Five Lions to watch vs. Patriots in preseason action

Plenty of competition for starting roles on defense

Of all the preseason games, the third one is always the most crucial. As you know it’s called the dress rehearsal game since typically the starters play for at least the first half.

The Lions’ Friday night preseason game has a bit of a twist. They will face Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, the defending Super Bowl champs.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford had a good camp and looked fine in limited time in the first two preseason games, both wins. He’ll get a chance to stretch out on Friday night playing for a half.

Others will be fighting for starting roles and spots on the 53-man roster.

Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said only safety Glover Quin and cornerback Darius Slay have nailed down starting spots. So he will watch how his defense handles the Patriots’ loaded offense.

Here are five Lions to watch:

1. Safety Miles Killebrew (in photo) is a force on special teams — the guy likes to hit — and when given the opportunity has performed well on the defense. He’s one of those guys making the big step from a rookie to second-year player. He seems to be growing, not regressing.  “I think just being around, understanding NFL football. Having an opportunity to be in our system for our year. Learn it. Being around really smart guys in terms of GQ (Glover Quin) and Tavon (Wilson) that help his development. So, I think he’s been better this preseason, obviously than he was last year,’’ defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “And we’re hoping he continues to improve because he’s still a young player who’s got a lot of upside.” He wears No. 35.

2. Nickel Quandre Diggs looks to rebound from an unsatisfactory sophomore year in 2016 after playing well as a rookie.  “I think he’s responded well. Last year was really a kind of eye-opener in terms of how he played. He didn’t play very well, and I’m sure if you asked him, he’ll tell you that,’’ Austin said. “But he’s really looked a lot more like the player that played that first year for us, really around the ball, active, physical, doing a lot of really good things. And I think he’s risen to the challenge.” He wears No. 28.

3. Linebacker Steve Longa, who was undrafted in 2016, spent most of last season on the Lions practice squad. So while he saw action in just one game, he’s familiar with the defense. He’s been one of the standouts so far. Like all the linebackers, he’ll learn to play all three positions. “Steve’s been a pleasant surprise. Runs around, physical, got a really good nose for the ball and again, that’s a good competition. I think that’s one of the areas where again, on our defense, we’ve had a lot more competition for spots. It’s not, ‘Well, you know you’ve got these five and maybe one other guy.’ I think we have a lot of guys fighting for spots and he’s one of them,’’ Austin said. “I think he’s done a really, really good job. He is a physical, get-after-it type of guy and you see that on defense. He does the same things on defense that he does on special teams. You just don’t see as much of it because he hasn’t played as many snaps.” He wears No. 54.

4. Tight end Michael Roberts, the fourth-round pick, has a shot at making the roster. “Mike Rob is learning a ton, he’s going out there, he is max effort every play. He’s getting a bunch of them right, he’s getting one or two wrong here and there, he’s correcting it and moving forward,’’ offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said “We’ve had pretty limited reps with Matthew Stafford so far this preseason, however many drives that’s been, three or four or five, I don’t know. But, at a certain point that’ll probably take place, but within the development of these guys, we want to make sure we’re putting them in the right position and putting them in a place to succeed and to improve, so that’s what we’re doing with Mike.” He wears No. 80.

5. Running back Dwayne Washington was pushed into service last year as a rookie due to injuries at the position. The coaches love his physicality but he has to work on his reads. The seventh-round pick has to earn a spot on the roster. “You’re talking about young guys going from year one to year two, getting a bunch of reps in the offseason and us seeing improvement along the way. So, we are seeing that improvement,’’ Cooter said. “He’s by no means a finished product, plenty of getting better to do, but I’m encouraged with the way he’s kind of attacked this training camp, attacked this offseason.” He wears No. 36.

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Author: Paula Pasche

Paula Pasche, a veteran sports writer, covers the Detroit Lions for her Lions Lowdown blog. She has written two books, "Game of My Life Detroit Lions" and "100 Things Lions Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die" which are available at bookstores and on Amazon.com. She won first place for column writing from the Society of Professional Journalists in Detroit (Class B) in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and was The Oakland Press 2010 Staffer of the Year.

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