Lions’ Jim Caldwell likes longer evaluation process

Tony Paul

Allen Park — Right around this time a year ago, the Lions would’ve been announcing a flurry of cuts, as they worked to get down to 75 players before the final preseason game.

But this past offseason, NFL owners eliminated that cutdown date.

And, so, the Lions will enter Thursday’s preseason finale with a lot more bodies in uniform. As of Tuesday afternoon, they had 86 players on the roster, and they’ll have to get down to a regular-season active roster of 53 by Saturday’s deadline.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell likes the new rule, for a couple of reasons.

“It’s a bit easier in terms that you have more people, obviously, that you can play,” said Caldwell, and that’s significant, since in the fourth tuneup, starters hardly ever play, for fear of injury. “I think that’s helpful.

“We have a few guys we can evaluate and I think that’s one of the reasons why, obviously, it was put into place in terms of the rule.”

That said, Caldwell, general manager Bob Quinn and the rest of the coaching staff have had mini-camp, OTAs, training camp and three preseason camps to evaluate.

Caldwell was asked this week what he could possibly see in one more preseason game that could prove game-changing in terms of roster decisions.

He pointed to 2010, when he was coach of the Indianapolis Colts. Blair White, a wide receiver out of Michigan State, was an undrafted free agent who was a long shot to make the team, but he had a big final preseason game, earned a spot on the practice squad and was activated to the 53-man roster in September. And he caught a touchdown pass from Peyton Manning in his professional debut — quite a memory for a guy who didn’t have a long career, and who’s now a dentist in Metro Detroit.

“Well, we want to get the full evaluation,” Caldwell said. “It’s not something we want to leave a stone unturned. ... We use every single opportunity that we have to make certain that we got a thorough evaluation. And sometimes that last preseason game is what does it, and these guys understand that.

“That’s why they’re so excited about getting an opportunity to go in and play.”