O’HARA’S FINAL THOUGHTS: 4 players to watch in second preseason game

Lions-Texans Final Thoughts: Opportunity, circumstances, open competition for roster spots for a handful of Lions; head coach Matt Patricia on games vs. practice; another test to solidify the offensive line and Random Thoughts:

Any player who began this journey at some point at the bottom of the depth chart need only look around at teammates to see that fortunes can change – and sometimes in a hurry.

One example: Zach Zenner was a highly productive running back at South Dakota State but went undrafted in 2015. After four seasons, with two stints on the injured list, he’s a valuable backup and special teams ace who’s as secure in his position as any backup can be.

In other words, no guarantees – which is the same for various reasons for these four players among many others as the Lions hit the halfway point in the preseason schedule:

Linebacker Anthony Pittman: He started out as a good story because of his local connections -- Birmingham Groves High School and Wayne State. His progression in training camp from the offseason program through training camp has made him more than a good story.

“What’s great about him is, I thought he really progressed from the spring to the time we got back for training camp,” Patricia said. “He really stayed focus through that little break we had – studied and learned.

“He actually accelerated when he came back. It’s a long way off, but I think from that standpoint with him in particular, to give him credit from that break, I thought he did a great job.”

Fullback Nick Bawden: After missing his rookie season with a knee injury, he’s shown so far that he might be an outlet receiver – at least -- in addition to a blocker and special teams player. He is not short on energy.

Wide receiver Chris Lacy: The season-ending injury sustained by Jermaine Kearse on the first series of last week’s game opens the competition behind the locked-in trio of Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr., and Danny Amendola.

At 6-1 and 210 pounds, Kearse’s size, seven years of experience and ability to play the slot and outside gave him the inside track on the No. 4 spot. At 6-3, Lacy has shown some good things in practice. As a rookie, he spent most of last season on the Lions’ practice squad.

Quarterback Josh Johnson: The Lions are Johnson’s 13th team in a career that began in 2008 when Tampa Bay drafted him in the fifth round. In his one week with the Lions, Johnson has shown that he’s a quick learner with a good delivery.

With Tom Savage out with a concussion sustained in the opener, it appears to be 50-50 – at least – between Johnson and David Fales on the depth chart.

However, that does not mean that either one will be the backup.

Preseason game vs. practice: No surprise, Patricia did not discount the value of playing a game when asked to compare the value of a preseason game vs. the competition in joint practices.

“Games are a big deal to me,” he said. “We’ve got to go compete.”

But the opportunity to set up specific situations in joint practices cannot be discounted. With a scripted practice, the Lions got work against the Texans in the red zone and goal to go on offense and defense.

Against the Patriots, the offense was in the red zone once and never had goal to go. The defense got plenty of work on both – stopping the Patriots only twice on six trips to the red zone, and one in four times in goal to go.

Bottom line: The offense didn’t get enough work to matter in either situation, and the defense showed it needs more work in both.

Offensive line: This will be a weekly topic until – well, until it isn’t.

Based on practice, the only significant change in starters from last week is Joe Dahl at left guard in place of Kenny Wiggins. The other four starters are the same – Taylor Decker at left tackle, Frank Ragnow at center, Graham Glasgow at right guard, Rick Wagner at right tackle.

Random thoughts:

Offense: This is one case where stats do matter. The offense needs to put yards and points on the stats sheet and show a significant decline in the nine sacks allowed a week ago.

Signing vet QB: At least it’s the preseason when Josh Johnson is likely to get playing time barely a week after being signed.

In 2008, the Lions signed Daunte Culpepper on Nov. 2 during the regular season. A week later, he started a 38-14 loss to Jacksonville. Culpepper, who had not been with a team that season before signing with the Lions, went 0-5 as a starter in that 0-16 season.

Miles Killebrew: He looks like a different, and better, player at linebacker. He’s benefitted from a full offseason to prepare.

Patricia vs. Watt: I like that Patricia let J.J. Watt know that he didn’t like him getting too close to his quarterback on a pass rush in practice. It’s the same way I liked it last year when LeGarrette Blount came off the bench to shove a 49ers player who’d gotten a cheap hit on Matthew Stafford. Nothing wrong with a little edge.

And yes, I’d like to be riding an ATV if Watt wanted to retaliate with more than words.

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