Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
Detroit faces Buffalo in the fourth and final preseason game on Thursday. In what is widely regarded by just about everyone as the least important of the preseason contests. Almost no prominent names will play for most teams. The Lions are no exception; don’t expect to see Stafford, Suh, Johnson, or first round pick Ziggy Ansah in this one.
But there are still some reasons to watch the game, aside from the fact that it’s football and not a Lifetime movie where all men are evil and adulterous, murderous wives are celebrated. Here are five:
1. The kick return battle will be decided. Undrafted rookie running back Steven Miller and veteran free agent wideout Micheal Spurlock are competing for the role of return specialist. It’s extremely unlikely that the loser of the battle makes the final 53-man roster. Miller has fought long odds to make it this far, but his position might give him an advantage. The injury to Montell Owens opens the door for a fourth running back to make it, and if Miller can contribute on special teams it augments his chance. Spurlock is hoping his touchdown catch against New England allows him to make the roster as the fifth wideout. They’re not both making the roster, and the better return man in this game is likely to earn that spot.
2. The reserves on the defensive line will see a lot of action. This is a good chance to see CJ Mosley, Devin Taylor, Willie Young, and Jimmy Saddler-McQueen in extended playing time. For Saddler-McQueen, he might be auditioning for a job elsewhere even though he’s had an impressive preseason. Young has also been very good in preseason, but let’s see if he can escape the doghouse for the ridiculous taunting penalty he earned versus Tom Brady. Hopefully this is the last time we see Andre Fluellen in a Lions uniform too. Nothing personal against Fluellen, but he’s a painful link to the Millen era and those must be avoided at all costs.
3. Kellen Moore will play a lot. He might even play the entire game. Moore has an unhealthy amount of support from the Boise State faithful, some of whom have argued for his entire Detroit tenure that he should be starting ahead of Stafford. Frequent readers know I’m no fan of Kellen Moore, but I give Moore a lot of credit for adding strength to both his throwing arm and his core this offseason. Against New England he dramatically outshone the far more heralded Ryan Mallett. Should Moore turn in another strong performance against Buffalo, he pretty much cements his long-term future as Stafford’s primary backup once Shaun Hill moves on after the season. Or, for those who like to don the GM cap, he’s building trade value. If the talk of teams offering the Patriots a 3rd round pick for Mallett are valid, surely Moore would fetch no worse than a 2nd round pick, right…?
4. The right side of the offensive line will get settled once and for all. Both the guard and tackle spots are still undecided entering the game. At tackle, Jason Fox, Corey Hilliard, and LaAdrian Waddle have all played well enough to merit consideration. Guards Jake Scott, Dylan Gandy, and Larry Warford are still legitimately fighting for the spot between Dominic Raiola and the winner of the tackle competition. Because of this, expect to see a lot of inside running. That favors Scott and Fox, though it’s also Warford’s biggest strength at guard. Look for Waddle and Fox to both play both tackle spots so the Lions can evaluate them for the fourth tackle spot if Hilliard wins the starting gig, though I find that unlikely.
5. It’s the last chance to see several players in a Lions uniform. Aside from the aforementioned Andre Fluellen, this is probably the last-gasp game for some other familiar roster presences. Amari Spievey appears to have lost his 4th safety role to Tyrell Johnson, and because he’s a free agent at the end of the season there is no binding tie to keep him around. The trade that brought in LB Chris White essentially means curtains for reserve LB Travis Lewis. Should Fox not win the starting RT spot, it’s likely he gets traded to an OL-needy team like Pittsburgh or San Diego. The Lions have taken calls on both Fox and Hilliard (and others), but Hilliard’s versatility makes him a more valuable reserve for Detroit. GM Martin Mayhew has also answered the phone when teams call about the availability of Tony Scheffler, though I believe he is too important to the offense for a desperate staff to part with. And I still hold out some odds that Mikel Leshoure will not make the final 53-man roster, either getting traded for a conditional late-round pick or waived altogether. It’s not likely the Lions dump Leshoure, but it’s not as certain as many believe that he makes the team.