It is Week 3 of the preseason, which is the portion of the schedule teams treat as their tune-up for the regular season. Starters typically play extended minutes, and it’s the last time we usually see them in a game setting until the start of the regular season.
So what should we be on the lookout tonight as the Lions host the Buffalo Bills at Ford Field?
STAFFORD AND THE OFFENSE
Quarterback Matthew Stafford has yet to play in the preseason. He’s gotten good work in taking part in joint practices with New England and Houston during the week leading up to Detroit’s first two preseason games against those teams. Head coach Matt Patricia didn’t feel it necessary for Stafford to play in either of those preseason games because of the work Stafford got in those controlled practice settings.
Detroit practiced on their own this week. There’s a chance that Stafford will see some time in tonight’s game based on how the team has treated his reps in previous preseasons, though Patricia has been noncommittal this week when asked if Stafford will play.
The preseason is basic when it comes to scheme, but if Stafford does see some playing time, it will be interesting to see the progression that side of the ball has made learning Darrell Bevell’s new scheme with Stafford at the helm. The Bills will provide a terrific test with their defense. They were second in the NFL in total defense last season and No. 1 against the pass.
On paper, Detroit’s defensive line has the potential to be one of the better units upfront in the NFL. Tonight could potentially be the first time we see most of the players that make up that front on the field together.
Defensive end Trey Flowers, Detroit’s top free-agent acquisition this offseason, started camp on the physically unable to perform list. He came off that list and returned to practice a couple weeks ago, and could potentially see the field tonight.
Defensive tackle Mike Daniels, who the team signed the first week of training camp, returned to practice in a full capacity this week. Defensive tackle Damon Harrison Sr. was removed from the non-football injury list last week, and he also took part in practice this week.
Whether or not some or all of those players take the field tonight is unknown, but it would be nice to see all three together for the first time and observe how they play off each other and what having them upfront does for everyone else on defense.
OFFENSIVE LINE ROTATION
The Lions have rotated players in and out at guard with the first-team unit throughout camp. It’s been pretty consistent over the last couple weeks with Joe Dahl at left guard and Graham Glasgow at right guard with the first-team offense.
Will those two be the starters at guard alongside left tackle Taylor Decker, center Frank Ragnow and right tackle Rick Wagner? The Lions still have time to figure that out before their Week 1 contest in Arizona, but if Dahl and Glasgow get the nod tonight, it’s a good indication the team is leaning towards that pairing Week 1.
WIDE RECEIVER COMPETITION
Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr. and Danny Amendola are the established top three at wide receiver. After that, there’s a lot of players vying for what could end up being just one roster spot.
Coaches want to see players competing for jobs to step up and make plays. Detroit got that last week in Houston from a number of receivers. Brandon Powell caught three balls for 53 yards. Travis Fulgham had 52 receiving yards, including a nice 35-yard catch along the sideline. Andy Jones provided the biggest play of the game on offense last week getting behind the Texans' defense for a 48-yard catch that set up a touchdown. Undrafted free agent Jonathan Duhart even had a nice 28-yard reception.
How versatile these players can be within the offense and how much they can contribute on special teams will be factors.
“I think that group of guys who are kind of next that’s been competing understands that," Patricia said. “So, it’s been interesting to see those guys and evaluating them in both areas. Obviously guys like Andy Jones and (Chris) Lacy and just those guys that have been able to produce on special teams and offense and make themselves as valuable as possible.”
It's the job of the receivers competing for a roster spot to make the final decision as tough as possible on the front office and coaches. So far, they’ve been doing a pretty good job of that. Does it continue tonight, and can someone begin to separate themselves from the bunch?
Rookies have to grow up fast in the NFL. Detroit's rookies have gone through training camp and have a couple preseason games under their belts.
Tight end T.J. Hockenson, linebacker Jahlani Tavai and safety Will Harris – Detroit’s top three draft picks – have stepped in, played important roles early on, and haven’t looked out of place. Harris even recorded a touchdown last week in Houston on a fumble recovery.
Defensive end Austin Bryant is still nursing an injury and unfortunately for him has missed a lot of time. Cornerback Amani Oruwariye is trying to earn a job as a backup and potentially sub-package player. Running back Ty Johnson has looked good throughout camp. He seems to have locked down a roster spot, but is looking to move up the depth chart at running back. Fulgham, tight end Isaac Nauta and defensive tackle P.J. Johnson are all fighting for roster spots. Which rookies mix in with the first-team units? Keep an eye on rotations tonight.
When it comes to the undrafted rookie free agents, at least one has made the 53-man roster every year Bob Quinn has been the general manager. It could be a tough task for those players this year. Undrafted rookie players like guard Beau Benzchawel, defensive tackle Kevin Strong and linebacker Anthony Pittman will really have to finish camp strong to have a shot.