Detroit Lions: 5 Players to Watch in Week 1

Jay WierengaCorrespondent ISeptember 5, 2011

Detroit Lions: 5 Players to Watch in Week 1

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    With the season finally here, there are a lot of things to focus on.

    Do you have Sunday off? Is your guacamole-to-chip ratio in mid-season form? Did you do enough working out this week to ditch the beer flavored water that is light beer and bring in the good stuff (Bells Oberon when I'm back in Michigan, but Widmer's Hefeweizen out here in Oregon). 

    But beyond those essentials, there is also a game to figure out, and in that game, there are a handful of players that are more important than others in effecting the outcome of the game.

    Here are the five most important players to focus on this week versus Tampa.

LaGarrette Blount

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    Sure, this first guy doesn't play for Detroit, but he is essential in determining the outcome of this game.

    During the second half of last season, Blount found his niche and became the straw that stirred the Bucs' drink.

    He finished the year with over 1,000 yards rushing on only about 200 carries.

    Blount opens up the entire Buccaneer offense with his power running. He essentially slows down the game and imposes his will on the defense. This allows Josh Freeman and his methodical approach to kill you over the course of the game.

    The Lions weren't exactly world-beaters in run defense last year, so this is going to be a challenge. Big backs have given them trouble in the past, so they need to start out strong here.

    The passing game isn't amazing in Tampa, but Blount will open up the play action if he can get started early.

Jeff Backus

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    There was much concern about Jeff Backus this off season following news that he had a serious pectoral injury.

    And while he looked solid in the preseason, once those games go live there will be plenty of eyes on Backus.

    Defensive players also will be testing the most important offensive lineman on the team, seeing if they can gain any leverage or advantage over the long time starter.

    What makes Backus so important is that he is the first and, in many cases, the last line of defense for seemingly-fragile quarterback Matthew Stafford. And if the Lions are going to realize the hopes and dreams of this beleaguered fanbase, Stafford needs to remain upright.

    Backus is essentially the only irreplaceable offensive lineman on the team, and he needs to play well for this team to take the next step against a very strong Tampa team.

Jahvid Best

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    There are beginning to be rumblings around town that Best may not be capable of staying healthy for long stretches of time. For a team starved for an explosive running back, this is certainly unwelcomed chatter.

    But the numbers don't lie. Best has struggled to stay healthy during his short career, and so much is riding on him this year.

    The Lions don't really have anyone with Best's skill set. Sure, Jerome Harrison has some of the same skills and looks very comfortable catching the ball out of the backfield, but Best has an extra gear that few backs can reach.

    Best needs to take the next step in order to free up the explosive passing game, and this game is crucial to that end.

    The Bucs are a good defensive team, but they have spots that can be exploited. And if they are able to sit back and key on the passing game, it may be a long afternoon for Detroit.

Nate Burleson

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    Sure, the main cog in the Lions offense is Calvin Johnson. You know that, I know that, but most importantly, the Bucs know that.

    Calvin likely will still get his. But Brandon Pettigrew and Nate Burleson need to get theirs as well.

    Pettigrew proved last year that he could be an elite tight end, so I'm not worried about him. But Burleson needs to become more consistent in order to take pressure off of Johnson.

    That means not only providing a deep threat, but more importantly becoming a strong possession receiver across the middle.

    Rookie Titus Young will have a bright future here, but given the short amount of time he has been taking reps, his good days are in the future. Burleson needs to have a big game now, and the difference between a win and a loss could be there.

Amari Spievey

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    Amari Spievey was largely a disappointment last year as a cornerback and ultimately as a safety.

    However, he came into camp this year in tremendous shape and embarked on an impressive one-on-one battle with free-agent acquisition Erik Coleman for the strong safety starting gig.

    Spievey won that battle, and now the real work begins.

    Louis Delmas, on the other side, is lights out. We know this. He will ball hawk and talk smack to opposing players, linemen and receivers alike.

    But Spievey needs to really add some help in the coverage game, mainly in support of the corners that will be taxed by a very underrated receiving corps.

    Furthermore, he needs to lay the hammer to Blount when he comes into the secondary and fill holes that are sure to be there.

    He might be the most crucial defensive player in this game—on either team. And how he responds could mean a lot for the rest of the season.