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 just doesn't agree with the popular notion.
To the guard, much is at stake Thursday night when Detroit hosts 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 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."
Paul Posluszny and John DiGiorgio still are competing for a chance to be Buffalo's starting middle linebacker when the season starts 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, 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.
Detroit (2-1) and Buffalo (1-2) both lost those games.
The Indianapolis 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 on Thursday.
The Lions do not expect Kitna to play, giving him a chance to rest his back and giving extensive playing time to 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."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press