The Detroit Lions open their 2015 preseason schedule on Thursday night at home against the New York Jets. Here are 10 things to keep an eye on during the game:
1. What kind of progress has Eric Ebron made?
Eric Ebron has had a pretty solid training camp so far. There have been fewer and fewer reports of drops and more and more reports of stellar, athletic catches and mismatches for the defense. Will that translate to an actual game, though? He probably won't get a ton of playing time with Matthew Stafford since this is merely the preseason opener, but even one example of his potential would be nice.
2. The Ameer Abdullah show
With Joique Bell out, Ameer Abdullah will presumably get the bulk of the work with the starters at running back. Again, it's unclear how much playing time that will actually result in given this is Week 1 of the preseason, but it will be fun to see what Abdullah can do both as a runner and as a receiver.
3. Which wide receivers step it up
Calvin Johnson may not even bother playing based on recent history, and Golden Tate will probably only be out there for a series or two at most. As a result, there will be a big opportunity for the rest of the receivers on the team to show what they can do. Guys like Lance Moore, Jeremy Ross, Corey Fuller, Ryan Broyles and TJ Jones will hope to not only lock down their spot on the roster, but also crack the receiver rotation. And guys like Andrew Peacock, Greg Salas, Vernon Johnson and Jarred Haggins will try to get in the mix for a roster spot.
4. The revamped offensive line
With Manny Ramirez set to start at left guard and Cornelius Lucas occupying the right tackle job as LaAdrian Waddle remains on the PUP list, the offensive line we see this week could be quite different from the O-line we see in a month. By the time the regular season arrives, the hope is that Laken Tomlinson will be the starter at left guard and Waddle will be healthy. Even so, seeing some of these new pieces on the O-line (Ramirez, Tomlinson, Travis Swanson at center, etc.) will be interesting.
5. New starters on the D-line
Given that all of last year's top defensive tackles are gone and Jason Jones is currently on the PUP list, the Lions' defensive line will look quite a bit different on Thursday. Actually, Ezekiel Ansah will likely be the only familiar starter. Caraun Reid and Tyrunn Walker will likely start at defensive tackle with Haloti Ngata still out, and I would assume that Darryl Tapp will start in place of Jones at defensive end. Seeing how some of these players perform in a starting role will tell us a lot about some of the position battles taking place on the D-line.
6. Stephen Tulloch's return
Given that he has practiced without limitation, I would expect Stephen Tulloch to be on the field for a game for the first time since tearing his ACL last season. I can't imagine he will play many snaps simply because he probably doesn't need to, but making Tulloch's return to action official will be nice.
7. The battle for the nickelback job
At this point, you could probably make a pretty strong case for at least three players when it comes to the starting nickelback job. Quandre Diggs, Josh Wilson and Nevin Lawson have all gotten work as the top nickelback this summer, and nobody has really emerged as the clear favorite at this point. As a result, Thursday's game could be quite important for this particular position battle.
8. The battle for the returner job
Along the same lines, a lot of players are in the mix to occupy the Lions' returner role. Ross still appears to be the favorite right now, but I really hope the Lions take a long look at the likes of Moore, Broyles, Jones, Wilson and some of the other players who have returned kicks and punts during training camp. (Guys like Tate and even Abdullah probably don't need any special teams reps during the preseason.)
9. Which undrafted free agents make a statement
This year's group of undrafted free agents includes several intriguing players. At running back, for example, will Zach Zenner do enough on both offense and special teams to beat out George Winn for a roster spot? On the offensive line, meanwhile, will Torrian Wilson or Al Bond elevate their chances of making the team on Thursday? And at safety, can Isaiah Johnson or Brian Suite do enough to actually put Don Carey and his roster spot on notice? The preseason presents a very important opportunity for this year's UDFAs.
10. No injuries, please
Finally, as always, the most important thing about the preseason is avoiding serious injuries. Injuries are bound to happen given the nature of football, but limiting the severity of them and ensuring that key players don't go down should really be the Lions' main focus on Thursday.