After nearly five months of no interaction between players and coaches (due to the lockout) I was expecting a few things. More then the normal amount of injuries (which I got these last two weeks) and a ton of rust in the actual games... and that's exactly what I saw in preseason game 1... from the Bengals.
The Lions on the other hand didn't even show the rust you'd normally see in the first preseason game after 5 months of OTAs and organized workouts. Some of that was due to the fact that none of the 2011 draft picks were starting in the first half of the game but I am finding it hard to explain the rest. I'll have to go with good coaches and good players.
There are new kickoff rules in place that give teams like the Lions an advantage. Yes, I said an advantage. While other teams are kneeling it down in the endzone and starting on the 20 yard line, teams with a very good return man will still take it 30 plus yards instead. Just as Stefan Logan did on the opening kickoff. The other advantage goes to teams who have speed on special teams due to all the players having to remain within 5 yards of the kicking LOS (line of scrimmage). If you're a slow team you are going to take another crucial second or two to get up to speed to cover a kick, and that equates to better returns for the opponent. The Lions are very fast covering kicks to go along with their returns.
Sandwiched between Logans first kick return (appearing as if in regular season form) and the kick coverage teams forced fumble and recovery was the Lions offense marching it down the field for a beautiful TD throw by Stafford to CJ. While the Bengals showed plenty of rust, the Lions did not. Hopefully that mismatch continues on into the season and it wasn't just the Bengals making the Lions look good.
The Refs were also a bit rusty, pretty much giving Nate Burleson a TD. It doesn't make up for the one they took away last year against the Bears in regular season, but it was nice to see something go the Lions way just this once.
Once the Bengals spotted the Lions 14 points the Bengals new QB Andy Dalton threw his first NFL pass, completing it perfectly to Chris Houston. The interception by Houston got the defense all riled up, pretty much keeping it that way all game.
It was nice to see the Lions players defending each other, mess with one and boom, they get you back... penalties be damned... the penalty yards were bad, but the desire to play as a team no matter the cost is very very good.
When the backups took to the field they didn't show any rust either. Though I must say there is a lot of room for improvement in the run blocking department, and if Jerome Harrison wants to earn his roster spot he needs to quit dancing and start going north more. His role is not to get a TD on every play. He only has a couple more weeks to show he gets that.
If the Lions decide to keep a dancer/speedster instead of a power runner, then Aaron Brown may just win the job over Bell or Harrison (unless they keep 4 halfbacks).
Hopefully we won't be seeing the Lions quarterbacks somersaulting into the endzone again, though it certainly was entertaining and it got the team further fired up, even if the coaches were cringing.
One note on a specific defensive player; Amari Spievey might just do alright at safety.. wow. He keeps that up and he could make the probowl this year.
I was going to write that Brandon McDonald makes the team at CB... if someone gets injured. But he may end up taking a job away from someone even without injury. Maybe. It'll be interesting to see if he can improve over the next couple of weeks or if that was it.
WR Maurice Stovall could push WR Derrick Wiliams for a job too, but Stanton showed some vet-like moxy going to D-Will a third time after 2 drops in a row for a nice 1st down on the third try.
The field goal as time expires with the clock ticking down from 13 seconds was a big time play. No rust there, heck, most teams couldn't do that at the end of the season.
I'm going to keep my eye on Ian Johnson. He may actually push to make the roster. Not necessarily against the other RBs, but against 37 other guys for the 53rd roster spot. My estimated roster has a few names in italics, those being the players I foresee as competing against each other for the 52nd and 53rd roster spots. Guys like Randy Phillips, Ian Johnson, Cobrani Mixon, Doug Hogue, and others.
An NFL team needs a lot of solid players on the roster to remain in games, but it's the playmakers that can at any moment turn a game around. The Lions may just have enough playmakers on their team now to put games away when they need to. Scattered though the offense, defense, and special teams there are guys who can get the job done. None of them appeared "rusty" from their 5 month break, and that bodes well for the season. Now, are they consistent? Time to prove it.