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O'HARA: What we learned from Lions-Raiders

There is always something hopeful in a preseason game.


No matter if the offense struggles, the defense leaks yards and points, the special teams are anything but special and penalty flags decorate the field from end zone to end zone, there's always something hopeful.

What we learned in the Detroit Lions' 16-10 loss to the Oakland Raiders in the opening preseason game Friday night is that rookie running back Kerryon Johnson's performance was a hopeful sign that there will be a significant upgrade in the Lions' running game this season.

He was better than his stats indicated, which is the opposite of what often happens in the preseason. Statistics get bloated by circumstances and situation. Not so with Johnson. What he did wasn't fully recognized in the box score.

Among the other things we learned is that the Lions have work to do to put out a respectable pass rush, other young players will compete for roster spots on offense, head coach Matt Patricia is hands-on all the time, not just in practice, and that the twists of fate determine who gets hit with a devastating injury and who doesn't.

In this case, it isn't the Lions.

Here's what we learned, starting with Kerryon Johnson:

He had seven carries for 34 yards and four catches for 33. He was credited with a long run of 13 yards and a long reception of 19.

His total output added up to 67 yards, which is a nice night's work, but not much more.

But there was a lot more that didn't make the stats sheet

In the third quarter he broke a 57-yard run. It started when he shot through a gap off left tackle, stiff-arming a potential tackler with his right arm to get clear of the line of scrimmage. He froze another defender with a double move, got free with a spin move and finished off the run by cutting across the middle and the right sideline until he was knocked out of bounds at the five-yard line.

It was a 57-yard run that probably covered closer to 97 yards – and was reduced to two yards because rookie tackle Tyrell Crosby had been flagged for holding just as Johnson was breaking into the clear.

What was he thinking when he saw the flag?

"Dang, I'm tired," Johnson said, laughing.

No hard feelings about the flag.

"It happens," he said. "It could have been me."

He described the run like it was no big deal, just a man doing his job.

"Just trying to make a play," he said. "That was the play that popped open. We needed a little energy. We were a little down. I was just trying to do my job – create a little energy."

In the two days of combined practices with the Raiders earlier in the week, Johnson had shown power and acceleration. He was ready for game night, and the faster tempo and more violent contact.

"This is the game," Johnson said. "People are really coming to take your head off. It's back to the game we all know. It's back to being live football.

"It's back to being a man on man game."

Pressure points: They didn't score many against the Raiders, and it probably reinforced what we already know – that the front seven is better when Ziggy Ansah is on the field.

Ansah came off the Physically Unable to Perform list in time to practice against the Raiders on a limited basis, but he was not active for the game. The Lions had no sacks, one quarterback hit and one tackle for loss.

By comparison, the Raiders had 10 quarterback hits, five tackles for loss and four sacks.

Details: Watching Patricia in Friday night's pregame warmups was further evidence that his involvement in all phases of the game is not just a sometimes thing, or reserved only for the practice field.

Patricia stood with the special teams unit as Matt Prater kicked field goals in the last drill of the warmups. When the drill was over, Patricia clapped his hands, and the entire team left the field for the locker room.

Young hands: Rookie receiver Brandon Powell and tight end Hakeem Valles, who was active for one game with the Lions last year without making a catch, have looked in camp like they'll compete for roster spots.

They didn't fold against the Raiders.

Powell had five catches for 34 yards, with a 12-yard catch for a first down in Oakland's territory in the final minute that kept alive the Lions' chances of scoring a go-ahead touchdown. That chance ended when Matt Cassel fumbled the ball away on a sack.

Valles had two catches, both gaining 13 yards for first downs.

View in-game photos from the Detroit Lions preseason opener against the Oakland Raiders.

Luck of the draw – & draft: There should be no gloating or celebrating by anyone over a horrible twist of bad luck, but the injury to rookie running back Derrius Guice is another example of how injuries are the wild card that cannot be predicted.

Guice was one of the running backs in this year's draft who was mentioned as possibly going to the Lions. He wound up dropping deeper than projected. The slide stopped when Washington took him 59th overall, and 28th in the second round.

Long before that, the Lions made a trade to move up in the second round and take Johnson with the 11th pick in the round and 43rd overall – 16 picks ahead of Guice.

Guice's season ended Thursday night with a knee injury sustained in Washington's preseason game with the Patriots. He was hurt on his sixth carry.

There's no way to predict what would have happened if Guice were in Detroit instead of Washington. It's just another brutal reminder of the unpredictable nature of injuries -- when they happen, and to whom they happen.

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