The Detroit Lions are in the win column! This win won’t matter much in the long scheme of things, but it was a good showing all around for the Lions against the Indianapolis Colts—hopefully it will be a positive ending to the next episode of “Hard Knocks” as well.
Position battles are heating up, and this performance will give Lions coaches and fans plenty to think about. What sort of takeaways can be had from this Saturday afternoon victory?
Backup blockers bulldoze
The story of the first half was the phenomenal job done by the backup offensive line. The interior trio of Logan Stenberg, Evan Brown, and Tommy Kraemer were blasting open running lanes for the Lions’ stable of backs. The tackles Matt Nelson, Dan Skipper, and Kendall Lamm were also impressive against the Colts defensive line. Lamm, in particular, is a surprise, having steadily risen up the depth chart following his early August signing.
The Lions already have one of the better offensive lines in the NFL with their starting five, but if they can put together a capable second unit as well, it could prove to be an excellent offensive line from top to bottom.
An absolute logjam at wide receiver
I have no clue what the Lions will do at wide receiver, and I’m not sure there’s a “right” answer either. Tom Kennedy continues his preseason tear, while Maurice Alexander is making a mark as a returner. Trinity Benson hasn’t exploded on the stat sheet, but his outing against the Colts was a solid one. Even Kalil Pimpleton had a decent showing. Quintez Cephus seemed like the obvious WR5 entering training camp, but an injury has held him out the previous two games, allowing the others to make their case for a spot over him.
The Lions already have four receivers locked in (DJ Chark, Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, Amon-Ra St. Brown) with Jameson Williams likely to start the season on the NFI (Non-Football Injury) list. If the Lions keep six receivers—a relatively big if—it will be an extremely difficult decision to make. Kennedy has been the best receiver so far, but he offers little on special teams. Alexander is the opposite, possibly pushing running back Godwin Igwebuike for a returner role. Benson has had modest production, but he is a much-needed gunner. Cephus has perhaps the best track record as a receiver that can fill the X, Y, and Z roles, but it doesn’t mean much if he can’t stay healthy.
Is Austin Bryant a roster lock?
Austin Bryant had perhaps the best performance of the day for Detroit. Credited with one sack—although he contributed on a second—Bryant was a ferocious defender throughout the game. As a pass rusher, Bryant was giving the Colts tackles a workout, putting a lot of pressure on the opposing quarterbacks. As a run defender, he was equally impressive:
Austin Bryant just having his way with the Colts backups in the run game— Hamza Baccouche (@HamzaPOD) August 20, 2022
Finally healthy, Bryant is shaping up to be a reliable piece of the Detroit front seven. He is quickly entering roster lock territory. He was playing very late into the game versus the Colts, but this could be a side effect of Julian Okwara being out with injury.
Demetrius Taylor makes a case
Speaking of defensive linemen making a mark, how about Demetrius Taylor? The undrafted rookie stood out on defense, and not just because he was the lone defender with a number in the 60s. With Levi Onwuzurike injured and Michael Brockers not playing, Taylor slotted in as the 3-, 4- and 5-tech in the Lions front. He was frequently causing a ruckus in the backfield:
More immediate penetration from Demetrius Taylor. Stacking up some nice plays today.— Jeremy Reisman (@DetroitOnLion) August 20, 2022
Taylor’s top competition for a roster spot is Jashon Cornell, who struggled in the first preseason game and was blanked from the stat sheet in the second. The Lions’ run defense was very impressive against the Colts, allowing just 30 yards on 18 carries, so Cornell does deserve some credit, but it was Taylor that popped on initial viewing. He may be on the outside looking in, but he’s making progress towards a roster spot.
Three or four tight ends?
Beyond T.J. Hockenson, the tight end group is uncertain, but through two preseason games, the reserves have been reliable. Devin Funchess starred in the first preseason game, but he missed this game with an injury. As a result, it was Shane Zylstra’s turn to step up. Zylstra had five catches for 34 yards, while also chipping in nicely as a run blocker. Rookie James Mitchell had a pair of catches for just nine yards, but he seems like a safe bet to make the team.
Garrett Griffin was somewhat of a surprise cut last week, as he looked like the obvious replacement for an injured Jason Cabinda. With his departure, the backup tight end spots are up for grabs. I think Mitchell and Brock Wright are borderline locks to make the team, but that begs the question of whether to keep a fourth tight end. Zylstra and Funchess are receiving-first options, but they may prove to be tough cuts to make.