Allen Park — Now we see him. But soon, we won’t.
So this would be a good time for Jameson Williams to remind everyone why he’s here. And also what the Lions will be missing a month from now when the NFL’s regular season arrives and he … disappears.
Friday night, Williams will get his first chance at making a second impression on Lions fans. And in a preseason opener that’ll be lacking compelling storylines — with most of the projected starters for the Lions and New York Giants already having gotten their work done in joint practices earlier this week — it’s hardly a stretch to suggest all eyes will be on the former first-round pick.
That includes his head coach, Dan Campbell, who knows exactly what he’s looking for, in part because it’s the same thing as everyone else: A sneak preview of coming attractions.
Free Jamo? Well, here’s his early release, if you will, as Williams should get some extended playing time when the Lions host the Giants on Friday night at Ford Field. Sure, it’s only an exhibition game, which barely resembles the real thing in the NFL these days. But for now — and for the next couple of months — that’s the best Williams can do, since he’ll begin the regular season serving a six-game suspension for violating the league’s gambling policy last season as a rookie.
All the more reason why he needs to make the most of this “huge” opportunity — Campbell’s adjective, not mine — that’s in front of him, starting Friday night against the Giants.
“It’ll be imperative,” Campbell said. “I mean, we’re going to douse him with a ton of game reps. He needs that. He needs that.”
He does, clearly. Two more up-and-down days on the practice field in Allen Park for the speedy, spotty receiver merely confirmed that for us.
But so do the Lions, if we’re being honest. Because even with the dynamic rookie additions of Jahmyr Gibbs and Sam LaPorta to what was a top-five scoring offense in 2022, they’ll still need Williams’ big-play ability to unlock its full potential. And to that end, these preseason games just might hold the key to making that happen, if all goes according to plan.
Last year, Campbell played his offensive starters for just one series in the preseason opener. But that was the week before the Lions headed to Indianapolis for joint practices with the Colts. And in that second exhibition game last August, most of Detroit’s first-teamers were bystanders, including Jared Goff, Amon-Ra St. Brown and the entire starting offensive line.
You can expect more of the same Friday night after two days of padded practice against the Giants that Campbell described as “high intensity” with “a lot of density.” There was plenty of up-tempo offense, some rising midday temperatures, and though not everyone broke a sweat — both teams were missing big names in the trenches — the coaches got exactly what they wanted this week.
“These practices are invaluable,” Giants coach Brian Daboll said.
The Lions will get added value next week, too, as Jacksonville arrives in Allen Park for joint practices Wednesday and Thursday ahead of their Aug. 19 preseason matinee at Ford Field.
In the meantime, Friday’s opener offers a chance for the second- and third-teamers to get the Lions’ share of reps in game conditions. There are some spots up for grabs at the back end of the roster, certainly, and jobs will be won and lost in the preseason — on the offensive line, at receiver, in the secondary, and perhaps at kicker, too.
But the other battle we’re watching is between Williams and himself. Or at least the Lions’ expectations for both after general manager Brad Holmes invested the 12th overall pick in a receiver who would miss most of his rookie season rehabbing an ACL injury and now looks like an even riskier bet to some.
Publicly, the Lions’ coaches are saying all the things you’d expect to hear about a player who missed training camp as a rehabbing rookie and only averaged a dozen offensive snaps a game in the six he suited up for late last season. Wiliams needs more time on task, he needs to focus on the details, he needs embrace the grind, and so on.
I also think he needs to make a statement here, though, if possible.
Williams can’t do much if he’s running free and the opportunity comes up well short, as it did in practice Wednesday on a deep post route that Nate Sudfeld badly underthrew. (Teddy Bridgewater’s arrival next week should help, in multiple ways.) He can, however, seize the moment by avoiding some of the drops that we’ve seen too often from him in camp. And by competing like a player who is desperate to grab a roster spot, rather than one that’s about to sublet his for the month of September.
“I do believe he wants it,” Campbell says. “I do believe he wants to get better.”
There’s no good reason to doubt that at this point, really. But there’s also no better time than the present for him to prove it. And when finally given the chance, Jameson Williams should feel free to do exactly that.