Every training camp there seems to be a player or two who aren't high on the radar of fans or the media to start camp, but their play in practice and the preseason quickly puts them in the conversation of making the initial 53-man roster.
Consider tight end Hakeem Valles one of those players for the 2018 season.
The tight end position is very much an open competition still at this point in the preseason, and Valles entered Friday's third preseason game in Tampa Bay as the leading pass catcher at the position. He increased his lead by catching three more passes for 38 yards against the Bucs, all three for first downs, in Detroit's 33-30 victory.
"Another guy I kind of, as we talk throughout the course of the week, we talk about the kind of the guys that are in different positions, in different competitions, in different roles, and different situations, and he's certainly one we've tried to put in some difficult ones," Lions head coach Matt Patricia said of Valles. "Good for him, he's shown up in a positive way there, too. That's been good."
Valles is in a tight competition with Luke Willson, Michael Roberts, Levine Toilolo and others for a roster spot and playing time. He definitely believes his performance Friday night helped his cause in that competition.
"My confidence level is very high," Valles said. "It's the highest it's been in my career. Just last year coming off practice squad for the whole year and developing everything with the offense with (Jim Bob Cooter) and (Matthew) Stafford and getting that comfort level down and that confidence up and I'm just hoping everything comes together this year."
The Lions have been looking for a tight end to step up and command some of the targets that went Eric Ebron's way last year. So far, Valles has stepped up the most.
"He's done a nice job," Stafford said of Valles. "I think he's come in, he's played pretty good assignment football, and when he's had his opportunity made plays. That's all you can ask for. Put him in there, we throw you the ball, you get open, you catch it. He's done a nice job of that."
"KICK SIX" PLAY
In a regular-season game, Patricia probably doesn't try a 62-yard field goal in rainy conditions at the end of the half like he did Friday against the Bucs, but this if the preseason, and the preseason is all about situational teaching.
The quick rundown on what happened to end the first half in Tampa Bay was Prater was short with the kick, and the Bucs returned it 109 yards for a touchdown.
A similar play happened in the Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn in 2013, which has since been dubbed "kick six." Auburn won the game returning a missed field goal 109 yards for a touchdown as time expired.
"Obviously, it wasn't very good play, it was pretty horrific to be honest with you," Patricia said of Detroit's attempt Friday night. "But, again, we coach situational football all the time and pretty much showed the Auburn play here earlier in the week from Auburn/Alabama, so pretty much came back to get me on that one."
It did, but it does offer Patricia another teaching moment.
"We'll go back, we'll look at it. We've got to teach off that moment," Patricia said. "It's something we have to learn from and there's a time and point where that play might have to come up and we have to be able to execute it properly.
"Whether it's the kick or the cover or any part of it. You get an opportunity to do that during preseason, you take those chances and try to teach off it. It's about teaching and improving."
Hopefully, the Lions will execute it better the next time it comes up.
STUDENT OF THE GAME
When Patricia turns the page on this game and starts to prepare for Cleveland next week, the first player he expects to see is veteran Ricky Jean Francois.
"He's a guy that will be in my office in the beginning of the week, and tomorrow I'm sure trying to look at the next opponent and say, 'Hey, what do we have to study here, what do we have to look at there, what can I help get conveyed to the defense, what can I convey to the team as far as what we have to do,'" Patricia said of his veteran defensive tackle.
"Sometimes it's good and help those guys understand what I am looking for."
Jean Francois has played in Patricia's scheme before in New England, and that's been evident in his play so far throughout the preseason. He started alongside Ziggy Ansah, Sylvester Williams, and rookie Da'Shawn Hand for the second straight week upfront on defense. Jean Francois was all over the place against the Bucs, leading all defensive linemen with six tackles.
His knowledge of this scheme and his willingness to study are showing up on the field.
"Ricky just in general is a really tough guy," Patricia said. "He's a very hard worker. He's a student of the game. He really understands football. He works extremely hard at it."
MAKING HIS CASE
Another one of those names we might start talking about in the same breath as Valles is rookie wide receiver Brandon Powell. When given the opportunity, he's made his fair share of plays throughout training camp and the preseason, and he could be making the decision at receiver very hard.
Powell caught all six of the passes thrown his way vs. Tampa Bay for 45 yards. His electrifying 80-yard punt return touchdown in the fourth quarter helped launch Detroit's late comeback.
Powell should get plenty of run next week, and a big game could really help his case for inclusion on the initial 53-man roster
Patricia and the Lions had to deal with a 59-minute weather delay due to thunder storms in the Tampa Bay area around kickoff. The sky opened up about half an hour before the start of the game, and thunder and lightning pushed kickoff back nearly an hour.
The players warming up on the field were forced to take cover and sit around for about an hour, abandoning what is typically a normal warmup routine for them, before returning to the field at 8:29 for an abbreviated 20 minutes to warm up again.