In the Lions second preseason game against the Bengals, the first-string offense looked to be in fairly decent shape. Matthew Stafford was accurate, his receivers — especially Marvin Jones — looked to be in sync with their quarterback, and the running game… Well, the running game looks to be a work in progress. The interior of the offensive line still looks to be struggling to find their footing as a unit, consistently relinquishing ground and losing the push up front — albeit to an All-Pro talent like Geno Atkins. Taylor Decker looked better in pass protection than he did in run blocking, which was a complete 180 from his performance in Pittsburgh in Week 1. Heading into the third week of the preseason, here are five players to watch for when the Lions’ offense goes up against a Ravens’ defense full of both old and new faces.
Washington, a seventh-round pick out of the University of Washington, seemed at once to be a long shot to make the roster with all of the running backs ahead of him on the Lions’ depth chart. The team released Stevan Ridley on Thursday and things have become that much more interesting in the battle for the two remaining spots at running back. Both Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick are locks to make the roster. After that, there are three names looking to fill two spots: Zach Zenner, George Winn and Dwayne Washington.
In Week 1 against the Steelers, Washington didn’t see offensive snaps until the fourth quarter, but he did have a couple of nice plays out of the backfield. A wheel route lead to a reception and a 15-yard gain after he made a couple defenders miss, and he had two rushes for 12 yards. It was the 96-yard kick return he broke off for a touchdown in Week 1 against the Steelers that got people’s attention.
Week 2 against the Bengals offered us a chance to see a different Washington. His six carries were more than any other back not named Riddick and his 22 yards on the ground were more than any other Lions running back amassed. He was the only Lions player to get into the end zone, but this time it was on a nice misdirection run from five yards out that earned this comment from Chris Spielman on the broadcast:
“That’s the guy. I think he’s going to win that battle at that running back spot. It might be way too early, but he’s got a little bit something.”
With Ridley gone, Washington is going to get plenty of opportunities against better competition heading into Week 3 of the preseason against the Ravens, and this is exactly why you should keep an eye on his performance. At this point, Washington’s ability as a kick returner is what could earn him the job over George Winn, but a good showing out of the backfield could only swing the odds more in his favor.
Injuries to both Michael Ola and Corey Robinson have left the Lions with very little depth at the tackle position. And although Ola is no longer in a walking boot, it doesn’t appear that he’ll be ready to go by Saturday’s tilt against Baltimore. Robinson has an unknown ailment that has kept him out of practice for three straight days, but the second-year tackle was one of the few bright spots along the offensive line in the game against the Bengals last week. In the video below, Robinson is No. 70 and is the tackle at the bottom of your screen.
Pat Sims has played well this preseason. Violent hit on the QB. This is big DT showing some pass rush upside. pic.twitter.com/kh1aUHcFoJ— Joe Goodberry (@JoeGoodberry) August 19, 2016
Consequently, the tackle at the top of your screen in the clip above, the one that was beat pretty badly off the edge and got Dan Orlovsky folded in half, that’s Lucas. Lucas received quite a bit of play in Week 1 against the Steelers, playing 29 snaps, the second-most snaps among tackles — Michael Ola had 32. Last week against the Bengals, however, Lucas had 22 snaps, which was the fewest amount of reps that any tackle had in Week 2. Outside of the play above, I thought Lucas looked pretty solid in pass protection, and pretty forgettable when trying to create lanes for Ridley in the run game. He did make one play that impressed me, though.
On the play above, he did a nice job of chipping the end, moving out to the second level to team with Gabe Ikard to make a block and help spring Ridley for a nice gain. Lucas has the chance to make his case on Saturday to be the backup tackle once the season starts, while the two guys ahead of him on the depth chart are on the mend.
This week, the recently acquired Andrew Quarless should finally see some playing time after — presumably — being added too late last week to make it on the field against the Bengals. Quarless is an interesting study this week; not only because of the disastrous play of Cole Wick last week, but because of the recent developments in the health of Eric Ebron’s ankle. After practicing in a very light capacity, things seemed to be looking up for Ebron and his chances to return by Week 1 of the regular season, but with the third-year tight end missing another practice, murmurs of a possible setback in his rehab from the ankle injury are starting to make the rounds.
Even if Ebron is ready to go by Week 1, which still seems like incredibly optimistic thinking at this point, the Lions still need two more tight ends with Brandon Pettigrew likely to start the season on the PUP list. Cole Wick isn’t much of a blocker and Matthew Mulligan hasn’t caught a pass — or even received a single target — yet this preseason. Both tight ends are extremely one-dimensional; for as many flashes of potential Wick has shown while running routes and catching passes, and as solid as Mulligan has looked to be a blocker, the Lions depth at tight end was extremely lacking. Insert Andrew Quarless, who has a two-game suspension he must serve before getting on the field, but has to be someone who the Lions think will make the team; or else how would it be worth the backlash and questioning of Bob Quinn’s “zero-tolerance” policy to sign a guy who won’t contribute to the team? Quarless is a capable blocker and a serviceable option as a pass-catcher. He had one of his best games statistically against the Lions in Week 3 of the 2014 season, and the clip below shows his ability to take the ball away from defenders at the catch point:
And then here’s Aaron Rodgers showing that he would be an annoying opponent in Madden by spamming the same play twice in a row:
I wouldn’t say Quarless is a lock to make the roster, but my sentiments could change with his performance on Saturday against the Ravens.
Whether Graham Glasgow is healthy for this week’s tilt against Baltimore or not, Swanson is still playing to solidify his job as the starting center. When Glasgow was drafted in May, many considered him to be immediate competition for Swanson, but I wasn’t one who thought the job could be so easily earned by a rookie. Heading into Week 3, the job isn’t up for grabs, but Swanson’s lack of development is something that could cause him to be usurped as the team’s center.
While his ability in pass protection has been some good and some bad, the whole interior of the line has done a poor job picking up blitzes when the Lions go to an empty backfield. The biggest knock on Swanson coming out of Arkansas was his small frame and lack of strength when run blocking. In his third year, it seems as though Swanson still lacks that power and explosiveness and doesn’t push his opponents back enough. Too often he can be found standing straight up at a stalemate with his assignment. In Week 1 against the Steelers, this was a reoccurring theme:
Keep an eye on Travis Swanson as he gets far too vertical off the snap and let's his defender clean up the tackle. pic.twitter.com/aqRMph74nq— Ryan (@Ryan_POD) August 26, 2016
Now Cole Wick certainly didn’t do any favors in helping this play be successful, but Swanson’s draft day weaknesses still seem to be plaguing him to start his third season. He’ll need to be more powerful off the ball if the Lions hope to be successful running the ball up the middle in 2016, but let’s pay attention to his performance tonight as he tries to put some distance between he and Glasgow for the starting center position.
The first-string group of receivers has been one of the few bright spots of this preseason so far, but beyond Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and Anquan Boldin, the Lions are looking for some answers in Baltimore Saturday night. TJ Jones was a training camp standout among the wideouts and was heralded as a sure-fire lock to be the team’s fourth receiver. Jones was so highly regarded at one point that some were skeptical of the prospects of the Boldin signing, worried that the veteran receiver could impede the development of Jones.
Through two games of preseason action, Jones hasn’t done much to distinguish himself from the rest of the receivers vying for a spot on the roster. Jones’ production on offense has left a lot to be desired. Against the Steelers, Jones had three targets, but only one reception for a negative yard. Last week against the Bengals, Jones caught both of the passes thrown his way, but nothing that really resonated with me. He’s also a part of the receivers given a chance to earn their way onto the team by showing what kind of dynamic ability they possess in the return game, but Jones has struggled to stand out in that role as well.
While TJ Jones roster spot isn’t in serious jeopardy, the veteran from Citadel, Andre Roberts, could be closer to capturing the fourth spot on the receivers depth chart than Jones is to locking it up. Look to see Jones make the most of his attempts while he’s in there Saturday night.