Preseason Takeaways: Detroit Lions
By Tayyib Abu
The Detroit Lions are in the midst of their preseason program. Training camp is well underway, and the Lions are two-thirds through their preseason games. Detroit lost to Buffalo last week while they traveled to Pittsburgh on Saturday night. The new coaches are learning the ropes, while a roster that saw so much personnel turnover develops chemistry before the regular season starts. It’s time to examine some key takeaways from the Detroit Lions preseason.
The Rookies Showing Plenty Of Promise
Those blessed with Honolulu Blue eyes pinned their hopes on new GM Brad Holmes during the 2021 NFL Draft. Holmes drafted Penei Sewell, Levi Onwuzurike, Alim McNeill, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Derrick Barnes, Amon Ra St. Brown, and Jemar Jefferson. Several of these rookies are already making an impact. McNeill is the standout; he’s impressed all the coaches with his power, presence, and excellent agility. Twinkle toes is McNeill’s nickname; it is no surprise. Such has been his level of performance; McNeill’s sat out most of the preseason games; he is sure to start at nose tackle in Week 1.
Onwuzurike’s camp started slowly as the former Washington Husky nursed a back niggle. Onwuzurike made his bow in Saturday’s preseason game at Pittsburgh. The defensive tackle flashed his ferocious physicality on the interior as he collapsed on the inside several times. It was a solid start. Receiver St. Brown is showing a high level of competitiveness, crisp route-running, and good hands. The USC alum is channelling a bit of Steve Smith Sr. energy in his play; he’s already experienced several rows with Jeff Okudah.
Lastly, Derrick Barnes is providing plenty of column inches as his dynamism is exciting fans. After years of watching linebackers trudge on the field, Barnes is shining with his sideline-to-sideline speed, skills in pass coverage, and solid tackling skills. Despite missing the early days of camp, Barnes is surging his way up the linebacker depth chart. Barnes impressed head coach Campbell, “Yeah, Barnes popped again,” head coach Dan Campbell said. “This is two weeks in a row. He got a little more of a load this week than last week because he’s coming back off that hamstring. He looks good.”
Linebacker Depth Concerning
After defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn disclosed that the Lions would only line up two off-ball linebackers in base formations, it seemed as if that confirmed Alex Anzalone and Jamie Collins as starters. Short story, they are. Barnes is now unquestionably the understudy to the two veterans, while the rest of the linebacker room is in tatters. The second-round pick from 2019, Jahlani Tavai, looks lost in coverage, weak against the run, and slow to make tackles. The Hawaiian is heading straight into bust territory.
Tavai is a firm cut candidate; the only thing that might save him is the lack of depth. Jalen Reeves Maybin is a special teams freak, but he sees snaps at linebacker due to Shaun Dion Hamilton going on injured reserve. Against Pittsburgh, Reeves-Maybin toiled like Tavai. He missed tackles, failed to diagnose plays in pass coverage, and was generally a liability. The Lions have three decent options at linebacker; after that, it could well be one of the worst position rooms in all of football.
Growing Pains In The Secondary
With such an inexperienced defensive secondary, it is perhaps no surprise that the unit is playing inconsistently. Against Buffalo, the defensive backs played assuredly and in a calm manner. It was a different story against Pittsburgh as the Steelers’ first-team offense attacked the Lions’ youthful secondary.
Will Harris whiffed on a missed assignment that got Jeff Okudah beat over the top; meanwhile, Amani Oruwayire lacked discipline with his eyes as he bit hard on Steelers play-action. Former NFL cornerback Aaron Glenn still has a ton of work to do with his players in the defensive backfield.
Conclusion: Jury Still Out
Ultimately, the jury is still out on the 2021 Detroit Lions team. The first-team offense played two drives against Buffalo, and they sat out the entirety of the Pittsburgh game. Consequently, it is challenging to read Anthony Lynn’s offense with Jared Goff under center. D’Andre Swift, Breshad Perriman, and TJ Hockenson haven’t even stepped onto the field yet in preseason.
Michael Brockers is getting the veterans rest, and Nick Williams spent over a week on the Covid list. Trey Flowers and Romeo Okwara played 11% of snaps against Buffalo, and it was a similar number against Pittsburgh. The oft-injured Dashawn Hand has again battled injuries; moreover, Charles Harris didn’t play a single snap in the home opener. Quinton Dunbar never made it to camp as he endured personal issues, he eventually got released, and Detroit signed Nickell-Roby Coleman last week.
David Blough’s solid performance at Pittsburgh should win him the QB2 job. Roster bubble players Tom Kennedy and Craig Reynolds are making strong cases to make the final 53. But, overall, it is so tricky to read the Lions right now. The mish-mash lineups they’ve sent out offer no clear indication as to how they’ll perform.
*Feature Image Credit: Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Tayyib is an avid NFL fan and, as a follower of the detroit lions, is a permanent resident in the honolulu blue heartbreak hotel. writing football articles since 2019, tayyib loves everything about the sport except that wins are not a qb stat. follow him on twitter @TayyibABU1