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Taking camp on road a welcome change of pace for Lions

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Defensive tackles Khyri Thornton and Haloti Ngata drive off the line during defensive line drills at Wednesday's practice.

Allen Park — After nine practices, including a full-team scrimmage conducted at Ford Field this past weekend, the Detroit Lions are taking training camp on the road for a pair of joint practices with the Indianapolis Colts before the teams square off in their preseason opener on Sunday.

This is the second consecutive season the Lions have held joint practices on the road, working with the Pittsburgh Steelers in Latrobe, Pa., last year. It will be an important opportunity for the coaching staff and front office to evaluate the roster, particularly young players, new additions and at key position battles, heading into the exhibition opener.

“It should be really good for us,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “We have an opportunity to evaluate our guys against a little different competition, different schemes. It’ll be some good work. We’ve been working against one another since the spring so it’ll give us a good chance to really look at them from a little different vantage point.”

To this point, Detroit’s camp has been devoid of drama, without so much as an extra shove after the whistle in the first week. But that doesn’t mean the players aren’t sick of each other and ready for a change of pace.

Linebacker Antwione Williams said it best, succinctly summing up the thoughts shared by many of his teammates.

“Oh yeah, trust me now, it will be nice to hit somebody different,” he said. “I can’t wait for it.”

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Williams is one of several players locked in a competition for a starting job as he tries to beat out Brandon Copeland and Steve Longa for the vacant strongside linebacker role. But more attention will be focused on Detroit’s left tackle situation, where Greg Robinson and Cyrus Kouandjio continue to battle for the right to replace injured starter Taylor Decker.

And while there isn’t a star pass rusher on the Colts roster, former Patriots defensive end Jabaal Sheard and rookie Tarell Basham will provide a unique and needed challenge for Robinson and Kouandjio, who have been working against a banged-up group of defensive ends in Detroit.

“Both of them are still trying to learn the system, they just kind of literally arrived here,” Caldwell said. “Let’s give them a little time. Let’s just see where they are and see how they keep working. They will learn their techniques and fundamentals and this preseason will give some pretty good indication of where we are.”

One thing the Lions will miss out on during the trip is an opportunity to be tested by three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Andrew Luck, who is on the physically unable to perform list after offseason shoulder surgery.

In the Lions' 39-35 season-opening win last year, Luck torched the secondary by completing 31 of 47 passes for 385 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Darius Slay expressed disappointment not getting the chance to face Luck, but the young cornerback will still face a stiff challenge having to cover Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton. Hilton, a 5-foot-9 dynamo, set career-highs last season with 91 catches for 1,448 yards.

“Talented guy, very shifty, very fast,” Slay said. “I watched when we played against them last year  he’s a tough, physical guy. He makes tough catches, competes every play. That’s the kind of competition I’m looking for because the only thing that’s going to do is make me better.”

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These iron sharpening iron matchups are compelling, but Slay and Hilton are known commodities. Caldwell is quick to point out you can only learn so much about veterans in these settings. The biggest evaluations will come with the team’s rookie class, from first-round pick Jarrad Davis to the slew of undrafted talents looking to make an impression and crack the roster.

In some cases, it’s an even better opportunity than the coaches will get in preseason games, since they can dictate the scenarios on the practice field.

“It gives us the chance to really look at some guys,” Caldwell said. “Sometimes in the preseason games, you just don’t know what’s going to happen in the game, how the game flows. You may not be able to get a guy in as much as you’d like. In practice sessions, now you can kind of isolate some guys and really kind of see exactly how they match up against individuals and get a pretty good evaluation that way.”

The joint practices will be conducted on Thursday and Friday morning at the Colts practice facility. The preseason opener is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Twitter: @justin_rogers