For Detroit Lions’ Dan Campbell, deciding when to play veterans this preseason is TBD

Detroit Free Press

Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell said Friday he still is weighing how much to play his starters and when in the NFL’s new-look preseason.

The NFL expanded to a 17-game regular season for the first time this fall and eliminated one of the standard four preseason games.

Historically, teams used the third preseason game as a test run for the regular season, playing starters a full half and sometimes into the third quarter, then gave key players the fourth exhibition game off.

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With no fourth game this year and an extra week between the Lions’ Aug. 27 preseason finale against the Indianapolis Colts and their Sept. 12 regular season opener against the San Francisco 49ers, Campbell said he is trying to balance managing reps for his veterans and getting his team ready for the fall.

“All summer I’ve gone back and forth and I’ve thought about it, ‘Well, what if you did this? What if you use two as three, and then three you didn’t (play starters)?’ ” Campbell said. “Because the reality is, for the vets, they gained a game. They’ve lost nothing, but they’ve gained an extra game cause they weren’t going to play the fourth preseason game anyway, which is why you’re asking it.”

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The Lions finish their training camp acclimation period Saturday and have an off day Sunday before donning pads for the first time next week. They open the preseason Aug. 13 against the Buffalo Bills.

By then, Campbell should have a plan in place for playing time.

“We’re a new staff, new players, everything,” Campbell said. “And you want them to get in the flow of a true game with each other before you get to the season. And even between preseason Game 3 and when you play, you’re talking about 2½ weeks, whatever that is. That’s a long time. And so you’d hate to get in the game and be like, ‘All right, we finally found our rhythm in the third quarter against San Francisco.’ My gosh, we’ll be down.

“But then you’re trying to weigh where you’re at, what do you feel like? I think a lot of it’s going to be predicated on where are we at with the roster injury wise. Hopefully we’re healthy and we feel good and all that. How do we really feel about our practices? How we’ve looked? And I think that’s just going to happen. A lot of it’s going to have to be how myself and the staff feels about where we’re at. What do we truly feel like we need?”

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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