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Detroit Lions’ preseason opener highlights team’s need for joint practices

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It’s the next best alternative to game film for evaluation.

NFL: AUG 05 Lions-Patriots Joint Training Camp Photo by Allan Dranberg/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Detroit Lions offense didn’t get much of a look during Thursday night’s preseason debut against the New England Patriots. The Lions allowed nine sacks that night, ending drives as quickly as they started. By the end of the night, the Lions had run just 40 plays (the Patriots offense ran 79), including a kneel down to mercifully end the night.

Preseason games may be boring to the crowd and fans, but they are an invaluable part of the process for coaches to evaluate their team and players to make their case for a job come September. But when your team only has 39 real snaps in a game, players don’t really get the opportunity to shine. Only a handful of offensive players saw the field for 20 or more snaps, meaning guys like Chris Lacy (15 snaps), Tom Kennedy (13), Isaac Nauta (14), or Ty Johnson (13) barely got the chance to make their case.

But head coach Matt Patricia said on Tuesday morning that this just highlights the importance and value of joint practices.

“That’s why some of those practice reps are so important for us,” Patricia said regarding last week’s joint practices with the Patriots. “That’s where we can get really good evaluation, because we don’t know how the games are going to go. So when you have that opportunity to practice with another team, you’re trying to set up as many reps as possible just in case the game winds up the way it did.”

Those practice reps may not make the highlight reels on ESPN the next morning, but they are an important supplement for the coaching staff, seeing as they’re as close to live reps against an opponent as possible without the extra risk of injury.

This also helps explain why the Lions were so cautious with their starters during the first preseason game. Guys like Matthew Stafford, Kenny Golladay, Kerryon Johnson and many others didn’t take a single snap on Thursday night, but they got plenty of time working with the Patriots throughout the week in the leadup to the game.

Tuesday, the Lions will head down to Houston for a couple more joint practices. Though most fans won’t get the opportunity to see those valuable reps for both the starters and players trying to work their way onto the roster, the coaches will. And that may mean another preseason game with limited starters will follow on Saturday against the Texans.