Lions-Browns Final Thoughts: A "meaningless" game means everything to rookie Brandon Powell and other players trying to win jobs, and a message to Powell from Denard; on-the-job lessons for Kerryon Johnson from Matthew Stafford; the Lions' offensive line ahead of last year, even if the starters are out tonight, and Random Thoughts.
Denard-Powell, family ties: Before he showed up at the Lions' first rookie minicamp as an undrafted free agent, Brandon Powell was putting to good use the advice from a family member well known to football fans in these parts.
Denard Robinson, a star quarterback at Michigan who spent four seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars, told Powell how to prepare. Robinson and Powell are cousins who grew up in Deerfield, Fla. Both attended Deerfield High before going off to college – Denard to Michigan, Powell to Florida.
"Before I even started this whole process, he told me I had to start working out," Powell said this week. "He said, 'There are going to be dudes just as talented as you are.
"'Find little ways to separate yourself from others.'"
Powell has done that as a receiver, with a team-high 15 catches, and more notably as a return man. He returned a punt 80 yards for a touchdown in last week's rally to a 33-30 road win over the Bucs.
Powell was low key about his big play.
"Everybody in the NFL, you're supposed to make plays," Powell said.
Powell faced long odds from the start of this phase of his football journey. How much he has shortened those odds in his bid to win a roster spot remains to be seen.
While the fourth preseason game is meaningless in terms of the outcome, it's a critical final job interview for players on the bubble. The added pressure of the last chance to make an impression has some impact on final decisions in cutting the active roster to 53 players by Saturday's deadline.
"What does it look like when the lights come on, when there is a little bit of a pressure from that opponent, and the pressure of performing and all that stuff?" said head coach Matt Patricia.
"It does give it another element of competition. It gives it another element of evaluation, which I think is critical for all those guys."
Stafford teaching Kerryon: Rookie running back Kerryon Johnson appreciates how Matthew Stafford doesn't hesitate to make small corrections that can prevent big mistakes.
Stafford went directly to Johnson on the sideline after a second-quarter possession in the last game with a correction on a less-than-smooth handoff. Stafford could be seen demonstrating the proper technique.
"That was my fault," Johnson said. "I took a bad angle. It forced me to make a sharp cutback, and I slipped. It wasn't like the end of the world, but I can do better.
"When Matthew Stafford tells it to you, you're going to listen. We're all in this together. He knows the standard."
Brown out tonight: The Browns won't be at full power tonight, which isn't surprising. The Lions won't be, either.
Browns head coach Hue Jackson has said he's not going to play his starters. Part of the reason is to keep them healthy for the regular-season, and also because the team is healthy. Jackson has seen enough of his regulars.
That means no Myles Garrett rushing the passer, which is a relief for whoever plays quarterback for the Lions. Garrett had two of the Browns' seven sacks in last week's 5-0 win over the Eagles. He tackled QB Nick Foles in the end zone to give the Browns a mighty 2-0 lead.
Lions' offense healthy up front: The starting five on the offensive line never got on the field together in the preseason because of an injury to right guard T.J. Lang. He's the only starter who did not play in the preseason, but the injury was not considered serious. He was practicing during the week.
The bottom line: The five players penciled in from Day One of the offseason workouts – Taylor Decker, Frank Ragnow, Graham Glasgow, Lang and Rick Wagner – can be written in ink to start on opening night vs. the Jets.
That represents an improvement over last year, when Taylor Decker missed the first eight games with an injury.
On Jake Rudock vs. Matt Cassel: It's still a tough call between these two for the job as Matthew Stafford's backup. The only clear edge for either is in experience – Cassel's 106 career games and 81 starts over Rudock's five career pass attempts. A significant difference in performance tonight could decide it. Rudock directing three TD drives in the last two games counts for something. So does his improvement over last year.
On the Lions' running game: No need to see more tonight to predict a more potent ground game. The Lions gained 122 yards on the ground with a 4.4-yard average per carry vs. the Bucs. The total could have been higher. Except for a scramble by Rudock, no runs were called on the 13 plays in the last two possessions of the game.
On Mayfield vs. Manziel: There's a curiosity level on what to expect from Browns rookie QB Baker Mayfield tonight, as there was when Johnny Manziel played in a relief role in the first preseason game against the Lions in 2014.
But it's for different reasons. Mayfield looks like a legitimate franchise quarterback. Manziel was almost better known for his off-field exploits. Manziel was out of the NFL after two seasons. Mayfield's in for the long run.
Ultimate goal tonight: Roster battles aside, no injuries, no overtime – and focus on playing the Jets on Sept. 10 at Ford Field.