NFC North: Havard Rugland

Morning Roar: Bush on MVP watch?

September, 12, 2013
9/12/13
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Good morning and ROOOOAAARRR!!!!!

The love affair with Detroit's offense and running back Reggie Bush continued Wednesday when colleague Dan Graziano released his latest MVP watch.

There was one Lion on it -- Bush.

Bush climbed into the ranking at No. 9, just ahead of Dallas quarterback Tony Romo. Not surprisingly, every player is chasing Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, who threw seven touchdown passes in the opening week of the season. It'll take some quarterbacks in the league weeks to hit that number.

Bush's ascent into the watch also hurt another Lion. Calvin Johnson, who was No. 8 last week, is not in this week's poll. But don't worry, there are still 16 weeks left in the regular season.

If Detroit plays like it did against Minnesota, though, Bush could end up being the clear Lions' MVP without much question.

And now a look at the Lions from around the Interwebs:

The SideLion Report found a story from Norway that said the Lions wanted to sign Havard "Kickalicious" Rugland to the practice squad, but the NFL would not allow it.

Our coverage from yesterday starts with a look at the fast improvement of tight end Joseph Fauria. Injured right tackle Jason Fox is hoping to return as soon as possible from his groin injury. The first edition of 2013 QB Watch. Ndamukong Suh is appealing his $100,000 fine. Running back Mikel Leshoure remains upbeat despite not playing. And a look at the offensive formations Detroit used Sunday.

Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press with the story of Suh being cleared of an alleged incident with a cable repairman last month. Birkett also writes that Suh's personal foul -- among others -- had the Lions running gassers Wednesday.

Justin Rogers of MLive writes that rookie cornerback Darius Slay had no issue with his benching Sunday.

Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News says that rookie right guard Larry Warford enjoyed his professional debut and his first start.
GREEN BAY, Wis. – In the past 24 hours, the Green Bay Packers worked out “Kickalicious” (a.k.a Havard Rugland, the Norwegian-born placekicker made famous by a YouTube video) and made plans to bring in running back/kick returner Joe McKnight for a look-see.

If nothing else, it tells you the Packers’ 53-man roster might not be set even though final cuts are due by 6 p.m. ET.

There’s bound to be a player or three who winds up on the Packers’ roster who wasn’t with them in training camp. It could be a free-agent signing, a trade or a waiver claim.

But for the sake of this exercise, which was first attempted nine days ago, let’s assume general manager Ted Thompson keeps 53 of his own players. Here’s the final projection for how the roster will look after the final cuts are made (note the changes from the Aug. 22 version of this projection):

Quarterbacks (2): Aaron Rodgers, Vince Young

Moved in: None

Moved out: None

Analysis: No change from the Aug. 22 version, other than in the interim the Packers cut Graham Harrell. B.J. Coleman needs another year on the practice squad and likely will get it if he clears waivers.

Running backs (5): Eddie Lacy, Johnathan Franklin, Alex Green, James Starks, John Kuhn

Moved in: Starks

Moved out: DuJuan Harris

Analysis: The loss of Harris to a season-ending knee injury will force coach Mike McCarthy to alter his plans for the running game. He was hoping Lacy and Harris would provide a one-two punch.

Receivers (5): Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Jarrett Boykin, Jeremy Ross

Moved in: Ross

Moved out: Tyrone Walker

Analysis: With Cobb and Nelson finally healthy, there’s probably no need for a sixth receiver. Ross showed enough in the final week that he could be serviceable as the fifth receiver, if necessary, and he’s too valuable as a return specialist to let him go. Walker’s best shot is if they keep six at this position.

Tight ends (4): Jermichael Finley, Ryan Taylor, Matthew Mulligan, Brandon Bostick

Moved in: Mulligan

Moved out: Jake Stoneburner

Analysis: Mulligan has returned from his elbow injury and is the kind of blocker the Packers need to help their running game. Stoneburner’s fumble near the goal line against Seattle on Aug. 23 hurt his chances. He’s a strong practice-squad candidate. Veterans Andrew Quarless and D.J. Williams appear to be in trouble.

Offensive line (7): David Bakhtiari, Josh Sitton, Evan Dietrich-Smith, T.J. Lang, Don Barclay, Marshall Newhouse, Greg Van Roten

Moved in: None

Moved out: Lane Taylor

Analysis: The Packers got by with seven offensive linemen to start last season, and Taylor now looks like someone they can sneak through to the practice squad.

Defensive line (7): Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji, C.J. Wilson, Datone Jones, Mike Daniels, Johnny Jolly, Josh Boyd

Moved in: Boyd

Moved out: None

Analysis: Thompson doesn’t easily part with draft picks, and Boyd (a fifth-rounder) has shown steady improvement in the preseason.

[+] EnlargeNate Palmer
AP Photo/Reed HoffmannSolid showings in the final two preseason games might have secured Nate Palmer a spot on the Packers' roster.
Linebackers (10): A.J. Hawk, Brad Jones, Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Robert Francois, Jamari Lattimore, Sam Barrington, Terrell Manning, Mike Neal, Nate Palmer

Moved in: Palmer

Moved out: Andy Mulumba

Analysis: Palmer has had a sack in each of the last two preseason games and, like Boyd, he’s a draft pick. Again, I’m counting Neal as an outside linebacker rather than a defensive end.

Defensive backs (10): Sam Shields, Tramon Williams, Casey Hayward, Micah Hyde, Davon House, Jarrett Bush, Morgan Burnett, M.D. Jennings, Jerron McMillian, Chris Banjo

Moved in: None

Moved out: None

Analysis: Banjo solidified the final safety spot with another strong performance in the preseason finale.

Specialists (3): Mason Crosby (kicker), Tim Masthay (punter), Brett Goode (long snapper)

Moved in: None

Moved out: None

Analysis: Crosby’s restructured contract gives the Packers flexibility if they need to make a mid-season change, but if Crosby continues to kick like he has of late, that won’t be necessary.
So here's an interesting intra-division twist: "Kickalicious" worked out Friday morning for the Green Bay Packers, according to his Twitter account as well as a source of my colleague Rob Demovsky.

Havard Rugland is the Norwegian-born place-kicker whose fame rose with a viral YouTube video of trick kicks this spring. He signed with the Detroit Lions and was more competent than expected for a kicker with no experience in the game, making all three of his preseason field goal attempts -- including two from 50 and 49 yards. But the Lions released him last week after determining that veteran David Akers was healthy and ready to be their full-time place-kicker this season.

The Packers put incumbent Mason Crosby through intense competition throughout training camp before releasing competitors Giorgio Tavecchio and Zach Ramirez this week. They also restructured Crosby's contract, reducing his base salary from $2.4 million to $800,000 with a chance to earn back the difference through incentives.

The new contract made it seem more likely than not that Crosby would open the season as the Packers' kicker, but the team is at least keeping an active file of other kickers available. Rugland has an exceptionally strong leg but was planning to spend time this fall at a kicking academy to fine tune his technique. Stay tuned.

Here's a link to the YouTube video, which at last look had more than five million views.

Lions roster at a glance

August, 27, 2013
8/27/13
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We noted earlier Tuesday that the Detroit Lions released place-kicker Havard Rugland. As it turns out, Rugland was the highest-profile name involved in the Lions' push to a 75-man roster.

The three other players released Tuesday were: receiver Terrence Austin, cornerback DeQuan Menzie, tight end Cameron Morrah and tight end Matt Veldman.

Each NFL team must reduce its roster to 53 players by Saturday at 6 p.m. ET. Here is a numerical look at the Lions' roster by position, based on how they are listed on the team's web site:
  • Centers: 2
  • Cornerbacks: 7
  • Defensive ends: 5
  • Defensive tackles: 8
  • Fullbacks: 1
  • Guards: 6
  • Place-kicker: 1
  • Linebackers: 9
  • Long-snapper: 1
  • Punters: 2
  • Quarterbacks: 3
  • Running backs: 6
  • Safeties: 7
  • Tackles: 5
  • Tight ends: 4
  • Wide receivers: 8
Kickalicious, we hardly knew ye.

As NFL teams move toward Tuesday's 75-man roster limit, the Detroit Lions ended their experiment with Norwegian place-kicker Havard Rugland. It was fun while it lasted. Seriously.

Expectations for Rugland were as low as possible when training camp began. He was a complete newcomer to the game and had drawn the Lions' attention for reasons that had little to do with his capacity to be an NFL kicker. His viral YouTube video of trick kicks was one. The other was the fact that he kicked with his left foot, which would allow the Lions to use the same operation in practice as they would with veteran David Akers, who is also a lefty.

Rugland proved a quick study, developing enough to get three field goal opportunities this preseason. He made all three, including one from 50 yards and another from 49. But coach Jim Schwartz said earlier this month that "this isn't a circus show," and it was clear from then on that the job was Akers' as long as he proved healthy.

My sense is that Rugland showed enough to get onto the NFL's scouting radar, even if it is just for future workouts. He has a genuinely strong leg and it's clear that he's coachable. He made legitimate progress for a player who had never worn a football helmet before this year.

Note: The Lions also released cornerback DeQuan Menzie. They have three more roster spots to eliminate by Tuesday's 4 p.m. ET deadline.
Along with the rest of the NFL, the Detroit Lions must reduce their roster to 75 players by Tuesday. They'll play their preseason finale Thursday at the Buffalo Bills and then cut their roster again to 53 players by Saturday. On the cusp of a busy week, both in the NFL and here on ESPN.com, let's review some of the biggest personnel issues the Lions have been working through this summer:

Right tackle/right guard
Seifert comment: Jason Fox started at right tackle and rookie Larry Warford at right guard in the presumably pivotal third preseason game, and that's the combination many of us thought would ultimately emerge from this competition. But the Lions haven't announced any winners, and coach Jim Schwartz said: "We have a lot of different options and a lot of guys that can potentially get the job done."

No. 2 receiver
Seifert comment: As we noted over the weekend, the Lions reportedly are making calls to see if they can upgrade here. That's understandable. Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles are both working in the slot position. Patrick Edwards hasn't done much in the preseason after being given a nice opportunity to earn the role. Journeyman Matt Willis has been more productive. Chaz Schilens and Mike Thomas have already been released.

Strong-side linebacker
Seifert comment: The Lions started off veteran Ashlee Palmer in this role and he has not relinquished it. Second-year players Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis have not mounted a serious challenge, and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham has suggested Lewis might be better suited in the middle. Two recent veteran acquisitions, Rocky McIntosh and Chris White, seem targeted more for special teams roles.

Safety
Seifert comment: So far, it appears that the Lions' limited plan for Louis Delmas' camp participation has worked. Delmas looked healthy and active in 12 preseason snaps last week, and barring a flare-up of his knee condition, he is expected to start in Week 1 against the Minnesota Vikings.

Cornerback
Seifert comment: Rookie Darius Slay had some predictably tough moments last week against Tom Brady, but there doesn't seem to be much reason to go back to veteran Ron Bartell. If anything, newly-signed Rashean Mathis will push for playing time, perhaps at nickel in competition with Bill Bentley.

Kick/Punt returner
Seifert comment: The Lions have gotten returns from five different players in preseason games. They're trying to decide whether to dedicate a roster spot for a returner or use a backup player to handle the job. To this point, none of the participants

Place-kicker
Seifert comment: Once David Akers proved he was healthy, it was clear the job would be his. Havard Rugland has been a fun camp story, but it's hard to imagine the Lions finding a spot on their roster for him -- especially with punter Sam Martin kicking off. Akers has converted seven of eight field goals in the preseason.

BBAO: Lions' David Akers is back

August, 20, 2013
8/20/13
8:30
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

There was never a kicking controversy in Detroit, not as long as veteran David Akers could demonstrate he had moved past an injury-plagued 2012 season for the San Francisco 49ers. That moment appeared to take place Monday, at least symbolically, when Akers converted a 63-yard field goal during the Lions' training camp practice.

That kick confirmed Akers' leg strength and fortified the decision to bring him along slowly during the early part of camp. Although challenger Havard Rugland has impressed with his strong leg and quick assimilation of the game, it seems pretty clear that Akers will be the Lions' Week 1 place-kicker.

Said coach Jim Schwartz: "We've monitored him through training camp. We didn't just throw him out there every day, particularly early in training camp. But he's developed into a good rhythm. We knew he would, he's a veteran player and we had a good idea where he was with the injury and things like that. He's made steady progress through camp and looks to be just about full speed."

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • This press release should answer most of your questions about ESPN.com's expansion of its NFL Nation coverage. It also addresses the new role I'll be taking on as a national writer.
  • Justin Rogers of Mlive.com offers observations from the Lions' practice.
  • Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is not shaken by the team's poor offensive start this preseason, writes Chris McCosky of the Detroit News. Stafford: "Anytime you step on the field you want to put points up, no question. This is the time of year when you are still trying to jell, still trying to get better. We want to do that through the whole season. Hopefully you aren't playing your best in Week 1. You want to play well throughout and be peaking toward the end of the season."
  • My post on the pricey failure to the Lions' Mike Thomas experiment.
  • Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd had a minor knee procedure and won't play again in the preseason, notes Ben Goessling of ESPN.com.
  • It will help the entire team for Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson to play Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers, writes Sean Jensen of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
  • Chip Scoggins of the Star Tribune speaks with Vikings cornerback/returner Marcus Sherels, who is dealing with the death of his father as he tries to make the team.
  • Vikings linebacker Desmond Bishop is likely to get first-team reps in Sunday's game, notes Andrew Krammer of 1500ESPN.com.
  • Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Someday Mason Crosby might look back on his career and realize the person he should thank the most for overcoming a career-threatening bout of inaccuracy was a 5-foot-10, 182-pound bundle of positive energy named Giorgio Tavecchio. Just maybe, Tavecchio has been what the Green Bay Packers' veteran kicker has needed to overcome a troubling case of the shanks."
  • Tight end Brandon Bostick has impressed Packers players and coaches, writes Weston Hodkiewicz of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • The Packers haven't given Don Barclay their right tackle job, but he looks close to winning it, writes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • The Packers finally got cornerback Casey Hayward back at practice. More from Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com.
  • Veteran Chicago Bears linebacker D.J. Williams continues to miss practice because of a calf injury, notes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
  • That makes it more likely that rookie Jon Bostic will be the Week 1 starter, writes Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • The Bears won't use starter Jay Cutler or backup Josh McCown in their final preseason game, notes Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.

Reviewing Thursday's events at FirstEnergy Stadium:

Cleveland Browns 24, Detroit Lions 6

Preseason record: 1-1

Of interest: The game started with a drop by tight end Brandon Pettigrew and continued on in sloppy and uninspiring fashion for the Lions. ... There were a few highlights, most notably from defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, and because this is August, we'll start with them. Suh collapsed the Browns' pocket several times and quite amazingly ran down Browns tailback Trent Richardson on the far sideline, while Fairley blew past All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas on an outside rush and also stopped Richardson on a screen play. But Suh committed a silly personal foul, one of three for the Lions in the first half and four overall, and the Lions couldn't get out of their own way for most of the game. … The first-team offense was largely punchless without receiver Calvin Johnson (minor knee bruise), punting four times and scoring only on a 48-yard field goal by David Akers on its fifth and final possession. ... In all, the starting offense managed 73 yards and four first downs in the first half. ... The team's only other score came on a 33-yard field goal by Havard Rugland in the third quarter. ... Quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 11 of 16 passes but only for 74 yards, and while we got a few glimpses of Reggie Bush's potential as a flat receiver (five receptions, 44 yards), he managed only 15 yards on eight carries. … Meanwhile, the second-level tackling from the Lions defense was brutal -- the most glaring was Ashlee Palmer's failure to tackle Josh Gordon on a short pass -- and the Browns' presumably weak passing game lit them up all evening. Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell combined to complete 20 of 26 passes for 223 yards and three scores. Weeden caught the Lions in a botched man coverage on one touchdown and split safeties Don Carey and Glover Quin for the other. ... The best news: The Lions reported no significant injuries.

Local coverage: Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press: "The Lions got a glimpse of life without Calvin Johnson on Thursday, and it wasn't pretty." Coach Jim Schwartz said "it was very disappointing to see the way we played without Calvin because I thought there was opportunities for guys to make plays." … Drew Sharp of the Free Press: "[I]f Jim Schwartz’s overriding objective coming into the Cleveland game Thursday night was lulling the rest of the NFL into believing the Lions hadn’t changed their bumbling ways, he succeeded." … Stafford, via Justin Rogers of Mlive.com: "Obviously Calvin was out tonight, but that's no excuse. We can't use it as an excuse. We can't use it as a crutch. We have to have other guys step up and make plays." … Rogers also reviewed the Lions' 60 yards in personal foul penalties. … One bit of humor on the night: Lions running back Joique Bell knocked down a streaker who made it onto the field. Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News has the gory details.

Up next: Thursday against the New England Patriots at Ford Field.

Detroit Lions: Preseason Week 2

August, 15, 2013
8/15/13
12:00
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In which we look ahead to the Detroit Lions' second preseason game. (Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com previewed the Chicago Bears' matchup against the San Diego Chargers.)

Opponent: Cleveland Browns

Location: FirstEnergy Stadium

Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Personnel notes: Most starters are expected to play into the second quarter. … Safety Louis Delmas won't play Thursday night and might not take the field before the regular-season opener. That seems to make sense given his chronic knee issues, but it also leaves us unable to pre-judge his capacity of making it through the season and playing at a high level. … It will be fun to see how rookie place-kicker Havard Rugland reacts to 1) the increased attention his 2-for-2 performance last week earned him and 2) kicking outdoors on grass. … I didn't see anything last week to suggest there is a serious competition for the strongside linebacker spot currently held by veteran Ashlee Palmer. We'll see if that changes. … Although the Lions haven't established a firm deadline for crowning a winner in their competitions at right guard and right tackle, it would be nice to see enough progress Thursday so that the presumptive regular-season Week 1 group could work together for an extended period in Week 3 of the preseason.

Of interest: Although there is plenty of excitement surrounding the Lions' offense, as usual, we still have some important questions to get answered. That seems like as good of a focus as any this week. We've already noted the offensive line. It's also worth pointing out that all three of quarterback Matthew Stafford's completions last week went to receiver Calvin Johnson. Patrick Edwards didn't have a catch in the preseason opener, and either he or another young receiver -- Matt Willis? -- will have to step up in the first-team environment to provide some production. The tight end situation also seems more unsettled than it initially appeared. Behind starter Brandon Pettigrew, are we positive that Tony Scheffler is a lock to make the team? Or could some strong preseason performances by rookies Michael Williams and Joseph Fauria give the Lions some previously unexpected roster flexibility?

Lookback: Preseason Week 1

August, 12, 2013
8/12/13
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Three takeaways from Week 1 of the preseason:

Offensive lines are in major flux:

Chicago Bears right tackle J'Marcus Webb played so poorly Friday night at the Carolina Panthers that he was working with the second team when practice resumed Sunday. For the moment, the Bears have rookies at both right-side positions: Kyle Long (right guard) and Jordan Mills (right tackle). Each played 84 percent of the Bears' snaps Friday night.

Coach Marc Trestman told reporters he had always planned to give Webb work as a backup left tackle, necessitating Mills' ascension. But I think we all know that if Webb had performed better Friday night and throughout camp, there would be no reason to remove him from two days of first-team work in practice. With three weeks remaining until the start of the season, we can only assume Mills has a chance to win the job.

Meanwhile, the Green Bay Packers actually appear in better shape at left tackle -- where rookie David Bakhtiari has replaced injured starter Bryan Bulaga -- than at right tackle. Marshall Newhouse received the first chance at winning that position, but as colleague Rob Demovsky wrote, Don Barclay outperformed him Friday night against the Arizona Cardinals and might be the front-runner for the job.

Finally, the Detroit Lions are continuing their wide-open competition at right guard and right tackle. Rookie Larry Warford did not start but got a team-high 53 snaps at right guard Friday night against the New York Jets, part of a process to get him up to speed as quickly as possible. At right tackle, Corey Hilliard started and got 26 snaps while Jason Fox got the second turn and played 25 snaps.

The Minnesota Vikings are the only NFC North team to return its line intact. As a result, their starters played only two snaps Friday night against the Houston Texans. The clock is ticking for the other three teams.

Some interesting new playmakers emerged

Sure, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez should have grounded a screen pass that he ultimately threw into the hands of Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah, who intercepted it and dashed 14 yards for a touchdown. But let's not minimize the athleticism Ansah displayed, nor the early indication that he will be in the right place at the right time. That's half the battle of being a playmaker.

Bears rookie middle linebacker Jon Bostic made an athletic interception, stepping in front of a ball intended for a receiver he wasn't covering, before reversing field and dashing 51 yards for a score. I know we're used to seeing speedy middle linebacker play from the Bears, but hopefully it still stood out to you. It's also worth noting that the Bears thought enough of receiver Marquess Wilson's debut -- four catches for 82 yards, including a 58-yard play -- to elevate him to second-team work in practice Monday.

And let's not overlook Packers receiver Tyrone Walker, whose five-catch performance Friday night suggests he has a genuine chance to make the roster. As Demovsky noted, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has mentioned Walker often in camp interviews.

"Kickalicious" is a national story

Just when his viral video story was nearing the saturation point, Lions place-kicker Havard Rugland advanced his cause with a genuinely impressive football debut. Converting 49-and 50-yard field goals in a preseason game would have drawn attention for any kicker, let alone someone with Rugland's story.

Peter King led his "Monday Morning Quarterback" column with some thoughts on Rugland, and there is a undeniable positive for this development. The Lions, and the rest of the NFL, will get a chance to see how he reacts to increased scrutiny, higher expectations and perhaps even pressure -- as all NFL kickers deal with.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

A brief wave of concern floated over Minnesota Vikings training camp Sunday when first-round draft choice Shariff Floyd reported increased soreness in his left knee after what was believed to be a minor injury in Friday night's preseason opener against the Houston Texans.

An MRI was ordered, but according to numerous reports -- including Floyd himself -- the test revealed no serious damage. It's not clear if he will play Friday night against the Buffalo Bills, but the injury is not expected to impact him long-term.

Eventually, Floyd will resume what is expected to be about a 50-50 rotation with veteran starter Kevin Williams at the "under-tackle" position.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder must learn to trust his receivers. Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press explains.
  • Vikings receiver Greg Jennings is continuing to supply veteran support to rookie Cordarrelle Patterson, according to Andrew Krammer of 1500ESPN.com.
  • Mark Craig of the Star Tribune profiles Vikings backup quarterback Matt Cassel.
  • From yours truly: What to know about the two snaps Ponder got Friday night.
  • Did you know that a receiver on the Detroit Lions' roster appeared on the television show "American Ninja Warrior?" I didn't. Kyle Meinke of Mlive.com explains.
  • The Lions were disappointed with their cornerback play in Friday's preseason opener against the New York Jets, according to Chris McCosky of the Detroit News. Coach Jim Schwartz: "There were a couple of plays where we had bad leverage and missed some tackles, and in the secondary that’s critical. You can't do that. There were a couple of plays on third down where they made plays into the strength of our defense. We didn't play physical enough at our corner position when it came to man-to-man coverage."
  • Carlos Monarrez of the Detroit Free Press: "It’s beginning to appear more likely that Detroit Lions safety Louis Delmas won’t play during the exhibition season in order to rest his sore left knee. And that might not make much of a difference in how effective the veteran safety is when the regular season arrives."
  • My Lions post from over the weekend: Lions place-kicker Havard Rugland is no gimmick.
  • Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "Green Bay Packers place-kicker Giorgio Tavecchio is "more than just a nudge for [Mason] Crosby. He might give the Packers something to think about on roster cutdown day."
  • It's expected that Vince Young will get plenty of practice reps this week to give him a chance to compete for a job. More from Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
  • The Packers are giving Don Barclay a chance to win the right tackle job, writes Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com.
  • Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune wraps up the Chicago Bears' changes at offensive line, headlined by having two rookies -- Kyle Long and Jordan Mills -- working the right side with the first team.
  • It will be important for rookie receiver Marquess Wilson to find a special-teams niche with the Bears, writes Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Adam L. Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times provides some context for how Bears coach Marc Trestman experiences a game.
Of all the good things we saw Friday night from the Detroit Lions' revamped special teams, Havard Rugland's performance was probably the least relevant. It's nice that he converted two long field goals in the second half of a 26-17 victory over the New York Jets, but let's face it. Chances are remote that the Lions will choose a place-kicker who is entirely new to the game over veteran David Akers, especially in this win-or-else season.

[+] EnlargeHavard Rugland has performed well in training camp and hit two field goals in Detroit's preseason opener.
AP Photo/Paul SancyaHavard Rugland has had a strong training camp and performed well in Detroit's preseason opener.
Still, it will be difficult to forget the scene after Rugland's first field goal, a 49-yard curveball in the third quarter. Rugland celebrated as if the kick had won the Lions the game, prompting his teammates to do the same. Linebacker Stephen Tulloch lifted him on the sideline, and eventually Akers had to remind Rugland that he still needed to kick off.

"It's refreshing to see how much fun he's having," quarterback Matthew Stafford told reporters. "The guy is having a blast here and he's doing a great job. He's kicking the ball great. Obviously, he had two long field goals tonight and got to kick off. Just watching him out there is refreshing for us. … It's an awesome story and the guy is a pretty darn good kicker."

If nothing else, we've learned that "Kickalicious" is not a gimmick. He might have drawn the Lions' attention through a now-viral YouTube video of trick kicks, but Friday night capped a camp performance that has suggested increasing legitimacy each day. In addition to hitting from 49 and 50 yards, Rugland also had two high kickoffs that allowed the Lions' coverage team to stop the Jets' returners short of the 25-yard line.

Again, it's difficult to imagine the Lions tapping Rugland as their kicker this season, assuming Akers remains healthy and kicks the way he did Friday night. (He converted from 47 and 35 yards, and rookie punter Sam Martin appeared more than prepared to handle kickoffs with three touchbacks.) But a few more similar performances could at least put Rugland in the conversation for a future in the game, which is much more than anyone thought possible just a month ago.

Asked about a genuine competition for the place-kicking job, Lions coach Jim Schwartz said the obvious: "Everybody on our team is competing for a spot. We don't have anybody that's out here just buying time."

The really interesting question, which might never arise, is what the Lions would do if Akers is either injured or suddenly ineffective. Has Rugland emerged as an acceptable backup plan, just a few months after he put on a football helmet for the first time? What happens when it stops being just fun and game-deciding pressure arises? That would be the next step in this already-surprising story.

Reviewing Friday's action at Ford Field:

Detroit Lions 26, New York Jets 17

Preseason record: 1-0

Of interest: The Lions couldn't have asked for a better start from rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah, who snagged a Mark Sanchez pass on the second series of the game and returned it 14 yards for a touchdown. (To be fair, defensive linemen Willie Young and C.J. Mosley helped bust up a screen play, and Sanchez should have grounded the ball.) Ansah also had one tackle for loss in playing a total of 20 snaps. … New safety Glover Quin just missed a pick-six himself; Jets tight end Kellen Winslow dislodged the ball as he ran by. … Two of the young players competing for the Lions' third linebacker job appeared to make mistakes in the early going. Tahir Whitehead missed a tackle against Winslow, who went on to a 24-yard gain. And Travis Lewis might have been the player who busted coverage on Jeff Cumberland's 26-yard touchdown reception. … There is no doubt you'll hear plenty about Havard Rugland, aka "Kickalicious," after he converted field goals of 49 and 50 yards in the second half. But it was a strong night of kicking all around for the Lions' new-look special teams. Veteran David Akers also was good on both attempts, from 47 and 35 yards, and rookie punter Sam Martin averaged a net of 43.7 yards on three punts and had touchbacks on all three kickoffs. … It's vital for a rookie to get repetitions, and the Lions made sure to get right guard Larry Warford a game-high 53 snaps. That means he played about three-quarters of the game after replacing starter Dylan Gandy.

Local coverage: Ansah on his touchdown, via Kyle Meinke of Mlive.com: "When I caught it, I was like, 'Oh wait, the ball is in my hands. I've got to go that way. I just did." … Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press: "It was a good start for the young man, but let's not stamp his ticket to Canton just yet, shall we? Detroit is an overly reactionary sports town -- to both positive and negative developments." … Rugland was so excited about his first field goal that he forgot he had to kick off afterwards, writes Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News. … Young had another good preseason game, leaving us all to wonder whether he is ready to translate that production to the regular season. Carlos Monarrez of the Free Press explains.

Up next: Thursday at Cleveland Browns

Previewing preseason Week 1

August, 9, 2013
8/09/13
12:00
PM ET
In which we look ahead to Week 1 of the 2013 preseason. All four NFC North teams will take the field Friday night. Rob Demovsky will have a preview of the Green Bay Packers' game against the Arizona Cardinals, and our friends at ESPNChicago.com handled pregame coverage of the Chicago Bears' matchup at the Carolina Panthers.


Detroit Lions
Opponent: New York Jets
Location: Ford Field
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Personnel notes: Starters will probably play a couple of series, but some are expected to sit out. Atop that list is safety Louis Delmas (knee), whose limited work in training camp suggests the Lions wouldn't risk him in a preseason game. Fans at Ford Field will have their first chance to see tailback Reggie Bush in the Lions' offense, and everyone is looking forward to seeing place-kicker Havard Rugland -- aka "Kickalicious" -- see his first action in a live game. Rugland didn't look out of place in training camp practices earlier this week. Also, it will be fun to watch the Lions try out a number of candidates for their kickoff and punt return roles. Rookie Steven Miller is inexperienced but fast, quick and has the look of a playmaker.

Focal point: Three days at Lions training camp revealed that they could face some intriguing bottom-of-the-roster decisions. The Lions are deep at tight end and running back, especially, and it makes you wonder whether they can afford to keep a No. 3 quarterback. Part of that decision includes the level of competence that Kellen Moore and Thaddeus Lewis demonstrate in preseason games.

Minnesota Vikings
Opponent: Houston Texans
Location: Metrodome
Time: 8 p.m. ET

Personnel notes: A number of front-line players aren't expected to be in uniform, including defensive end Jared Allen (ankle). Cornerback Xavier Rhodes and linebacker Desmond Bishop were also nursing relatively minor injuries this week and could miss the game. Coach Leslie Frazier has said that tailback Adrian Peterson will get some work in the preseason, but it's not clear if that will come Friday or at some other point. The rest of the starters could play as much as a quarter.

Focal point: We'll get our first real look at Joe Webb on the other side of his transition from quarterback to receiver/all-purpose playmaker. In training camp, Webb demonstrated excellent hands and catching radius but seemed to be laboring under the raw amount of running a receiver does in an NFL training camp. We all know he was an excellent open-field runner for a quarterback, but he won't have the advantage of surprising defenses anymore. Preseason games are important in this kind of situation. Webb must demonstrate enough playmaking capacity for the Vikings to use one of their 53 roster spots on him. Otherwise, it's difficult to carry a "developmental" player who is in the final year of his contract.

Lions camp: Day 1

August, 6, 2013
8/06/13
5:30
PM ET
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions were in full pads Tuesday for the first day of our training camp visit. We've already noted the decidedly positive mood of safety Louis Delmas, so now let's run through some quick-hitting practice observations:
  • General manager Martin Mayhew wasn't joking when he said the Lions have their biggest team in his tenure. Oh my gosh. Rookie tight ends Michael Williams and Joseph Fauria are legitimately 6-foot-6, making them the tallest pair of tight ends in the NFC North. But the real eye-opener is rookie defensive end Devin Taylor, who is listed at 6-foot-7. I can't say Taylor did anything from a pass-rushing standpoint that stood out, but at that size, all he has to do is raise his arms to cause a ruckus.
  • The Lions spent the early part of camp rotating their right guard and right tackle spots, but I thought it was notable that they spent most of Tuesday's practice with veteran Dylan Gandy at right guard and Jason Fox at right tackle. The first preseason game is three days away, so you wonder if Gandy and Fox will get the first starts of the summer at their respective positions.
  • Whoever wins that right guard position will have earned it. Imagine having to demonstrate promise to the coaching staff while working against defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. During the portion of one-on-one drills I watched, Fairley got the best of Gandy.
  • I watched left tackle Riley Reiff as much as I could. He was matched up for the most part on defensive end Willie Young, who is working with the first team. Young had some nice rushes in one-on-one drills, but in the team portion, Reiff did what I expect he will do this season: He held his own.
  • "Kickalicious" passes the eye test. Who knew what to expect from a place-kicker who had never kicked with a helmet on, let alone behind a line, when the offseason began? But Havard Rugland converted two of three kicks I saw and seems to have a pretty good grasp of fundamentals. Will he beat out David Akers? Doubtful. But he is by no means a circus act.
  • Rookie running back/returner Steven Miller is really, really fast. During punt coverage duty Tuesday, he blew past two defenders trying to slow him down as a gunner. Neither touched him.
  • Bill Bentley seems quite comfortable as the Lions' nickel back. He did a nice job breaking up a pass to receiver Nate Burleson in team drills.
  • Don't fret: I also watched quarterback Matthew Stafford, receiver Calvin Johnson, running back Reggie Bush and others Tuesday. I'll continue compiling my information there and come back with something more substantial on them in the coming days.

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