The Lions' running game isn't off and running as hoped.
In the Lions' exhibition opener, a 13-10 victory over the New York Giants, the offensive line failed to create much room to run in the zone-blocking scheme. Running back Tatum Bell gained only eight yards on seven carries. Rookie Kevin Smith gained 22 on eight.
But the Lions remain committed to the run. To illustrate that, coach Rod Marinelli went back to one of his favorite metaphors.
"It's like pounding a rock," Marinelli said. "You keep swinging, and the thing's not breaking, and some guys cry about it. 'Oh, it ain't going to break. It ain't going to break.' Well, we're going to break it, and we just keep working at it. That's what you do.
"It's hard. It's hard work, and we've just got to stay with it. You don't just say, 'Hey, we're going to run the ball here.' No. That's lip service. We're going to put pad service in."
The problem is more physical than mental, Marinelli said. The Lions didn't show good blocking technique. They were too high. They need to get their pads down, get after it and get the job done.
"You've just got to knock people off the ball," Marinelli said. "There wasn't a lot of mental errors. A couple times we had an assignment error where we didn't block the right guy. But mostly, we know who to block now. It's just about executing each and every down."
You don't know what a team is holding back in exhibitions. But the Lions aren't holding back much in the running game. What you see is pretty much what you're going to get -- a relatively simple zone scheme -- and you can see how the running game can affect the rest of the team.
The Lions fired Mike Martz, made Jim Colletto their new offensive coordinator and made the running game the foundation of their total team concept.
Marinelli wants ball control. If his defense is off the field, it can't give up any points -- and it's resting so it can go all out next time up. The Lions had the ball for 33:59 on Thursday night. The Giants had it for 26:01.
"We had eight more minutes, which is critical for a speed defense," Marinelli said. "If you are fast -- and we're not overly big, but we're really fast -- the more time you can control that thing, it's going to help them.
"And it's their job to get off on third down. It all works together. If they get off on third down, then it starts buying you clock time."
The Lions want to run the ball well. But even if they aren't a great running team, they at least must run it well enough to keep defenses honest, opening up the field for wide receivers Roy Williams and Calvin Johnson, not to mention tight ends Dan Campbell and Michael Gaines.
"We've got to play to our strength, and our strength are those wideouts -- and the tight ends," Marinelli said. "That's a lot of our strength. But they can negate that if we can't run the ball."
News flash: Calvin Johnson is good. Johnson looked dominant in the Lions' exhibition opener, catching four passes for 78 yards in two series of work. He missed practice time afterward, but coach Rod Marinelli said he had only a bruised leg.
- Quarterback Jon Kitna looked comfortable with newly emphasized aspects in the passing game - roll outs, bootlegs and play-action. He went 6-for-7 for 106 yards and a touchdown with a perfect 158.3 passer rating.
- Balance has been the key word since the Lions fired Mike Martz. In the two series the starters played in the exhibition opener, new offensive coordinator Jim Colletto called seven runs and seven passes. "There's going to be games that we're going to have to be more heavy on the pass, and there's going to be games where we're more heavy on the run," Kitna said. "But while the game is in doubt, like it was tonight early on, we were 50-50. That's a good thing."
- After a recent practice, Colletto called together his players and sent them a message: It's one thing to talk about running the football. It's another thing to do it. "Running the football is hard, hard work," Colletto said. "And it's painful. And it hurts. Both blocking and running and the whole bit. And that mindset has got to be there. Just because we draw it on the blackboard and it looks good doesn't mean everything's going to work right. Those guys on defense get coached, too, and there are guys in this league who will break you in half on defense. Well, that attitude has to be on offense. A good running team on offense is a vicious, violent group of people. They play with a defensive attitude. We've been so used to doing this stuff all over the field. Let's put them in a box, and let's play. Let's have a war and see what happens."
- After two years trying fullback under Mike Martz, Casey Fitzsimmons is a full-time tight end again. "It's where I belong," Fitzsimmons said. "I'm not a fullback. I can do some things that a fullback does, but I've been playing on the line of scrimmage my whole life. It's tough for me to go back there. It's a whole different position."
- The domestic violence charges against safety Kalvin Pearson have been dropped. Pearson was arrested April 26 in Tampa. He was charged with two felonies: aggravated battery on a pregnant woman and domestic battery by strangulation. Assistant state attorney Pam Bondi said Monday that prosecutors decided not to file those charges, but she could not provide details. Pearson still faces a misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest without violence. Bondi said his arraignment is scheduled for Sept. 8 and he does not need to attend.
- The Lions put linebacker Teddy Lehman on the injured reserve/minor list and reached a settlement with him because of a strained hamstring. Lehman's injury isn't so serious that he will miss the whole season. But it's serious enough that he will miss at least most of the preseason, and NFL rosters are now limited to 80 players with no exemptions. The Lions could not spare the spot. Lehman left Detroit for Tampa Bay as a free agent in the off-season, but the Buccaneers cut him before training camp and he signed with the Lions on July 26.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Didn't get enough yards." - Coach Rod Marinelli, on what was wrong with the running game in the exhibition opener.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
- CB Brian Kelly whiffed badly on a tackle in the exhibition opener, but the Lions aren't worried about the veteran, who has a reputation as a good tackler.
- G Frank Davis struggled running with the first team the first 2 1/2 weeks of camp and has been sent back to the second team now that Edwin Mulitalo is off the physically unable to perform list.
- C Andy McCollum has a good chance to win a job because he is a veteran and is versatile, able to play center and guard.
- DE Ikaika Alama-Francis impressed coach Rod Marinelli in the exhibition opener, showing his speed.
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Kevin Smith vs. Tatum Bell for starting RB - Three days after the first exhibition, Smith started with the first team, Bell with the second team. Coach Rod Marinelli said not to read anything into it - and got angry when pressed about it - but Smith has shown something and the pressure is on Bell.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Leigh Bodden remains behind Travis Fisher at cornerback for now. Devale Ellis still seems to have a hold on the fifth receiver spot, but he needs to do more as a returner than he did in the exhibition opener. Gosder Cherilus is putting the heat on George Foster at right tackle, despite taking three penalties in his first exhibition. He showed power with his blocking.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: WR Calvin Johnson - We know Johnson is good. But he has been really good in camp. Really, really good. He shows no signs of the back injury that bothered him most of last season. He looked dominant in the exhibition opener with four catches for 78 yards.
ROOKIE REPORT: Right tackle Gosder Cherilus took three penalties in the exhibition opener, but one was not his fault and he impressed the coaches with his blocking. ... Linebacker Jordon Dizon was all over the place and made an impressive tackle for a stop on fourth down. He has good instincts, but needs to direct them to the proper spot. ... Running back Kevin Smith showed good burst, despite gaining only 22 yards on eight carries. ... Defensive tackle Andre Fluellen recorded a sack. ... Defensive end Cliff Avril could have had two sacks. Avril has speed, but he needs to refine his technique and get off the ball quicker - but not too quickly. He also had an offsides penalty. ... Fullback Jerome Felton has been solid. ... Wide receiver Kenneth Moore has not made an impact on offense or special teams and needs to do more to make the roster. ... Defensive tackle Landon Cohen has been a pleasant surprise.
INJURY REPORT: Several Lions are nursing minor injuries, including wide receiver Calvin Johnson (leg), fullback Jon Bradley (shoulder), defensive tackle Cory Redding (groin), defensive tackle Langston Moore (shoulder), linebacker Gilbert Gardner (concussion).