5 things to watch: Lions vs. Giants

The Detroit Lions kick off the preseason tonight against the New York Giants at Ford Field. It's an opportunity for players to make a big impression in the first of three preseason games. It's also a chance for coaches and front office staff to get some good evaluation work in and see who shines the most when the lights are bright.

There are starting positions, playing time and roster spots on the line.

Here are five things I'll be looking out for during tonight's preseason opener:

1. ROOKIE LOOKS

The Lions didn't get an opportunity to have their Fan Fest practice at Ford Field this training camp because of a scheduling conflict at Ford Field so tonight might be the first time some of these young players step on the field.

It's the first chance fans will get to see the impact first-round picks running back Jahmyr Gibbs and linebacker Jack Campbell can make on either side of the ball. Will tight end Sam LaPorta have the kind of impact we've seen from the first 13 practices of training camp? In how many spots will we see defensive back Brian Branch line up? Will we see defensive lineman Brodric Martin play in the opponent's backfield like we've seen at times in camp?

Lions fans will get their first look at GM Brad Holmes' latest group of draft picks he hopes become some of their foundational players moving forward.

View photos from Day 2 of Lions-Giants joint practice on Wednesday August 9, 2023.

2. ROSTER SPOTS UP FOR GRABS

There are only a few games for players on the roster bubble to make a big impression. There have been a number of young players who have made a good impression in camp so far and the hope is that continues into the preseason.

Undrafted rookie wide receiver Dylan Drummond has found a way to make a good play it seems like every day. Will that carry into the preseason?

Undrafted rookie cornerback Starling Thomas V has been getting second-team reps pretty consistently and has shown some stickiness and toughness in coverage. Can he continue to get his hands on the football against the Giants?

Other players like wide receiver Maurice Alexander, tight end James Mitchell and others have been making plays in camp and hope to do the same tonight in the first game action of the year.

3. KICKING BATTLE

The competition between Riley Patterson and Parker Romo to be Detroit's placekicker in 2023 goes to the next phase, and it's an important one. One thing to pay attention to tonight is not only how these kickers perform kicking field goals and extra points, but also how they handle kickoffs. Punter Jack Fox can kick off at a high level and gives the Lions that security, but they'd also like their kicker to be able to do it at a high level.

"I think you hate being backed into a corner where if something happened to Fox, or he wasn't feeling great, or he was fatigued and you didn't want to put his leg in a stressful position, then you want to take that kickoff off him, well then who's doing it?" Lions special teams coordinator Dave Fipp said recently.

"Well, if you don't have a kicker who can kick off now, he's forced to do it, now you're pushing him through that, now something happens now you're really in trouble. So, the more these guys can do obviously the better, so how important is the kickoff? I think personally it's important I think a kicker in the National Football League should be able to kick off at a high level."

4. STARTING REPS

Head coach Dan Campbell was asked Wednesday what his plan for any potential starters playing tonight and he declined to share.

Last year during Week 1 of the preseason, quarterback Jared Goff and most of the starters on offense played one series, a 10-play scoring drive. The offense was also in a much different place last year with coordinator Ben Johnson in his first season in the role and the scheme still very much evolving. Maybe the preseason reps aren't as important this year in Week 1.

Most of the healthy starters on defense got a series or two last year. With this roster where it's at with a lot of established, young veterans at the core, I suspect Campbell will pick and choose starters to play and maybe we won't see them all.

5. PASS RUSH

One area where Detroit appears to be pretty deep defensively is along the edge with players like Aidan Hutchinson, Charles Harris, John Cominsky, Josh Paschal, James Houston, Romeo Okwara and Julian Okwara.

When it's all said and done at the end of training camp there could be a tough decision to make here in terms of roster spots and playing rotation.

The Lions were a lot more consistent and productive rushing the passer the second half of last season, which is a big reason why the defensive numbers were so much better overall the last 10 games. Can this group establish themselves early and often tonight and show it can be a strength for that side of the ball?

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