After a 19-17 loss to the Cleveland Browns, the Lions face a tougher game in the form of the Baltimore Ravens. That it's a preseason game and we won't see the starters a ton doesn't lessen the ability of either team or what we can glean from the game.
So with that in mind, here are five players I'll be watching closely Friday night.
It's no surprise that I'd be watching Bentley, given how well he played all camp long. He continues to make a strong case for starting opposite Chris Houston and has proven himself to be a smart, adept player despite being undersized for the position.
He should see at least a few reps against Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and line up across from either Torrey Smith or Anquan Boldin. Either will give him more of a test than the Browns receivers.
A solid start should lock down a starter spot and a good piece of playing time in preseason Week 3.
With Cliff Avril out, Willie Young had the opportunity to step up, and boy did he.
Avril should see some work Friday night, but so will Young, and he's worth watching. The better he does, the more playing time he can steal—since the Lions are planning on shuffling linemen around frequently, Young could get slipped in for a different look.
If he plays well this season, this could also add a bit of drama to the year—Avril will want the big contract he didn't get this year, but a good season by Young could make that more difficult to achieve, as the team may see Avril as expendable or replaceable.
Regardless, Young provides some great depth and goes against a pretty good offensive line, so we'll see a good indication of where he's at.
Speaking of which...
Jackson has also had a good camp, albeit a slightly quieter one. He's a player who has shown some real ability in years past, but never consistency.
The knock on him is he gets in his head too much—instead of playing instinctively, he overthinks. It can make him a step or two slow, and despite a strong camp, it has continued to be a criticism.
That said, his hard work seems to be paying off, and he could see more playing time this season because of it, and of course the aforementioned intent to shuffle the line for different looks.
Like Young, Jackson will probably get a good amount of playing time, though most of his will probably come against the second and third strings. Jackson has a chance to carve out a few more snaps going forward with a strong performance against Baltimore.
Maybe this is a cheat—since technically it's a sneaky way to get more than one player on the list. That said, with Jahvid Best likely on the PUP to start the season (and let's face it, a potential addition to the IR if this keeps up), and Mikel Leshoure still not playing (and suspended for the start of the season), the backfield is very interesting.
The running backs looked good last week against what was a terrible run defense in 2011, also known as the Cleveland Browns. Even with some injuries, the Ravens are a much more significant matchup.
Kevin Smith will get the start, followed by Joique Bell and Keiland Williams. I wonder how well Bell, who isn't a special runner, and Williams, who has shown flashes but not consistency, will do against the much better Ravens defense.
This is a much better test of how worried the backfield should make the team and fans.
So far, Kellen Moore hasn't looked any more like an NFL quarterback than he did during the 2012 draft process. A relatively weak arm and some inaccuracy make the fact that he "just wins football games" a lot less useful in practical terms.
At this point, he has practice squad written all over him, and based on what we've seen, the Lions should have no concerns someone will poach him off waivers before he gets there.
People point to his height as a concern, but that's not the problem. The problem is that weak arm and an inability to drive the ball downfield, as well as struggling with accuracy and slow decision-making and scrambling.
I'm curious to see if he can make any strides this week and how he looks against a much better team. Sure, he's not going to face the heart of the Ravens defense—but the second- and third-stringers will be no less forgiving than the starters.
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