Standing on the sidelines pre-game while the Lions and Steelers went through their warm-ups, I bumped into actor Ving Rhames, most notably of Pulp Fiction and Chuck and Larry fame. He's bumping his latest movie "Pirahna 3-D." I hope they don't 3-D that voice. It crackles even in conversation.
* Pre-game stretch was one continuous "Meet and Greet" for Steelers linebacker Larry Foote. Larry was a popular dude with his former Lions teammates.
* James Harrison didn't seem to know it was a pre-season game. It was obvious in the intensity of his pace in pre-game that he's ready to start the season. When the Silverback got to the bump tackle part of warming up, he scattered a bunch of TV camera men and photographers along with yours truly along the sideline.
* The pre-game wouldn't be complete without the gi-normous recognition of Dick LeBeau's induction to the Hall of Fame and the standing ovation which poured out of the stands in the form of love given to a man who has earned it. They just don't come any better than Coach LeBeau.
* After all the positive vibe I've been seeing and feeling all through training camp, I was disappointed in the first-team offensive line.
Rashard Mendenhall opened the game with a 5-yard carry that featured a good blocks by Trai Essex and Flozell Adams and I'm thinking "Yeah, the surge from the hogs looks like all I've been seeing at camp." And then it proceeded to go a little south from there.
But look, the running game and passing game all depend on timing and working together. Don't panic. This is a work in progress.
* Three times in the first half the ball hit the turf from backs not squeezing the pigskin. I think we'll see a mandate from Mike Tomlin for the defensive players to swat the ball all next week in camp. Don't be surprised to hear the talkative Foote scream "Hassan chop!" as in the Bugs Bunny cartoons, while meat-cleavering the ball in practice next week.
* On Rashard's fumble, the play looked like a schematic drawing as Big Flo and Trai moved the down tackle into the lap of the linebacker. That's how you draw it up. But the fumble ended what could have been a long run by Mendenhall and Adams showed veteran savvy by first picking up the ball, and then deciding to fall on it instead of trying to run. Years ago former teammate and OT Ted Peterson nearly was decapitated by Hugh Green trying to pick up a fumble and running with it. Good move, Flo.
* Adams didn't show what he's done in camp. He opened up on his first pass set and gave away the inside to the Lions DE Cliff Avril and gave up a pressure. I'm guessing Flo was thinking about that later, during the Steelers' second possession, when he tried to adjust his pass set by squaring his shoulders to the line of scrimmage (which he should do) but he was too slow to the corner junction and therefore allowed a sack.
* Chris Kemoeatu also gave up a pressure to Kyle Vanden Bosch, when, on a twist, he looked surprised and tried to compensate by dropping his inside foot. That's a Bozo no-no. Something going away from you; something's coming back. Juicy shouldn't be surprised by a twist.
* Speaking of stunts, Gunther Cunningham, the defensive coordinator for the Lions, wasn't shy about dialing up the heat from the get-go. I saw two and three-man stunts, twists, delayed dogs, and corner blitzes. Gunther was not shy about sending a message as to his intentions this year.
* Silverback, part II: Twice in the first half, James Harrison could've been whistled for abuse of a corpse. He drove Lions OT Jeff Backus over a pile and onto his back on a 3rd and 1. Later on a pass rush, Harrison crumpled Backus. It was like watching the Leaning Tower of Pisa finally letting go and hitting the deck. When the dust settled, the Silverback was making life hard for young Matt Stafford.
* Maurkice Pouncey got some good licks in. Playing both center and guard, he blocked until the whistle, and gave a good account of himself. If he keeps his nose to the grindstone, it's when and where he moves into the line-up, not if.
* First down "Base Okie" 3-4 defense is all about reading while sitting on your heels. If you are an explosive, dynamic player like Lawrence Timmons, cooling your jets and reading your cues can be as cumbersome as writing a letter via snail mail instead of firing off an e-mail. Lawrence had a nice stop in the first half when he just read, flowed and then dropped the Lions' RB like a bad habit. Base Okie is one of the places I think we'll see a big jump in performance by Timmons.
* Doug Legursky also played well in the rain-delayed second half and got a couple of slams on run-blocking plays. This guy plays guard, center and short-yardage FB. The Bronco deserves a carry from the FB spot in goal line. I'm officially lobbying for him. He is a squat monster.
* Antonio Brown lit up the Lions' secondary the way the lightning and thunder did the night sky with a minute and a half to go in the second quarter. In the fourth quarter, Brown ran a crossing route and went 68 yards with a Dennis Dixon pass while dusting several Lions. When he hit the sidelines, after accepting some congrats from teammates, Randy Fichtner, now the QB coach started yelling "Come here. Come here!" Intense instructions followed on the sidelines.
That's good stuff. In the aftermath of scoring a TD, young guys might miss something important. Whatever it was, Randy wanted to make sure the young buck didn't miss an important learning moment in the wash of good feelings on the sidelines. That's just good coaching.
* Speaking of the rain delay. You want to see speed? I beat Mike Wallace off the field and into the tunnel when that crack of lightning exploded over the field.
* I was bummed at not seeing any real splash plays on the special-forces teams. This is a great place to show up on the coach's radar by going cowabunga on somebody. Other than Anthony Madison doing what Anthony Madison normally does, there were no other special operators doing grunt work that I could see. This stuff is all about the want-to.
* Isaac Redman looked good on a few carries. That 31-yarder was all balance and leg drive. He looked like a cue ball on a pool table on the opening break as he scattered would be tacklers. He also scored a TD and had a nice cut block on the defensive end on Frank Summers' catch in the second half. He's blocking well, too.
* Notable performances included Keenan Lewis's mano-a-mano coverage of Calvin Johnson in the north end zone; ditto for Joe Burnett on Johnson in the south end zone. More second-year men on the up-tick.
* Keyaron Fox looked All-World in a series making tackles left and right. Rookie ‘backer Stevenson Sylvester busted a few tackles and makes one take notice. He's got some pop. I'll overlook his lousy singing if he continues to improve.
All in all, it was a pre-season game and a learning lesson. Let's see who builds from here.