By Ashley Dunkak
DETROIT (CBS DETROIT) – For many football fans, the NFL preseason is a bit of a drag. The tickets cost the same as those for regular season games, the starters get pulled after just a few drives, and the real games are still almost a month away.
When it comes to creating the kind of quality depth needed to sustain a team through the 17 weeks of the regular season, however, preseason games are crucial.
For the Lions, the process starts Friday, when they face the New York Jets at Ford Field.
“In preseason games, you want to see players win – win their spot, win their matchup,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “You want to see who can cover one-on-one, who can win a one-on-one pass rush, who can block one-on-one, who can make that tackle.
“We’ve all seen examples of guys who get it done in practice but don’t necessarily get it done in games,” Schwartz added. “Then there will be some of the other ones, maybe some guys that people aren’t expecting to play well or to make plays out there that, all of a sudden when the lights come on, they can really shine. That’s part of those guys’ evaluation.”
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford pointed out that for young players in particular, how they play in preseason determines not just whether they will make the Detroit roster but whether they will have a shot on any other team.
“It’s a chance to get out there and play live football and impress coaches, whether it be our coaches or coaches around the league,” Stafford said. “It’s on tape. Everybody’s going to see it, and [it’s] a chance for them to, if they don’t make our team, make another team.”
For the veterans and the team as a whole, though, the preseason is fundamentally about getting the year off on the right foot – something Stafford said did not happen in 2012, when Detroit lost 19-17 to the Cleveland Browns in their first exhibition game and ultimately went 2-2 in the preseason.
“It’s important for the veterans to start fast,” Stafford said. “It’s something that we didn’t do a great job of last year, and it’s kind of a good little chance for us to challenge ourselves to do it now. We’re not going to get the full four quarters we normally get. We just get a couple drives, so it’s important to go out there and execute well.”
Wide receiver Nate Burleson said that, for him, the preseason is essential because whatever habits players set during that time frame will endure the rest of the year.
“I think a lot of people look at preseason as something that you can get rid of,” Burleson said. “For me, it’s like sharpening your tool before you go to war. It’s like getting the appetizer before you get the entrée. You have to go out there and practice what you want to do during the regular season.
“I want to go out and ball out,” Burleson continued. “I want to create some type of momentum for myself so that first game I’m feeling unstoppable, I’m feeling like nobody can touch me, and I think everybody has that mindset. If you go through preseason with a lackadaisical attitude and you’re not touching the rock, you’re not working on the little things, you’re not doing the fundamental things that you need to do to get better, you can’t just flip on a switch come the season. So for me, I’m flipping on the switch now, so that light stays lit all the way through the playoffs.”