The Detroit Lions aren’t going to play their entrenched starters very long against Buffalo, but for many of the guys who are not Calvin Johnson or Matthew Stafford or Reggie Bush or DeAndre Levy or Ndamukong Suh, this is one last chance to hold on to a job.
Or to earn a spot on the roster.
So here are some position competitions you should be watching -- and I’ll be watching -- in the preseason finale:
Corey Hilliard vs. LaAdrian Waddle: The only full-time starting job that’s still up for grabs, watch who starts tonight. Even if Detroit’s starters don’t play, it’s logical to think both Hilliard and Waddle will see the field as one final audition for Jim Caldwell and the offensive line coaches. If Hilliard lines up with the first group again, that might be a sign he’s won the job since he did so last week as well. Who wins here is still somewhat of a toss-up, but if I had to pick, I’d say Hilliard.
Ashlee Palmer vs. Tahir Whitehead vs. Kyle Van Noy: The other semi-starter spot open is still a three-man race and likely won’t resolve itself until the season starts since Van Noy has an abdominal injury. This is a semi-starter spot because the Lions will play enough nickel that Bill Bentley might end up starting half the games and play half the time anyway. As of now, it looks like Whitehead might surprise and win this spot after his performance against Jacksonville and how he's played in camp. If he does well against Buffalo, he may lock the job up to start the season. All three will make the roster, though.
The wide receivers: Touched on this earlier in W2W4, but this is the most wide open competition left on the roster and really, anything can still happen. This is one spot where a strong performance against Buffalo could be a deciding factor. There are four real candidates here for two or three slots: Kris Durham, Kevin Ogletree, Ryan Broyles and Corey Fuller. All were with the Lions last season and if Detroit keeps Durham, Ogletree and Broyles, it’s possible all could be on the team again if Fuller ends up on the practice squad.
Kellen Moore vs. Empty: Moore needs a big game Thursday night and even then, it isn’t a guarantee that would be enough to keep him on the roster. The main competition for him will be depth at other positions, including receiver, running back, corner, linebacker and safety. If Detroit feels good at all those spots, there may be room for Moore on the 53-man roster. If not, the Lions may avoid keeping three quarterbacks, but a huge game from him could make the Lions contemplate the decision hard.
George Winn vs. Mikel Leshoure vs. None: Winn has had the more impressive preseason and might have locked himself up a roster spot if not for two fumbles in three games. Leshoure has alternated between glimpses of the runs a second-round pick should make and a bunch of indecisive cutting with nothing to show for it. Winn gives Detroit something on special teams as well, which helps his case. There’s also a chance Detroit keeps neither.
Montell Owens vs. Jed Collins vs. Emil Igwenagu: The Lions claimed Igwenagu this week off waivers, and Caldwell seemed like he wanted to give him a real opportunity Thursday night. If he shows enough, it’s possible he could push Owens or Collins out of a roster spot. His signing also could affect the Winn/Leshoure/None competition because Igwenagu’s ability to play fullback and tight end could lead Detroit to keeping two of Owens/Collins/Igwenagu for roster flexibility.
Michael Williams vs. Cornelius Lucas: At the start of camp, the fourth tackle spot looked like Lucas’ to lose. Yet the past two weeks, Williams has been the fourth tackle in the game and has shown he can play both right and left tackle as he continues to learn the position after converting from tight end. Line coach Jeremiah Washburn is also really high on Williams’ potential. Pay attention to who comes in first and who plays the longest here. Remember, last season, Waddle went from fourth tackle to starter in half a season.
Jerome Couplin vs. Isa Abdul-Quddus vs. Don Carey vs. Travis Lewis vs. Chris Greenwood: They play different positions (Couplin, Abdul-Quddus and Carey are safeties, Lewis is a linebacker, and Greenwood is a cornerback), but they could be fighting for one or two spots on defense. This could come down to roster makeup and special teams ability. All of them possess special teams gifts, but watch who might be on the first unit and who gets snaps there because that and injuries could determine jobs.