The Lions will face their old coach, Jim Schwartz, on Thursday when they visit the Bills. Schwartz is Buffalo's defensive coordinator. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
Allen Park — The Lions will see a familiar face Thursday night when they take the field for their final exhibition.
Jim Schwartz, coach of the Lions for five years before being fired at the end of last season, is the Bills defensive coordinator, and even though things ended on a sour note, many players are looking forward to seeing their former coach.
“I’ve been here long enough where you see enough coaches come and go, and you just greet them when you see them and move on,” Lions center Dominic Raiola said. “Everybody’s moved on.”
The Lions have plenty to work on in the exhibition finale after scoring 13 points against the Jaguars last week and incurring 15 penalties for 131 yards.
Before the game, players won’t hesitate to exchange pleasantries with Schwartz. Offensive lineman Rodney Austin, however, admitted it might be a little “weird.”
“It’ll be cool,” Austin said. “I’ll go talk to him. He was always a cool guy to me. It’s going to be different, though, because now instead of seeing all of his schemes and tricks and whatnot in practice, I get to see it in a game.”
In the offensive line meeting room, the Lions posted a story in which Schwartz said he plans to play his starting defensive line more than most teams do in the final exhibition, but that likely has something to do with his current team. With the Bills, Schwartz inherited a talented defense, but the loss of linebacker Kiko Alonso will require everyone else to perform better.
And though the Lions know what to expect from Schwartz’s defense, the focus will be on improving heading into the opener rather than making some sort of statement against the former coach.
“I expect a physical, fast, attacking defense that gets after the quarterback,” Raiola said. “I think we see them again in six weeks, so this will be a good tuneup for what we see down the road.”
Schwartz, whose Bills visit Ford Field in Week 5, still has deep ties to many of the players on the Lions roster — 10 of the 11 defensive starters played for him. And, Schwartz was instrumental in bringing in middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch and defensive end Jason Jones after coaching both with the Titans.
Schwartz went 2-14 in 2009, followed by 6-10 in 2010, then 10-6 in 2011, earning the team’s first postseason berth since 1999. From there, though, the Lions stumbled, going 4-12 in 2012, losing their final eight games, then 7-9 in 2013, losing six of their last seven.
“He got put in a hell of a situation last year where it was pretty much win or go home for him,” Austin said.
Raiola said he’s exchanged some text messages with Schwartz since he was fired. Entering his 14th season, Raiola will play under his sixth coach, so this won’t be the first time he’s reunited with a coach on the field.
“Nothing bad to say,” Raiola said. “They’re coaches for a reason. If you allow yourself to be coached, you’ll gain something from every coach. That’s what I’ve done over the years.”
Lions at Bills
Kickoff: 7 p.m. Thursday, Ralph Wilson Stadium, Buffalo, New York
TV/radio: Ch. 7/97.1
Records: Detroit 2-1, Buffalo 1-3
Line: Bills by 3½