Tampa, Fla. – It's time for the dress rehearsal.
The Detroit Lions are traveling to Tampa Bay to battle the Bucs in the third preseason game for both teams. The focus will be on the starters, since they should play at least a half.
With that in mind, here are eight players we will be watching closely Friday night.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford
The franchise quarterback played three series last week and didn’t look great. But given the fact he and wife Kelly had a baby the night before the game, and he was wasn’t exactly playing well-rested, it’s only fair we give Stafford a pass. He should see even more time in this game, and it will simply be good to get a sense of where he’s at in what’s likely his final tuneup before the regular season.
Defensive end Ziggy Ansah
It was a positive just to see Ansah on the field and moving well against the Giants. Physically, he’s well ahead of where he was last year at this time. He looked good against the run last week, coming up with a pair of tackles, but didn’t show much as a pass rusher in his limited playing time. The Lions desperately need someone who can consistently disrupt the pocket. Healthy, there’s not a more likely option than Ansah.
Offensive tackle Taylor Decker
Decker’s probably fine, but his performance against the New York Giants last week was tough to watch. He was beaten four times as a pass blocker, which is highly unusual for the former first-round pick. Tampa’s edge-rushing tandem of Jason Pierre-Paul and Noah Spence should provide a stiff challenge as Decker looks to rebound.
Cornerback Jamal Agnew
Agnew hasn’t had much room to breathe as a return man, but if there’s a crack, you know he has the ability to snap off a big one. In addition to his special-teams work, which earned him All-Pro honors as a rookie last season, Agnew has been getting a lot of burn at nickel cornerback, with some of those reps coming with the first-team defense. His ability to contribute there, even in a rotational role, would be a bonus for the Lions.
Wide receiver Kenny Golladay
For a guy with a lot of hype coming into this year, the second-year wide receiver sure hasn’t been stuffing the stat sheet in the preseason. He’s caught two passes in two games for a whopping 13 yards, plus he had an ugly drop in the opener. With Stafford getting a little more playing time, and clearly the team’s most-capable (only?) downfield passer, it should give Golladay an opportunity or two to show why he’s expected to have a breakout year.
Defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand
The lone rookie on this list, Detroit signaled they feel Hand is ready for a decent-sized role right out the gate when they released Cornelius Washington this week. When it was reported recently that Hand had been taking first-team reps, it was in a specific package in place of Washington. Head coach Matt Patricia has raved about how well the former Alabama standout has picked up the scheme and required techniques.
Running back LeGarrette Blount
OK, let’s be honest: Fans are going to be far more interested in Kerryon Johnson, the shiny new toy in the backfield. That’s fair, but Blount is almost certain to be the starter and lead back in the rotation to start the season. He’s been OK through two games, averaging 3.3 yards per attempt, while showcasing the ability to power his way to something out of nothing.
Linebacker Trevor Bates
Bates has been an active special-teams contributor through two weeks and he’s making the most of his opportunities, tallying four tackles and a forced fumble on eight coverage reps. That’s not a pace anyone can realistically keep up, but Bates is making a strong case for a roster spot with his ability to get down the field in a hurry and wreak havoc with those units.