Detroit Lions vs. Indianapolis Colts: David Blough, Derrick Barnes among players to watch

Detroit Free Press

INDIANAPOLIS — After getting good work in joint practices this week, the Detroit Lions will sit most of their starters for Saturday’s preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts.

Lions coach Dan Campbell said he wants to use the game to get his young players reps and to continue evaluating key position battles. Here are five players to watch Saturday who fit that criteria:

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QB David Blough

Blough outplayed Tim Boyle in the battle for the backup quarterback job in last week’s preseason-opening loss to the Atlanta Falcons, but he had a crucial mistake late, fumbling a snap with a chance to run out the clock.

Blough has moxie and the ability to extend plays, and he moved the third-string offense well in his quarter-and-a-half of action last week. Campbell indicated Blough will start Saturday. If he can put up points and avoid turnovers with what essentially will be the No. 2 offense, he could enter the final week of the preseason with a roster spot in reach.

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CB Jeff Okudah

Okudah is on this list for a second straight week as he remains locked in a battle for a starting job with Will Harris. Campbell called Okudah’s preseason debut — in his return from a ruptured Achilles tendon — “encouraging,” but the Lions need to see more of the former No. 3 overall pick.

Okudah got beat for a key third-down completion that set up Atlanta’s first touchdown last week and he drew decidedly mixed reviews in practice against the Colts. He needs reps to get ready for the season, and he needs to show incremental growth in whatever playing time he gets for the Lions to trust him this fall.

LB Derrick Barnes

Malcolm Rodriguez’s emergence in the linebacker room has left Barnes in a bit of limbo. Alex Anzalone and Rodriguez are the favorites for starting jobs, and Chris Board is a capable sub-package defender, so Barnes could end up the Lions’ fourth linebacker

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Barnes has been less consistent and less impactful than Rodriguez this summer, but the Lions remain hopeful about his upside as a punishing run defender. He should get lots of work the next two games as he tries to play himself into a bigger role this fall.

TE James Mitchell

Mitchell did not play last week against the Falcons as part of his rehab from a torn ACL, but the fifth-round pick out of Virginia Tech has slowly seen his reps increase in practice and could make his preseason debut Saturday.

T.J. Hockenson and Brock Wright appear to be locked into jobs at tight end, and the No. 3 spot could be Mitchell’s to lose because of his draft status. Shane Zylstra has worked consistently with the first- and second-team offense this summer and Devin Funchess played well against the Falcons, but neither has the upside or dual-threat ability of Mitchell.

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DT Demetrius Taylor

Josh Paschal won’t be ready to start the regular season, and there’s a chance the Lions could be without Levi Onwuzurike, too. If both players are out, that would open one or more roster spots at defensive tackle.

The Lions have an intriguing group of backup linemen in Taylor, John Cominsky and Eric Banks, all of whom have flashed at times this preseason. Taylor only got 11 snaps against the Falcons, but he offers pass rush ability from his undersized frame. Every summer an undrafted rookie comes from nowhere to make the 53-man roster. Taylor could be that player this year.

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

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