O'Hara: What do the Lions need to test, and prove, in the final preseason game?

Posted Aug 29, 2013

The disparity in Reggie Bush's stats indicate how -- in many ways -- the preseason is a testing ground and not necessarily a proving ground

One statistic from the Lions’ first three preseason games is so small that it stands out.

Another stands out because it’s big.

Both involve Reggie Bush.

Bush has carried the ball 17 times and gained 21 yards. That’s an average of 1.2 yards per carry. It hardly indicates the kind of big-play impact Bush is expected to make on the offense.

As a receiver, it’s been just the opposite for Bush. His impact is obvious -- 10 receptions for 147 yards, with an average of 14.7 yards per catch and a long reception of 67 yards on a screen pass in last week’s 40-9 win over the Patriots.

As the Lions go into their final preseason game against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium tonight, the disparity in Bush’s stats indicate how -- in many ways -- the preseason is a testing ground and not necessarily a proving ground.

The Game 4 Focus is on what the Lions have to test and prove in the last preseason game.

On the run: There is no panic from Bush or the offensive line on the miniscule production he has produced in the running game. Overall, the Lions have done well enough on carries by players other than Bush, gaining 235 yards on 60 carries.

"We’re getting there," Bush said. "It’s a work in progress. I feel like we’re definitely making steps in the right direction. It’s just kind of a feel thing. We have to continue to work at it. Obviously, the more games you play, the better you get, the better chemistry you’ll get."

The offense has gotten good production out of the backups -- 75 yards on 11 carries by Joique Bell and 59 yards on 13 carries by Mikel Leshoure.

Guard Rob Sims doesn’t take the running game lightly, but he’s not concerned about it, either. He expects it to improve over last year, when the Lions ranked 23rd in the league with an average of 100.8 yards per game.

"Absolutely, for sure," Sims said. "That’s been our emphasis since I’ve been here. We showed some signs last week. We have to keep building on that.

"This is preseason. We’re not showing everything. We’re running very vanilla stuff, and we’re a passing team on top of that."

Building up front: This is the last showcase in the competition for starting spots at right guard and right tackle on the offensive line. Rookie Larry Warford and veterans Dylan Gandy and Jake Scott have gotten most of the work at right guard. Jason Fox, Corey Hilliard and rookie LaAdrian Waddle have battled at right tackle.

Waddle, an undrafted free agent from Texas Tech, has made the transition from left tackle in college to right tackle with the Lions.

In many ways, it takes longer to build a running attack than a passing game because of the teamwork required on the offensive line. Tiny breakdowns can result in running lanes being disrupted.

There are new starters at three positions up front – Riley Reiff is in his first season as a full-time starter at left tackle – and it will take time for them to become cohesive.

Having Calvin Johnson on the sideline since the first preseason game has let defenses shift focus more to defending the run than the pass, as they will when he’s playing.

"We haven’t seen the big runs, but they’ll come," Bush said. "Obviously, Calvin hasn’t been playing. That makes a huge difference. We’re like one or two blocks away. The crazy thing about running the ball is, it takes all 11 guys on the same page.

"It’s not just the guy with the ball in his hands. It’s about the rest of the 10 guys doing their part. We’ll be fine."

Bills rebuilding: First-year head coach Doug Marrone faced a difficult chore coming in, and injuries have made it even harder.

Marrone already has declared undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel as the starting quarterback for the regular season opener because of injuries to veteran Kevin Kolb and rookie first-round draft pick E.J. Manuel. Kolb has sustained a career-threatening concussion, and Manuel is recovering from minor knee surgery.

Tuel, who played at Washington State, has played well – 31 completions in 43 attempts for 299 yards, 2 TDs and no interceptions.

Running back C.J. Spiller, a first-round draft pick in 2010, has shown explosive ability at times and is coming off his best season. He rushed for 1,244 yards, 6 TDs and a 6.0-yard average last year. Spiller also averaged 10.7 yards on 43 receptions with 2 TDs.

Sacks/turnover advantage: The Lions are plus-10 in those two categories combined in the first three games.

The defense has seven sacks and forced six turnovers – two interceptions and four fumble recoveries. The Lions have given up three sacks and haven’t committed a turnover.