While it is unlikely many – if any – starters will see more than a series or so, there are things that happen on the field that could shape part of Detroit’s roster. Here are six things I’ll be watching Thursday evening.
1. Joseph Fauria and Tim Wright: What appeared to be a locked-in position last week is now the most intriguing spot on the Detroit roster this week. With the Lions trading for Wright on Monday, this opened up a competition for the No. 3 tight end spot behind Eric Ebron and Brandon Pettigrew. Even more interesting was that Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he wasn’t sure if Wright was even going to play in the preseason finale against the Bills. This potentially means Detroit already knows how it would like to use Wright, which could mean trouble for Fauria’s roster chances. How much Fauria and Wright play will be something to pay a lot of attention to against Buffalo.
2. What receivers play when: It would seem highly unlikely Calvin Johnson or Golden Tate play. It would even be surprising if Corey Fuller got more work than a series or two. After that, it is still somewhat of a jumble when it comes to the receiver position between Lance Moore, TJ Jones, Jeremy Ross and Greg Salas. Caldwell used an example of Blair White, the former Colts receiver, as a player who impressed enough in the final preseason game to make the roster. White actually was initially on the practice squad, but he had a dominant fourth preseason game in 2010 and it clearly caught the coach’s eye. So check the rotation there – and more importantly, who is out of the game by halftime.
3. Zach Zenner? George Winn? Emil Igwenagu? Zenner has been one of the stars of the Lions' preseason, doing everything he possibly can to win a spot on the 53-man roster. While it seems fairly likely the undrafted rookie will make the team, he could use another good performance in the fourth preseason game to be sure. Winn and Igwenagu have been stronger special-teams performers, so where the three line up – and when – will be something to pay attention to.
4. Last stand for Kellen Moore: Some of the positions above could play a large role whether or not Thursday night is the final game in Detroit for Moore. The Lions have been big proponents of keeping three quarterbacks on the roster, but they likely haven’t had as much talent at other positions as they do this season. Moore provides valuable assistance in preparing starting quarterback Matthew Stafford for Sundays, but the Lions are going to have to weigh that versus keeping a guy who could help them more on the field on game days as well. There’s a decent chance Moore ends up sticking on the roster but if he struggles Thursday, keeping him could be a larger question.
5. The last linebacker slot: With Kyle Van Noy back practicing, there could be a tighter competition for a final linebacker position between Travis Lewis, Brandon Copeland and Julian Stanford. All offer special-teams value – although Lewis and Stanford have more experience – and all have at least caught some notice during camp. Lewis appeared to pull ahead, but this is another competition where Thursday night could actually play a factor.
6. Building a practice squad: There’s a good chance a lot of the Lions who play Thursday night will end up being released Saturday and then re-signed to the Lions’ 10-player practice squad Sunday. So keep an eye on some of the younger players who might receive extended looks – safety Isaiah Johnson among them – because a good performance could wrap up a practice squad job for some of these players.