joined by a few others from the receiver and defensive back units. Both Stovall and Miller will be fighting for roster spots, so their ability to perform in this area might solidify their spot, increasing the heat on others at their respective positions.
The young safety entering his third year has had an inconsistent camp.
Some days, he’s looked great but has struggled during some others. I will be looking at, when he comes in the game, how long he plays and how well he fares while on the field.
This could be a make or break year for Spievey and it all starts on Friday.
Both have had seemingly strong camps but it is hard to gauge the value of a lineman in a practice.
Game action will be most telling for these two.
If Reiff performs, he could ultimately push for a starting job while Fox will need to perform – and stay healthy – to earn a spot on the final roster.
With each passing day, it seems more likely that replacement referees are here to stay.
Although that is not a certainty at this point, we do know that replacement refs will be calling this contest.
I want to see how smooth the game goes, what – if any – mistakes are made and if the outcome of the game is impacted at all.
WHAT TO IGNORE
Formations and Play CallingThere is a strong possibility some fans at home are going to watch the game and scratch the head at some play calling.
The same can be said about some formations you might see.
The important thing to remember is, this is a very good opportunity for the coaching staff to evaluate their players and they may run some plays or employ some formations that give them a chance to demonstrate their value.
There also will be situations in the game where the Lions want to test their ability in a specific area.
Power running on short yardage, blitzing on third-down, etc. The key thing to remember is that although it happened in a preseason game doesn’t mean it’ll be included in the regular season game plan.
The Final Score
As mentioned above, a preseason record does not correlate with a regular season record.
Win or lose, it doesn’t matter.
Not only are the rosters going to be different once the real thing begins, the teams themselves have not prepared to face the another and will not necessarily be running the schemes they plan to employ in the regular season.