As the Detroit Lions prepare for their final preseason game against the Carolina Panthers, many roster decisions hang in the balance. Players are battling for positions in various areas, from the Okwara brothers on the EDGE to young wide receivers and veteran running backs.
With careers on the line, every pass, run, and tackle will be under the microscope. Here are six storylines to keep an eye on Friday night in Carolina:
The Okwara Brothers at EDGE
The Okwara brothers’ presence on the EDGE has been one of the most intriguing storylines this offseason. Romeo, the older of the two, has secured a more established position on the team, demonstrating versatility and adaptability in various defensive schemes. However, his improvement does not guarantee him a spot on a deep Lions roster.
Julian, on the other hand, is certainly fighting for his spot. Despite an impressive effort against the Giants that saw him finish with three sacks, Julian is struggling to climb the depth chart. Lions head coach Dan Campbell has highlighted Julian’s need to improve his consistency:
He’s a flash player, man. He does something really impressive…those things have to show up every time because he’s too talented, he just is. And I would say that’s it, consistency.
The uncertainty surrounding Julian is only heightened by recent trade rumors. His performance against the Panthers will be instrumental in shaping his future with the Lions.
Wide Receiver Depth Complicates Choices
The suspension of Jameson Williams has thrown the wide receiver position into a state of flux. Three rookies are now locked in a fierce competition to secure a spot on the team. Dylan Drummond, Chase Cota, and Antoine Green each bring their unique skill set to the table, and it’s proving to be a selection headache for the coaching staff.
Drummond’s athleticism, Cota’s route-running, and Green’s physicality make each unique. Coach Campbell has been tight-lipped but did hint that contributions on special teams might break the tie.
Their performance will be scrutinized as it could very well determine their future with the Detroit Lions. The competition is so tight that even a single game-changing play could solidify a rookie’s spot on the roster.
Jared Goff is the undisputed starting quarterback for the Lions. The real intrigue lies in the depth behind him. Teddy Bridgewater looks set as QB2 but is still catching up on the playbook. His experience and leadership will be crucial, regardless.
But what about the third slot? Sudfeld’s summer has been inconsistent, yet his relationship with Goff and commendations from QB coach Mark Brunell might be his saving grace. Brunell said earlier in the summer:
He was perfect…The time that he put in, he was great leading up to our games as far as working with Jared and watching tape together and then on game day he was excellent. It’s very important for a starter to have a resource on the sidelines, in the meeting room, a backup guy that really just wants to help Jared be the best that he can be…I think if you asked Jared, he’d tell you the same thing, how much he leaned on Nate over the course of the season. I think it really helped our quarterback.
The expected activation of Hendon Hooker later in the season adds another twist. The rookie has been focused in practice while watching from the sidelines, and his potential activation could threaten Sudfeld’s position, making the Panthers game crucial for Sudfeld’s Lions future. With the ability for NFL teams to add an emergency third quarterback to the roster without sacrificing a roster spot, it will be interesting to see how the Lions maneuver within their quarterback room.
Running Back Decisions
The running back depth chart has David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs firmly at the top. However, the scramble for the No. 3 spot is intense.
Craig Reynolds, known for his dual-threat capabilities, has caught the eyes of many. His contributions aren’t limited to just carrying the ball; he’s a strong pass blocker and a force on special teams as well. Offensive coordinator Ben Johnson has lauded Reynolds’ consistency both in the running and passing game, saying “Craig Reynolds has been Mr. Consistent from really day one since he stepped in the building.”
Then there’s the matter of Devine Ozigbo and Benny Snell. Both players bring a unique style to the table. Snell is known for his power-running style, while Ozigbo is a versatile back capable of catching passes out of the backfield. The veterans should be ready for plenty of carries in Friday’s matchup with the Panthers.
Cornerbacks: Rookies in the Spotlight
The cornerback position for the Lions has seen some unexpected contenders rise, mainly due to injuries and roster availability. Undrafted rookies Starling Thomas and Steven Gilmore are making their case. Thomas, a speedster, has the potential to be a shutdown corner, especially against deep threats. His quick footwork and keen eyes make him a contender to watch.
On the other hand, Gilmore offers the team something different. He’s known for his acute sense of the game and understanding of offensive schemes. Coach Campbell has been especially impressed, mentioning Gilmore’s instincts and potential in recent interviews. He shared: “We like Gilly. We liked his tape too when he was coming out…He’s not a real big guy. He has to get a little bit of mass on him, get a little bit stronger…We see development. We’re excited about him.”
The battle between these rookies promises to be a nail-biter.
Offensive Line Depth: A Cause for Concern
Offensive line depth has become an area of concern after the second and third units struggled in the first two preseason games. Veteran Matt Nelson, once a dependable tackle, is under scrutiny due to his recent dips in his performance. His position is being threatened by the likes of Germain Ifedi, a seasoned pro, and young prospect Obinna Eze. While Ifedi brings experience, Eze offers raw talent with a high ceiling.
Coach Campbell’s declaration of the third offensive tackle position being “open” means the game against the Panthers will be a decisive one for these players.
How to Watch:
- Date: Friday, August 25th, 2023
- Time: 8:00 p.m. EST
- Location: Bank of America Stadium
- TV: CBS
- TV announcers: Andrew Catalon, Tiki Barber, Matt Ryan, A.J. Ross
- Radio: 97.1 The Ticket
As the Detroit Lions face the Panthers in their final preseason clash, the stakes are high. Every play carries weight, as players vie for a coveted spot on the roster. When the game concludes, decisions will be made that shape the Lions’ season and individual careers. In this high-pressure showdown, we’ll see who truly stands out and earns their place on the team.
For more from our Detroit Lions beat writer, Matt Broder, check him out on Twitter here: @mattbro21
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Original Photo Credit: © Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK