O'HARA'S FINAL THOUGHTS: Redfern has his foot in the door

Posted Sep 10, 2017

Mike O'Hara shares his final thoughts heading into Sunday's Lions-Cardinals matchup.

Lions-Cardinals Final Thoughts:Redfern's resilience; a closing stat for Lions' D; Sunday foursome; Last Look – a Lion and Cardinal.

Kasey's calls: For the first time in four years, Kasey Redfern made a few calls to say he wouldn't be coming straight home from camp. He was going to stick around Detroit and work.

Redfern could not have been happier to relay the news to family members that he had made the Detroit Lions' 53-player roster and would be their opening-game punter.

“I called my parents, my in-laws, my grandparents,” Redfern said this week. “Those were the first people on the phone.”

The conversation was a lot different from previous years, when he called to say he was on the way home, and when to expect him.

“A big difference,” Redfern said. “We were talking about that. In the past, at some point I was either on the flight or getting the flight the next day or so.”

This was Redfern's fourth straight year in an NFL training camp since leaving Wofford. He was let go by Jacksonville in the final cuts in 2014 and '15, and by Cleveland last year. He also had brief stints with the Panthers and Chargers in those three years.

Circumstances worked in Redfern's favor after he signed with the Lions in April to work behind regular punter Sam Martin. Martin sustained an offseason foot injury that forced the Lions to put him on the non-football injury list. By rule, Martin will be unavailable for a minimum of the first six weeks.

Redfern punted well and kicked off in the preseason, and he also was the holder for kicker Matt Prater.

The punting job likely is Martin's when he returns, but Redfern has gotten his foot in the door – finally.

“It's very sweet, and there's a lot of joy,” Redfern said. “I enjoy that, but I'm not getting ahead of myself. I'm not staying in the past. I'm staying in the present. It's just a step in the process. Keep getting better, and keep going.”

Closing stat – defense: The Lions have had identical 21-3 leads on opening day the last two seasons, and have given up the lead both years. The Lions rallied back for a 39-35 win over Indianapolis last year but could not overcome a 30-point blitz by the Chargers in a 33-28 loss in 2015.

In fairness to the defense, one of San Diego's TDs was on an interception return.

However, the Chargers also scored on five of their last seven possessions – four TDs and a field goal. Last season the Colts scored on six of their last seven possessions – two field goals, four TDs – starting with a TD with five seconds left in the first half.

Sunday foursome: Four things to watch.

Offensive line: With new starters at four positions from opening day of last year to go with center Travis Swanson, the offensive line has a tough assignment protecting Matthew Stafford against an aggressive defense that led the NFL in sacks last season with 48. One asset is the fact that Matthew Stafford has dealt with pressure his entire career.

Plus, with his arm strength and quick delivery Stafford doesn't have to set and throw. A flick of the wrist launches another rocket shot.

Return game: Head coach Jim Caldwell said Friday that Dwayne Washington will handle kickoffs, with Golden Tate and rookie Jamal Agnew possibly dividing time on punts. One man's opinion: if there is a rotation, Tate will handle the tougher situations until Agnew proves he is ready for full duty. A fumbled punt deep in a team's own territory often is a game changer.

Press coverage: The concern here for the Lions is the Cardinals' secondary, not the media attention. The Cardinals will challenge the Lions' receivers to get off the line of scrimmage.

Lions RBs, together again: A lot has been made of Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick being back for the opener, and for good reason. In the last two openers, they combined for 359 yards and five TDs. And they left room for Dwayne Washington to score a TD last year on a one-yard run.

Last look, Lions: Tight end Eric Ebron. He was injured early in training camp and did not play in any of the four preseason games.

If there is a saving grace for a young player missing that much time before the start of the season, it's the fact that Ebron started last season under almost the identical scenario. He did not play in the preseason but caught five passes for 46 yards and a touchdown in the opening-game win over the Colts.

“I did the same thing last year,” Ebron said. “It's not on purpose (missing time). It's football. It depends on who you are. I'll be ready for however much I have to play.”

Last look, Cardinals: Free safety Tyrann Mathieu. His ability, versatility and instincts give Arizona's defense flexibility. He can line up at free safety in the base defense and play nickel back on passing downs, and compete at a high level at both positions.

Mathieu has been limited to 50 of 64 games in his four pro seasons, but he has to be accounted for when he is on the field. He made first-team All Pro in 2015 with five interceptions, one TD on a return and a sack.

“He's all over the place,” said Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. “He has a long history of getting his hands on the football.”