The Detroit Lions are in Houston for their second set of joint practices. Again, the Lions will face another coaching staff Matt Patricia is well familiar with as Texans head coach Bill O’Brien sprouted from the same Bill Belichick tree as he did.
Last week, the Lions went head-to-head against the Patriots in three practices, but were outclassed in the preseason game. Detroit is hoping to be a little more competitive this week, both in their set of two practices and their exhibition game against the Texans on Saturday.
Practices kick off on Wednesday morning, so here’s what to look for.
1. Darius Slay vs. DeAndre Hopkins
With Slay now back as a full participant at training camp, going up against one of the best wide receivers in the game will be the marquee matchup of these practices. Earlier this week, Slay talked about how excited he was for this matchup, calling Hopkins one of the best two receivers in football.
“He’s been at the top, and I would put him at the top because of the fact that he did it with multiple quarterbacks and just continually just keeps dominating the game,” Slay said according to the Detroit Free Press. “I look forward to going against him, I’m probably sure he probably look forward to going against me. We’re just going to get it in. I’m trying to make him better, he’s going to try to make me better.
2. Can the offensive line bounce back?
The Lions’ offensive line reserves were dominated by the Patriots both in practice and in the preseason game, allowing nine sacks on Thursday night. Things won’t exactly be much easier with the Texans. J.J. Watt will really challenge the Lions’ offensive line on his own. And while Houston isn’t quite as strong as they used to be on the defensive front—especially as Jadeveon Clowney continues his holdout—they are still extremely aggressive on the front and the Lions have a ton to prove.
3. Backup quarterback battle
With Tom Savage still in concussion protocol, it appears the Lions actually have a backup quarterback battle now. David Fales has struggled mightily throughout the entirety of training camp, and Josh Johnson has already shown signs of progress despite being signed last week. According to both MLive’s Kyle Meinke and the Detroit News’ Justin Rogers, Johnson split second-team snaps with Fales on Tuesday, and Johnson played better.
“(Johnson) alternated with David Fales on the second team today, and looked in control out there, even though it was only his third practice with the Lions.”
“The sample size is admittedly small, but during this week of practice, Johnson looked better than Fales, and in many ways, he’s been more accurate in full-team work than Tom Savage, Detroit’s presumptive backup before suffering a concussion in the preseason opener.”
We’ll see if that trend continues this week against an unfamiliar opponent.
4. Mike Daniels/Damon Harrison Sr. watch
Last week, Mike Daniels told NFL Network that he was expecting to participate in Texans joint practices, despite being sidelined ever since the Lions signed him back in late July.
“I’ve already started doing some individuals things,” Daniels said. “I’ll be able to do some striking with the guys down there when we get to Houston.”
However, at Lions camp, Daniels hasn’t been doing much of anything. It doesn’t seem likely he’ll do any team drills against the Texans this week, but hopefully he starts creeping into more individual and positional drills.
As for Damon Harrison, there’s really no indication when he’ll get back out there. Given Harrison’s veteran presence, there’s no real reason for concern there, but I’m just eager to see him out there again.
5. Wide receiver depth
There were already plenty of questions about the Lions’ receiver depth beyond their top three, but after Jermaine Kearse’s season-ending injury in the preseason opener, that competition is even more wide open.
The Texans have a solid secondary that features veteran All-Pro Jonathan Joseph and rising star Justin Reid. Additionally, second-round pick Lonnie Johnson Jr. has been literally making an impact at training camp thus far, getting thrown out of joint practices last week with the Packers for too many big hits.
So who will respond and step up from Detroit? Chris Lacy? Brandon Powell? Travis Fulgham? Andy Jones or Tommylee Lewis? There are plenty of candidates but no standouts yet.