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Five defensive players to watch during Lions-Ravens: Show me something, linebackers

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Position battles are starting to heat up on defense and several Lions defenders will be under the microscope Saturday night.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

While offensive players like Marvin Jones and Dwayne Washington are enjoying breakout performances in the preseason, there hasn’t been a single standout player for the defense during the Detroit Lions’ first two games. The Lions have forced only one turnover in two contests, and managed just four sacks.

That isn’t to say the defense has been bad per se, but there just haven’t been any spectacular plays from any individuals through two weeks. Considering how heated some position battles are on defense, that comes as a bit of a disappointment. With the first round of roster cuts just days away, here are five players to watch who are trying to avoid missing the cut.

Stefan Charles

The Lions’ toughest roster decisions will come along the defensive line. Detroit has a surplus of talent, especially at defensive tackle, and they’ll likely have to cut some good players.

Charles was a free agent addition that seemed a shoo-in for the roster, but when the Lions added A’Shawn Robinson, and Charles failed to stand out in camp, his situation is suddenly much more tenuous. Charles failed to get on the stat sheet last week, despite playing the third-most snaps among defensive tackles, but he did have two tackles against the Steelers.

For Charles to make the roster he’ll have to prove he is a much better option than the younger Gabe Wright, and a more consistent player than the streaky Khyri Thornton.

DeAndre Levy

Levy is healthy for the first time since last preseason, and he had essentially a full week of practice leading up to this game. That being said, Detroit may take it easy with Levy and I wouldn’t be completely surprised to see the team sit him entirely.

But if Levy does make it on the field, all eyes will be on him. He was a huge part of Detroit’s dominant defense in 2014, but hasn’t been able to stay healthy since. Fans are craving to see if Levy is not only healthy, but in football shape for the regular season. Levy will likely need to shake off some rust to return to his dominant self, even if Jim Caldwell expects him to be better than ever. If Levy does play, I don’t suspect he’ll play much, but my eyes will be glued to him if he’s out there.

Antwione Williams

Considering Levy likely won’t play much, and reserve linebackers Josh Bynes and Jon Bostic are recovering from injuries, Antwione Williams should get a fair share of playing time to shine in the second half.

He’ll need to make an impact because as a late fifth-round draft pick his spot on the roster is far from guaranteed. One of his biggest competitors for a roster spot is Bostic, so Williams needs to take advantage of the extra snaps and show the Lions why they drafted him.

Anthony Zettel

Zettel is in a very similar situation to Williams. He’s a late-round draft pick that is hovering right on or around that roster bubble. Zettel’s chances to make the roster are highly dependent on the Lions’ preference of keeping four or five defensive ends. If they’re only keeping four, Zettel will have a hard time beating out Ezekiel Ansah, Devin Taylor, Wallace Gilberry and Brandon Copeland. However, Zettel has to be considered the favorite to pick up that fifth spot, should the Lions choose to use it.

After being one of the most hyped up third-day draft picks, Zettel has had a very modest preseason. Though he did pick up a sack in his first career game, he’s been pretty invisible the rest of the time. Zettel won’t likely see any first half action against the Ravens, but he needs to make his name known in the second half of the dress rehearsal to convince the Lions to keep that fifth linebacker.

Alex Carter/Crezdon Butler

I am cheating by placing both cornerbacks on the list because they are likely in direct competition with each other for the last roster spot for the Lions. Carter may have the edge now simply because of his third-round draft status from a year ago. However, this week was a reminder of just what Bob Quinn is capable of. The team that taught him much of his roster managing tendencies, the New England Patriots, just traded away their fourth-round pick from 2014.

Butler, on the other hand, needs to put together a strong performance on Saturday. Having missed the Lions’ second preseason game, he’ll be playing a bit of catchup. Butler is a strong special teams player and can have an edge on Carter there, but he’ll likely need to be more than that, considering the Lions already have Johnson Bademosi and Tavon Wilson as special teamers in the secondary.