Found August 08, 2013 on Fox Sports Detroit:
Are you starving for some football? Evidently so. Ford Field in Detroit, with a capacity listed at 65,000, is sold out for Friday's preseason opener between the Lions and the New York Jets. That's the Lions, who lost their final eight games in 2012 and finished 4-12, vs. the Jets, who were 6-10 and probably won't be any better this year. The stadium certainly isn't expected to be full. There will be no-shows, typical of the preseason. Much of the reason behind the sellout is the NFL's requirement that season-ticket holders pay for these exhibitions. But still - let's say it again for emphasis - it's a sellout for a Lions-Jets preseason game! Go figure. Here are five storylines to follow: 1. The Lions have completely overhauled their special teams, starting with a new coordinator in John Bonamego, who has 15 years of NFL coaching experience. There's also a new punter (fifth-round draft pick Sam Martin), new kickers (David Akers and Youtube sensation Havard "Kickalicious" Rugland) and new return specialists (goodbye, Stefan Logan). Martin has a strong enough leg to help flip field position, but will he be consistent and can he be a weapon on pooch punts? Does Akers still have enough leg strength and accuracy to bounce back from a bad season following hernia surgery? And how will the lovable, Norwegian-born Kickalicious, who unquestionably has a powerful leg, handle kicking in the first football game of his life? Perhaps the most intriguing part of this preseason, however, will be the competition to return punts and kicks. It's not something that can be evaluated in training-camp practices, where there's little to no hitting on special teams for fear of injuries. It's going to take these exhibition games to sort it all out. Make Micheal Spurlock the favorite to win a dual role because of his background. He returned both a punt and a kick for touchdowns last year with San Diego. But there are other options, including Mike Thomas (replaced Logan on punt returns in season finale), Patrick Edwards (practice squadinjured last year) and undrafted free agent Steven Miller, a 5-foot-7 speedster from Appalachian State. 2. Starting jobs and other key roles are also up for grabs on offense and defense. Will the offensive line click better with Dylan Gandy, Jake Scott or third-round draft pick Larry Warford at right guard? The same goes for the right-tackle competition between Jason Fox and Corey Hilliard. The No. 4 and 5 receiver spots are open. Edwards appears to have the edge, but he had a strong training camp last year and then disappeared in the preseason games. Others battling for a roster spot include Spurlock, Thomas, Kris Durham, sixth-round draft pick Corey Fuller, along with free-agent additions Chaz Schilens (Oakland), Matt Willis (Denver) and Terrence Austin (Washington). How each player also fits in on special teams could be decisive. Over on defense, Ashlee Palmer, Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis are fighting for a starting position at left outside linebacker. Meanwhile, eight-year veteran Ron Bartell is trying to hold off youngsters such as Darius Slay (second-round pick this year) and Bill Bentley (third-round pick last year) for the right cornerback job. Bentley apparently is the leading candidate to be the nickel back (fifth defensive back in passing situations). 3. High-profile newcomers such as running back Reggie Bush, safety Glover Quin and defensive end Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah, the team's first-round draft pick, are expected to make their Detroit debuts. Bush's appearance could be brief, but the Lions need to get Ansah as much experience as possible. Ziggy is part of the makeover at defensive end that features two veteran free agents, Jason Jones (Seattle) and Israel Idonije (Chicago), and another rookie, fourth-round pick Devin Taylor. Willie Young, who returns for his fourth year, is also part of the rotation. Ansah has been decent, not spectacular in practices, but don't forget that he impressed no one in the Senior Bowl workouts and then totally dominated the game as his draft stock skyrocketed. Maybe he's just one of those guys who turns it on for game day. 4. The Lions should have one of the stronger quarterback rotations during the preseason, provided the improvement shown so far by Kellen Moore carries over. Shaun Hill is one of the top No. 2 QBs in the game. Moore, the winningest quarterback in college-football history, is in his second year in the system and appears to have better arm strength. But is he improved enough to deserve a spot on the 53-man roster for the second straight year? And then there's Thaddeus Lewis. How many No. 4 quarterbacks have started a regular-season game in the NFL, much less the season finale the previous year? Lewis did that for Cleveland and completed 22-of-32 passes for 204 yards with one touchdown and one interception against Pittsburgh. 5. The Lions are 12-4 in the preseason in Jim Schwartz's four years as coach (3-1 in 2009, 3-1 in 2010, 4-0 in 2011 and 2-2 last year). Don't be surprised if they have another strong August. There should be a little more incentive to win these games, meaningless as they are, to start getting rid of the bad taste those season-ending, eight straight losses left behind. PREDICTION: Lions 20-17
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