Goodbye preseason, hello regular season.
The Detroit Lions capped off their preseason slate of games with a win over the Carolina Panthers on Friday night. With a 53-man roster to be set and a Week 1 date with the Kansas City Chiefs on the horizon, the Lions will have plenty of tape to review to determine their initial roster.
What takeaways can be had from the 2023 preseason finale?
Welcome to the roster, Antoine Green
The Lions have needed a home run hitter from one of their receivers, and Antoine Green delivered:
Green showed off his wheels on this massive 70-yard touchdown, and with it, he may have secured his spot on the roster. Up until this play, Green had a quiet preseason on offense, but he was at least contributing on special teams. Now that Green had a stellar showing as a pass catcher, he seems like a safe bet to make the roster as the fifth wideout. As for his special teams...
Another kick returner added to the mix
You wanted some clarity with the kick returner spot? How about even less clarity?
After some solid kick and punt returns from Maurice Alexander, Chase Cota, Starling Thomas, and Jermar Jefferson in the previous preseason games, the Lions added a few more names to the competition. Khalil Dorsey and Antoine Green both had solid kickoff returns against the Panthers with returns of 62 and 32 yards, respectively.
Kalif Raymond is locked in as the starting punt returner, but that kick returner spot is wide open. The starting returner might have to earn a roster spot on offense or defense first—assuming it isn’t given to a player like Jahmyr Gibbs.
Offensive line reserves finally rebound
After two poor showings this preseason, the Lions offensive line was finally experiencing some success against the Carolina Panthers. The second-team unit managed to keep the pocket clean for most of the night, and opened up plenty of running lanes to Craig Reynolds’ benefit. In particular, Colby Sorsdal was a mauler against the Panthers defensive front. With the starting five, Graham Glasgow, and Sorsdal locked in, that leaves the likes of Matt Nelson, Germain Ifedi, Brad Cecil, and Kayode Awosika fighting for an eighth—and possible ninth—offensive line spot.
Patterson comes up short on his kick... and roster shot
The kicking battle between Riley Patterson and Parker Romo had no clear frontrunner entering the final preseason game, but Patterson may have given his competition the leg up on Friday night.
Patterson missed a 53-yard attempt in the first quarter. On its own, this isn’t a massive issue since a long field goal like that is far from automatic. However, it’s how Patterson missed that is a cause for concern. His attempt fell short, bouncing off the upright. Patterson has questions about his leg strength, and if a 53-yarder is on the edge of his range, that’s problematic. To make matters worse, he missed an extra point. Romo, meanwhile, didn’t touch the ball against the Panthers—was this a good or bad outcome for him?
Thomas needs to watch the aggressiveness
Starling Thomas is playing well enough to make the 53-man roster, but the undrafted rookie has some cleanup to do in his game. Thomas was again called for defensive pass interference, a trend that has hurt his stock during the preseason and training camp. Physicality is an asset for Thomas, but he still has some learning to do about what NFL referees will and won’t call.
Gilmore channeling his All-Pro brother
Stephon Gilmore was one of the best cornerbacks of the 2010s, but his younger brother Steven is looking like one of the better cornerbacks of the Lions undrafted class. A night filled with pass breakups (4) was capped off with a beautiful pick-six:
Entering the preseason, Gilmore was largely an afterthought in the secondary, but his play of late makes it difficult to leave him off the initial roster.
Many position battles remain up in the air
With the preseason in the books, we are left with as many questions as answers with cuts looming. Craig Reynolds is seemingly locked in as RB3, but no other running back stepped up to seize the potential RB4 spot. As mentioned, Antoine Green made great strides to help his roster odds, but the sixth receiver spot is still up for grabs—if they even keep one. The secondary depth battle with Starling Thomas, Steven Gilmore, Chase Lucas, and Khalil Dorsey is anyone’s guess thanks to multiple standout performances. The safety depth behind Kerby Joseph, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, and Tracy Walker is uncertain. How about the backup tackle battle between Germain Ifedi and Matt Nelson?
Some position battles are close because multiple players stepped up. Some position battles are close because nobody did. The Lions will have plenty of tough choices in the coming days, and I genuinely have no idea which direction they will go in some of these battles.