Jake Rudock looking more like a capable backup to Matthew Stafford

DETROIT -- Jake Rudock still has no actual experience in games that matter. He's had a bunch of reps in practice and even more during preseason games. But the Detroit Lions backup quarterback has zero career snaps in a game that counts.

The Lions -- like most other teams in the NFL -- hope their backup quarterback has that happen year-after-year-after-year. It means the starter, in this case Matthew Stafford, is healthy and playing well. But August, more often than not, belongs to the backups.

In the past that's been Shaun Hill, Dan Orlovsky and a Kellen Moore, former fan favorite now in Dallas. Those three are gone and the No. 2 quarterback job now belongs to Rudock, the former Iowa and Michigan quarterback who spent most of last season on the practice squad trying to understand everything possible while getting no chances to do so on the field.

But the things he picked up are helping him now. He's still learning all the time -- for instance, he saw more pressure Saturday against the Jets than he has in prior games -- but things are becoming more comfortable. He's starting to get it and see things a bit easier.

"You're always trying to learn so much," Rudock said. "You're always trying to get a little bit better. Never say it gets easier. You might see something a little quicker, I think that's about it. You never want it to be easy. You always want to keep working hard to be better."

So what is he seeing quicker? A lot of it comes with the familiarity of the offense. No longer does he have to worry about whether his players are lined up where he expects them to be. Multiple installation processes over two seasons ensures that.

He can focus on the defense and pre-snap reads to dissect what's going on.

"[It] could be seeing what the defense might be trying to get into," Rudock said, "or being able to ... a defense can go into any number of coverages, any number of blitzes that maybe, hey, [we can] cross out a couple more, like [a] 'that's not coming' type of thing.

"Stuff like that."

Things like that only come with experience. Rudock knows that. The physical experience is still in small quantities and likely will disappear by the end of August. The mental experience, though, will continue. Once the regular season starts, Rudock's role transforms from fully preparing to play to helping with game plans and becoming a second brain for Stafford during the week, using his intelligence and eyes to help him pick up the smallest things that might help on Sundays.

Doing that last season -- and watching how Stafford and Orlovsky worked -- helped him mentally understand what he'll need to do in a game.

"You might be able to knock off a couple things the defense is doing or being more confident in certain parts of the game and understanding what we're trying to do, what they're trying to do and understanding our offense more," Rudock said. "You really have to understand what we do and that's really important as a quarterback and Staff does such a great job with that. Just trying to slowly get better at that."

The difference from last year to this year has been noticeable. Rudock is a stronger, more comfortable quarterback now. It has shown in practice, where he'll occasionally pick up first-team reps and has everything running smoother than he did last year.

It shows up in games, too, as he plays like a smarter quarterback.

"Last year he was a rookie, so you could tell he was still in the thinking process," cornerback Nevin Lawson said. "But now I feel like he has a grip of the offense and he throws balls that's going to be challenging and he puts them in places where only offensive players can get them."

There's more confidence now, even after an 8-of-13, 84-yard, one-interception performance against the Jets. This is a week after Rudock looked sharp against the Colts, completing 13 of 21 passes for 142 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions while rushing for 24 yards.

How he played Saturday is part of the learning process for younger quarterbacks. The Jets -- as bad as they might be in a lot of areas -- have a good defensive front that can force pressure. It gives Lions coach Jim Caldwell and quarterbacks coach Brian Callahan a lot to point out with him.

"I think it's always good when they get a chance to get a sense of handling the game, it was a tough situation, can they battle their way out," Caldwell said. "Some of the stuff might not have been his fault but overall, I think it does not hurt and that’s how this league is.

"One week you can look really good and the next week, not so good. I think for him, he's one of those guys that I think this is just another step that he's got to take and see how he responds in this next game."

Because then, no matter what happens, he'll be able to learn some more.