The Detroit Lions open their 2014 preseason schedule on Saturday night at home against the Cleveland Browns. Here are 10 things to keep an eye on during the game:
1. The new schemes
This will be our first real look at the Lions' new offensive and defensive schemes. We've heard a lot about how Joe Lombardi is planning to introduce a New Orleans-style offense, and we've heard just as much about Teryl Austin's aggressive defense. Neither coordinator is going to fully reveal his new scheme in a preseason game, of course, but if nothing else, we should start to get an idea of what the new offense and defense are all about.
2. If drops are still an issue
The Lions struggled with drops quite a bit in 2013, and that was part of their downfall on offense in the second half of last season. Drops are bound to happen in the preseason just because players are constantly rotating in and out, and the timing may not be completely down with all of the quarterbacks who will see action. However, at least when the first-team offense is in the game, it would be nice to see some improvement when it comes to actually catching the ball.
3. Eric Ebron's debut
On a somewhat related note, Ebron will make his official Lions debut in this game. Drops were a bit of an issue for him in college, and every now and then they have popped up in training camp for Ebron. So not only will it be interesting to see how his hands are in game action with the Lions, but it will also be interesting to see how Lombardi deploys him in his first game in Detroit.
4. Quarterbacks not named Matthew Stafford
Seeing what kind of progress Stafford has made and if his mechanics and footwork have changed at all will be worth monitoring for sure. At quarterback, though, I'm more interested in seeing how everybody else performs. Shaun Hill is gone, and an unimpressive performance by Dan Orlovsky would raise even more questions about the Lions' backup situation. What's more, it will be interesting to see how Kellen Moore and James Franklin perform -- assuming Franklin actually gets to play, that is -- and if either player shows enough to warrant serious consideration for the 53-man roster.
5. How Theo Riddick follows up his hype-filled offseason
No Lions player was talked up more this offseason than Riddick, and Saturday will be his first chance to show if all of this hype was warranted. Not only am I interested to see what kind of role he plays in the offense, but I also want to see how he performs both as a receiver and a runner.
6. Who steps up at wide receiver
The top two is set at this position, but that's pretty much it. Kevin Ogletree seems to have the early advantage for the third spot, but it's too early to discount guys like Ryan Broyles, Jeremy Ross, Kris Durham and Corey Fuller, among others. Not only are roster spots up for grabs, but playing time is up for grabs at this position as well, and Saturday's game will be an important test for these receivers.
7. How the cornerbacks perform
Perhaps the biggest question mark for the Lions is at the cornerback position. Will Rashean Mathis hold up despite turning 34 later this month? Will Darius Slay show improvement after a rough rookie season? Will any of the backups step it up for a change? Obviously none of these questions will be answered with one preseason game, but the play of the cornerbacks on Saturday could either ease everybody's concerns a bit or create some serious panic going forward.
8. The kicking game
Giorgio Tavecchio may currently have a slight lead over Nate Freese in the battle for the Lions' starting kicker job, but that doesn't exactly mean much. How each player performs in actual game situations could be the deciding factor in this position battle, and Tavecchio and Freese will have their first opportunity to show off their skills in a game environment on Saturday night against Cleveland.
Injuries are always a concern, especially in the preseason. The main goal for the Lions on Saturday is to simply get through the game without anybody suffering a serious injury. Even if that's all they accomplish, it will still be a good night for the Lions.
10. Johnny Football
Most non-Lions fans will be keeping an eye on this game for one reason only: Johnny Manziel. A lot has been made of his off-field antics, but now is Manziel's chance to show what he can do on the field. It sounds like Brian Hoyer is going to be Cleveland's starter on Saturday, but seeing Manziel take on Detroit's defense in his NFL debut will be quite interesting.