When the Detroit Lions take the field at Tampa Bay on Friday night for their third preseason game, it will be as close to a regular season game as they will see.
Call it a dress rehearsal or whatever. The starters could play most of the first half.
So far the Lions are 0-2 under new coach Matt Patricia and have been outscored 46-27. Detroit’s defense stands out as the only unit in the NFL that has not sacked an opposing quarterback. Even so, Patricia says he’s worried more about evaluation than statistics at this point.
Five players to watch:
— Defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson has been quiet the first two games. He was a starter last year for all 16 games but finished with just half a sack. Patricia is not about last year, he’s a more of a what-can-you-do-for-me-now kind of coach. Robinson started the preseason game at the Raiders (playing in 47 percent of the defensive snaps) but Ricky Jean Francois got the start in the second game against the Giants.
— Whoever plays right guard. It’s likely to be Kenny Wiggins (who started against the Giants) or Joe Dahl (who started at the Raiders). T.J. Lang expects to be ready for the regular season opener, but is proceeding cautiously with an unknown injury. If caution is the plan, he will definitely sit rather than match up with the Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. This is a big game for Wiggins and Dahl. If Lang is not ready to go, or gets injured during the season, Patricia wants to find the guy he would be most comfortable with.
— Linebacker Miles Killebrew has made the switch from safety. Patricia seems to like him, so look for him to get some quality playing time. The coach isn’t worried that Killebrew is too small for linebacker. “Miles plays very strong. This guy is really strong, he’s packed like —he can handle himself down in there from that standpoint,’’ Patricia said. The coach also said he likes how Killebrew plays close to the ball. Killebrew’s special teams play should help him lock down a roster spot, but a good showing in Tampa wouldn’t hurt.
— Running back Dwayne Washington has not played in the first two games. Not sure why he’s still on the roster if they don’t think he has a shot at one of the running back spots on the 53-man roster. Typically preseason games are huge for guys on the bubble like Robinson. Of course, Theo Riddick, Kerryon Johnson and LeGarrette Blount are locks along with Ameer Abdullah who has seen plenty of offseason work. It’s a bit of a mystery how Patricia has dealt out playing time to the running backs. And that’s probably just how the coach likes it.
— Defensive end Ricky Jean Francois was fired up after Friday’s loss at Ford Field. He didn’t think the defense put its best on the field and he was not happy. The 30-year-old Francois, who played with the Patriots last season, could be a great leader on the defensive line. But this week Patricia said he has work to do. Let’s see if he can get that done because the line could really use a veteran leader.