Five things to know as Lions face 49ers in season opener

First-year Lions coach Dan Campbell admitted he is getting antsy to get the season started on Friday.

The Campbell era begins at 1 p.m. on Sunday at Ford Field when the Lions face the San Francisco 49ers.

“I’m starting to get pretty excited. I know the guys are, too. They’ve been locked in and I just go back to what we said early in the week, it’s about just staying focused on your job and handling what you’re supposed to do, read your keys and let’s play fast,’’ Campbell said before Friday’s practice.

Campbell is no stranger to Ford Field or Lions fans after he spent three seasons as a Lions’ tight end. This, however, will be his first game as a head coach. It should be the first step to an interesting Dan Campbell era in Detroit.

“I know this, if you don’t have talent, it doesn’t matter how good of a coach you are. In this League, you’ll get beat,’’ Campbell said. “So, you’ve got to have talent and I do like the young talent here and I think certainly – I do think you can close the gap.”

Five things to know as the season starts against the 49ers:

1. The Lions meet the exact specifications of Campbell and GM Brad Holmes. This is a young bunch — the second youngest team in the NFL. Young is good when it comes to energy and speed, but with experience in short supply there could be some brutal quarters, games, stretches. I know this, if you don’t have talent, it doesn’t matter how good of a coach you are. In this League, you’ll get beat. So, you’ve got to have talent and I do like the young talent here and I think certainly – I do think you can close the gap.

2. Left tackle Taylor Decker will be sidelined Sunday with an injured finger that could require surgery. He injured it in practice on Wednesday and was expected to see a doctor on Friday. Still Campbell is making plans for the next man to step up. At practice Friday, he had rookie Penei Sewell moved over to left tackle where he played in college. He’s been practicing at right tackle for the Lions. Also, Matt Nelson could get the start in place of Decker or  Halapoulivaati Vaitai, a tackle turned guard, could start at left tackle and Logan Stenberg could step in at Vaitai’s spot at right guard. 

3. Running back D’Andre Swift, who missed much of camp with a groin injury, will be ready to go. That’s certainly a plus. Expect him to get plenty of work against the 49ers with Jamaal Williams and Jermar Jefferson getting reps too.

4. Jared Goff is no Matthew Stafford. Remember that. The Lions certainly could have done worse at the quarterback position but, again, he is no Stafford. There are a few Stafford haters out there (I know who you are), even they might miss No. 9. Goff, the former Rams’ quarterback, is quite familiar with the 49ers defense which could be a help. “He’s faced those guys numerous times over the last – whatever it is, four years. It’s really been the same scheme. (49ers Defensive Coordinator) DeMeco (Ryans) will do some things that are a little bit different, but for the most part, I think they’re going to keep the essence of what that defense is, the front and some of the coverage-based things. I can see them wanting to play a little more man against us and we’ll have a plan for that as well.”

5. The 49ers offense led by Jimmy Garoppolo (with maybe a few appearances by Trey Lance) could feast on the young Lions defense. “We’ve been working that style of offense (using Lance at points)  a little bit in camp just in general against our own offense. Our defense has seen it, but certainly you have to prepare for it. It’s something that kid can do and does pretty well and he’s got good athletic ability and so you have to at least present it to your players for sure,’’ Campbell said.

PREDICTION: San Francisco 49ers 35, Lions 14 (It might be a tad optimistic guessing that the Lions will put up 14 points, but it’s the first game of the season and I feel generous.)

Author: Paula Pasche

Paula Pasche, a veteran sports writer, covers the Detroit Lions for her Lions Lowdown blog. She has written two books, "Game of My Life Detroit Lions" and "100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die" which are available at bookstores and on Amazon.com. She won first place for column writing from the Society of Professional Journalists in Detroit (Class B) in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and was The Oakland Press 2010 Staffer of the Year.

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