The Detroit Lions picked up their first win of the preseason in last week’s dress rehearsal against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but around this time of the year, the wins don’t matter, the reps do.
Things didn’t go so well for the starters on offense or defense last Friday, but some players managed to improve their chances of sticking to the 53-man roster.
Hakeem Valles has done essentially everything a player can do to earn a spot on the roster, outplaying every other tight end on the team. Joe Dahl has worked his way into getting reps with the first-team offensive line with T.J. Lang out, proving to be really effective as a run blocker. And if there were a reason for the Lions to keep a fifth receiver, his name is Brandon Powell, housing an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown and hauling in six catches for 45 yards last week alone.
Detroit added a
couple of players player, Eli Harold via a trade with the San Francisco 49ers and free agent Robert Ayers, who have has yet to receive in-game action this preseason with their his new team, and Thursday is their his first and only chance to do so.
Nevin Lawson ain’t it, so who is?
While many were concerning themselves with yet another poor performance from Jarrad Davis, there was something far more troubling happening in the Lions’ secondary: Nevin Lawson was getting lit up like that Christmas tree in Batman Returns because, man, did his night in Tampa turn into an absolute disaster.
Freddie Martino comes down with it in the endzone for the TD!#GoBucs pic.twitter.com/oQe95xkIZI— Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@Buccaneers) August 25, 2018
Lawson was targeted nine times against the Buccaneers, allowing eight completions for 87 yards and a touchdown. Ryan Griffin threw that touchdown pass to Freddie Martino on third-and-2 from the Lions’ 19-yard line, and all it took was a stutter step to the inside to get Lawson to bite and lose to the third-string receiver. Not a good showing.
So where does this leave the Lions at CB No. 2?
Player to watch:
Detroit did get a bit of good news on Monday when veteran cornerback Deshawn Shead made his return to practice after missing the last two games. Shead started training camp lining up opposite of Darius Slay, and with Lawson playing about as poorly as one could, Shead and the Lions are in an interesting position.
As a veteran returning from injury, the team could play it safe with him, limiting his snaps or simply not playing him at all. On the other hand, Shead could get a healthy amount of snaps against the Cleveland Browns. Either way, it’s unlikely this game does much to clear up who will be the Lions No. 2 corner, but it would be nice to see more reps from Shead.
And on last Friday, the tight end position grew by one
Through the first three weeks of the preseason, Detroit’s top three tight ends on the depth chart combined for four receptions and 41 yards.
Hakeem Valles, the undrafted free agent from Monmouth, has outpaced the whole bunch, catching seven passes for 69 yards. To sum up his preseason performance through these three games in just one word: nice.
Andrew Luck finds Eric Ebron for 15 yards and a touchdownpic.twitter.com/UB6XpjB4wF— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) August 25, 2018
From the start of training camp, after the Lions released Eric Ebron—who has gone on to catch nine passes for 70 yards and a touchdown—Detroit assembled a group of tight ends who seemingly could be used effectively in certain situations.
Things haven’t worked out that way in the preseason. Luke Willson is dealing with a knee injury after the game against Tampa Bay, Levine Toilolo, who probably fumbled his only reception of the preseason last week, hasn’t done much to impress, and Michael Roberts’ job seems less than secure because of Valles.
Player to watch:
If Valles manages to have another productive game for a fourth week in a row, the Lions have to keep four tight ends, or cut ties with either Roberts or Toilolo if they can’t afford using four roster spots on the position.
Valles has been far and away the team’s best tight end during the preseason, and I can’t imagine how the team could make the decision to move into the regular season with Willson, Toilolo, and Roberts and be cool with it.
Linebackers who moonlight as defensive linemen
One of Matt Patricia’s first orders of business was revamping the team’s linebacker depth, which was—and still is—probably the biggest challenge facing the first-year coach. That much has been evident through the first three games of the preseason.
Devon Kennard, the Lions’ first “marquee” signing by Detroit this offseason, has proved to be so far so good in what little action we’ve seen of him so far. Kennard’s versatility has lent itself well to Patricia’s system, seeing him play up as a linebacker and also line up along the line as a pass rusher—Kennard has six pressures in 30 pass rush snaps this preseason per Pro Football Focus.
Christian Jones, another free agent linebacker picked by Patricia, has shown some good— but also some bad—this preseason, but has primarily played more as a traditional, weakside linebacker.
Player to watch:
Last week, the Lions moved a conditional seventh-round pick to San Francisco to bring in SAM linebacker Eli Harold, a move to improve a unit that has been less than good.
Eli Harold is an elite athlete at DE, boasting amazing speed and agility. He was slightly undersized, and figures to play a similar role to Devon Kennard in this Lions defense. pic.twitter.com/X5FIZvYyoY— John Whiticar (@Wrath_of_John) August 23, 2018
Harold, at 6-foot-3, 255 pounds, is very similar in build to Kennard and figures to play a similar role, potentially opposite of Kennard on the edge or as his backup.
With only one game to give the Lions some tape on how he can fit into their scheme, Harold should see plenty of snaps in Thursday night’s game against the Browns.