Kent Lee Platte, DLD Writer
Of all the things we could take away from the Lions preseason drubbing of the Patriots, it’s that this rookie class could have a huge impact this season…for better or worse. The Lions have been less apprehensive getting their rookies some work this preseason than what we’ve been accustomed to, and the returns are mostly positive so far. Today we’re going to take a look at how the rookies fared in the team’s third preseason contest.
Lions fans had a pretty good idea there was going to be a learning curve with Ziggy Ansah. I think we all overestimated just how much of one. Lined up against two Pro Bowlers his first two games, he finally faced off against a LT who is good but not elite. It went well. Ansah does much better than anticipated diagnosing plays and has shown good awareness in his assignments. You always want your DLinemen to go hard on every play, the whole play, but sometimes the rush just isn’t going to get there. What you’d like in those situations is for the DE to watch the QB and get his hands up when the ball is out, or if it’s a run to try and close any cutback lanes if possible. Ansah did those things very well, and seems to be very sharp in his understanding of how plays are progressing. Ansah is still mostly playing college ball, meaning he’s using his athleticism to make plays first and foremost, but it worked very well against Nate Solder. On the first play in the second half, Ansah beat Solder again off the edge and got a paw on Brady. Later, he would get a good angle on the outside against Solder, but couldn’t disengage. He did prevent Brady from rolling to that side, though, and when Fairley got pressure in the middle Brady was pushed right into the waiting arms of Jason Jones. The very next play Bill Bentley would force a fumble on a run blitz and Ansah would recover. Ziggy’s length is going to be a concern even when his technique isn’t perfect, but it’s his instincts that could be a wild card.
I was excited for this game since Slay hadn’t been challenged yet in coverage, getting targeted only once in the first two preseason contests. It was a trial by fire going against Tom Brady and while he didn’t force any takeaways, there are plenty of things he can take away from this game. Manned up in press, Slay got beat off the line early and Brady made him pay for it with a deep pass down the sideline. Slay recovered well, and if he hadn’t it would have been a long TD. Later on a screen, Slay was easily shoved aside by a big OT in the open field (Which you’d expect, there being a 100+ lb. difference). When there wasn’t a huge Olineman running at him, Slay did some work in the run game that you like to see from your Cornerbacks. At the end of the day, Slay had some good moments and some bad ones, but he never looked out of his element and that’s huge. One of the biggest aspects of being a rookie is getting up to the speed of the game and he looks like he is already there.
Warford got the start and just like Slay he was thrown to the wolves early. Warford was often isolated as a blocker, which you like to see, but he didn’t win all of his battles. This was true of both his run and pass blocking, which concerned me some since the run game was his forte. On the plus side, most of the time when there wasn’t a hole it wasn’t Warford’s fault. He engaged his blockers well and maintained his blocks well, but some mental errors will likely cause problems down the road. You never want false starts, and Warford had one of those. On the Patriots lone sack of the day, Warford (Along with Reiff and Fox) was pushed into the backfield with little resistance on a slow developing play (The worst time to be driven back). There is a lot of growing that Warford will have to do to become the long term starter many saw when he was drafted out of Kentucky. Not enough to where you feel uncomfortable if he wins the starting job, but enough to where you do worry he’ll blow some plays.
I’ve been a bit of a fan of Fauria even before the draft and was screaming at my computer screen while poring through the UDFA signings with the hope that we picked him up. I got lucky then, but so far this preseason I haven’t been lucky and he’s barely made an impact. Aside from a chop block penalty, Fauria was a nice surprise against the Patriots. He was finally able to showcase his receiving abilities, and showed a little versatility moving to the Hback position when Michael Williams left with a hand issue (which ended up being broken). His blocking was inconsistent, to be generous, but it was definitely better than what I had expected to see. Fauria may not see much action even if the Lions do keep him on the final roster, but with both Pettigrew and Scheffler’s contracts running out, he could fill that receiving TE role out sooner or later.
I’ve been a critic of Waddle up to this point because his technique was not that good. Primarily his kick-slide, which Texas Tech Olineman simply do not do (While every other OL in the universe puts it as a priority). Something has been happening the past couple weeks, however, which is that he is getting better, and fast. It was only against the 2nd and 3rd strings, but Waddle was easily the best Olineman on the second team, and that’s including veterans like Corey Hilliard and Dylan Gandy.
Not much to say about the Lions 4th round pick. He was more disruptive in the past two preseason games than he was against the Pats, but most who realize how much development Taylor will need are not surprised by that inconsistency.
Coffin Corner. The hardest punt for any Punter to make. It’s the ideal play, a punt that the defense chooses not to field because they think it will bounce out of the end zone. It bounces somewhere in bounds and then bounces out at the 1 yard line. Martin made one against the patriots. Throw in some great work on kickoffs and folks, we have our Punter.
Riddick got a lot of work against the pats just as he has the past couple weeks. While he was unremarkable as a rusher or receiver, he did good work in Special Teams. I’d like to think he’d make the team on his own merits, but it’s the injury to Montell Owens that really paves the way for Riddick to make this squad.
Williams was playing decent enough this preseason that few questioned his roster spot. He played the same in this one until breaking his hand and knocking him from action. Depending on the severity, his injury may pave the way for the Lions to keep Fauria without needing to keep four TEs, as they can put him on IR and keep both Fauria and Williams on the roster to buffer against the loss of Pettigrew and Scheffler in 2014.
Fuller played only 9 snaps on offense, didn’t play on ST, and was never targeted. Likely a Practice Squad guy at this point.
Keyton played 9 snaps late in the game, did nothing notable.
Aside from missing a tackle on Blount, Morgan did little of note. Will likely be one of the first cuts.
I struggled to find Hepburn on the field and expected him to get a little more extended work. As it was, the team only put him out there for 13 defensive plays. He looked fine on his 10 ST snaps, but fine won’t usually secure you a roster spot.
Rugland looked fine kicking the Extra Points. That the Lions kept Akers on the field even in the 2nd half tells us that this battle is over, for better or worse, and Rugland is likely the man out.
I’ve become a fan of Neloms and was hoping to see more of him after a strong showing against the Browns. Sometimes strong preseason showings don’t equate to increased play time and Neloms received a paltry 2 defensive snaps.
Tags: Brandon Hepburn, Corey Fuller, Darius Slay, Devin Taylor, Harvard Rugland, Jon Morgan, Joseph Fauria, LaAdrian Waddle, Larry Warford, Martavius Neloms, Michael Williams, Sam Martin, Theo Riddick, Ziggy Ansah