O’HARA: What we learned from Preseason Week 4

CLEVELAND – The Detroit Lions aren’t judging their progress from last year by their preseason won-loss record.

That’s one of the things we learned in an interview session with General manger Bob Quinn before Thursday night’s final preseason game against the Browns.

It’s something everyone should have learned in 2008 – positive and negative -- and never forgotten. That’s the year the Lions went 4-0 in the preseason, then followed that by becoming the first team in NFL history to go 0-16 in the regular season.

“Progress is what we see,” Quinn said before the Lions closed out the preseason with a 20-16 loss to the Cleveland Browns. “You guys will judge progress with wins and losses, which we have to do. It’s a bottom-line business. We understand that.

“I’ve seen great progress, from the minute the offseason program started.”

View photos from the Detroit Lions at Cleveland Browns Preseason Week 4 game at FirstEnergy Stadium on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019 in Cleveland.

Among the other things we learned for sure is that Matthew Stafford’s two-day break from practice in training camp was to keep him fresh for the season and not because of any injury; the tight end rebuild was a major project that has succeeded, and that long-term judgments shouldn’t be made when the roster is cut to 53 players on Saturday.

We start with the Lions’ progress: Quinn is not discounting the validity of judging a team by its record. The Lions were 6-10 last year, and there is a carryover effect from it in how many analysts view the team’s prospects for 2019.

But as the chief architect of the football team, Quinn looks at everything, and he likes a lot of what he’s seen in the team’s development this year – starting with the offseason program.

“The guys came in with a great attitude – the new guys, to the returning guys,” he said in his pre-game interview. “They just said, ‘You know what? We’re better than that. We’re better than what our record indicated last year.'

“We hope we added some new pieces that will supplement that. I’ve seen the growth. I see the way the guys came in in really good shape. I’ve seen the practices during training camp, being more intense and just as physical as last year. And the guys saying, ‘This is what it takes to win in this league.’ It’s been really refreshing on a lot of levels.

“I’ve seen glimpses of little things that either an older guy or a new guy are doing, and I see a young guy doing it a couple days later. That's how I see growth.

“Listen, those little things are great for me to see and talk about, but I understand this is a bottom line business. We all signed up for it.”

Stafford’s rest: Quinn reinforced what head coach Matt Patricia and Stafford said when he took two days off from practice in training camp. It was to keep him fresh for the season. It was something new for Stafford. He likes to practice and play as much as he can.

“Matthew, he’s 31 years old but he’s pretty, I’d say, young at heart,” Quinn said. “He wants to take every rep in practice. You had to tell him, ‘Don’t throw the football today.’ He’s just a kid. He wants to go out and sling it, and that’s what he loves to do. That’s great. He takes so many reps during the regular season.

“It was just something that Coach and Matthew talked about and thought it was the best thing going forward. He’s getting up in age. It’s something that was planned in advance.”

Clean sweep: That’s what happened to the tight end position in the offseason, and what had been the weakest link on the team is now a strength. There’s a real battle for one or two roster spots behind the top two – rookie T.J. Hockenson and Jesse James, who make up the Lions’ best tight end duo since Tony Sheffler and Brandon Pettigrew were together for full seasons from 2010-12.

“It’s a brand new room,” Quinn said. “We tried to look at every position group and see if it was, ‘Hey, we need one little fix,’ or do we need to retool the whole unit. It was one that was kind of, ‘Get everybody out and get everybody new in.”

“Final” cut: There is nothing “final” about the mandatory roster cut to 53 players by 4 p.m. Saturday. There will be players on all 32 teams who survive the cut on Saturday and are cut on Sunday to make room for players who have been claimed on waivers.

“I always say, the roster is never set,” Quinn said. “Just because we have 53 players on Saturday at 4 p.m., that can be drastically different come Tuesday, Wednesday ... even Week 2.”

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