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Lions vs. Bengals: Five players to watch on defense

Get to know those who want to stand out from the pack on Thursday

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

While plenty of starting roles on the Lions defense look to be locked in, there's a few tough battles to make spots with this roster. Injuries at linebacker have opened up that particular position, while the secondary is looking for depth and the defensive line is so crowded that few spots down the chart are guaranteed. We already covered offensive players to watch for against the Bengals on Thursday night and now it's time to get to know the players looking to make their case on defense.

Brandon Copeland

Copeland's stock has some good potential to trend upwards. He's been pushing around Lions tackles during training and driving them back repeatedly. That said, he was a mixed bag against the Steelers, making a few impressive plays but overall, fairly inconsistent. He did recover a fumble, but there's a lot more that needs to come out of Copeland to really justify the roster spot that's looking like its his for the taking. There's no better time like the present and Copeland will get plenty of looks on the field Thursday night.

Alex Carter

Unless Carter steps it up, this could very well be one of his last rides. He's struggled all training camp with 1-on-1 matchups, gotten beat by a number of receivers and he's been marked unanimously on the outside in our latest Pride Of Detroit bubble watch. He needs to have a good game against the Bengals or there's not much reason to think he'll make the team this time around.

Kerry Hyder

The competition at defensive end has been a little underrated this year for the Lions, especially since I think we can probably lock up the top two spots and it's looking like Wallace Gillberry is the third one. That said, Hyder has looked impressive during training camp, and while shots are getting long that he might make the team, he's put himself on the bubble with his ability to get into the backfield. During simulated games, he's had more than a few plays where he would have had a sack or a tackle for loss, and he had good presence on the field during the Steelers game.

Once again though, there isn't much room left with this heavy load of defensive linemen the Lions are trying out. Hyder is going to have to continue to impress if he wants one of those edge rusher spots, and there's no better way than to show up against the Bengals.

Antwione Williams

A lot has been made about moving Williams to weakside linebacker while DeAndre Levy was out, a position Williams hasn't played before, but reports are indicating he adjusted well to that particular position during training and earning praise from Caldwell. And while he's probable to move back to the middle with Levy coming back, that kind of versatility does play in Williams' favor to make the team.

He'll have plenty of opportunities to put it on display against the Bengals, regardless of whether he's playing will or mike. He had five tackles during the Steelers preseason game and he'll be looking to stay productive on Thursday. Also, injuries to the linebacker corps means that Williams is being asked to take a step up and punch above his grade, and the man from Georgia Southern has the potential to do just that.

Miles Killebrew

Killebrew was a little bit of good and a little bit of bad against the Steelers, but he got some first-team action during training this week and reports are looking good for the fourth-round draft pick. He's eager and hungry and wants to prove that he could earn a starting spot somewhere down the road. A good showing against the Bengals offense might be what he needs to make the case to justify his upward mobility on the roster. His enthusiasm has been praised by the Lions coaching staff during training camp; let's see if that turns into action.

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After winning their first NFC North title in 30 years, the Lions have unfinished business this offseason. Stay updated with Jeremy Reisman through Pride of Detroit Direct, our newsletter offering up exclusive analysis. Sign up with NFCNORTH30 to get 30% off after your free trial.