Lions Preseason: What to Watch for
FOOTBALL IS BACK FOLKS! After an arduous wait, our boys in Honolulu blue are finally suiting up against a different team. That’s right baseball season is officially done, summer is coming to a close, and we can finally sit back and watch the fastest, most violent, and most entertaining sport on the planet.
In case you missed training camp, or if you’re a junkie like me looking for more story lines to follow in the 2018 preseason, I’m here to supply that drug: preseason analysis. We all know we don’t see much of the starters until the week 3 “dress rehearsal” and some people aren’t aware of too much going on past the starting 22. We’ve seen a lot of new faces throughout the course of training camp through free agent signings like DeShawn Shead, Devon Kennard, and LeGarrett Blount. We also get our 1st look at some key draft picks like Frank Ragnow, Kerryon Johnson, and Da’Shawn Hand. We also can’t forget guys like Michael Roberts who are looking to make a big step forward in playing time and production. Without further a-due here’s a few story lines to keep an eye out for the next couple weeks that should help give us an idea of what this Lions team is going to look like come September 10th when we take on the New York Jets on Monday Night Football.
Defensive Scheme under Matt Patricia
A lot of analysts and media members want to peg down what this defense is going to look like, will it be a 3-4 or 4-3? The answer is simple, we’re going to run a little bit of everything. Looking at Patricia’s history in New England, if there is one thing that’s clear it’s that he has no clear scheme. He’s a brilliant defensive mind who used versatile players to adapt his scheme to take away what your offense does best. He brought in Devon Kennard to be a versatile pass-rushing linebacker, kept Ziggy as a guy who can play just about any position along a defensive front depending on circumstance, brought in Christian Jones another athletic LB capable of a few different roles, and has Quandre Diggs, the ultimate Swiss Army knife in the back end. This defense will be ever-changing and it will be interesting to watch Patricia put these pieces together.
Running Back Rotation
This one I’m really excited for. We know Theo Riddick’s role has already been established as a useful 3rd down receiving back. The rest of it is very unclear at the moment. What it looks like right now is 4 guys in a dog fight for not only carries, but roster spots. If it were my team I’d carry Riddick, Kerryon, and Blount as my 3 running backs, but guys like Ameer Abdullah and Zach Zenner are going to do everything they can to show that they’re worthy of a spot on the 53 man roster. I do believe this will be Kerryon Johnson’s backfield by season’s end, but there are a lot of variables that can happen between now and the regular season.
Tight End Playing Time
The lions have an interesting situation after letting go of Eric Ebron this off-season. We currently have 3 solid tight ends with similar skill sets in Luke Willson (current starter on 1st depth chart), Michael Roberts, and Levine Toilolo. All 3 are solid blockers, solid pass catchers, and threats in the red zone. Willson is the safest bet of the 3 after a few productive season in Seattle, Roberts is the only one who was here last year and has been a popular breakout candidate among fans, and Toilolo is a massive human being who has spent the last few years in Atlanta. I think the 3 will be used in a consistent rotation and give us he ability to not “show our hand” between run or pass depending on who is in the game.
This one I’m leaving vague for a reason, this offensive line situation is fascinating. First thing I’ll be looking for is the physicality of the group from the opening whistle. Under former OL coach Ron Prince this unit played a very finesse game that was a huge reason we could never establish a running game. Jeff Davidson was brought in to change the identity of this offense, and that starts up front with a group that has the talent to be one of the best in the league after bringing in 1st round mauler Frank Ragnow to complete the starting unit at LG. If Taylor Decker can stay healthy this should be a top 10 unit in the league and allow for a well rounded offense. We have a very solid starting 5 and good depth for the first time in my lifetime and I’m really excited to see what this offense can do behind a good unit up front.
The last piece of conversation is the battle for the 2nd corner back spot opposite Darrius Slay. We brought in Shead from Seattle who played next to Richard Sherman the last two years, there’s Nevin Lawson who was good but not great in that spot last year, and lastly there’s “The Snail” Teez Tabor, last years 2nd round pick. This could go any direction and I’m mostly excited to watch Tabor in live action as we mostly know what we can get from the other two more experienced players. I think Shead locks this spot down by the end of the preseason but this is a battle I expect to continue into the regular season.
Other Notable Things to Watch
Obviously I can’t go into detail about everything or else you’d be bored to tears by the end of this 5 page article, but I do want to highlight a couple other things to keep an eye on before letting you go. The backup QB spot is up for grabs between Jake Ruddock and free agent signing Matt Cassel who has a lot of experience in this league. The top 4 WRs seem locked in but can a 5th guy make a name for himself and find his way into the final 53? What will the defensive line rotation look like with newcomers Sylvester Williams and Da’Shawn Hand? Will we see more passes downfield after Jim Bob Cooter took some heat from his OC position last year?
I can’t wait to kick off this season and cheer on my annual $1 Lions Super Bowl bet, hopefully I’ll be $40 richer by February.
Happy football season everyone.