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matthew stafford and calving jjohnsonAs the Detroit Lions prepare to take on the Cleveland Browns tonight at Ford Field, many fans want to know what they can  expect from the Lions in their pre-season opener.

Now, of course when it comes to the Lions, many people are excited to see the new look of this offense under coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. While some may think that they have brought some unique and grand system to the Lions, Lombardi says the trademark of the Lions offense, is to simply move the ball, score points and not turn the ball over.

Moving the ball and scoring the points, Protecting the football. I think it is flexibility. ” Coach Lombardi said. “If we have to get in 22 personnel and pound the ball to win the game in four-minute offense, we want to be able to do that. We also have the weapons to spread them out and throw the ball around a little bit. It’s flexibility I think, doing whatever it takes to win the game.”

“They’ve had a lot of success here. We’ve certainly kept some continuity with some of the terminology and some of the principles they’ve run here in the past. So you just try to mix a little bit of the old in with a little bit of the new. Make sure that you’re allowing these players that have a lot of ability to go out and execute.”

“It’s not exactly where you want it to be, but I’m encouraged by our progress. It’s still early and as a coach you always see the problems. It’s just little details that the guys are trying to learn and are learning. You look at the learning curve, you look at when our first game is and I feel good where we’re at.”

At this point, I think it’s safe to say that all eyes are on quarterback Matthew Stafford. I know he won’t be in the game long, since it’s the first pre-season game of the season but he still has a lot to prove, even if he is only on the field for one-quarter.

While there are Stafford fans out there , who don’t think all the pressure should be on Stafford, coach Lombardi and I agree that pressure is part of being playing quarterback.

“I think that’s the quarterback position.” Coach Lombardi said.” All of the pressure is always going to be on him. Like all competitive people, and he’s a highly-competitive guy, they put more pressure on themselves than anyone else does. It’s fair.”

Coach Lombardi is exactly right, when he says it is fair that there is pressure on Stafford.

I said this before and I will say it again, after signing wide receiver Golden Tate, and drafting tight end Eric Ebron, I am sold that the Lions are definitely challenging Stafford to step up. At this point, there is no reason for him to fail, he has arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL with Calvin Johnson and you add that with acquisitions of wide receiver Golden Tate and now Ebron. I think this will be the season, we really find out if the Lions can count on Stafford as their true franchise quarterback.

Nevertheless, I do encourage people to lookout for the under the radar quarterback battle between Kellen Moore and James Franklin, because according to Coach Caldwell, both “are competing hard.”

Now, I know there are a lot fans out there who are eager to see Calvin “Megatron” Johnson and Golden Tate and for good reason but don’t forget about Ebron and the other receivers like Kevin Ogletree, Corey Fuller and Kris Durham who are battling for the next top spot on the wide receiver depth chart.

Now, if your someone who is eager to see Ebron, you will be happy to know that Lombardi has been very happy with Ebron’s progression in training camp.

“He’s doing good.” Coach Lombardi on Ebron’s progression. “He’s got a lot of natural ability and natural instincts. We were throwing a lot of stuff at him and every week you can kind of see his comfort level increase. When that happens, you see his performance get better. He’s going to be a concern for defenses. We’re not putting too much pressure on him. We don’t expect him to come out and be (New Orleans Saints TE) Jimmy Graham. Jimmy Graham just finished his fourth year. His first year, I don’t think he had 1,000 yards. We just have to understand that he’s a part of a big puzzle. He’s not carrying this offense. He’s going to be a big part of helping us be successful.”

While there are plenty of people excited to see Ebron, coach Caldwell reminded the media on Wednesday to not forget about tight end Joseph Fauria.

“We’ve seen, certainly, improvement in terms of his ability to block in-line.” Coach Caldwell speaking on the improvement he has seen from Fauria. “He’s always been able to block just in terms of back-side. It’s something that he really concentrated on this offseason and you can see it has paid off for him. It will be great to have an opportunity to see those guys in action on Saturday. We’re all looking forward to that, that’s when you really get an opportunity. We don’t do a whole lot of live blocking, but we’ve done enough to notice that he’s gotten better.”

I don’t about you but I’m happy to hear that Caldwell is happy with the production that they are receiving from Fauria. When the Lions drafted Ebron, one of my mains concern was how were the Lions going to handle the fact that they now have a three tight end situation. Although, we are just starting pre-season action, it is still nice to hear that Fauria is standing out in camp, now he just has to continue standing out under the bright lights.

Now, when it comes to the wide receiver battle, just know that as of right now, Ogletree is the No.3 receiver on the depth chart. However, as pre-season gets underway tonight against the Browns, keep in mind that the depth chart positioning could change very quickly at the wide receiver position.

“I hate saying one, two, three.” Coach Lombardi said. “Obviously, I don’t hate saying Calvin (Johnson) is number one, but he’s a special player. I think every player has a skill set and when you call a play or you’re designing a play for a game plan, what skill set or what tool do I need for this play? I think Kevin shows that he’s got a skill set that can work very well in a large portion of our offense. But there will be times where there’s going to be another guy we’d rather stick there. I think he’s established himself as a guy that certainly has a great chance to be a productive member of our offense.”

“I’m really encouraged by both of them. Corey has shown a lot of ability to stretch the field, get down field and make big plays. He’s got a skill set that is very enticing for speed and he’s tall and runs good routes. I’m really impressed with him. Kris has proven it in this league. He’s had production, is sure-handed and runs really good routes. Kind of two different players, but I like them both.”

Overall, it’s pretty great to see and hear that the production from the receiving core is good, I have said it time and time again, that it can’t all be on Johnson and Tate. Plus, it’s great to see some many receivers really putting in work and competing for the next top spot on the depth chart.

Which leads me to the next big area of the Lions’ offense to watch, that area being the running back position. Coming into the season, the Lions have a nice amount of depth at running back and I’m really excited to see the dynamic duo of Reggie Bush and Joique Bell.

Bell had a break-out season last year, where he rushed for 650 yards on 166 carries while working in tandem with Bush last season. Together they combined to become the first tandem of running backs in league history to both have 500 yards rushing and receiving in the same season. I don’t know about you but I think could maximize what they did last year, especially Bell.

I know many people still look at Bush as the main guy in the backfield, I personally look at Bell as the main guy. When you’re talking about Bell, you’re talking about a tough runner who can create between the tackles. He may not have lightning quick speed but he has great burst then if you add that with his good vision, power and agility, Bell is truly a force no matter where he is on the field. Most importantly, he represents what you want in a running back, which is someone who runs with heart and passion. He doesn’t dance around in the backfield, he runs right at defenders and if needed, he uses his athleticism and leaps over defenders occasionally.

Plus, if that’s not enough, you have to remember, that the Lions have a few aces up their sleeves this year at running back and by ace, I mean rookie running back Theo Riddick.

“Before coming here, there are a few guys that jump out at you on film.” Coach Caldwell speaking on Riddick. “I was watching special teams, and every single time on the unit he’s on, he shows up.  He’s got intensity, he hustles, he’s got desire, toughness, all of those things and he’s a very, very capable runner.  Also, he can catch the ball out of the backfield. (He’s) very tough to handle in one-on-one situations, so he had a great spring and we anticipate this fall he’s going to perform equally as well, so we’re excited about that.”

“If he does flourish, it’s because of the system and the maturity and things of that nature. He’s maturing, he’s been in the league a little bit, and now he’s really feeling confident about what he’s doing.  I do think I really feel good about him, and he’s going to continue to get better.”

Of course, we can’t talk about the Lions offense without talking about the offensive line and the full-back position. Now, in the past, the Lions were known for their inconsistent offensive line but over the years, we have seen them get better and as they head into their first pre-season game of the season, Caldwell continues to praise their efforts in camp, saying as group they work well together.

“Well, it makes a tremendous difference when you’ve got a group of guys that have worked well together.” Coach Caldwell replied. “It’s a cohesive bunch and as you know, your lines are the heartbeats of your team.  Your offensive and defensive lines set the tone at the line of scrimmage. It’s extremely important, obviously, in terms of your wins and losses.  So to have an offensive line that has some bulk and has some intelligence, and has a real strong desire to excel and makes a willing bunch, it’s a fun group to be around.”

Coach Caldwell is just as excited about the full-back position. According to Caldwell, all three fullbacks (Montell Owens, Chad Abram and Jed Collins) are bringing different things to the table, helping to make the Lions even more lethal.

“Those three guys and obviously Abram as well, are doing a good job.” Coach Caldwell said. ” We’re an offense that utilizes the fullback on and off through the ball game, so it’s an important spot for us.  Fortunately, those three guys have the experience and background, and have done quite a bit.  Montell is a very, very multi-faceted guy.  He does a little bit more than a fullback for us, and that’s even excluding the special teams work.  Jed’s been around the block, he’s been in this offense for a while, he has a good feel for it and does a nice job adjusting to some of the difficult parts of it.”

Now I know there are some who undervalue the full back position but in this new Lion offense, I think that position will prove to be very valuable.

Nonetheless,  going into their pre-season opener against the Browns, Coach Caldwell says his main focus is on establishing a good rhythm on both sides of the ball.

“Well, first and foremost, I think it’s important that we have a good rhythm on both sides of the ball.” Coach Caldwell on   Really the basics (and) the fundamentals (is what we’re focused on).  We’re looking at alignment, assignment, obviously the technique of the fundamentals are the things that are extremely important to us in the rhythm of the game.   We don’t want a lot of penalties and those kinds of things.  Ultimately, we want to win and that’s the key.  A lot of people look at the preseason and treat things differently.  But (the way) we look at it, as long as they keep the score, we’re concerned about winning.  We’re anticipating going out there and trying to do our absolute best to get that done.”

“[Offensively] One of the things we’re looking for is being very efficient and obviously, put points on the board. I think that’s the thing you look for, for all offenses. It’s our offense, it’s the Lions’ offense. There’s some elements of it from a little bit of everything, but the fact of the matter is, we want those guys to make certain that we get a good sense of the running game, that we can mix it up with our pass to kind of tie in with it as well. Also, it has the ability to open it up a little bit because of the weapons that we have. We’ve got a pretty versatile offense, but efficiency is the thing we’re looking for and putting points on the board.”

 “[Defensively] Really the big thing that we are trying to do is see if they can get lined up properly, execute their techniques properly, make certain that if they’re on defense how well they can tackle, how well they run to the ball, those kinds of things, see how they match up with the speed with a different team other than our own and just to see how they handle themselves.  You get an opportunity to really kind of size them up and see where they fit.”

I don’t know about you but I am excited for some Lions football and judging by Coach Caldwell comments, he and his team are too.

“I’m excited about everything.” Coach Caldwell said. “Really for me, it’s a great opportunity I think to see our guys in action. That’s the fun part of it. I’ve heard one young man say, ‘They pay me to practice, but we play the games for free.’ The guys love to play the game and coaches love to coach them as well. It’ll be a lot of fun. I’m excited about every single position. I’m going to be wide-eyed and looking at the guys, how they function and react and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

 

Written by LBeasley (Lauren Beasley), Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit

For more of L-Beasley’s (Lauren Beasley) sports news and in-depth sports content, click here.

Plenty Of Eyes Are On The Lions Offense As They Face Off Against the Browns was originally published on wchbnewsdetroit.com

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