On Saturday the Detroit Lions preseason schedule kicks off when they face the Cleveland Browns. There are plenty of new faces within the organization, from the face of the ownership to the coaching staff to the players on the field. With all of the changes that have taken place, there are a few things that we should watch for.
The Offensive Changes
There is no secret that with the firing of Scott Linehan and the hiring of Joe Lombardi, the offense is looking to get faster and more efficient. The New Orleans Saints were always a productive offense that made opposing defenses worry about their ability to move the ball and score at will. Lions fans will most certainly be looking to see signs of this carrying over from the Saints to the Lions.
On top of the playbook changes, changes to Matthew Stafford in terms of his mechanics, efficiency, and ball protection should be evident. While this is just the first preseason game, I would expect to see signs that this is a different player than we saw at season’s end last year. Last year, Stafford looked sloppy, forced throws and ultimately gave games away at the end with costly interceptions.
The receiving corps should be much improved over last year as well. While the Detroit Lions still have questions at their third receiver spot, currently Kevin Ogletree and Ryan Broyles are battling for that spot, they have made some upgrades. Golden Tate was added in free agency to replace the often injured Nate Burleson. Tate was productive with Seattle and is expected to take pressure off of Calvin Johnson and ultimately open up passing options for Stafford. The addition of first round pick Eric Ebron will also dramatically impact the receiving corps. While he is not directly being compared to Jimmy Graham, he will be used similarly as the team expects him to line up both split out and as a tight end. It will also be interesting to see who steps up at receiver behind Tate. As I mentioned earlier, Ogletree and Broyles are competing for the third spot currently, but do not count out last year’s number two Kris Durham or star return man Jeremy Ross. Ross showed ability in the few opportunities he got last year, and he spent the whole offseason bettering himself for more of a role offensively.
The Defensive Changes
Probably the biggest question mark going into this season is what will the Detroit Lions defense look like. We have heard that DeAndre Levy will play more as a coverage linebacker and, provided he beats out Ashlee Palmer, Kyle Van Noy will play the rush linebacker. In this type of formation, I would expect to see more pressure on the defensive backs to produce.
On that note, the defensive backs are a completely different group than we expected as well. Chris Houston could not regain his form ans was released. Darius Slay is pencilled in as a starter after severely struggling last year. Last year’s top corner Rashean Mathis is back and slated to start opposite Slay, but he is also a year older. Behind them are often injured nickel corner Bill Bentley, rookie Nevin Lawson, Drayton Florence, Jonte Green, Chris Greenwood, and Cassius Vaughn in no particular order. That is a lot of inexperience and some definite veteran question marks at corner. Safety is not much better. Glover Quin is still the starter, and James Ihedigbo replaced Louis Delmas at the other starter spot. Ihedigbo is familiar with new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin from his days in Baltimore. Behind them there really is no one to count on.
So with that being said, will the schemes that Austin brought to Detroit cover up the talent deficiencies in the secondary? Will the new coverages play to the advantage of Slay and Mathis. Furthermore, how will Slay look in his second year in the NFL, first year as a full time starter?
Players To Watch
With the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns having such high draft picks this past year, there is a lot of rookie talent to be evaluated Saturday night. Justin Gilbert will be lining up across from Golden Tate which should be fun to watch. Johnny Manziel will take his unorthodox playing style to the NFL tonight, lining up with the second team offense. Brian Hoyer returns from injury after going on a tear last year as a Browns starting quarterback.So which Detroit Lions should we be watching?
Eric Ebron – It is debatable whether Eric Ebron will take the field. He got banged up a bit, and ultimately does not need to play Saturday if there are lingering concerns. If he does play, he is definitely one to watch.
Kyle Van Noy – Van Noy was a highly sought after linebacker by the Lions given that they traded up in the second round to take him. He is expected to start eventually and play the rush linebacker role that Teryl Austin wants. The speed of the NFL game is much faster than the college game so there should be some struggles but limiting them will be key to his success.
Cornelius Lucas – Lucas is big. At 6’9″ he is a monster on the offensive line. But will it translate to success in the NFL? Going undrafted does not usually bode well for players to make NFL rosters. In Lucas’s situation though, he is watching last year’s undrafted tackle LaAdrian Waddle who went from undrafted to starter in one season. While Lucas is not likely to make that jump, simply making the team would be good for him. With his size though, it will be interesting to see if he can translate to an NFL starter in a few years.
Jerome Couplin – Couplin was a highly touted undrafted safety that the coaches like. He has had a quiet offseason so far, but is looking to stick on the 53 man roster. Unfortunately, he was lit up by George Winn in practice leading to concerns that he may not be tough enough for the roster this year. Couplin is likely a practice squad player this season, but watch for him to show something in Saturday’s game.