7 to watch in Detroit Lions’ preseason opener: First-round pick Penei Sewell makes debut

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Lions open the preseason Friday against the Buffalo Bills. Lions starters are expected to play about a quarter, though some key players may not see time at all. For players on the roster bubble, Lions coach Dan Campbell said their performance in preseason games will factor heavily into their chances of making the team.

With those things in mind, here are seven players I’ll be watching closely Friday night at Ford Field.

RT Penei Sewell

The No. 7 overall pick will make his Lions debut after taking every first-team snap at right tackle in training camp. Sewell has not played a game in 20 months, so he will have rust to knock off. But he is an elite athlete at 6 feet 5 and 331 pounds with a unique ability to get to the second level on run blocks. Given his inexperience, the Lions might elect to play him more than the rest of their starting offensive line.

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CB Jeff Okudah

From one first-round pick to another … Okudah is coming off a rough rookie season but has looked like a different player in training camp. He’s confident, aggressive and seems to be taking well to new defensive coordinator Anthony Glenn’s scheme. The Bills have not said how much starters will play, but Okudah could spend time matched against Stefon Diggs or Cole Beasley, which will give the best indication yet of the progress he’s made.

QB Jared Goff

Goff does not need Sewell- or Okudah-like reps to get ready for the regular season. He’s a known commodity after five years with the Los Angeles Rams. But anytime a quarterback makes his debut with a new team, it’s worth a mention. Goff has lived off checkdowns in training camp after a dip in his deep passing numbers last season. The Lions won’t show much offensively in the first week of the preseason, but Goff’s average depth per target is something to watch.

K Randy Bullock and Zane Gonzalez

Field goals have been an adventure for the Lions so far in camp. Matthew Wright was cut for being too erratic, and the Lions brought Gonzalez in this week to compete with Bullock for the job. Bullock has struggled from distance this preseason, and it seems likely that whoever kicks best in preseason games will be the Lions’ kicker in Week 1.

OLB Austin Bryant

Bryant has had a strong camp so far, but he still is teetering on the roster bubble, given his injury history. Starting outside linebackers Romeo Okwara and Trey Flowers won’t play much, which will leave plenty of snaps for the backups: Bryant, Julian Okwara and Charles Harris. No one wants to give up on talented, young pass rushers too early, and Bryant can solidify his status with a few productive preseason games.

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RB Jermar Jefferson

The Lions’ 2021 seventh-round pick out of Oregon State, Jefferson sprained his ankle in practice this week. While he returned to take part in individual drills Wednesday, his availability for Friday night is in question. In practice, he showed good vision and natural run instincts. If those traits translate to games, he could crack the Lions’ running back rotation this fall, especially if D’Andre Swift’s groin injury lingers into the season.

CB Jerry Jacobs and A.J. Parker

I wrote about these two undrafted cornerbacks in my practice observations earlier this week. Both have gotten long looks in camp — Jacobs primarily as an outside cornerback, Parker in the slot — and both are in line for extended looks Friday. Pay close attention to the cornerback rotation to see when each gets on the field. More importantly, watch what roles the Lions gives each on special teams; that is their surest path to a roster spot as a rookie.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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