Players to Watch in the Lions vs. Raiders Preseason Game

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Players to Watch in the Lions vs. Raiders Preseason Game
Rick Osentoski/Associated Press

The Detroit Lions head to Oakland to face the Raiders in the second preseason contest for both teams.

What: Detroit Lions at Oakland Raiders

When: Friday Aug. 15, 10 p.m. ET

Watch: NFL Preseason Live, check local listings

Detroit defeated Johnny Manziel and the Cleveland Browns, 13-12, on a touchdown strike from Kellen Moore to Corey Fuller with just over a minute remaining in its preseason opener. The Raiders fell at Minnesota, 10-6, failing to score for over 58 minutes in their opening game.

The Lions don't have many position battles amid the starters. Right tackle and kicker are really the only competitive spots, and if LaAdrian Waddle plays as well in this one as he did against Cleveland, that right tackle battle is essentially over. 

There are some Lions players fighting for their NFL lives, however. Others are hoping to smooth over a rough 2014 debut as well. George Johnson and Chris Greenwood fit the former bill, while Stephen Tulloch and Dan Orlovsky are firmly in the latter camp.

 

George Johnson

The defensive end, signed off the street in April after washing out of Minnesota and Tampa Bay, has been a major surprise throughout camp. 

With starting end Ezekiel Ansah sidelined until Wednesday with a shoulder injury, Johnson has made the most of his opportunity.

He's taken first-team reps and acquitted himself nicely, and as Justin Rogers of MLive notes, he played well against Cleveland: "Defensive end George Johnson stood out on a second viewing. He was relentless in the ground game, particularly in his pursuit from the backside. He even forced Cleveland's Ben Tate to cough the ball up in the first quarter, although Cleveland recovered."

Here's the play noted above:

NFL Preseason Live

Impact plays like forced fumbles and tackles for loss are requisite for long shots like Johnson to grab a coach's attention and secure a coveted 53-man roster spot. 

Johnson's best attribute is his lightning-quick first step, and he follows it up with the aforementioned relentless effort in pursuit. He should feast upon a Raiders offensive line that lacks experience and struggled against the Vikings.

After starters Donald Penn and Menelik Watson, the Oakland offensive tackle depth consists of undrafted and street free agents like Matt McCants and Danny Kistler. Expectations should be higher for Johnson to perform strongly against that level of competition. If he doesn't, his momentum figures to slow considerably. 

 

Chris Greenwood

Greenwood is in his third season with the Lions, though he's played in just two regular-season games. While the former fifth-round pick possesses tantalizing athleticism, it has yet to really translate from tiny Albion College to the NFL. 

There have been glimmers of hope. He showed well in the 2013 game against the New York Giants, notching a plus-3.0 grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He also made a fantastic play in practice last week:

Yet those positive moments have been fleeting. He followed up that Giants game with an uninspiring finale against Minnesota (minus-0.6 PFF grade), and his outstanding practice playmaking was nowhere to be found against the Browns. 

On this third-down play, Greenwood (No. 33) is far too passive, and it helps to surrender a successful conversion. 

NFL Preseason Live

He's got outside containment on receiver Charles Johnson here, but he's too slow to react and attack the play in front of him. It's a smart read by Manziel and a nice effort by Johnson, but better play by Greenwood (and safety Isa Abdul-Quddus, No. 42) would keep this from being so successful. 

Even on a play that looks positive, the oft-injured Greenwood is beaten on the comeback route by rookie Willie Snead. 

NFL Preseason Live

The closing burst is nice but a step late. Snead's inability to plant a second foot down in bounds bails out Greenwood's soft coverage out here. From my vantage point in the end zone stands behind the play, it was easy to see Greenwood allowing too much room and taking a false step before closing on the ball. 

Greenwood is firmly on the roster bubble. There is no other way to interpret the recent signing of veteran Drayton Florence, as reported by The Oakland Press' Paula Pasche, than as a lack of confidence by the Detroit coaching staff in the young corners, including Greenwood. 

He figures to see lots of action against another rookie quarterback in Oakland in Derek Carr, as well as a cadre of greenhorn receivers. It's a chance to show improvement, which Greenwood must seize. 

 

Stephen Tulloch

Veteran middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch has been a solid cog in the middle of Detroit's defense over the last three seasons. If that is going to pervade into a fourth year, No. 55 is going to have to demonstrate considerable improvement over what has been a disturbing slide. 

His play began to fall off late in the 2013 season. He had just one game graded above 1.0 by PFF in the final five contests after notching eight marks higher than 1.0 in the first 11 games. This observer finds those grades on the sunnier side of reality; he clearly wasn't as quick late in the year. 

He's been pedestrian throughout the practice sessions in camp, four of which I attended. Then came his disastrous outing against Cleveland. From my game notes at Detroit Lions Draft:

In the first two Cleveland drives he got exposed. On the throw to the backside flat it was Tulloch who pinned himself inside and lost track of his responsibility. The very next play he badly overran the gap and allowed yards. That happened on another run as well. As was the case towards the end of last season, he was a fairly easy target for blockers and struggled to stack and shed.

Here's the pass play where he was caught woefully out of position:

NFL Preseason Live

Tulloch is a widely respected veteran, a team captain and a player who deserves the benefit of the doubt that he can recover to fine form once the games start counting in the standings. Still, it would be nice to see some hint of that in the Raiders game. 

Oakland threw several swing passes and dump-offs in its preseason opener, and it has playmaking backs in Darren McFadden and Latavius Murray. Tulloch can ease some concerns with a strong outing against the Raiders attack. 

 

Dan Orlovsky

Detroit's backup quarterback is coming off a terrible week. After a Wednesday practice session where he tossed four interceptions—and had two others dropped by cornerback Bill Bentley—Orlovsky turned out a decidedly unimpressive outing against Cleveland. 

Volumes have been written, and the backup quarterback controversy has dominated Lions talk radio all week.

Peter King of SI.com's The MMQB summed it up nicely with this quip: "I can’t imagine the Lions doing anything but mailing in the rest of the season if Dan Orlovsky, a heck of a nice guy, had to play. He just can’t do it, as Saturday night’s performance at Ford Field illustrated."

Oakland does have some promising young talent in its secondary, but guys like Travis Carrie, Jonathan Dowling and Brandian Ross are all learning on the fly. A veteran like Orlovsky, playing behind a solid Detroit line and with decent weapons in Ryan Broyles, Eric Ebron and Kevin Ogletree, should find success against the Raiders' second and third units. 

Orlovsky needs to lead multiple drives that end in points, something he could not do against Cleveland. Oakland didn't surrender points to Minnesota after the first two drives of that game, so it's not as easy as it might seem. 

A good outing would help quell the cries for Kellen Moore to ascend to the backup spot, but another middling performance just might convince coach Jim Caldwell that a change needs to happen.

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