Friday, it finally begins. After months of mock drafting, collective bargaining, free-agent signing, camp training and injury freaking-out..ing, we finally get a glimpse of that beautiful glimmer of the Ford Field lights beaming down on our silver-headed heroes. Sure it may only be a preseason game, but for many of us, we have awaited this moment with the intensity of an infant hawk determined to penetrate its repressive shell.
Friday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals marks the beginning of the Lions transformation from immature child into a developing adolescent. We've long suffered the embarrassments of youth. In 2007, we stood high upon our 6-2 mountain, only to realize we were atop a high-chair and proceeded to fall off. 2008: The Year of the Crapped Pants. Last year, we took our first major steps. We learned to walk. Then we ran. We learned to talk. Then we screamed. We skinned our knee (or shoulder) and didn't cry.
Now begins the next step. No more talk about potential. No more empty predictions. It's time for action. It's time for football. And here's what I'm looking for in Friday's game:
Offensive Tackle Depth. It's no secret that the Lions are struggling with injuries at the tackle position. However, this provides a unique opportunity for backup tackles to prove their worth against first-string talent. The Bengals don't offer any elite pass rushers, so it should be interesting to see how Corey Hilliard,
Cornerbacks. Perhaps the biggest unknown for the Lions, the cornerbacks will be under the microscope on Friday. Eric Wright has a lot to prove after an extremely disappointing season in Cleveland. Meanwhile, Aaron Berry has piqued my curiosity since the beginning of training camp. Last year, he shined in training camp and the preseason, but his season-ending injury in week one last year put an end to his hype. This year, he has already created some buzz and will likely crack the lineup at some point this season. Unfortunately, he has been declared out for the Bengals game this week. This should give Nathan Vasher more playing time. Vasher played well down the stretch last year, but his ability as a starter remains in question. The Bengals will be starting rookie Andy Dalton at quarterback, so if the corners struggle, it might be time to worry (though not too much with Berry and Alphonso Smith out). Also, keep an eye out for Bengals rookie receiver A.J. Green.
Linebackers living up to hype? The Lions will have a different starter in every linebacker position this year (assuming Stephen Tulloch eventually moves into the middle). Most are crowning this unit as the most improved during this offseason. Tulloch's acquisition has been universally praised, many believe Justin Durant is a significant upgrade from last year, and everyone seems to agree that DeAndre Levy is better suited as an outside linebacker. Well...let's see it. The defense has been missing gap-clogging play makers and reliable second-level tacklers. If these guys are as good as they are being touted, the Lions defense could be unrecognizable from last season.
The path to manhood won't be easy, but it may be shorter than you think. Friday will give us some clue, but, more importantly, it will just allow us to see our team grow again. And I can't wait. Go Lions.