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DETROIT - Edwin Mulitalo is well aware the NFL's final preseason games are regarded as meaningless.
Entering his ninth season in the league and first with the Detroit Lions, Mulitalo doesn't agree with the popular notion.
To the guard, much is at stake tonight when Detroit plays host to the Buffalo Bills in the last exhibition for both teams.
"It's important for us because we're still piecing guys together on the offensive line," Mulitalo insisted. "The offensive line is a unique position group because we have to be cohesive to play well. That only happens by playing together in games because you can't simulate everything in practice.
"Have we jelled yet? I'm not sure. But have we come a long ways? Yes."
The Lions need their reshaped offensive line to improve because last year's quarterback Jon Kitna was sacked an NFL-high 63 times, and they averaged a league-low 71 yards rushing per game.
Detroit can't expect Kitna to take every snap, as he did last season, if he gets hit that many times - or to win consistently if the running game stays grounded.
Mulitalo, who started 102 games for Baltimore from 1999-2006, was signed as a free agent. Tackle George Foster was acquired in a trade, along with running back Tatum Bell from Denver for cornerback Dre' Bly, after starting all but three games the past three seasons for the Broncos.
The Lions hope those two experienced newcomers will bolster a line with holdovers Jeff Backus, Dominic Raiola and Damien Woody.
"This is the best I've felt about our line since I've been here," said Raiola, who was drafted in 2001 and started every game the last five seasons. "We might've had 15 different combinations last year because of injuries, so hopefully we can stay healthy and help this offense be as good as it can be.
"Even though this is the last preseason game, we can't just go out there and dodge bullets hoping to stay healthy. We need to fly around and hit people."
At least a pair of Bills likely will be playing with a reckless abandon, too.
Rookie Paul Posluszny and John DiGiorgio still are competing for a chance to be Buffalo's starting middle linebacker when the season opens Sept. 9 at home against Denver.
"They'll both play a good deal and then we'll talk it over and see where it goes," said Bills coach Dick Jauron, who coached the Lions for five games during the 2005 season. "I like both of those guys. Both of them will also contribute on special teams.
"Depending who our starter is, then the other guy will get more special teams time."
Posluszny said early in training camp that he and DiGiorgio were told they would alternate starts and that plan would put him with the first group at Detroit.
"I just think it's another chance for us to prove ourselves," Posluszny said. "Final audition? I'm not sure."
Just as the final preseason game seems to be dismissed, the one before it usually is perceived as relatively important, with the starters getting more time on the field than in other exhibitions.
Detroit (2-1) and Buffalo (1-2) both lost those games. Tennessee topped the Bills 28-17. The Colts beat the Lions 37-10, but Raiola said a tweak here or there could've made the difference.
"As bad as it looked on the outside, we weren't discouraged after watching the film," he said.
Buffalo plans to use starters, such as quarterback J.P. Losman, for about two series tonight.
The Lions do not expect Kitna to play, giving him a chance to rest his back and providing extensive playing time for backup J.T. O'Sullivan.
"He is going to get another full game," Detroit coach Rod Marinelli said. "This is invaluable experience for him."
The Lions scheduled running back Kevin Jones for an evaluation Thursday on his surgically repaired foot, which has kept him out this preseason and might lead to him missing the first six weeks of the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list.
"We've got to be smart," Marinelli said. "Hopefully, we'll get some information and see where we're at."
NORRISTOWN, Pa. - A son of Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid was charged yesterday with driving under the influence and drug violations while still awaiting sentencing for a separate road-rage incident earlier this year.
Britt Reid was jailed last week for violating bail terms after police found 30 1/2 pills, including the painkiller hydrocodone, amphetamines and antidepressants, during a traffic stop in Plymouth Township.
Charges from that stop were announced Wednesday.
Two weeks ago, the 22-year-old Reid pleaded guilty to gun and drug charges stemming from a January arrest in which police say he brandished a gun at another driver. While out on bail, he was required to remain drug-free and drive only to his community college classes.
In the latest incident, Reid was charged with a misdemeanor count of driving under the influence, three drug violations and careless driving.
Police, alerted by a store clerk, approached Reid's car in a mall parking lot last week. Plymouth Township officers activated their lights and then watched Reid's car hit a shopping cart. The officers pulled Reid over and administered a field sobriety test, which he failed.
Investigators said they also found a pill crusher and a $10 bill with white residue that they believe may have been used to snort drugs.
Reid, wearing a black pinstripe suit, a red striped tie and handcuffs, was arraigned on the new charges Wednesday by Conshohocken District Judge Francis J. Bernhardt III, who set bail at $5,000.
Ross Weiss, Reid's attorney, declined to comment on the accusations. He said he knew of no plans to post bail, meaning Reid would remain jailed.
Britt Reid's older brother, 24-year-old Garrett, also is facing jail time for drug and traffic charges. Garrett Reid admitted using heroin the day he ran a red light and hit another car - the same day Britt Reid was arrested in the road-rage case. He faces a mandatory minimum of three days in jail.
Andy Reid has refused to discuss his sons' legal problems. In February, the coach took a five-week leave from the team to deal with the family problems.40.11446 -75.3393