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6 biggest Detroit Lions positional battles for preseason opener

A look at the biggest Detroit Lions positional battles on display in the team’s preseason opener vs. the New York Giatns.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Ryan Garza / USA TODAY NETWORK

With the primary starters expected to sit in the Detroit Lions’ preseason opener against the New York Giants, Friday night will be mainly about each team’s depth. For the casual fan, that may seem like a boring time. But for those obsessed with the roster, the deep positional battles will be on full display.

But considering this is also our first chance to watch Lions football in seven months, a ton of fans—both casual and die-hard—will likely be tuning in.

So to help your viewing experience, I’ve broken down the six biggest positional battles that will be on display Friday night between the Lions and Giants.

Running back 3/4

The competitors (in order of Erik Schlitt’s depth chart)

  • Craig Reynolds
  • Jermar Jefferson
  • Mohamed Ibrahim

A lot of work to do:

  • Devine Ozigbo
  • Benny Snell

This is an absolutely huge opportunity for Jermar Jefferson and Mohamed Ibrahim. Not only did the sudden retirement of Justin Jackson likely open up a roster spot, but with Craig Reynolds currently battling an injury, both Jefferson and Ibrahim should get a ton of playing time on Friday night.

Pay close attention to how much those two are playing on special teams, because that will be essential for them to make the roster, considering Detroit is likely comfortable rolling with Jahmyr Gibbs, David Montgomery, and Reynolds in offensive roles.

Wide receiver 5/6

The competitors

  • Denzel Mims
  • Dylan Drummond
  • Antoine Green
  • Trinity Benson
  • Maurice Alexander

A lot of work to do:

  • Chase Cota
  • Trey Quinn

Most eyes will rightfully be on Jameson Williams for the opener, but with his looming six-game suspension, he doesn’t really fit into the training camp battle here.

Similar to the running back situation, the preseason opener will be big for the likes of Dylan Drummond, Antoine Green, and Maurice Alexander. With Denzel Mims and Trinity Benson currently injured (Benson likely won’t play, less clear on Mims), those three have the opportunity to prove their worth.

For Drummond, it’s a chance to prove his hot start in training camp translates onto the game field. For Green, he can show coach Dan Campbell—who called his play inconsistent thus far—that he can respond positively to some public criticism. And Alexander now has the chance to win a spot as the team’s kick returner with Jackson retired.

Interior offensive lineman 5/6

The competitors:

  • Kayode Awosika
  • Darrin Paulo
  • Colby Sorsdal

A lot of work to do:

  • Brad Cecil
  • Bobby Hart

I’m working under the assumption here that Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and Graham Glasgow are all safe.

While Sorsdal is likely safe as a fifth-round pick, his NFL preseason debut is certainly something to watch on Friday night.

With maybe just one roster spot left to battle for, Awosika vs. Paulo is one of the most under-the-radar camp battles happening right now. With Jonah Jackson dealing with a finger injury, both have been splitting time with the first-team offense as the left guard. Expect both to get ample time at that position vs. the Giants.

EDGE/SAM linebacker

The competitors

  • James Houston
  • Julian Okwara
  • Anthony Pittman

A lot of work to do:

  • Trevor Nowaske

James Houston may feel like the obvious choice here, but the Lions are going to make the second-year player earn it. Both he and Julian Okwara have not looked very comfortable in the SAM linebacker role, but Houston has proven he has more upside as a situational pass rusher than Okwara.

Regardless, the Lions want both of those players to become more well-rounded, and it’s fair to say that both remain on the roster bubble.

Meanwhile, Pittman plays some SAM linebacker, but if he’s going to win a roster spot, it will likely be more due to his invaluable play on special teams and versatility as an off-ball linebacker, as well.

MIKE linebacker 1

The competitors

  • Derrick Barnes
  • Jack Campbell

At this point, it’s just about a foregone conclusion that Alex Anzalone will start at the WILL linebacker position. And while the Lions spent a first-round pick on Jack Campbell assuming he will be their long-term starter at the MIKE for the next decade, it is far from guaranteed he’ll be in that spot in Week 1.

In camp, it looked like Campbell had climbed to the top of the depth chart alongside Anzalone, but this week in joint practices, it was Barnes with the ones. Expect him to get the nod again on Friday, and if he can continue to impress, the rookie may start the season in a more situational role.


The competitors

  • Riley Patterson
  • Parker Romo

Based on what the coaching staff has said—constantly praising Patterson for his growth since last year and saying Romo needs development—I think it’s fair to say Patterson enters Friday as the favorite for the kicking job. That said, the two have been nearly identical in accuracy all training camp. So how they do in the confines of Ford Field on Friday could carry some serious weight.

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