MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA'S FINAL THOUGHTS: The next step for K Nate Freese

Posted Aug 28, 2014

Mike O'Hara gives his final thoughts heading into Lions-Bills including the next step for Nate Freese, a Jim Schwartz reunion and more.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. –Final thoughts awaiting kickoff for Lions-Bills in the final preseason game: Eddie Murray projects from experience the next step for rookie kicker Nate Freese, players to watch with starting positions and jobs at stake before the final cuts and a tearless reunion with former coach Jim Schwartz:

Murray remembers: The last time a rookie won the Lions’ kicking job in a training-camp competition was 1980, and it was no contest. Eddie Murray was a winner by default.

Freese, a seventh-round draft pick, beat out free-agent Giorgio Tavecchio in a close battle this year. There is no time for Freese to rest on his laurels --  in the last preseason game, and especially in the regular-season opener against the Giants on Sept. 8.

Nate FreeseK Nate Freese (Photo: Detroit Lions)

Murray felt the pressure when he won the job  n 1980 and dealt with it the best way he could – by making field goals, and never letting up in the transition from Tulane to the long grind of the NFL season.

“For me, my focus was just to try to keep doing what I was doing going,” Murray said the other day. “The biggest hurdle a rookie has is, you go from playing 11 games in college to playing 20 games. You have to keep up that level of concentration for the season.”

Murray was under the gun immediately. The Lions opened the 1980 season on the road against the Rams, who’d lost to the Steelers in Super Bowl XIV the previous season and were heavy favorites against the Lions.

Murray didn’t get a gimme for his first field-goal attempt as a pro. He was sent out to try a 55-yarder, and he made it. That started the Lions on the way to a 41-20 victory.

With the Lions opening the season at Ford Field on Monday Night TV under new head coach Jim Caldwell, the pressure will be on everyone to perform. That includes the kicker.

“My advice to Nate is just to stay focused and keep up with his strength for the year,” he said. “There are going to be some downs. You can’t get too down, you can’t get too up. Stay as level as you possibly can.”

Murray was the Lions’ kicker through the 1991 season. Jason Hanson was drafted in 1992 to replace him and held the job for 21 seasons before retiring after the 2012 season. Veteran David Akers was brought in to replace Hanson last year but was not brought back after a subpar season.

Schwartz reunion: Lions center Dominic Raiola knows what the offense should expect from the Buffalo’s defense as run by former Lions head coach Jim Schwartz, but he’s more interested in their regular-season matchup in Game 5 at Ford Field. Schwartz was fired in January after five seasons with the Lions.

“I expect a physical, attacking defense that gets after the quarterback,” Raiola said. “This will be a good tune-up for what we’ll see down the road (in the regular season) We saw his defense every day for the past five years.”

Raiola did not express much emotion about facing a former head coach. He’s already played against Marty Mornhinweg, Dick Jauron and Rod Marinelli who got jobs with other teams after leaving the Lions as head coaches.

“I think everybody’s moved on from that,” Raiola said. “I’ve been here long enough, you see enough coaches come and go. You just greet them when you see them and move on.”

A story in Thursday’s Buffalo News reported that Schwartz has kept a low profile this week, apparently not wanting to be interviewed about facing the team he coached to a 29-51 regular-season record, with one winning season and one playoff appearance – 10-6 and a wild-card berth in 2011.

Roster battles: Starting jobs and roster spots to watch include the following:

Offensive right tackle: Corey Hilliard vs. LaAdrian Waddle. They split the job last year, and again in the preseason this year. Too close to call.

Strong-side linebacker: Tahir Whitehead could win by backing up last week’s effort with another solid performance.

Wide receiver: It looks like a three-man battle between Ryan Broyles, Kris Durham and Kevin Ogletree for the last two spots. Broyles has done the most in the first three games. Ogletree’s play on special teams helps his cause. At 6-6, Durham is a red-zone threat.

Backup quarterback: Is there more than a slim chance that Kellen Moore could beat out Dan Orlovsky for the No. 2 job? It’s doubtful, but either way, expect three quarterbacks to make the final roster.

Cornelius Lucas: It’s the last audition at offensive tackle for the undrafted rookie from Kansas State. Teams can go years and not find tackle prospects who are 6-9, 325 pounds with athleticism and the frame to add 20-30 pounds.