Dan Campbell was toying with playing his starters in every game this preseason. Now that he has seen them in action, the first-year Detroit Lions coach is starting to reconsider those plans.
Campbell said Thursday he will hold several key veterans, including possibly quarterback Jared Goff, out of Saturday’s second preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Lions also play the Steelers in Week 10 of the regular season.
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“I think whatever we do this week will be pretty much the same as next week (for the preseason finale),” Campbell said. “So whatever this ends up being, I think it will probably play out very similar next week. And look, a lot of it has to do with where we’re at with the roster as well. There’s already a couple of areas where I thought it might be good to sit, but we can’t do it with where we’re at, just the roster.”
Goff practiced Thursday and took first-team reps, as he has all training camp, but the Lions still were without several key players including defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand, swing tackle Tyrell Crosby and backup quarterback David Blough.
Running back D’Andre Swift returned to practice Thursday from a groin injury that has kept him out most of camp, and tight end T.J. Hockenson practiced for the first time in more than a week, since leaving with what Campbell termed a minor injury.
Neither Swift nor Hockenson is expected to play Saturday, Campbell said, though Blough should play behind expected starter Tim Boyle.
“This had been in my head for about a week,” Campbell said. “I’m starting to think about now maybe sitting a few of these guys, a select few veterans is kind of what I’m thinking right now. I’m not there yet and I want to see how we get through this practice, too. That’ll play a lot into it.”
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Early in camp, Campbell said he was wrestling with how to adapt to the NFL’s new preseason format.
The league eliminated one of its standard four preseason games this summer and added a 17th regular season game, which Campbell said essentially puts another week of work on veterans who historically play sparingly in the preseason.
Goff and most of the Lions’ first-team offense, minus Hockenson and Swift, played 22 reps in last week’s preseason loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Swift said it has been “frustrating” to miss most of the past two weeks, participated sparingly in individual drills. Given the choice, he said, he wants to play in preseason games.
“If it was up to me, I’ll play in any aspect I can play,” he said. “If they want me to play, I’m going to play. You only get but so many — I don’t know how many chances I get to play this game that I love, so every opportunity I get, I’m going to take advantage of it.”
Along with Swift and Hockenson, receivers Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman have missed time this preseason, as have defensive linemen Michael Brockers, Nick Williams, Hand and Levi Onwuzurike.
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Campbell said starters who do not play Saturday or in next week’s preseason game, against the Indianapolis Colts, will continue to get extensive situational reps in practice to keep them sharp for the regular season.
If Goff is done until September, he will finish his first preseason in Detroit having completed seven of nine passes for 56 yards. The Lions went three-and-out on their first offensive series last week and pieced together a 10-minute, 18-play, 75-yard field goal drive on their second possession.
“It’s a tug of war between you do want to get better, you want to give them different looks, you want to get competitive looks, you want to have a chance to win the game,” Campbell said. “But then also, you don’t want to wipe half your roster out, either. So that’s the game that we play.”
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