Lions vs. Bengals: Five things to watch

Justin Rogers, The Detroit News

Five things to watch when the Lions face the Bengals at Ford Field Thursday at 7:30 p.m. (Fox 2, WJR 760):

The Lions signed former Packer Andrew Quarless to join the competition at tight end, even though he’s set to be suspended for the first two games of the season.

Improvement up front

The starting offensive line had a rough showing in the exhibition opener against Pittsburgh, allowing far too many free rushers in pass protection, and the tailbacks absorbed too many hits at, or behind, the line of scrimmage. First-round draft pick Taylor Decker particularly struggled at left tackle. He drew a holding penalty that negated a first down and was badly beaten for a sack that resulted in a turnover. This unit needs to show some significant improvement in a hurry.

Wide receiver battle

The top of the wide receiver depth chart is set, but the competition for roster spots beyond the top three remains wide open and intense. Veteran Andre Roberts has been stating a strong case as of late, catching three passes for 57 yards and a touchdown against the Steelers. Jeremy Kerley had a bad drop in Pittsburgh, but rebounded to lead the team with five receptions. Rookies Jay Lee and Quinshad Davis are also in the mix, and Jace Billingsley, who had an impressive 27-yard touchdown last week, looks to force his way into the conversation.

Will a tight end emerge?

With Eric Ebron and Brandon Pettigrew still out because of injuries, Lions tight ends combined to catch four passes for a paltry 30 yards against the Steelers. That spurred the Lions to sign former Packer Andrew Quarless to join the competition, even though he’s set to be suspended for the first two games of the season. Undrafted rookie Cole Wick had some momentum through training camp, but if he can’t produce in the preseason games, his odds of making the roster will take a hit.

Rookie to get long look

This is a big week for linebacker Antwione Williams, who had a team-leading five tackles against the Steelers. Williams, a fifth-round draft pick, might get another long look against the Bengals. The team is still hurting at linebacker. Jon Bostic is done for the season, DeAndre Levy is not ready for game action and Josh Bynes is a question mark today after dealing with an early-week injury. Enter Williams, who can play both outside spots. He could end up getting the starting nod on the weak side.

Rudock rising

Third-string quarterback Jake Rudock had an impressively efficient debut, completing 8-of-11 passes for 72 yards and a touchdown. He also showed off his fleet feet, carrying the ball four times for 20 yards, including a long of 17. The downside of the performance is all of his completions came near or behind the line of scrimmage. As the Lions continue their evaluation, it would be nice to see his ability to make plays further down the field.