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5 things to watch: Lions vs. Bills

The Detroit Lions open the preseason tonight at Ford Field by welcoming the Buffalo Bills. It will be the first time we see the Dan Campbell-led Lions square up against another opponent.

This roster looks a lot different than it did last season with 51 new players on the 90-man roster, amounting for 57.8 percent of the team. That total includes 37 veterans and 15 rookies. This is the first opportunity for fans to really get acclimated with some of the new names.

Campbell said earlier this week we would likely see the starters for about a quarter tonight, so the expectation is that most of the healthy roster will see action.

Here are five things to watch out for tonight as the Lions kick off the preseason:

1. Jared Goff era begins

The Lions have a new quarterback running the show for the first time since 2008 in Goff, who came to Detroit after the team sent Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams for Goff and two first-round picks.

This is a new system with a lot of different moving parts, and the important thing is to just see some efficiency -- Move the football, notch some first downs and get quality reps in, which Campbell said Wednesday could amount to around 12 to 15 plays for the starters.

Among all quarterbacks having at least 20 games with a 100.0 passer rating since 2016, Goff's .852 winning percentage trails only Tom Brady (.925) and Dak Prescott (.912). It's that kind of efficiency coaches want to see with Goff in his limited reps tonight.

2. Rookie watch

With no joint practices scheduled this year in training camp, the preseason will be the best tune-up for the rookies heading into the regular season.

A number of rookies could see reps right away with the first-team units tonight. First-round pick Penei Sewell will hit someone in a different jersey for the first time. Detroit's offensive line is expected to be one of the biggest strengths on this team. How will he settle into the right tackle spot early on?

Third-round pick Alim McNeill has played nose tackle with the first-team defense all camp. Coaches have been impressed with his athleticism, and they think he can give them something as a pass rusher from the interior as well. Tonight will be his first opportunity to impress fans in a live setting.

Third-round pick Ifeatu Melifonwu and fourth-round pick Derrick Barnes could work into the game pretty early at cornerback and linebacker, respectively. Fourth-round pick Amon-Ra St. Brown has been one of the team's top four receivers in camp, and is expected to see the field early as well.

Then there's the undrafted rookie free agents, who we shouldn't forget about. For 11 consecutive seasons from 2010 to 2020 the team has had at least one undrafted rookie free agent make the Week 1 53-man roster. In that span, 19 total undrafted rookies have earned roster spots on the Week 1 roster. Last season, tight end Hunter Bryant kept the streak going.

3. New look defense

Probably the biggest difference fans will notice right away with this Lions team will be on defense. Aaron Glenn is the new defensive coordinator, and he installed a 3-4 base scheme defense that's expected to be more attacking and aggressive.

Fan will see outside linebackers dropping in coverage and inside linebackers blitzing. Romeo Okwara and Trey Flowers will be in two-point stances some, and could move around bit as well.

In the back end, it's a split safety look that allows those players to roam a little bit more and read and react. It will look very different.

The Lions allowed the most points and yards in team history last year. They also didn't affect the quarterback enough or turn the ball over as much as they needed to. Some of the things fans will want to see most is the ability to pressure the quarterback and get hands on footballs.

4. Kicker competition

The last time the Lions were at Ford Field was for a training camp scrimmage last Saturday, and it was not a good day for the kicking game. Randy Bullock and Matthew Wright combined to go 0-for-4 on attempts beyond 45 yards.

After missing another kick in practice Tuesday, the Lions released Wright and signed veteran Zane Gonzalez, 26, who made 54 of 66 field goals (81.8 percent) in two-plus seasons with the Arizona Cardinals.

Matt Prater was very consistent for the Lions the past seven seasons. We'll see if Bullock or Gonzalez can show that kind of consistency through the preseason and earn the job here.

5. Backup quarterbacks

This is Goff's football team, but who will back him up in the regular season?

Right now Tim Boyle and David Blough seem to be in a pretty tight competition for the job. The preseason will go a long way in determining who ultimately wins the role.

The last time preseason football took place, Boyle, then with Green Bay, led the NFL in passing touchdowns (6) and passer rating (112.9). In his preseason career, which spans two seasons (2018-19), Boyle leads the NFL in touchdown passes (9) in that span.

Blough did some good things when he got a chance to start five games for the Lions in 2019. He's had a really solid start to camp showing command of the offense, good decision making and nice accuracy, especially down the field.

Which one of these backup quarterbacks runs the offense more efficiency tonight and who makes more of the right plays?

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