Allen Park — The third game of the NFL preseason long has been known as the dress rehearsal for the regular season because of how much the starters traditionally play in the exhibition contest, but it's just as much, if not more about the week of preparation leading up to the game.
Training camp is about fundamentals and technique, individual and position group improvement. Once camp breaks, heading into that third preseason game, that's when teams start watching film and preparing for opponents.
"It is a little bit difficult, obviously, with large rosters on both sides of the ball," Lions coach Matt Patricia said, "but certainly for us something that we try to go through a normal week and say, ‘Hey, this is what a Monday would look like for you, this is what a Tuesday would look like for you, this is what a Wednesday looks like for us when we get back into the building, and this is what we have to study, and these are the areas that we’re going to look at.'
"Then we’ll transfer from really early in the week, watching game tape on an opponent," Patricia said, "then we go to a cut-up mode, where we’re watching very individual specific areas of an opponent, then we actually transfer back into a game-tape mode, where we’re trying to do that with the install calls that we have put in for that week. So there’s a pretty intricate process that we go through, that we’re trying to do the best we can to get that in a short window."
How a player studies and prepares during the week is an added layer to the evaluation process for coaches. That's especially important for the roster's younger players.
"I would totally agree because it’s a huge jump coming in from college, and it’s probably a huge jump coming in from different programs, too," Patricia said. "We’re trying to do everything we can to maximize the amount of time they have to look at it. I think with the college restrictions that they have today, and the amount of hours they are allowed to spend in some of those situations, it’s very different for them when they come to the NFL as far as — they have to just understand the time they would spend on school work or things like that are now studying football."
Rookie safety Will Harris, who played collegiately at Boston College, a school with a strong reputation for preparing players for the next level, has been surprised with the work that goes into NFL preparation.
"I've definitely done a lot more studying, and I thought I did a lot at BC," Harris said. "Now, with the level of talent, everyone on the field is good. With this heightened level of talent in the NFL, you have to know how you're being attacked, what guy's strengths and weaknesses are, and how you can come out on top of your individual matchups.
"If not, all it takes is that one little step — obviously this is a game of inches — that one step away can be the difference between you making or missing the play."
Harris couldn't put a number on how many hours he was putting into film and playbook study, but said beyond eating and sleeping, he hasn't done much else.
"You get some food, you relax a little bit, but any time I can get in that playbook, I do," Harris said. "I never want to have the feeling of not knowing or being unsure."
That's important to Patricia, because the Lions are on a tight weekly schedule, and there's no opportunity to go back over something that's been covered once.
"You have to study ahead before you walk in the next day and understand how important that is, so that when we get into the building, we’re going to move at a very fast pace," Patricia said. "If it’s an early-down day, there is film that needs to be watched the night before you come in so that you’re prepared for that day.
"The issue that we just run into, that we have to try to explain to the guys, is there is not really an opportunity to go back and redo something. So when we do it once during the week, it has to be at the highest level because we’re just going to move into another area, whether it’s early down, third down, red (zone) area, two-minute. It just builds as the week goes. That kind of pre-next day preparation is really critical for our players to understand."