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TWENTYMAN: Why final week of preseason is important for roster battles

The Detroit Lions begin their final preseason week of work before the roster has to be trimmed down to an initial 53 players on Aug. 31. This week of practice, and Friday's preseason finale against Indianapolis at Ford Field, are the last opportunities for players on the roster bubble to make a good impression with general manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell.

"There are some guys who are growing and getting better, young guys," Campbell said after Saturday's preseason loss in Pittsburgh. "And there are some guys that maybe were counted out that have a chance of now making this team.

"And there are some ones that, maybe, everybody thought was going to make it and they're not going to make it. There's a lot of that. I think it showed itself very clearly today in a lot of different positions and players. And that's why you do all this."

That's a pretty telling quote from Campbell with some position battles looking to go down to the wire.

Campbell mentioned four names who stuck out to him against the Steelers: Linebacker Derrick Barnes, wide receiver Tom Kennedy, running back Godwin Igwebuike and safety Jalen Elliott.

Of that group, Barnes is a lock to make the roster. He was a fourth-round pick and he's looked terrific since coming back from a nagging hamstring injury early in camp.

Of the remaining three, Kennedy is an interesting case. He's been consistent and productive throughout camp, and he's earned the trust of the guys throwing the football.

"We trust him," quarterback David Blough said of Kennedy after his four-catch, 61-yard performance in Pittsburgh. "You go out there and it's been third down a couple times and he's made guys miss and he's done a phenomenal job being the guy you can count on when you need a play to be made."

The way Kennedy's played throughout practice and in the preseason should make for some interesting conversations when the Lions talk about the receiver room on the 53-man roster. Tyrell Williams has been good throughout camp, and he and quarterback Jared Goff have built some chemistry, but after that there really aren't any locks outside of rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown and Kalif Raymond, who is likely the return man on special teams. Kennedy has stood out over more established names like Breshad Perriman and Geronimo Allison both in camp and in the preseason games so far.

"I like Tom," Campbell said Monday. "Let's see where this goes. He's still competing, but I'll tell you what, what you see is what it is. He just makes plays. We're getting to the point now where you want to find guys you can trust. You want guys you can trust. We trust Tom Kennedy right now."

The Lions plan to expand Kennedy's role on special teams this week to see if he can be even more valuable to the 53-man roster. Campbell said there is heavy competition going on in the receiver room this week.

The stacked interior linebacker position is another area where some hard decisions might be coming. Jamie Collins Sr. and Alex Anzalone have run with the first-team defense for most of camp. That isn't likely to change Week 1, but how will things shape up with the rotation behind them? Barnes is earning more playing time every time he steps on the field with his speed, versatility and playmaking ability. He's given the Lions more flash plays – sacks, tackles for loss, passes defended – than some other veterans who've been playing in front of him so far, including Jahlani Tavai, who hasn't played particularly well in the preseason. Has that potentially opened the door for a player like Anthony Pittman to earn a roster spot?

It seems like the Lions may keep three quarterbacks on the roster heading into the regular season, but if a backup had to play, is it as clear cut now as it was at the beginning of camp that it would be Tim Boyle getting the call?

Blough has been the more consistent playmaker in both practice and the preseason, in my opinion. Blough's completed 17 of 23 passes for 219 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions in two preseason games. That comes out to a 117.8 passer rating.

Boyle is 15 of 30 passing for 82 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions for a 56.3 rating. Boyle did play against most of Pittsburgh's starters on defense, while playing with mostly offensive reserves for the Lions, which should be noted. Still, credit Blough for making this a good conversation to have.

There are always a few surprises come roster cut-down day, and Campbell has already alluded to some developing ones, without naming names. It's a big week for players to make one final push before some hard decisions need to be made by Holmes, Campbell and company.

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