Welcome back, Detroit Lions football!
It may only be Week 1 of preseason action, but it is action nonetheless. The Lions kicked off their 2023 season with a win against the New York Giants, but as with most preseason results, the on-field performances matter more than the scoreboard. Did any players stand out? How are the roster battles shaking up?
What takeaways can be had from our first look at the Lions?
Branch brings boom
Welcome to the NFL, Brian Branch.
Branch has been a highlight of training camp thus far, and he made an impact early in the Lions’ first preseason game. That play is the epitome of Branch’s game: read, react, and bring the hammer. Branch might not be a starter come Week 1, but expect him to get utilized early and often.
Cominsky picks up where he left off
John Cominsky is a roster lock after an outstanding 2022 campaign, but he was playing like he was fighting for a roster spot against the Giants. Early in the night, it was Cominsky making a mark on defense. Creating pressure, plugging gaps, you name it, he was doing it. He will never be the flashiest of players on an NFL field, but he is as reliable as you can get. You can’t teach motor.
Sudfeld fighting for a roster spot
The Teddy Bridgewater signing has come in the nick of time.
For as good as Nate Sudfeld has been in training camp, it was a night to forget for the backup quarterback. Sudfeld had two ugly interceptions, setting up the Giants offense for easy points. The offensive line wasn’t doing him many favors—we’ll get to that—but Sudfeld appeared flustered throughout the first half. Missing reads, missing throws, Sudfeld did not look like a quarterback capable of keeping the Lions treading water.
Nelson and company need work
Matt Nelson got put on his butt, again— Erik Schlitt (@erikschlitt) August 11, 2023
Matt Nelson has come a long way as a converted defensive end, but a starting tackle he is not. Nelson looked slow against the Giants defenders, heavily contributing to Sudfeld’s first interception. Nelson has been an asset as a sixth offensive linemen when the Lions go jumbo up front, but as a backup for Penei Sewell or Taylor Decker, Nelson has been lacking. The good news for Nelson is that no other tackle was overly impressive—that position battle is wide open.
Maurice makes a mark
You wanted a spicy wide receiver battle? Well, it just got hotter:
Maurice Alexander put the Giants special teams coverage in the spin cycle, notching himself a stellar 95-yard punt return touchdown. On an otherwise modest night for the receiving corps, this was a significant boost to Alexander’s stock. Alexander will be fighting a close battle with the likes of Denzel Mims, Antoine Green, Dylan Drummond, and Chase Cota—who himself had a good night—for a reserve receiver spot. Highlighting some special teams prowess could be his ticket to the 53-man roster. That being said, the Lions have All-Pro Kalif Raymond as their starting punt returner, so Alexander still has work to do on kickoffs and offense to solidify his spot.
Such thing as too much edge depth?
Contrary to some national media perspectives, the Lions boast a deep pass rusher and defensive end group. The discussion is less about how many players to keep and more about whether you can justify keeping the entire group. The Lions have John Cominsky, Charles Harris, James Houston, Aidan Hutchinson, Julian and Romeo Okwara, and Josh Paschal, giving them seven players well worth a roster spot. As already mentioned, Cominsky had a standout performance against the Giants, and Houston and the Okwara brothers were equally solid on the night. If the Lions want to cut down this group, where do you start? And if you keep all of them, where does that roster spot come from?
Linebackers are a breath of fresh air
Remember the linebacking corps during Matt Patricia’s tenure as head coach? If I brought back nightmares of slow coverage and missed assignments, I am sorry, but it needs to be mentioned to highlight how far the Lions linebackers have come. First rounder Jack Campbell was a ballhawk on Friday night, while Derrick Barnes played well in his first action leading the defense. Sprinkle in some reliable Malcolm Rodriguez and Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Anthony Pittman making some noise, and it was a shutdown day for the group. The Lions linebackers have speed to make plays at the line, and more importantly, they are reading the gaps the defensive line is giving them and stepping up.