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5 Lions defensive players to watch vs. Bills

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A look at the best storylines on the defensive side of the ball for the Lions’ preseason finale.

NFL: Preseason-Buffalo Bills at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

While there are a lot of offensive jobs on the line for the Detroit Lions on Thursday night, the defensive side of the roster is chaos. There are so many camp battles left unresolved, rotational pieces still undetermined and key backup roles still unfilled.

Thursday night will undoubtedly be the deciding factor for a few defensive players’ future with the team. So here are five defensive players to watch during Thursday night’s game against the Buffalo Bills.

Alex Carter

As I mentioned in Thursday’s open thread, I think this game is more important to Alex Carter than anyone else on the roster.

The Lions haven’t given Carter much of a look this preseason. He’s yet to play more than half of the snaps in a game, while Charles Washington has seen the field more than Carter in all three games.

But with guys like Miles Killebrew, Glover Quin and Tavon Wilson unlikely to play on Thursday, Carter will get a full shot to impress his coaches. He’ll need to take advantage of the opportunity, because while Don Carey could be on his way out, it appears Washington may have the edge on Carter right now.

Carter’s strengths are his youth and his potential at a new position, but Washington is just two years older than Carter and is also proving to be a decent special teamer.

Carter needs to make an impression both defensively and on special teams Thursday night, or the Lions may move on from their 2015 third-round pick.

Pat O’Connor

The Lions are desperate at defensive end right now. So much so, that nearly everyone expects them to add one either via a trade or through the waiver wire once teams begin their cuts.

But combined with Alex Barrett and Jeremiah Valoaga, O’Connor gives the Lions three rookie options that could become part-time players for this Lions defense in 2017. O’Connor is the most interesting of the three, as he was the only one drafted. Yet despite coming into training camp with a clear edge up on the other two, O’Connor has been the quietest of the three in the preseason.

While there’s enough room on the roster for two of these three to make the final 53, O’Connor seems like the odd man out heading into Thursday’s game. Let’s see if that motivates the Lions’ seventh-round draft pick.

Jeremiah Ledbetter

Ledbetter’s job is almost assuredly safe after the Lions placed Jordan Hill on injured reserve earlier this week. However, he’s still a guy to keep a very close eye on in this game.

Not only will Ledbetter likely make the team, but he could figure to be a big part of the Lions’ rotation at defensive tackle. At this point, the only tackles clearly ahead of him on the depth chart are Haloti Ngata, A’Shawn Robinson and Akeem Spence. Considering how often the Lions rotate their defensive tackles, that means Ledbetter is in line to get a healthy number of snaps starting Week 1.

That’s a lot to ask of a sixth-round rookie who just added nearly 20 pounds of weight to his frame. Ledbetter is bound to get a huge portion of snaps on Thursday night so that the Lions can get him ready for next week. I want to see how he responds.

Steve Longa

Will the Lions carry six linebackers? I’ll be honest, it wasn’t a question I was even considering a few weeks ago. But after the Patriots debacle, it looks like this team could use some linebacker reinforcements... just in case.

And if there’s a guy deep on the Lions’ depth chart that has made a case for himself, it’s Steve Longa. As our own Kent Lee Platte pointed out way back in February, Longa has been coveted by the Lions ever since they paid him at an active roster rate while on the team’s practice squad last year.

Longa has played well on special teams this preseason and has even made a few plays on defense. The Lions will get a longer look at him on Thursday and have to come to a decision if the team needs him as a sixth linebacker.

Quandre Diggs

Fans are very down on Quandre Diggs, and some believe he won’t make the roster. If the Lions feel the same way, they sure aren’t showing it.

Diggs has consistently been playing with the first-team defense, and while he struggled against the Patriots, most of the reports out of camp have been very positive. “I think Quandre’s had a very, very good camp,” head coach Jim Caldwell said on Tuesday.

So I’m not all that interested in how he plays on Thursday, but when he plays. I wouldn’t be surprised if Diggs’ spot on the roster was locked up and Detroit decided to sit him completely. However, if Diggs is still in the game in the second or third quarter, there’s a good chance he’s fighting for his job.