Tonight is the Lions' preseason finale in Cleveland. It can be easy to look past the fourth week of the preseason. Most of the starters are unlikely to play and most fans are already gearing up for next week’s season opener in Arizona.
But work still remains for the more than 1,000 players across the league that find themselves on the roster bubble. Jobs can be earned and lost in the final preseason contest.
Here are some things to look out for tonight in Cleveland:
When teams start to evaluate their final few roster spots, special teams plays a big factor in determining who stays and who goes.
“Special teams is going to be a big part of what we have to see here Thursday night,” head coach Matt Patricia said Tuesday. “Getting those live reps at special teams at the speed that comes across at. It’ll be good. It’ll be a lot of good work for the guys.”
Patricia has talked about that often when asked about the final couple wide receiver spots available on the Lions roster after Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr. and Danny Amendola. The No. 4 and potentially No. 5 player is going to have a role on special teams. His ability to cover, tackle and play in space is being evaluated tonight for the final time.
Who can make a big play on special teams tonight? It could earn someone a job.
Tom Savage returned to practice this week and seems to be trending in the right direction to get some playing time vs. the Browns. Savage hasn’t played since suffering a concussion in the preseason opener against the Patriots.
Savage appears to be the favorite to enter the season as Matthew Stafford’s backup, but Josh Johnson could have something to say about that tonight. So far in two preseason games, Johnson is 14-of-28 passing for 156 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He'll likely need a big night in Cleveland to push Savage for the job.
Luis Perez was signed Tuesday. The Lions want to get a closer look at him ahead of this weekend's roster decisions.
The Lions have been pretty consistent throughout the preseason playing Darius Slay, Justin Coleman and Rashaan Melvin as their top three corners with the first-team defense. Rookie fourth-round pick Amani Oruwariye has typically been the first reserve in, but after him there’s a lot of players trying to prove themselves.
Among them is third-year player Teez Tabor, who’s missed the entire preseason up to this point with an undisclosed injury. He returned to practice this week and could see some important reps tonight. Tabor played alongside Melvin with the first-team defense in the spring, when Slay sat out workouts. Tabor was playing well the first week of training camp before suffering the injury. Where does he stand on the current depth chart?
Then there’s players like Dee Virgin, Mike Ford, Andre Chachere and others trying to earn a job. Tonight is the last chance for all those guys to make one last good impression.
OFFENSIVE LINE PLAY
I don’t expect to see Taylor Decker, Joe Dahl, Frank Ragnow, Graham Glasgow or Rick Wagner tonight. That’s been the starting five upfront for Detroit for a good month now.
How things line up behind those starters is yet to be determined. The reserves have been up and down throughout the preseason. The Lions are a little light on tackle depth, even moving Kenny Wiggins out to tackle for a bit when Tyrell Crosby suffered an undisclosed injury earlier in the preseason.
Crosby was back at practice this week, and if he plays tonight, he’ll need to be much better than he was against New England in the first preseason game.
Offensive line is one area the Lions could look to upgrade this weekend when players become available after cuts.
HANDLING THE MOMENT
Second-year wide receiver Brandon Powell said this week that it’s not uncommon for players on the roster bubble to go into this final preseason game trying to do too much to make the team.
Powell went through this last year as a bubble player who made the 53-man roster. He said his advice to some of the young players going through this week for the first time is to just treat it as another game, and go out and control the things they can control.
Pressing typically leads to mistakes in this game. Coaches want to see which players can handle the pressure and opportunity to play extended minutes tonight. When a play is there to be made, who steps up and makes it?
“There are just guys that come out of this game that have just performed at a really high level that you have seen kind of that complete improvement all the way through and say, ‘Alright, this is something we really have to think about and we have talk about and look at what’s the role, what’s the situation and how much value do they add to the team,’” Patricia said.