The third week of the preseason is here, and that's typically the dress rehearsal for the regular season for the first-team units. The Lions hit the road to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers tonight in a nationally televised matchup on CBS.
Here's five things to look out for:
PLAYING TIME FOR STARTERS
Lions head coach Matt Patricia uses the preseason as an opportunity to steadily build reps for the starters, culminating with the third preseason game. Exactly how long we see quarterback Matthew Stafford and the other starters will, in part, be dictated by the flow of the game, but it's expected the first units will get some quality time.
"There are some situations that come up, whether it's maybe the change of quarter, change of half, anything that you think you need to do to prepare for regular season type of mode to get them ready to go," Patricia said this week. "Your opportunity to do that is right now.
"We'll see how it goes in the game itself and hopefully we can get some good quality reps. If we wind up with longer plays on either side of the ball earlier in the game, then that will dictate it. Or, if there are shorter plays on either side of the ball, then that will dictate it, too."
This is a terrific opportunity for both sides of the ball to get quality reps and clean up some of the sloppy play we've seen from the first two preseason games.
OFFENSE LINE PLAY
Starting right guard T.J. Lang sat out practice again this week, and his availability for tonight's game is in question. The Lions have missed their Pro Bowler not just because he's typically a rock on the right side, but because this time of year is all about building continuity upfront. That's hard to do without all five starters getting quality reps together. It's obviously priority No. 1 to have Lang ready to go Sept. 10 against the Jets, but it's been hard to gauge the real potential of that unit without one of its biggest pieces in place this preseason.
The first-team unit struggled for the most part last week against the Giants. Stafford was sacked twice and hit another time. That's less than ideal anytime, but especially in the preseason. Can they play more consistently tonight against Gerald McCoy, Jason Pierre-Paul and company?
RUNNING BACK ROTATION
For the first time in a while, the Lions look to have some real depth and versatility in their backfield with the additions of veteran LeGarrette Blount and rookie Kerryon Johnson. With the pass catching prowess of Theo Riddick, that's a trio with a skillset for every situation.
It will be interesting to see how Jim Bob Cooter uses all three and rotates them in. Who gets the start? Does that even matter?
Then there's Ameer Abdullah, Zach Zenner and Dwayne Washington. Where do they fit into the mix? Abdullah's had a pretty good camp – minus the couple ball security issues last week – and is fighting for a reserve role in the backfield and maybe a featured role on special teams.
Is fullback Nick Bellore a lock for the 53-man roster? He's the only fullback on the roster, and Patricia likes the ability to use one on short yardage and goal line situations. How will he be used within the offense tonight?
There's a lot to watch out for when it comes to Detroit's running back situation tonight.
View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Aug. 21, 2018.
There hasn't been a whole lot of it on opposing passers this preseason, which has been mildly concerning. Ziggy Ansah is the team's best pass rusher. He played for the first time last week, and was in the game for only 17 reps. If he plays more extensively tonight, the Lions should be better coming off the edge and providing pressure. At least that would be the hope.
Devon Kennard is expected to be a consistent threat for the defense coming off the edge, and has three pressures and one quarterback hit in 33 snaps so far in the preseason. Seeing Ansah and Kennard working extensively in conjunction with one another and some of the new pieces inside will be interesting to watch tonight.
The Lions are still looking for their first sack of the preseason. Lions fans would no-doubt like to see a few Bucs passers on their backs tonight to feel better about the capabilities of the Lions' front seven.
The Lions moved on from Eric Ebron this offseason. Ebron's drops and spotty blocking at times were issues, no-doubt, but there's also no denying his play-making ability. He could turn a 5-yard pass into a 40-yard play. Do the Lions still have that threat with their current collection of tight ends?
Luke Willson, Michael Roberts, Levine Toilolo and Hakeem Valles have been solid this preseason, but not spectacular. Willson and Roberts have one catch each. Toilolo, who is more known for his blocking on the edge than his pass catching ability, hasn't recorded a reception. The leader among that group is Valles, who has four catches for 31 yards (7.8 average).
That's a position with some question marks hanging over it halfway through the preseason. Will we see more playmaking ability in the pass game from that unit tonight?