O'HARA'S FINAL THOUGHTS: New-look offense to debut

Posted Aug 9, 2014

Get Mike O'Hara's final thoughts before Saturday night's preseason opener vs. the Browns at Ford Field.

Final thoughts waiting for the kickoff of Saturday night’s Lions-Browns preseason game, featuring the Johnny Manziel Traveling Circus, at Ford Field:

Even the untrained eye – or the slightly trained one at least – should be able to notice a change in the Lions’ offense.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford has talked about how the offense will use more motion and shifts than a year ago, and that should be easily recognized by the average fan.

“I would think so,” Stafford said. “For sure, I think it’ll look different to people.”

The change isn’t only cosmetic. The object is to get better matchups for both the passing and running games.

“We’re going to make it tougher on teams to understand where guys are going to line up – what their splits are going to be -- if there’s going to be motion or not. On the outside, it helps guys with releases, and in the run game, it helps with angles.”

However, expect to see a small fraction of what the Lions will run against the Giants in the regular-season opener.

“It’s preseason,” Stafford said. “We’re not going to go out there and unload the playbook.”

Six things to watch:
1. Calvin Johnson: How will Megatron celebrate his first touchdown catch? The NFL has banned his patented celebration of dunking the ball over the crossbar after a touchdown catch, but the question of what he will do instead won’t be answered until next week at least. Johnson was held out of Saturday night’s game.
2. Eric Ebron: All signs pointed to the rookie tight end playing. Two hours before kickoff, he was on the field engaged in a friendly conversation with Manziel.

Eric EbronTE Eric Ebron (Photo: Detroit Lions)

Ebron returned to practice on Friday after missing two days with an unspecified injury. He went through a full practice, without pads, on Friday. There are high expectations that Ebron can create matchup problems for defenses who have to decide whether to cover him like he’s a wide receiver or a tight end. He has the ability to beat both.
3. Running backs: Reggie Bush and Joique Bell are solid in the first two spots, but the battle for the No. 3 spot between Theo Riddick and Mikel Leshoure will start to get sorted out. Riddick has an edge as a versatile receiver. Leshoure's strength has been as a power runner.

Montell Owens and Jed Collins are competing for the fullback job, which will not be a token position in this offense.
4. Blitz: New defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has promised a defense that will attack more. That means more blitzes from a unit that has been reliant on its front four to get to the quarterback.
This should be an opportunity for rookie linebacker Kyle Van Noy to show some of the qualities that caused the Lions to draft him in the second round. He has not stood out in training camp, but playing in a game could let him rely more on his instincts.
5. Offensive line: LaAdrian Waddle and Corey Hilliard are in a 50-50 fight to start at right tackle. The other four starting spots are settled on a unit that performed well a year ago with three new starters.
6. Johnny Manziel: No doubt, the curiosity index for the Browns’ rookie quarterback is off the chart. A large contingent of national media was present for the game, and Johnny Football was the attraction.

Brian Hoyer deserved the starting job, but in the eyes of most fans, his role is like being the warm-up act for the Beatles.

The show starts when Manziel takes over, probably sometime in the second quarter.