Originally posted on Fox Sports Detroit  |  Last updated 8/29/12

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 22: Head coach Jim Schwartz of the Detroit Lions looks on against the Cleveland Browns at Ford Field on November 22, 2009 in Detroit, Michigan. The Lions came from behind to defeat the Browns 38-37. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The countdown to the regular season is on. The Detroit Lions play the Buffalo Bills Thursday night at Ford Field in their final preseason game. The Lions' season opener is 10 days later against the St. Louis Rams. Here are five storylines to follow for Thursdays exhibition: 1. After last weeks scare when quarterback Matthew Staffords left hand got banged and swelled up severely, you have to question whether its worth the risk of putting him and key players such as Calvin Johnson on the field at all. Coach Jim Schwartz was noncommittal on how much the starters will play. Well see, he said. Schwartz, however, indicated that healthy players will make an appearance, at least a cameo, for the hometown crowd. We may have some situations where we hold guys out that are just healing up to be at 100 percent, Schwartz said. But if guys are 100 percent and theyre healthy, theyre going to play. The key phrase: 100 percent. Not many football players are 100 percent much past the first day of training camp. 2. Special-teams play is where the most competition will take place in this one. NFL teams must trim their rosters from 75 to 53 by 9 p.m. Friday. To get one of those last few roster spots, players typically have to show that they can contribute on special teams. The Lions still have to settle on a punter (Ryan Donahue or Ben Graham?), but there are other special-teams jobs that might have to be decided, too. Thats true at no position more so than receiver, where Kassim Osgood, Maurice Stovall, Patrick Edwards, Nate Hughes, Lance Long and Wallace Miles are seemingly in a battle for two spots. A standout special-teams performance could make the difference. 3. Cornerback Kevin Barnes, acquired earlier this week from Washington in a trade, could make his Lions debut. Well see how quick we can get him up to speed, in some packages, Schwartz said. Hes not going to know everything that we do (for Thursdays game), but hes going to have enough that he can go out and show if he can help us. Before getting drafted in the third round in 2009, Barnes scored extremely high on the Wonderlich test, which is given to NFL prospects to evaluate logical thinking and problem solving. That intelligence should help him make a quick transition to a new team. "Its going to have to kick in now, going to have to learn a whole new playbook pretty fast," Barnes said. "Not the first person to do it, I wont be the last. Its part of the job." 4. Receiver Lance Long, who grew up following the Lions and played in high school at Utica (MIch.) Eisenhower, will have about 60 friends and family members in Ford Field cheering for him. Long isnt expected to make the 53-man roster, but hes made a good impression with his personality and tenacity. Receivers coach Shawn Jefferson nicknamed him The Vanilla Gorilla early on in training camp. He just came in one day, we were watching film, I forget what play it was, but he said it (Vanilla Gorilla) and everybody started laughing and everybody started calling me that, Long said. We got a kick out of that. Its been a nickname since. I like it. My whole family likes it. 5. Let's take a moment to express a little sympathy for those Lions season-ticket holders. They really got the short end of the deal this preseason. Could there be two worse preseason games to have at home than the first and the last? Those are the ones, of course, where the regulars play very little -- maybe a quarter, maybe a possession, maybe not at all. Nevertheless, by NFL rules, the fans still must pay full price for those tickets in order to purchase the full-season package. Wonder how many of those tickets for Thursday will go to waste? What a scam.
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