NOAH TRISTER, AP Sports Writer
ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — Detroit rookie Nevin Lawson has enough to worry about before his first preseason game, so he isn’t too caught up in all the hoopla about Johnny Manziel.
“I’m just excited because it’s my first NFL football game, more than anything,” Lawson said. “It’s just another opponent. This is my first time in an NFL game, so I’m more excited for myself.”
Although Manziel — the former Heisman Trophy winner drafted in the first round by Cleveland this year — will be in the spotlight when the Lions host the Browns on Saturday night, every rookie on the field is going to be under some amount of scrutiny.
For first-year players such as Lawson, this is a chance to look the part of an NFL contributor.
“The big thing we’re trying to do is see if they can get lined up properly and execute their techniques properly, making certain if they’re on defense, how well they tackle, how well they run to the ball,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said.
“See how they match up with the speed of this league, with a different team other than our own.”
Detroit’s first-round pick — tight end Eric Ebron — has been dealing with an undisclosed injury. He stood on the sideline in a baseball hat Thursday while his teammates were practicing.
If Ebron is limited, the most anticipated debut among Detroit’s rookies Thursday would probably be that of Kyle Van Noy.
The 24-year-old linebacker has a chance to give the defense an immediate boost after the Lions took him in the second round. Van Noy figures being a rookie is actually a benefit at times.
“You’re expected to fail, almost,” he said. “You’re going in with the mindset that you’ve got to improve every time you get to step on the field. That’s another chance I get to improve, that’s how I look at that. … I’m getting more reps, I’m getting more practice, I’m getting thrown in the fire and that’s what I want.”
Lawson may be under more pressure. After losing veterans Chris Houston and Louis Delmas, Detroit’s secondary is a concern heading into the season. The Lions didn’t address that area in the draft until they took Lawson in the fourth round. The cornerback from Utah State can give Detroit a major lift if he progresses quickly enough.
The key in the opening preseason game is to make a positive impression without trying to do too much — with so many substitutions, pretty much every player will be dealing with limited opportunities.
“Just be yourself and when you’re out there, just handle what you can handle,” Lawson said. “Control what you can control.”
Manziel is not expected to start Saturday, but his debut will be one of the most anticipated moments of the NFL preseason. Lawson and Van Noy may have a chance to line up against him for a few plays.
“I think he’s a great player,” Van Noy said. “I’ve seen him on TV. He makes some spectacular plays.”
NOTES: Caldwell said Calvin Johnson had an excused absence from practice Thursday. Caldwell said he expects Johnson to be available for Saturday’s game, but he did not say whether the star receiver would play. … Detroit signed veteran CB Drayton Florence before practice. Florence started five games for Carolina last season. He started three for the Lions the previous season.
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