The Detroit Lions are likely to roll out a lot of their starters for at least a half Friday night against the Jacksonville Jaguars. For many of them, it’ll be the last time they play a game until the season-opener against San Diego in two weeks.
For many of the starters, it is a chance to eliminate whatever leftover cobwebs and rust they might have from the offseason and the first few weeks of training camp. For others, though, it is the last real shot to prove they belong on the 53-man roster that will be set in a little over a week.
With that in mind, here are players and things to watch on Friday.
1. Any receiver not named Calvin Johnson or Golden Tate: Jim Caldwell said he is looking for separation from the group of receivers behind Johnson and Tate, and there are many jobs available. Six or seven players are competing for anywhere between two and four receiving positions. So pay particular attention to that rotation against Jacksonville. If certain receivers get a lot of work with Stafford and the first group, that could bode well for their chances. Corey Fuller, Lance Moore, Jeremy Ross, TJ Jones, Ryan Broyles and Greg Salas are the main candidates there. If either Ross or Jones receives a lot of return work as well, that could be a sign. Of this group, this might be the biggest for Broyles and Salas – both of whom are likely on the released side of the roster bubble right now.
2. Does Zach Zenner work with the first group: The No. 4 running back battle between Zenner and George Winn has been getting closer by the week. Winn still appears to be in the lead, mostly due to his special teams work instead of what he has produced as a runner in the preseason. With Joique Bell out, there could be some early carries available after Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick receive theirs. If Zenner gets some work and Winn doesn’t, that could be a sign of the competition evening out. If Zenner has any first-team special teams work, then it might mean even more.
3. Laken Tomlinson: The first-round pick is expected to pick up his first start at left guard after Larry Warford’s ankle injury forced a move of Manny Ramirez to right guard. This is a showcase game for Tomlinson to prove he can handle the starting gig from the outset. He’s expected to win the role at some point and if he does well against the Jaguars, he may never be pushed back from the first team again.
4. Brandon Copeland and Travis Lewis: They are both intriguing for different reasons. Copeland is more of a potential-type selection, and with Kyle Van Noy injured he could end up sliding into that role of a player who can play both linebacker and with his hand on the ground in special situations. He could see an extended look Friday. He could be competing with Lewis for a spot and while Lewis has never been even a rotational linebacker, he has a lot of special teams value. Pay attention to these two throughout Friday night.
5. The corners deep on the roster: The Lions are pretty set at corner, but Alex Carter isn’t ready for game action yet (he’s getting closer, though) so the Lions might be forced to keep either Chris Owens, R.J. Stanford or Crezdon Butler for a little while. If one of them comes in somewhat early, that could offer a tip of who might even stick around until final cuts. Right now, the Lions’ depth chart at corner is Rashean Mathis, Darius Slay, Nevin Lawson (inside and outside), Josh Wilson, Quandre Diggs and Carter. If Carter shows he’s healthy then Butler, Owens and Stanford are likely in their final weeks with Detroit.