The Detroit Lions strap up the pads one last time in the preseason later today for their preseason finale against the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Lions head coach Dan Campbell said the plan was for most of the starters to play about a half today, though quarterback Jared Goff won't be among them.
"I don't see Goff playing and he's not going to talk me into it," Campbell said this week, referencing how Goff was able to talk his way into the preseason opener when he wasn't scheduled to play. "I told him that this morning, so he'll know my conviction. But I do see the starters playing and we'll see where it goes."
Today is an important day for the couple starting spots on defense up for grabs, other backup spots and those final roster decisions that are going down to the wire. The Lions have until 4 p.m. Tuesday to trim the roster from 80 players to an initial 53.
Here are five things I'll have my eye on in today's preseason finale:
View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Thursday, August 25, 2022.
1. BACKUP QB BATTLE
With Goff not playing, Tim Boyle will start, but it's unclear if David Blough will also get reps with the rest of the starters on offense to get an equal look at both QBs.
Either way, it will be a big game for both Boyle and Blough to leave a lasting impression on Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes. So far, through about a month of training camp and two preseason games, the competition is neck and neck. It's unclear if the Lions will ultimately keep all three quarterbacks or just two.
Blough has completed 34-of-50 passes for 217 yards with one touchdown, one interception and a fumble for a 71.8 passer rating in two preseason games. He's also rushed for 40 yards on seven attempts (5.7 average).
Boyle is 21-of-31 passing for 210 yards with two touchdowns and one pick for a rating of 94.8. He's rushed a couple times for eight yards.
2. DEFENSIVE GAINS
The Lions' starters along the defensive line had a nice week in Indianapolis for joint practices, and the reserves played pretty well in the preseason game last Saturday while the starters got a rest. With the starters and key reserves expected to play today, it's a great opportunity to see if that unit can keep the upward trend going.
Pittsburgh is a physical, hard-nosed team that wants to run the ball first and then work their play-action passing game off the run. It will be a good test today for those guys up front.
The first-team defense played one series against the Falcons in the preseason opener and allowed a 12-play, 82-yard drive that took almost nine and half minutes off the clock. It featured 10 runs for 67 yards (6.7 average), including three explosive runs of 10-plus yards. Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn will be looking for much better results from their first unit today in Pittsburgh.
This defense still has a lot to prove after last season. It would be nice for them to finish on a high note before turning their attention to a talented Philadelphia Eagles offense for the season opener in a couple weeks.
3. LAST WIDE RECEIVER SPOT(S)
With rookie Jameson Williams officially starting the year on Reserve/NFI and set to miss the first four games of the season, Detroit has an extra receiver spot open on the initial 53-man roster. DJ Chark, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond are in. Whether or not the Lions decide to keep five or six receivers on the initial 53 will determine if there's one or two spots remaining for Quintez Cephus, Tom Kennedy, Trinity Benson, Maurice Alexander or Kalil Pimpleton to battle it out for.
Kennedy has been the most productive of that group, catching 13 balls for 128 yards and two scores through the first two preseason games. He's also been good in camp. He's been so productive in fact, Campbell and the coaches have been playing him a lot on special teams and getting a good look at his potential there because typically special teams is an important role for the fifth or six receiver in the regular season.
Cephus is just returning from a leg injury, but he's pro proven. He caught 20 passes for 349 yards and a couple scores as a rookie in 2020, and was having a solid start to last season with 15 receptions for 204 yards and a couple touchdowns before a collar bone injury ended his season Week 5. Can he stay healthy?
Benson, who the team traded for last year right before the season, is the speedster with some special teams potential.
Alexander averaged 38.0 yards per kickoff last week in Indy.
The last one or two spots could come down to today's performance.
4. JEFF OKUDAH
It's hard not to root for Okudah to have a bounce-back season in 2022 after injuries derailed his first two seasons. I have the former first-round pick ahead in the competition with Will Harris for the starting job opposite Amani Oruwariye.
Okudah has put his head down, busted his butt through rehab, and said all the right things this summer in his attempt to show everyone why he was a top 3 draft pick in 2020. If he's as good as the Lions think he can be, this secondary will be much improved.
5. FINAL ROSTER SPOTS
Campbell said this week there were about eight to 10 roster spots up for grabs and admitted it was going to be tougher this year to get down to an initial 53 because of the increased talent on the roster vs. the decisions they had to make this time a year ago.
A few hotly contested competitions to watch out for today as they come down to the wire:
- Linebacker: Alex Anzalone, Malcolm Rodriguez, Derrick Barnes, Julian Okwara and Chris Board seem safe. James Houston, Jarrad Davis, Josh Woods and Anthony Pittman are all fighting for whatever spots are left.
- Backup tight end: Likely two spots available with Brock Wright being a favorite for one spot. Shane Zylstra, Devin Funchess, James Mitchell and Derrick Deese Jr. vying for what could be just one spot.
- Interior o-line: Evan Brown seems to be a lock at backup center/guard. Matt Nelson and Dan Skipper have been the top two reserve tackles all through camp. Depending if the Lions keep nine or 10 offensive linemen on the initial 53, Tommy Kraemer and Logan Stenberg could be vying for one spot or could be the last two in. Could someone else emerge with their play today?
- Kicker: One last chance for Austin Seibert and Riley Patterson to try and separate themselves from the other.
- Nickel cornerback: It looks like it's coming right down to the end for that starting job between AJ Parker and Mike Hughes.