MIKE O'HARA

O'HARA'S FRIDAY FOCUS: Lions-Jags, the dress rehearsal

Posted Aug 22, 2014

Calvin Johnson, the Lions’ biggest and brightest star, will join the cast of starters, backups and players competing for roster spots in a dress rehearsal for the start of the regular season.

Calvin Johnson, the Lions’ biggest and brightest star, will join the cast of starters, backups and players competing for roster spots in a dress rehearsal for the start of the regular season.

Johnson’s first appearance of the preseason Friday night against the Jacksonville Jaguars is a sign of how the focus is ramped up for the start of the regular season, which is typical for Game 3 of the preseason.

It’s not a game that counts in the standings, and in no way does it match regular-season intensity. But it will give an indication of where the Lions stand as they prepare to play for keeps against the Giants on Sept. 8 at Ford Field.

Calvin JohnsonWR Calvin Johnson (Photo: Detroit Lions)

Johnson, the NFL’s best wide receiver and one of the league’s most dominating players at any position, has been a sideline spectator the first two games. He likes what he has seen of the redesigned offense under new head coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi.

The No. 1 offense – without Johnson – has produced a field goal and two touchdowns in four possessions in the first two games.

“I’m looking forward to getting out with the guys, especially because they’re producing,” Johnson said. “It’s a totally different offense. It’s very inspiring to see those guys making plays out there.

“That was very promising to see. It helps build confidence.”

The Friday Focus on the Lions-Jaguars game centers on more than the offense. Following are key issues involving all units, and a look at the Jaguars:

Preparation, playing time: Caldwell set the week’s schedule to replicate the regular season. There are some obvious differences, but the tempo has been as close as possible to a game week in the regular season.

“We game plan, we watch film, we have scouting reports for them (the Jaguars),” said defensive end Jason Jones. “It feels like a regular-season game.”

The starters will get their most playing time of any of the four preseason games. Caldwell plans to play them through the start of second half, to familiarize them with halftime procedures and adjustments.

“It’s the first time they’ve had to do so,” Caldwell said. “It’s not a blanket for everybody on our offense, or a blanket for everybody on our defense. Some of the guys may not play in the second half, but for the most part, that’s the way we plan it.”

Lions’ offense: The way Matthew Stafford distributed the ball in the second touchdown drive last week at Oakland gave an indication of how diverse the passing game could be this year. Five receivers caught passes on a possession that ended in a TD pass to Kris Durham, and there was at least one catch at every level – running back, receiver, tight end.

A matchup to watch is how the Jaguars counter the motion and shifting that is a basic element of Lombardi’s scheme, and how it affects Johnson.

“It’s different for sure,” Stafford said. “The way we line up, the way we play, all that is a little different. He’ll be put in some different spots and some similar spots, too. Wherever he is on the field, he’s usually got a pretty good matchup.

"It’ll be nice to have the full stable of guys out there with Calvin playing some this week, and the other guys staying healthy through the first couple of games.”

Position and job battles: The starting job at right tackle could be decided between LaAdrian Waddle and Corey Hilliard. Competition is extremely tight at wide receiver behind Johnson and Golden Tate because of depth.

Lions defense: Increased blitzing has gotten more pressure on quarterbacks but has resulted in only one sack.

That could change with the return of Ziggy Ansah at right defensive end, but it is not certain whether he’ll play against Jacksonville. Ansah is returning from offseason shoulder surgery and did not begin practice until midweek of Game 2 against Oakland.

“We’d love to see him in game situations, but I think the most important thing is to get him to the regular season,” said defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. “He’s explosive – big, fast. He’s got a chance to be an outstanding rusher.”

The Lions have felt the effects of the NFL making it a point of emphasis for officials to enforce rules for holding, illegal contact and pass interference.

That won’t change his play-calling, Austin said.

“We’re just going to keep coaching it, and play within the rules,” Austin said. “We’re going to play our defense.”

Position and roster battles: C.J. Mosley will start at defensive tackle for the second straight week with Nick Fairley’s demotion to second string. When he spoke to the media Wednesday, Fairley said he plans to be the starter on opening day. He has some ground to make up – and the ability to do it.

Depth at linebacker and secondary are issues, but that’s no different from most teams. Austin had good things to say about three rookies who were mid-round picks – end Larry Webster and cornerback Nevin Lawson (both fourth round) and tackle Caraun Reid (fifth).

Special teams: Competition at kicker is as tight as at any position. Nate Freese and Giorgio Tavecchio will rotate, rather than have one start the game and the other finish it, which is usually the case.

“I think there’s some fairness there,” Caldwell said. “It gives both guys an opportunity to kick in a portion of the game that’s similar. We just think we can probably do a little bit better of job of evaluating if we do it that way.”

Punter Sam Martin will kick off. He kicked off last season until a minor injury forced kicker David Akers to take over the job late in the season.

Jaguars focus – Bortles: Coach Gus Bradley is sticking to his plan to make Chad Henne the starting quarterback over Blake Bortles, drafted third overall, but Bortles will get playing time with the No. 1 offense for the first time.

Bortles has played well in the first two games, completing 18 of 28 passes for 277 yards without a touchdown or interception.

 “Shoelace” update: Former Michigan standout Denard Robinson is listed as a third-string running back on the Jaguars’ depth chart, but he hasn’t played like one. He leads the Jaguars in rushing with 70 yards on 13 carries. He has a long run of 23 yards, for a touchdown, and his 5.4-yard average leads the team.