FIRST DOWN: DECKER'S DEBUT
Rookie left tackle Taylor Decker has said multiple times since arriving in Detroit via the Lions' first-round draft pick, that the biggest adjustment for him has been the consistent speed across the board at every position at this level.
In his NFL debut Friday in Detroit's preseason opener in Pittsburgh, Decker found himself up against Steelers great James Harrison, who has racked up 76.5 career sacks over a 13-year career.
Decker was holding his own against Harrison to begin Detroit's first offensive series, but a two-play sequence that ultimately ended the drive showed just how quickly things can change in this league.
On a 3rd and 2 play at the Steelers 17-yard line on the 12th play of the drive, Decker was flagged for holding after quarterback Matthew Stafford scrambled for a first down.
The penalty forced the Lions into 3rd and 12. On the very next play, Harrison got right around Decker to Stafford for a strip sack and forced fumble.
"It's something you have to get better at," Decker said after the game. "Nobody wants to have bad plays out there. I'll watch the tape tomorrow and try to get better.
"I think with any player there is going to be ups and downs. You just have to be able to respond. You can't let one bad play turn into 10 bad plays. You just have to respond and go out there and keep playing."
Decker is a rookie, and he's going to get better over the next month before the games begin for real, but this is usually how it goes for rookies at his position to begin with. How much better he gets over the next four weeks is the big key.
"My initial impressions are that he looks like a young player that has talent," head coach Jim Caldwell said of Decker's debut. "He's going to make some mistakes here and there."
SECOND DOWN: WR COMPETITION
Caldwell is a big fan of competition. He's hoping that when it comes down to selecting the final receivers that make the initial 53-man roster, the decision will be as tough then as it seems to be now.
Veterans Andre Roberts and Jeremy Kerley, and rookies Jay Lee, Quinshad Davis and Jace Billingsley are all looking for a way to separate themselves for what might end up being just one spot.
Making plays in the preseason is the best way to do that.
Roberts had a nice 28-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. He finished with three receptions for 57 yards.
Billingsley made a couple nice moves to avoid tacklers and get into the end zone from 27 yards out to seal the game in the fourth quarter.
Jeremy Kerley made five catches for 36 yards, but dropped a potential big play down the middle.
"You just have to keep making plays," Roberts said of the key to making this roster as a reserve receiver. "Whatever it is ... if it's going to be on special teams or at receiver. You just have to continue to make plays."
THIRD DOWN: OFFENSIVE PACE
The pace to which Jim Bob Cooter wants to run his offense was on display Friday night, and the best way to describe it is fast.
The Lions featured a lot of no-huddle and fast-tempo drives, which is something that hasn't been a big feature of this offense in recent years.
"It does give you an opportunity to, number one, control the pace of the game, number two, more often than not, you may be able to help control a few things," Caldwell said.
"From a defensive standpoint, you just force (the defense) not to substitute as much. Overall, it's more of what we want to do. It's more of what we think our guys are suited for. They're beginning to get a good sense of how it should operate."
Running this kind of pace is quarterback-friendly in that it allows the quarterback to get to the line of scrimmage, study the defense and make his adjustments. It puts a lot of pressure on the defense.
FOURTH DOWN: MAKING AN IMPACT
A 96-yard kickoff return in his first NFL game? No a bad debut for rookie running back Dwayne Washington.
After falling behind 17-16 following a Steelers 37-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, the rookie Washington put the Lions up for good showing off his speed and power.
"He's a powerful guy," Caldwell said of Washington after the game. "What you see is typically what he's been showing. We'll see. He's young. This is his first outing. He's got a long way to go, but he did pretty well today."
He also rushed a couple times for 12 yards and had a 15-yard reception. Washington is young, but his combination of size and speed sets him apart from the other running backs on the roster.
Ameer Abdullah led the NFL in kickoff return yards last season, but he's also expected to have a bigger role running the ball as Detroit's No. 1 back.
It's way early in the process, but if Washington can continue to show a knack for returning kicks, it just might be his ticket onto the 53-man roster.
"It's big for this program, and just for the fact that I was a seventh-round pick," Washington said of the importance of special teams for him making the roster. "Nothing is guaranteed so I'm just doing all I can do just to help out my teammates."