Matt Patricia is entering his second season as the Detroit Lions head coach and is longing to see some improvements on the roster this season. So far in the preseason, the play from the roster has been quite lackluster.
While the Buffalo Bills—who they face in Week 3 of the preseason—have won both of their preseason games; the Lions have fallen short in both of their outings. After a disheartening 31-3 loss in their preseason opener, Detroit was defeated by the Houston Texans 30-23.
Luckily for the second-year head coach, the outcomes of the games in the preseason don’t hold any weight for the regular season. At the same time, this week, Patricia is expected to play some of the starters longer than the previous preseason games.
As for Matthew Stafford, Patricia has been noncommittal on whether or not we’d see the veteran quarterback make his preseason debut. Through two preseason games, we’ve only seen Tom Savage, David Fales, and Josh Johnson take snaps from under center.
This offseason, the Lions have overhauled their defensive line to having one of the NFL’s best defensive fronts on paper. It remains to be seen if we see any of the new acquisitions in Trey Flowers or Mike Daniels as they are easing both players back from injuries.
Besides those two guys, here are three players to watch as the Lions face off against the Bills in their third preseason game.
3. Kenny Golladay
Along with Stafford, wide receiver Kenny Golladay has yet to see any preseason action this year. This is the first offseason that Golladay has had as the team’s primary option in the passing game.
Last year, the second-year wideout was thrust into a more prominent role after the team traded Golden Tate. Minus Tate, Golladay caught 40 passes for 586 yards and two scores in his last eight games of the season.
Overall, Golladay finished the 2018 season with 70 receptions, 1,063 yards, and five touchdowns. The 6-foot-4 wide receiver missed the final game of the season with a chest injury and was sidelined to begin OTAs.
Now, the wide receiver has looked fantastic in training camp for the Lions. We could see Detroit’s top pass-catcher see the field for the first time this preseason against the Bills on Friday night.
2. T.J. Hockenson
To surround Stafford with more weapons, the Lions drafted T.J. Hockenson in the first round of this year’s draft. Coming out of Iowa, Hockenson was considered the best tight end prospect in recent seasons.
The rookie tight end suited up for the Lions for the first time last week against the Texans. In the game, Hockenson caught his first NFL pass for 22 yards.
Currently, Hockenson is actually listed as the team’s second tight end on the depth chart. For the time being, Jesse James is slated to be the starter at the tight end position.
Therefore, the coaching staff is likely trying to send a message to the rookie that he will need to earn his spot in the offense. This week, Hockenson could inch his way closer to securing the starting spot with an impressive performance against the Bills.
1. Kerryon Johnson
With the uncertainty surrounding Stafford’s availability, we’ll keep the Lions longtime quarterback off of this list. In his place, everyone will be paying close attention to the amount of playing time that Kerryon Johnson receives.
In 2018, Johnson eventually became the team’s featured running back in the offense. As a rookie out of Auburn, Johnson rushed for 641 yards and three touchdowns in seven starts.
Unfortunately, a knee injury sidelined Johnson for the final five games of the 2018 season. The second-year rusher is poised to become the team’s workhorse running back in 2019.
Since 2009—when Stafford became the quarterback—the Lions have only had one running back eclipse a thousand yards in a season. The last running back to rush for over one-thousand yards was Reggie Bush in 2013.
This year, Patricia wants to establish the rushing attack more often with Johnson leading the way. Johnson has only carried the ball three times this preseason but could see an uptick in touches this week versus the Bills.