Coming off a 21-16 win over the New York Giants in the preseason opener, the Detroit Lions have their home preseason finale on Saturday, taking on the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jacksonville is also coming off a win, beating the Dallas Cowboys 28-23. Both teams aim to start a winning streak and head into the final preseason game undefeated. Now while these games don’t matter record-wise, it’s still a good feeling to walk away as a winner in these games compared to losing.
What’s more important than winning and losing, though, is the performance of the players on the field. Most of the starters won’t play in the game this week, as backups and third-string spots will be fought for between the rest of the roster. This game is a good chance for the players who did well in the first game to build off of it and a chance for redemption for those who struggled in the week prior.
With this being one of their last big chance at impressing coaches, learn what five players you should focus on when the Lions take on the Jaguars on Saturday.
EDGE Julian Okwara
A player who benefited the most from the first preseason game was SAM edge rusher Julian Okwara, who produced three sacks against the Giants. He is in a competition with fellow SAM edge rusher James Houston, and with how well Okwara did in the game, he could see more playing time against Jacksonville. If Okwara can build upon what he did in the preseason opener, he could increase his chances of making the 53-man roster.
Okwara continuing to play well would make the coaches think about possibly keeping him on the roster. Another possibility is that if Okwara continues to play at a high level, Detroit could choose to strike the iron while it’s hot and trade him to a team willing to take a risk on him. If he struggles, then fans and the coaches will wonder if the first game was a fluke, making the preseason finale the most important game for his future on the Lions. Last week the Jaguars didn’t allow a single sack against Dallas, so Okwara will need to try and be the first person to sack a Jaguars quarterback this preseason.
Despite having a strong first preseason game, Okwara is still the underdog against Houston who finished the season last year with 12 total tackles, eight sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery in just seven games. Houston has things to prove for himself as well, but if Okwara can have a strong enough preseason, it could be enough to make the roster over Houston. If not, Okwara might have to find a new team to play for in 2023.
OT Matt Nelson
Last season, offensive tackle Matt Nelson was the backup swing tackle for the Lions and he was brought back on a one-year contract to do it again. Despite being the leader heading into the 2023 season as the number three offensive tackle on the team, Nelson struggled against the Giants. He allowed three quarterback pressures and two hits as well. In the first play of the game, he was pushed backward into quarterback Nate Sudfeld and hit him as he threw a pass and it was turned into an interception.
Nelson’s performance against the Giants was noted by coaches as he was moved from left tackle to right tackle in practice this week. Another backup offensive tackle, Germain Ifedi, has moved over to left tackle due to his strong performance against New York. That can’t be a great sign for Nelson.
If Nelson continues to struggle and another offensive tackle beneath him shows some promise, they might take someone younger and cheaper instead of Nelson. A rebounding game for Nelson, no matter if it’s at left or right tackle, would give him a leg up over the others at making the roster. Last week the Jaguars were able to get four sacks on the Cowboys, so it won’t be a walk in the park for Nelson.
QB Teddy Bridgewater
For the first time this preseason, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is expected to suit up for the Lions. He didn’t play against the Giants, as he signed with the team in the middle of the week but was on the sidelines at Ford Field to support his teammates. Bridgewater will be in the backup quarterback battle with Sudfeld and Adrian Martinez, and he is the heavy favorite to win that competition. If he comes out flat, though, you never know.
Last week helped Bridgewater despite him not playing, as Sudfeld went 15-for-28 for 194 yards with two interceptions. Martinez did well, going 4-for-7 for 37 yards and he helped lead a game-winning drive to surmount the comeback. Unfortunately for Martinez, his team reps have disappeared almost completely in practice this week after the addition of Bridgewater. He may not even play on Saturday.
Last week, the Cowboys threw for 246 yards with two touchdowns and an interception against the Jaguars defense. Bridgewater doesn’t need to have a perfect game or even a strong performance to take the lead over Sudfeld, all he needs to do is take care of the football and limit turnovers. Last year when he was on the Miami Dolphins, Bridgewater went 49-for-79 for 683 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions in the five games he played in. He is also wearing number 50, which won’t be allowed if he makes the team. So enjoy that while it lasts.
WR Dylan Drummond
Drummond has been a preseason darling in training camp. He won a roster spot as a tryout in rookie minicamp, and the coaches have rewarded him with a spot with the backups in the preseason and camp. Drummond didn’t do much in the first game of the preseason as he only had two catches for 12 yards, but he saw four targets, one of them would have been a touchdown if it was a better throw by Sudfeld.
Having Bridgewater at quarterback this week should help Drummond’s game. He has to do more than play wide receiver though, as he is still in a competition at kick returner with a few other Lions players and he will have to show his special teams value in other roles, as well.
If Drummond has a strong performance against the Jaguars, he could have a chance to be the final wide receiver to make the roster come at the end of August. The team will be without wide receiver Jameson Williams for the first six games of the 2023 season, so Drummond could squeeze in the final roster spot and give himself a six-week trial to see if he can stay on the team when Williams returns in Week 7.
CB Chase Lucas
Former seventh-round pick Chase Lucas did well last preseason and made the 53-man roster, but this year it could be a different story for him. Lucas has been repping with the second and third team defenses this training camp, working mostly as the nickel cornerback. He does bring some versatility, capable of competing both at safety and outside cornerback, and he’s impressed on special teams both in practice and in game.
But against the Giants last week, Lucas didn’t look good. He allowed a 102.1 passer rating, 16 yards per reception, and only had one tackle to his name. With suddenly a crowded secondary, Lucas could be on the outside looking in if he doesn’t turn it around anytime soon.
The Jaguars threw for 269 yards with two touchdowns and an interception last week as they have a backup quarterback battle of their own. Jacksonville will want their guys to air it out and see what they can do, and Lucas will have to step up and make some stops to move back into having a chance at making the 53-man roster. If Lucas has another rough game on Saturday, he could be looking at a practice squad demotion to start the season.