Detroit Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky knows this: He’s had a good training camp while trying to hold off rookie sixth-round pick Jake Rudock for the backup job.
But the 11-year veteran also knows this: He’s 33 years old with a minimum-contract investment from the Lions’ new front office and he can’t afford to make the team brass’ decision easier by throwing pick-sixes in each of the first two exhibition games.
“To be honest with you, I know I’ve had the two picks that have bothered me,” Orlovsky said Saturday. “But I’ve had, other than that, good games. The grade sheets have all been good: making good decisions and throwing it well. …
“You know, it’s frustrating and I’m disappointed in those two plays. But I’ve had too good of a camp and too strong of a camp really. Those are the only two picks I’ve thrown since March. That’s what’s frustrating about it.”
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By Orlovsky’s admission, his two pick-sixes were poor plays on his part. The first came against the Pittsburgh Steelers, when left guard Joe Dahl practically gave Ricardo Mathews a free hit on Orlovsky. After avoiding the sack, Orlovsky desperately tried to throw the ball to no one in particular near the sideline, only to have Doran Grant easily catch the floater and run it back 39 yards for the touchdown.
The second pick-six came on a third-and-1 play. Orlovsky released the ball too late while trying to hit Zach Zenner in the flat, only to have Derron Smith read the play the whole way and step in front of the pass for a 60-yard score.
Orlovsky did atone for his last interception on the very next drive, leading the Lions on a 10-play, 65-yard march that resulted in a field goal and included 24-yard passes to both Cole Wick and TJ Jones.
“I think the first (pick-six) was just trying to do too much and the first time playing in a live game in nine months probably had something to do with that,” Orlovsky said. “And just a bad play. And then, the other day’s was probably just casual. Casual with trying to fit a ball on third-on-1 that I didn’t have to.”
It’s hard to say where Orlovsky stands. On the one hand, he’s a veteran that coach Jim Caldwell trusts. On the other hand, he’s an older player with a 2-10 record as a starter, a 58% completion rate, 15 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
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So far in the exhibition season, Orlovsky also has the worst completion rate, the most interceptions and the worst passer rating among the Lions’ three quarterbacks. The question is how much weight the Lions place on exhibition season performances.
“We evaluate everybody for the length of time that they’re with us from the spring to now and we continue to do so,” coach Jim Caldwell said, when asked about Orlovsky. “A couple bad plays doesn’t necessarily affect (players). There were a number of plays that were played in that ball game. A couple bad plays. Certainly you look at all those things, you weigh them in as part of the evaluation process.”
If Caldwell’s answer offered little clarity, his answer on the broader topic of what he values in a backup quarterback provided even less clarity.
“The best player, period,” he said. “Coaches don’t have anything beyond, talking about future. We talk about now. That’s what we’re more interested in.”
As for the exhibition season, Orlovsky tried to downplay its meaningfulness.
“Obviously bodies of work matter because you see it consistently day after day after day after day,” Orlovsky said. “The preseason is important and you want to go play well. All it is is another form of practice. …
“I’ve seen guys play really well in the preseason and then not do anything. I’ve seen guys play really bad in the preseason and then play really good during the season. In preseason, the games are just another part of the process.”
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Orlovsky also knows this about his situation: He has little control over the Lions’ decision.
“They’ve had to make decisions since the day I was drafted,” he said. “So I know the reality of that. They’ll make their decisions. Right now I don’t get paid to do that. My job is to do my job and get ready for Week 1 and those guys will make their decisions for sure.”