August 8, 2014 at 5:25 pm

Offensive play-calling among 10 things to watch in Lions' exhibition opener

Calvin Johnson and the Lions host the Browns at Ford Field on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)

Allen Park — Jim Caldwell wants to win any game where someone is keeping score, a philosophy that will hold true for Saturday’s exhibition opener against the Browns at Ford Field.

But the Lions have plenty to work on during the first of four exhibitions, and Caldwell said he’s most concerned about the players knowing their alignments, performing their assignments and using proper technique.

For many of the players, performing well Saturday could be key to earning a roster spot.

“Jobs are coveted,” said Caldwell, in his first season with the Lions. “They’re very difficult to get and to maintain, so it’s highly competitive. So every single snap that a guy takes on the field out there in the preseason is extremely important, and everything is factored into that decision.”

The starters who play — Caldwell would not reveal who was in or out — likely will be in for a few series. But there are some other factors that could change how long they’re on the field.

“If the opposition gets the ball and they have an 8-minute drive and you were only going to play a group the first quarter, then you’ve got to rethink it,” Caldwell said. “We have our parameters set and kind of know how to judge and adjust it accordingly.”

Here are 10 things to watch during the game (7:30 p.m., Channel 7):

1. How the first-team offense performs: Matthew Stafford said the Lions won’t open the whole playbook, but the offense will still show signs of how it will look with varied personnel and alignments from play to play. The players had a lot to learn, so some nice drives or big plays would help show their comfort level.

2. Kicker battle: The Lions won’t purposely stall on offense, but they are hoping for some field-goal opportunities. Seventh-round pick Nate Freese and Giorgio Tavecchio have a tight competition for placekicking duties, and how they kick in games will factor into the decision.

3. Which starters don’t play: Calvin Johnson and Joique Bell missed a practice this week for personal reasons, and first-round pick Eric Ebron missed two with a minor injury. There’s no reason to risk any injured player, but the Lions should try to get every healthy player on the field to see how they are handling the new scheme.

4. Johnny Football’s debut: Johnny Manziel, the 22nd overall pick, is locked in a quarterback battle with Michigan State’s Brian Hoyer, and even though Hoyer will start, most people will be waiting to see what Manziel does. Good or bad, the 2012 Heisman winner will bring some excitement to this exhibition.

5. Darius Slay vs. Josh Gordon: The Lions will trust Slay to be their top cornerback this season, and there aren’t many better receivers for him to test his skills against. Even though Gordon faces a potential season-long suspension, he’ll play Saturday, and after posting 1,646 yards last year, Slay will have a tough task stopping Gordon.

6. James Ihedigbo’s fit in the defense: Ihedigbo came to Detroit partly because of his familiarity with Teryl Austin’s defense, but the Lions are counting on him to be an upgrade over Louis Delmas. Even though Ihedigbo is a great run defender, he’s not as good in coverage, so it will be interesting to see what his assignments are.

7. Wide receiver competition: Based on training camp, Kevin Ogletree, Kris Durham, Ryan Broyles and Corey Fuller could all have some first-team reps Saturday, but when they play isn’t as important as how they perform. These four receivers are likely battling for two or three spots, and some strong exhibition showing would help them in the competition.

8. Varied defensive alignments: The Lions often start with extra defenders at the line in practice, and that aggression is a key part of Austin’s scheme. The defense will also substitute personnel more, so which reserves earn snaps with the starters could be a telling sign for some of the roster battles.

9. Kellen Moore vs. James Franklin: Moore is far ahead right now if the Lions keep three quarterbacks, but both players will have a chance to help themselves Saturday. A strong performance by Franklin might earn him more reps in practice.

10. Offensive line performance: With all five starters returning, the line has become a hyped strength for the Lions. The Browns have a strong front seven that should provide some early indications about whether or not the Lions’ O-line can be as good as last season.