With the team's first exhibition contest looming, Lions coach Jim Schwartz is finally giving his team a break.
One that is much needed.
Other than a cancelled morning practice on Tuesday, the team has been put through what defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham considered one of the more grueling camps in his borderline-archaic career.
The Lions had just a walk-through during Thursday afternoon's practice, while using Friday to travel to Pittsburgh. Game-time is slated for 7:30 p.m. EST.
"If you look at all of our guys, they're laboring right now. Everybody has lost their legs," said Schwartz on Thursday. "Pass rushers don't look as fresh; receivers don't look as crisp. That's training camp. They'll get their legs back.
"They'll feel great on Saturday. It's just part of training camp."
Per the norm, Schwartz and his staff will using the exhibition tilt against the Steelers for player evaluation. But don't discount the fact that Pittsburgh employs a 3-4 defense -- a scheme the team will face more often than not in 2010.
Considering his own defense relies upon a contradictory 4-3 style (four defensive linemen and three linebackers), Schwartz adjusted the unit to impose the 3-4 look on Thursday morning in effort to prepare for Pittsburgh. Like everyone else, he wants to see the much ballyhooed offense make plays against a foreign defensive alignment.
And make those plays against competition -- not just in practice.
"You want guys to know what the other team runs and what they're looking for. We don't game-plan per se, but you have to be ready for those looks," said Schwartz. "We have a very good opportunity, particularly on offense, in the preseason to really get good work in versus 3-4 teams.
"We're obviously not a 3-4 team; we play 4-3 and we play a very specific version of that. We're going to face a couple of different flavors in the preseason because I think we play eight or nine games against 3-4 teams this year. We have Green Bay twice, the AFC East is loaded with 3-4 teams all with a little different flavor; Buffalo, the Jets, New England, Dallas - and now Washington is a 3-4 team and we'll see similar a scheme to what we'll see against Pittsburgh.
"Even though we're not game-planning, the work is good for us because we don't see it in training camp on a daily basis and you can't replicate that on scout teams. It's good for us and we'll see different schemes on offense, but I like where we are in preseason going against all 3-4 teams."
Roster Battles: One of the more intriguing roster battles is at running back. Although Kevin Smith and rookie Jahvid Best have secured spots, the same cannot be said for second-year player Aaron Brown, and veterans DeDe Dorsey and Maurice Morris. Morris is a solid blocker and adequate runner, while Dorsey is a journeyman but valuable special teams asset. Brown found his way onto the squad last season. With one spot available between the three, each will have to distinguish themselves in the preseason, beginning on Saturday.
Schwartz said he wasn't looking for any "flash" plays. Rather, consistency.
"They need to be sound in all aspects of the game – passing game, protection, run and everything else," he said. "That's important for any player. I don't know if it's any more important for running backs. We probably have pretty good competition there so that makes it important, but it's no different than being out here at practice every day.
"That competition just doesn't exist on Saturday night. It exists 24/7 for those guys."