PITTSBURGH – Final thoughts awaiting kickoff of the Lions' preseason opener against the Steelers: tempo on offense, line development, rookie review, injury issues and judging the offense without Megatron:
Offense – tempo setting: Don't expect Matthew Stafford and the top receivers to be in the game very long, and whatever game plan the Lions run against the Steelers will be far more basic than that what they'll do in the regular season.
Across the board, it's hard to make definitive judgments, particularly with the Steelers expected to hold out a number of their top players.
But even in this preseason opener, no matter who the Lions face, look for an upbeat tempo as Jim Bob Cooter begins his first full season as offensive coordinator. Cooter has had an offseason to install his style of offense, and it's a much crisper attack that includes freedom for Stafford to run the offense at the line of scrimmage.
"I think the important thing is that we can change pace," said head coach Jim Caldwell. "That's the one thing we have to be able to do. If you can really control the rhythm of the game, you ought to think it's going to benefit you.
"So we try to change pace as much as we can."
As Stafford has said throughout the offseason workouts and training camp, Cooter's offense puts a lot on his plate – and it's what he wants. There's more opportunity to run the offense without huddling.
"There's quite a bit of freedom, but at the same time, if Jim Bob wants something, he wants something," Stafford said after a practice against the Steelers. "We have plenty of freedom."
That includes changing tempo – when to put the pedal down or step on the brakes, depending on game situation.
"We practice that -- going fast, going slow," Stafford said. "At different times in the game where you're in two-minute (offense), you really want to go fast. In four minutes, when you have the lead, you really want to go slow."
Offensive line: Caldwell has not revealed anything at any position regarding play time, substitution pattern or which players will be held out. However, it's logical to assume that the starting five on the offensive line will get extended playing time, no matter who plays quarterback or how long other starters remain in the game.
Cohesion and consistency are critical for the offensive line, and the only way to get that is by playing live snaps. That's why two days of practice against the Steelers benefitted the unit so much -- probably more so than the first preseason game.
However, whether facing starters or third-stringers, there is something about game conditions that adds pressure to perform. That sets up a good test for the offensive line in general and new starters at two positions in particular – rookie Taylor Decker at left tackle, Riley Reiff at right tackle in his switch from the left side.
It's another step toward improving pass protection and run blocking.
Rookie review: It isn't only the 2016 draft class that will be in the spotlight. Tight end Cole Wick, the undrafted free agent from Incarnate Word, gets another chance to showcase his ability after two solid days of practice against the Steelers.
They'll all get their shot in the preseason, but here are three draft picks to watch in the opener:
Safety Miles Killebrew: He was a big-time hitter at Southern Utah. He isn't at the top of the safety rotation yet. His best chance to make an impact as a hitter likely will be on special teams.
Guard Joe Dahl: Primarily a tackle at Washington State, Dahl is strictly a guard with the Lions. He is a smooth, agile athlete who had a good day of practice on Wednesday. He might need to bulk up. Adding young depth on the interior of the offensive line would be a huge benefit for the present and future.
Long snapper Jimmy Landes: There is one spot on the roster for a long snapper, and Landes is in a battle with veteran Don Muhlbach. One bad snap could decide who wins the job.
Offense without Calvin: Beware of snap judgments – or any judgments, for that matter – of what the offense looks like without Calvin Johnson based on any preseason game. He didn't play in any preseason games last year, and he played in only Game 3 of the 2014 preseason.
The offense will be different without Megatron, but how much different won't be known until the regular season.
Injury: Nothing is more important than getting through the preseason with healthy players. As the last four practices have shown, football is a brutal game – even in practice.
In the mock game at Ford Field on Saturday, tight end Eric Ebron sustained a leg injury of some sort that has kept him out of practice. After an off day Sunday and an injury-free practice on Monday, rookie cornerback Ian Wells went out for the season with a knee injury on Tuesday. On Wednesday, linebacker Jon Bostic sustained a leg injury that Caldwell indicated will not be a short-term issue.
That's three significant injuries in four practices – the unfortunate side of football.