Tim and Mike: What do the Lions need to improve upon and carry over at Cleveland?

Posted Aug 13, 2013

Tim and Mike discuss what the Lions did well against the Jets, what they need to improve upon at Cleveland, Reggie Bush's playing time and Havard Rugland's future in the NFL

With one preseason game in the books and a second one coming up Thursday night in Cleveland, some things are starting to take shape for the Lions.

On the football side of things, Ziggy Ansah had an auspicious beginning with a TD return on an interception.

Mixing football with storylines, nobody has grabbed more attention locally, nationally or internationally than Norwegian kicker Havard Rugland. Kickalicious made both of his field goal attempts.

All things considered, it was a good first game for the Lions. What do they have to carry over and improve against the Browns?

Mike: Ask the coaches, and they'll probably say everything. Coach Jim Schwartz said he wants to see better tackling in the secondary. That's something that has to improve, and it should. Teams have so little contact in training camp under rules governing what is allowed in practice that they have to sharpen their tackling skills in the preseason games.

In terms of the overall operation, the Lions looked well organized for a first preseason game. There didn't seem to be any confusion over substitutions and which players were on the field in different situations.

What stood out for you, and would you like to see more of Reggie Bush in the next game?

Reggie BushRB Reggie Bush (Photo: G.Smith/Detroit Lions)

Tim: The most encouraging thing for me was the way the Lions were able to force some turnovers and then take care of the ball on offense.

They were minus-16 in that department last year and everything they did this offseason on defense was geared toward getting more players on this roster that could make plays. It was good to see some of that translate to the field in a game situation.

The fact that the team's No. 1 free agent target on defense and their No. 1-overall pick, who also plays defense, were able to make plays and get their hands on footballs, was a great sign.

Safety Glover Quin nearly had an interception if not for a great play by the receiver to knock the ball loose and Ansah's interception and touchdown showed he's got some of playmaking ability that put him high on the Lions' draft board.

Some things need to be cleaned up, certainly, especially some of the holes in the secondary, but Friday was a good start.

As far as Reggie Bush, I'd expect him to get the bulk of his work in the third preseason game, like the rest of the offense. He's a veteran player and there's plenty of tape out there on what he can do. Coaches don't need to see a whole lot from him at this point. A series or two Thursday works for me.

Rugland has certainly stolen a lot of headlines during training camp, but has he done enough to make the team?

Mike: Kickalicious has done enough to make somebody's team – eventually. I doubt if it'll be the Lions.

David Akers is an experienced kicker who made the Pro Bowl three straight years before a groin injury contributed to him having the worst season of his career last year in San Francisco.

I can see Rugland ending up on the Lions' practice squad, or some other team's if he's cut and clears waivers. If he wants to stick with it, he can have a career in the NFL.

Punter Blake Clingan has the ability to play in the NFL, but he won't beat out Sam Martin.

Regardless of what happens with Rugland, he's been good for the Lions. He added some energy to the offseason and training camp. Agree or disagree?

Tim: I agree on all points. He's had a lot of interviews and a lot of notoriety over the last months and weeks, but he's stayed humble throughout it all and has been a great teammate. Every player I've talked to in that locker room really likes the guy.

We all saw the reaction by his teammates on the sideline after he made that first field goal Friday. They were having just as much fun as Rugland was. It's a great story and hopefully a few more kids in Europe pick up the sport because of him.

It's going to be tough to beat out Akers on this team, but he's proven he can kick in this league and he'll get his shot sooner rather than later.

Where do you want to see the biggest improvement from preseason game No. 1 to No. 2?

Mike: A lot of players are in the same category, but they have to make their mark sooner rather than later.

Four starting jobs are still open – right guard and right tackle on offense, one cornerback and a linebacker on defense. The No. 3 safety is vital because of Louis Delmas' injury history. He's on track to play, but the defense has to be covered with a quality replacement, if needed.

And the return game is open.

The coaches have enough time with three games left to settle those positions. Which ones are most pressing?

Tim: The two spots along the offensive line. The offensive line is the key to the whole operation. If they can't protect Stafford and open up some holes for the revamped run game, the Lions will struggle.

The coaches have to make the right decisions at right guard and right tackle and it would be nice for two guys to step forward sooner rather than later to assume those roles.

The fact they gave Larry Warford 53 reps on Friday tells me they are trying to get him up to speed pretty quick. I still think he has the best shot to win the job, but Dylan Gandy and Jake Scott will continue to push him.

I thought Ashlee Palmer played the best out of that trio of linebackers fighting for the last starting spot. He was a step ahead of Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis and it's really his job to lose at this point.

In terms of the safety position, the coaches seem pretty confident Don Carey can step in and play well in the case that Delmas misses time. He's had an entire spring and most of training camp to prove it. I wouldn't be surprised if the Lions keep five safeties on the final roster.

Who has the upper hand in those return competitions?

Mike: I'd be surprised if they keep five safeties, but we'll watch that develop.

The key in the return game will be who is the best at handling punts. Priority one is sure hands and ball security. Kickoff returns have been devalued with the new rules.

Nobody has taken the lead in the return game. Patrick Edwards had a good punt return called back on a penalty Friday night. Even though it didn't count, that might give him the edge – for now.

Is there a pressing theme or development you see for Thursday night in Cleveland?

Tim: Progress. Now there's a baseline that's been set and coaches want to see guys build on good performances or bounce back from poor ones.

Schwartz has said all along that the players who'll win starting jobs and roster spots will be the ones that are the most consistent. Not the ones that flash one game and disappear the next.

Can Matt Willis have another good game at receiver? Will cornerback Bill Bentley bounce back? Can rookies like Ansah, Darius Slay, Warford, Devin Taylor and Martin put together a second straight quality game?