Lions players to watch in preseason opener against Patriots

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — After two grueling weeks of practice, including a trio of joint sessions with the New England Patriots, the Detroit Lions are finally set to kick off the preseason slate Thursday night. 

The game isn't likely to feature many of the team's established veterans, including quarterback Matthew Stafford, running back Kerryon Johnson or cornerback Darius Slay. That group got in most of their work during the practices with the Patriots.

Thursday's game will be a showcase for those trying to carve out roles or spots on the roster. 

Quarterback Tom Savage should receive some snaps in the Lions' exhibition opener against the Patriots on Thursday night at Ford Field.

Among the players expected to play, we've highlighted one from each position group who deserve your attention. 


Tom Savage: With Stafford likely sitting this one out, Savage and David Fales will handle the workload under center. Fales has received some extensive reps with the second-team offense in recent days, but it's unlikely he'll be able to unseat Savage for the backup job. 

This will be the first look at this year's Stafford insurance policy. Savage has serious arm strength, but his accuracy has been questionable whenever there's even a modicum of pressure. 

Running back

Mark Thompson: It would have been easy to highlight Ty Johnson, the speedy rookie out of Maryland, but Thompson carries his own intrigue when you consider he's tipping the scales at 240 pounds. He averaged 4.7 yards per carry while at Florida, and given his combination of power and speed, he has preseason darling written all over him. 

Wide receiver Travis Fulgham

Wide receiver

Travis Fulgham: Fulgham seemed to be making positive strides heading into the joint practice with the Patriots, but he was relatively quiet during those sessions. Fulgham offers a pass-catching skill set that somewhat mirrors what Marvin Jones brings to the table, not a lot of separation, but good hands and body control with the ability to stretch the field.

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With a bigger frame than Jones, the rookie also offers more as a blocker and potential special teams contributor. 

Tight end

Isaac Nauta: First-round pick T.J. Hockenson should see some playing time, but Nauta figures to get a lot more work in the preseason opener. A smooth route runner, he was one of the standouts from the team's scrimmage last Friday. He will look to carry his momentum into the preseason. 

Offensive lineman

Joe Dahl: Dahl's best attribute, to this point, has been his versatility. He can play any spot along the line, in a pinch, and he's also taken reps at fullback. But his path to meaningful playing time this year would be winning the starting guard competition. Thursday provides a good opportunity for the fourth-year veteran to state his case. 

Defensive lineman

P.J. Johnson: Johnson made headlines for the wrong reason this week, when he was told to hit the showers early after an altercation with a Patriots player during Tuesday's practice. Prior to the incident, the big-bodied rookie had shown some impressive flashes of athleticism and quickness. With Damon Harrison and Da'Shawn Hand out with injury, and A'Shawn Robinson unlikely to play many snaps, Johnson should see plenty of work. 

Linebacker Miles Killebrew


Miles Killebrew: Given their recent injuries, Jarrad Davis and Christian Jones aren't likely to see the field on Thursday. Most eyes will understandably be drawn to second-round pick Jahlani Tavai, but Killebrew is an under-the-radar option to watch. The former safety is a year removed from a position change and has been having a good camp. With injuries piling up, he's primed to make a start against the Patriots. 

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Defensive back

Amani Oruwariye: There's no reason for the Lions to run Slay out there, and with Teez Tabor battling an undisclosed injury, Oruwariye will get a lot of work, potentially even a start in the contest.

Cornerback is a tough position for a rookie, but the Penn State product hasn't looked out of place through the early stages of the offseason. He's gotten his hands on several passes and nearly intercepted Tom Brady during this week's practices.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers