Lions vs. Jags: 10 things to watch as starters stay in longer

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

The first two Lions’ exhibition games were an effective appetizer for what will be a main course Friday night at Ford Field.

Against the Jaguars, Lions starters will play into the second half, which is enough time to see just how the new offense and defense will look in 2014. In advance of the game, the Lions did their most extensive game planning, so even though the game doesn’t count, it should have the feel of a real contest.

All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson will also play Friday, though probably not as long as the rest of the first-team offense, and provide an idea of how defenses will cover all of the Lions’ weapons this season.

The Jaguars also should have a much-improved defense, which will give some indication as to whether or not Matthew Stafford’s outstanding performance in the first two exhibition games was a mirage.

“It’s an interesting game obviously, because you’re game planning pretty close to what you’d game plan for a regular season game,” Stafford said. “And I think that’s good for some of the veterans here that are learning a new offense just to see what all we would put in and things like that, and then it’s also good for the young guys to get out there and understand just the volume that goes into a game plan for a regular season week.

“So, just go out there and try to execute at a high level again and play well.”

Here are 10 things to watch Friday night:

1. Calvin Johnson’s debut: No matter how many series Johnson plays, the Lions must be glad to have their preeminent playmaker on the field. With Johnson in the game, the Jaguars will have to focus on him, which should leave others receivers open and allow the running game to improve. Plus, there’s always a chance he makes a spectacular play.

2. Nick Fairley’s performance: Fairley will come off the bench for the second straight week, but no matter when he enters, he needs to play better than he did the last two weeks. The clock is running out on him to regain his job from the consistent C.J. Mosley.

3. Field goal focus: The battle between seventh-round pick Nate Freese and Giorgio Tavecchio will continue Friday, but there will be a twist. The kickers will alternate on field goals as opposed to Freese taking the first half and Tavecchio the second. A couple kicks could be the difference.

4. Ryan Broyles’ continued improvement: After looking great in the first two games, Broyles seems to be a lock for the 53-man roster. Now, Broyles has an opportunity to show just how big of a role he deserves this season.

5. Play of other WRs: Kris Durham, Kevin Ogletree and Corey Fuller have all had their bright spots in practice and the exhibitions, but only one or two of them can make the team. This game should give any of them a chance to pull ahead in the competition.

6. Backup safety play: Even before DeJon Gomes suffered a neck injury, the reserve safety spots were too close to call. Don Carey and Gomes seemed safe a couple weeks ago, but Isa Abdul-Quddus and rookie Jerome Couplin have played well.

7. Establishing the running game: Last week the Lions ran for just 52 yards on 26 carries, but players and coaches said they weren’t concerned about the outcome. With Reggie Bush and Joique Bell playing more, the Lions need to show that they can run better Friday.

8. Mikel Leshoure vs. George Winn: Leshoure is still the leader for the No. 4 tailback job even if he’s looked unspectacular, but another strong performance from the second-year Winn could make the decision tougher.

9. Fullback battle: Montell Owens isn’t a traditional fullback, but it’s difficult to see the Lions keeping him and Jed Collins. Collins will start Friday, and both players could use a strong performance on offense and special teams.

10. Rookie contributions: Tight end Eric Ebron, linebacker Kyle Van Noy, defensive end Larry Webster and defensive tackle Caraun Reid have all flashed great potential in exhibition games, but more consistency will lead to bigger roles. Center Travis Swanson needs to be more consistent if the Lions want to use him as the first backup interior lineman.