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Lions plan to let Stafford play more against Jaguars than in previous preseason games

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ALLEN PARK, Mich. - The Detroit Lions have let Matthew Stafford ease into the preseason, allowing him to lead a total of four drives in two exhibitions.

Stafford has looked sharp in limited action, completing 79 per cent of his passes with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said Stafford will get "a good dose," of playing time Friday night at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Lions offensive co-ordinator Joe Lombardi was more forthcoming about the team's plans.

"He'll be in there a little bit longer than the first two," Lombardi said.

The Jaguars, meanwhile, are expected to play rookie Blake Bortles with the first-string offence against Detroit. He will likely be Chad Henne's backup in Week 1.

Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley said Henne will start against the Lions, playing more than a quarter, and Bortles will be on the field for about a quarter.

Henne said it is "absolutely," the right time for Bortles to get some game repetitions with and against starters, an opinion he shared with Bradley when they talked about the topic.

"He definitely needs that opportunity, especially when you never know what's going to happen during the season, whether I go down or I'm not playing well and he needs to step in," Henne said. "It's a good test. It's a good defence."

Bortles, the No. 3 overall pick, insisted it does not feel awkward to be competing for a job with a veteran who has been a mentor and friend.

"I think both of us want the same thing and that is for this team to be as successful as it can," Bortles said.

The Jaguars did not have much success last year, going 4-12, and fifth-round pick, Denard Robinson, struggled to find a groove as a rookie. They designated him an "offensive weapon" last season and used him as a wildcat quarterback, running back, receiver and returner, with lacklustre results.

Robinson, who like Henne is a former Michigan quarterback, appears to be settling in as a running back and said he's feeling more comfortable. Toby Gerhart, signed to replace Maurice Jones-Drew, is the team's starter, and Jordan Todman is his backup. Robinson appears to be a third-string option who might get his hands on the ball about five times a game.

"Last year was my first year playing running back," said Robinson, who has gained about 15 pounds, hoping to run with more power. "Now, I've got experience with it and just having fun with it."

Stafford, who led one series in the first exhibition and three in the next, will get his first chance in a preseason game this year to throw to All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson. The Lions know what Johnson can do and have not been in a rush to let teams hit him after he had knee and finger surgeries during the off-season.

Johnson said there's a "night and day," difference between how he feels now compared to the end of last season.

Detroit experienced joy and pain depending on how Stafford fared in 2013.

When the Lions got off to a 6-3 start, Stafford had thrown 19 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions while completing 61 per cent of his passes and averaging 315 yards passing. During the team's 1-6 slide to a 7-9 finish, he had fewer TD passes (10) than interceptions (12), his completion percentage dipped to 54 and he averaged 259 yards passing.

Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick in 2009, understands how pivotal his position and play are for the Lions.

"When you look at successful teams in the NFL, the majority of them are having their quarterback play at a high level," he said.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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Follow Larry Lage on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/larrylage

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