The Detroit Lions kick off the preseason tonight against the Atlanta Falcons at Ford Field. This is the first opportunity for players to hit someone in a different jersey and compete against different schemes.
There are starting positions, playing time and roster spots on the line. Tonight gives players an opportunity to make a good first impression on head coach Dan Campbell and his coaching staff in a game environment.
Here are five things I'll be looking out for during tonight's preseason opener:
1. DEFENSIVE GAINS
It's no secret the Lions have to be better defensively if they are going to be a better football team in 2022. Detroit was 31st in points allowed per game (27.5) last season, 29th in total defense (379.8), 28th against the run (135.1), 24th against the pass (244.7), 30th in sacks (30), 29th in third down defense percentage (45.1) and 31st in defensive red zone efficiency (70.0).
Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn changed their base scheme from a 3-4 read and react front to a 4-3 attacking even front in base defense. Glenn thinks it fits his personnel better, and tonight we get our first looks at it against another opponent.
Rookie defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson has looked like the real deal coming off the edge in practice. He's been disruptive the first two weeks of camp. Can he get after Falcons passers early on tonight in the expected quarter of so of work the starters could see?
Can defensive lineman Charles Harris pick up where he left off last year leading the team with 7.5 sacks? What gains has defensive lineman Alim McNeill made heading into Year 2? The defense goes as the defensive front goes, and that will be important to watch early on.
2. PICKING UP WHERE HE LEFT OFF
Veteran quarterback Jared Goff has been really good to begin camp. He looks poised, comfortable and in complete ownership of the offense. He looks to be picking up right where he left off last season after Dan Campbell took over play calling duties and Ben Johnson became the pass game coordinator.
With Campbell and Johnson at the helm of the offense the second half of last year, Goff was 3-2-1 in his final six starts with 11 touchdowns and two interceptions and a passer rating of 101.8. The passer rating was the sixth best among all NFL quarterbacks the second half of the season. Goff's had a terrific rapport with wide receivers DJ Chark, Josh Reynolds and Amon-Ra St. Brown through the first couple weeks of camp so far. Will that continue tonight?
3. ROOKIE WATCH
All eyes will be on Hutchinson, the No. 2 overall pick in this year's NFL Draft, when the defense is on the field. But tonight is a chance for a number of rookies to get their first crack at an NFL game.
Rookie linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez has had a terrific start to camp and has worked his way up to getting some run with the first-team defense this past week. He's instinctive and violent, and has been a playmaker early on. Will that continue tonight?
Safety Kerby Joseph and cornerback Chase Lucas are competing for roles on defense and special teams, along with tight end James Mitchell. There are also a few undrafted rookies – wide receiver Kalil Pimpleton, tackle Obinna Eze and defensive lineman Demetrius Taylor – I'm also interesting in watching and seeing if they can find a way to stand out.
4. OKUDAH VS. HARRIS
Third-year cornerback Jeff Okudah is excited to get back on the field and into game action roughly 11 months after tearing his Achilles at Ford Field Week 1 last year vs. San Francisco. It's been a long and hard rehab process for Okudah, and he said Wednesday he's just excited to compete again.
Okudah isn't just competing against the Falcons tonight, he's also competing against teammate Will Harris for the No. 2 cornerback job opposite Amani Oruwariye. Harris has made the full-time move over from safety to cornerback, and he brings a physicality to the position. It's very much an open competition between those two at this point, according to Campbell, and the preseason will go a long way in determining who ultimately wins the job.
View photos from Day 13 of Detroit Lions training camp on Wednesday August 10, 2022.
5. BACKUP QB JOB
The preseason will also be important in determining if Tim Boyle or David Blough earns the backup job behind Goff, or if the Lions are looking outside the organization to add a quarterback.
It seems to be a tight race between Boyle and Blough a couple weeks into camp with both players rotating between the second-team offense daily.
"I feel like they're both better than they were in the spring," Campbell said. "And I would just say it's somewhat early in camp and until we get in these preseason games, I think that will tell a lot for us."