By Will Burchfield
Jake Rudock’s supporters must have been glowing — maybe even gloating — after the Detroit Lions’ preseason finale.
This is the quarterback they remember from the University of Michigan.
The former Wolverine flashed all of his talents in the team’s 31-0 dismantling of the Buffalo Bills. He threw the ball efficiently. He scrambled effectively. And he commanded the Lions’ complex offense, proving just how far he’s come since rookie camp back in May.
“That’s what it’s been, a good steady growth,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “He’s grasping the offense better and better and better. He’s a smart guy anyway, he works at it, he made some nice throws this evening and certainly did a nice job in terms of operating the offense.”
Rudock — still the Lions’ third-string quarterback — entered the game late in the first quarter to the customary cheers from the hometown fans. The excitement grew louder when he completed four of his first five passes before leading the Lions on a nine-play, 57-yard touchdown drive to close out the half.
But Rudock was only getting started.
He orchestrated two more scoring drives in the second half, keeping the Bills off balance with crisp passes and timely runs. His unique skillset was most evident on the Lions’ second touchdown of the game, when, on third and goal from the 10 yard line, Rudock scrambled his way out of a sack and then feathered a pass to Jace Billingsley in the corner of the end zone.
“Just basic scramble rules, get outside,” Rudock said. “Knew it was third down and we were in good field goal position. I just saw the defender’s back turned and thought I’d give [Billingsley] a chance. A little rookie luck there, I think, but I was happy it went our way.”
It went Rudock’s way for just about the entire evening. In by far his best performance of the preseason, not to mention his final audition for a spot on the 53-man roster, the 23-year-old finished 14-of-23 for 171 yards and three touchdowns for a passer rating of 123.4. He added 31 yards on four carries and was responsible for four of the Lions’ five longest plays.
Afterward, Rudock talked about his growing comfort level at the NFL level.
“I think the biggest thing that you grow from is having those snaps, not being the first time taking snaps against guys who have been in the league for a number of years. It’s a blessing to be able to go out there and play and have a couple games to get your feet underneath you,” he said.
Rudock also said the extended playing time helped him find his rhythm.
“That’s huge for a quarterback. You kind of get in a flow, you get in a groove there. You kind of start seeing things a little bit more, rather than having a smaller sample size, so to say,” he explained.
With the Lions needing to downsize from 75 players to 53 by Saturday at 4 p.m., Rudock’s future with the team remains unclear. If they assign him to the practice squad, they risk losing him on waivers. And yet if they keep him along with Dan Orlovsky, they forfeit a valuable roster spot at another position.
Caldwell gave little indication as to whether the Lions prefer to keep three quarterbacks or two.
“I’m not certain that there are any benefits or drawbacks. I think in either case, you do what’s best for the team,” he said.
Rudock understands it’s a business-oriented decision. He’s just happy he made it a tough one.
“There’s a lot of guys out there fighting for a spot, fighting to get on that 53-man,” he said. “Unfortunately not all of us will make it and that’s the nature of the game, but hopefully our guys put up good tape. Coach Caldwell said after the game, ‘Hey, good job making it difficult on us.’ And as a player, that’s all you really want to do.”