It may only be a preseason game, but Saturday’s matchup between the Detroit Lions and New York Jets has plenty on the line for the players involved. As a result, there are plenty of storylines to follow and keep an eye on. Most publications will only give you five things to watch for a preseason game, but I’m an overachiever. Here are 10 things to keep an eye on during the Lions’ Week 2 preseason matchup against the Jets:
1. Will the Lions interior offensive line improve?
Ever since Taylor Decker went down with an injury, the focus has been at left tackle. However, Greg Robinson had a promising debut against the Colts, while the interior of the offensive line played extremely poorly. T.J. Lang is unlikely to play again, so we’ll get a chance to see if Laken Tomlinson, Graham Glasgow or Joe Dahl has anything in them. Neither of the three has impressed in camp so far.
2. Matthew Stafford to Kenny Golladay?
Earlier this week Golladay was promoted to the first-team offense. That only lasted one practice before TJ Jones took his spot back. However, it’s only a matter of time before Golladay gets more reps with the first team. Will he get a shot at game action with Stafford against the Jets? If so, the hype train will be unstoppable.
3. Competitors at defensive end
With the season-ending injuries to Kerry Hyder and Brandon Copeland, there’s no position with more question marks than defensive end. Alex Barrett and Jeremiah Valoaga had promising debuts last week, but played against lesser competition. With Detroit’s depth chart depleted, Barrett and Valoaga should get more looks against players higher up the ranks.
4. Is the Charles Washington hype real?
The Lions have an intriguing camp battle at safety, but most think it’s between Alex Carter and Don Carey. However, Washington has quietly been impressing during training camp.
Washington, incidentally, has been getting a long look as GQ's backup at FS. I think he's got a decent shot to make the 53 as the 5th safety— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) August 18, 2017
Washington is essentially the hybrid of Carey and Carter; he’s got the youth of Carter (24 years old) and the special teams value of Carey. Maybe it’s time we all start paying attention.
5. Return competition
Last week, the punt and kick return competition was a dud. Detroit only had two opportunities to return a kick, while Jace Billingsley didn’t show much on four punt returns.
Most of the hype has been around rookie Jamal Agnew, but the fifth-round pick only got one shot to return a punt. The competition is still wide open, but everything could change with just one big return.
6. Depth at defensive tackle
While Lions fans rightfully panic about the situation at defensive end, almost as many questions remain at defensive tackle. A’Shawn Robinson looked good in his debut, but Akeem Spence, Khyri Thornton, Jeremiah Valoaga, Bruce Gaston and Ego Ferguson were all essentially invisible out there.
Jordan Hill and Haloti Ngata didn’t play last week, but Detroit likes to rotate defensive linemen. They need some depth to step up.
7. Ameer Abdullah running skills
No offensive player not named Kenny Golladay has more hype around him than Abdullah. He only had two touches against the Colts last week, racking up 16 total yards. However, we barely got to see Abdullah running the ball, and we’ve waited nearly an entire calendar year to see him juke a linebacker into the next week.
The biggest hope for the Lions reclaiming a running game this week is the return of Abdullah. Let’s see some proof that Abdullah can be explosive behind this offensive line.
8. DJ Hayden vs. Quandre Diggs
This has to be one of the most competitive camp battles on the team, yet it has also been the most unsatisfying. Neither player has particularly stood out in camp or made much of any plays in the preseason.
It’s still obviously very early, but I’d love to see one—if not, both—make a few plays against a poor Jets offense.
9. Can the Lions force a dang turnover?
Detroit failed to tally a single takeaway in their final five games of the 2016 season, and they weren’t able to get one in their preseason opener against the Colts.
The Lions absolutely need some playmakers on this defense. Jarrad Davis? Darius Slay? Miles Killebrew? We’ve been promised the defense is starting to get better, but talk is cheap.
10. Do the Lions have their future backup in Jake Rudock?
There’s little doubt Rudock will enter the 2017 season as the team’s backup. However, many feared Rudock’s inexperience and thought his below-average arm would leave Detroit in a no-win situation if he was forced into the lineup.
Rudock eased some of those fears in the preseason opener last Sunday. Rudock went 13-21 for 142 yards and two touchdowns against the Colts, and looked much more comfortable in the offense.
The Lions asked a lot more of him than they did last year, and if he can build upon that performance, he could start to really build a case for himself as a reliable backup.