With the Detroit Lions resting their starters against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Game 2 of the preseason, it was a prime opportunity for the team's rookies to stand out. We will learn more details in our rewatch of the game—especially in the trenches—but here’s a look at some initial reactions of the Lions rookie class.
Penei Sewell, RT
Sewell is still acclimating to the NFL and right tackle spot, but he looked solid the handful of times he caught my eye tonight. In the run game, he kept his head moving and looked for work, and in pass sets, he looked quick to set up and anchor. He didn’t maul anyone—that I saw—but looked steady.
Levi Onwuzurike, DL
Onwuzurike appears to be consistently pushing the pocket on passing plays and a few times got into the backfield to disrupt. He had a clean-up tackle on a quarterback scramble that was close to being a sack. He did look like he was moved out of position at times in run defense, but it’s hard to be certain watching live and the replay will tell me more.
Alim McNeill, NT
Beyond the initial drive, I’m not sure I saw McNeill on the field. It’s highly possible he has already proven himself and got a modified veteran’s treatment Saturday night and they didn’t want to risk him getting injured.
Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB
It was a quiet night for Melifonwu, as the Steelers didn’t test him much today, but for a cornerback, that’s a good thing.
Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR
We saw the Lions use some more pre-snap motion in this game and when they deployed it, it was often St. Brown who was on the move. He only made two catches—a screen and a quick reception short of the sticks on third down—but he just missed a big play on second-and-20 when he got behind coverage, dove, but couldn’t bring it in. He’s going to be a factor in the regular season.
Derrick Barnes, LB
One of the stars of the night, Barnes came on halfway through the game as the coaches were still taking it slow with the rookie after an injury. But after this performance, he absolutely needs to get some runs with the second team as he was clearly better than either Jahlani Tavai and Jalen Reeves-Maybin.
He played fast, sniffed out the plays, and made secure tackles.
If a player caught a ball in front of him, Barnes made the stop with no further gain nearly every time. At the goal line, he dropped into a zone, stepped into a passing lane, and nearly secured an interception. He would get a second PBU later in the fourth quarter, sticking in tight coverage versus a tight end.
Barnes also had the Lions' only sack of the game. On a key third-and-10, Barnes blitzed from the linebacker level, and with his electric speed, he was able to get home before the quarterback could set up.
Jermar Jefferson, RB
Jefferson got the start with D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams resting. With a patchwork offensive line going up against the Steelers starters, he had a tough assignment, but he still looked shifty and managed 10 yards on his first carry. Jefferson would get two more touches and add another 12 yards, earning a 7.3 yards per carry average for the game.
An overall quality showing for the front runner for the RB3 job.
Dedrick Mills, RB
Mills was the first back off the bench and once against he showed the ability to get north-south very quickly and lower his shoulder to gain extra yards. He needs to lean up the stuttering in the hole as that doesn’t work at this level.
AJ Parker, NB
The other star of the game, Parker got the start at nickel corner again and this game put on a show.
He wasted no time getting involved, making a tackle on the first play. He would go on to lay the wood on a quick out to the running back, jarring it loose for an incompletion. Parker was called on to blitz off the edge and rewarded coaches for the trust by getting a tackle for loss. It wasn’t all perfect, he overran a play trying to get outside contain (something that he needs to do) and he got unlucky slipping on the play and missed the tackle.
There’s a lot of little things to like about what Parker does beyond the noticeable plays. He will often peel off his guy to help in group tackles. When in the pile, he tries to strip the ball loose. And on Barnes near interception, Parker was right behind him and was in position to make a play if Barnes didn’t.
Parker is not only trending towards making the 53-man roster but he could seize an opportunity to secure the starting nickel spot of Mike Ford stays on the outside.
Tommy Kraemer, RG
Kraemer got in some work late in the first half and played the entire second. His best play—that I noticed live— was sealing the hole on Godwin Igwebuike's touchdown run. With the Lions' lack of depth on the interior offensive line, Kraemer will have a legit shot of earning a spot amongst the reserves.
Jerry Jacobs, CB
I only noticed Jacobs on special teams and like with Melifonwu, that’s not necessarily a bad thing for a corner. Jacobs is quick to get downfield in the third phase, but he needs to be able to contain the edge more.
Brock Wright, TE
Once Darren Fells left the field, Wright got time alongside Alize Mack in two tight end sets. When Mack stepped aside, Wright was the tight end option and managed a nice catch over the middle for a first down late in the fourth quarter,
McKinley didn’t get into the game until late in fourth, but he did catch a touchdown pass on a scramble drill.
Surratt got in the game with a little more than two minutes remaining. He saw one look and he dropped it. Not ideal.
Beckett also showed up in the final two minutes and managed a tackle for loss as the Steelers were running the clock.