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Detroit Lions vs. Pittsburgh Steelers: 7 players to watch

Keep a close eye on these seven players on Saturday night.

Detroit Lions Training Camp Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

We’ve reached the halfway point of the preseason, which means the Detroit Lions only have a couple of opportunities to prepare for the 2021 regular season. The team has already landed in Pittsburgh for their first road game of the preseason, as they’re set to face off against the Steelers on Saturday night.

Detroit’s roster currently sits at 85 players, leaving plenty of people and storylines to follow, but here are the seven players I will be keeping a close eye on during preseason Game 2.

DT Levi Onwuzurike

After being extra careful with a lingering back injury, second-round pick Onwuzurike was given the green light to participate in practice this week. It looks like the Lions did not hold him back at all during their two padded practices this week, which means he’s likely going to play this week.

Given how quickly he made an impression during his first practice on Tuesday, you have to believe he’s going to come out just as motivated for his first NFL game. He may not get his opportunities until later in the game, and Detroit may choose to limit his snaps like they did with Derrick Barnes last week, but when he’s out there, take notice.

CB Jeff Okudah & S Tracy Walker

I put these two in the same section because their 2021 expectations are similar. After a disappointing year, both young players are in a position to have a rebound season. For Okudah, he’s already shown a huge increase in confidence, and with a new coaching staff who has a history of developing young players, the sky is the limit for the 2020 third overall pick. Walker has a similar story, but we’ve already seen some of his potential.

Unfortunately, last week the Bills didn’t play their starters and Mitchell Trubisky threw just two passes. With Ben Roethlisberger expected to play, Okudah and Walker may have a chance to prove their transformation was not just in attitude but in play on the field, as well.

RT Penei Sewell

Despite allowing an early sack, Sewell rebounded quite nicely in his NFL debut last week. He told media this week that there were still things he wanted to work on, including pad level and narrowing the length between his hands.

While T.J. Watt won’t play, the Steelers’ aggressive defense will certainly provide a unique challenge for Sewell. Let’s see if he can build upon his debut last week and avoid some of the same mistakes he made.

RB Jermar Jefferson

The Lions’ first half run game was one of the bigger disappointments against the Bills, with both Jefferson and Jamaal Williams averaging fewer than 2.0 yards per carry. While there isn’t much concern for Williams’ future on the team, Jefferson’s spot on the roster is not guaranteed as a seventh-round pick. He’s shown up in flashes during camp, but he needs to prove he’s a gamer, too. Of course, he’ll need help from Detroit’s reserve offensive linemen, and... well, I wouldn’t bet on that happening.

WR Breshad Perriman

Perriman finally returned to practice this week, but either the Lions are easing him back into the lineup or Kalif Raymond has surpassed him on the depth chart. There’s no guarantee that Perriman plays on Saturday, but if he does, it’ll be huge for him. He’s yet to stand out at all during training camp and could even find himself on the bubble if he continues to struggle to make plays.

LB Derrick Barnes

Barnes had a phenomenal debut last week against the Bills, but he only played in eight snaps. It’s a great first step for the Lions’ fourth-round pick, but it’s hard to draw any serious conclusions from such a tiny sample size.

Hopefully, the Lions give him a bigger share of playing time this week, and we can get a sense of how he can perform in different scenarios, like shedding blocks, stuffing the run, and dropping into coverage.