Detroit Lions take backup QB battle to Pittsburgh: ‘Somebody needs to step up’

Detroit Free Press

By Dan Campbell’s estimation, the Detroit Lions have eight to 10 roster spots still up for grabs heading into Sunday’s preseason finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

They need to pick a kicker and a backup quarterback. They do not appear to have settled on a fifth (or sixth) receiver. They’re still weighing their options in the return game. And several of the backup jobs at linebacker and defensive back are lumped into one pot where the recipe calls for a heavy dose of special teams.

The Lions have more difficult roster decisions this summer than they did last year, when Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes intentionally went young at several positions to help build a foundation for the future.

“We’re a lot farther ahead than we were last year. We’re much more competitive,” Campbell said. “It’s hard because Brad and I went through it again (Thursday) night. You go through these scenarios but you’re doing the bouncing, you’re juggling the durability, the dependability, the — all these, ‘They do it right, but yet are they good enough? Are they truly good enough?’ Versus the talent, flash player, can’t trust them. And it’s you know they’ve got the talent to do it if the light comes on, and so it’s hard. It’s hard, but that’s the task that we’re given.”

Campbell said “trust is a big deal with me” and will factor into the Lions’ final few roster decisions, though upside and investment can never be ignored.

At the backup quarterback spot in particular, the second-year Lions coach is hoping one of Tim Boyle or David Blough can convince him Sunday they can be trusted to lead the team to wins should something happen to Jared Goff.

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“What we need is we need somebody to really take the reins here,” Campbell said. “I mean, somebody needs to step up out of the two and I thought they both progressed last week. Now, somebody needs to step up and run this offense, play efficient, play smart, take care of the football, get us the first downs, and when we get down to the red zone, score touchdowns for us.”

Boyle is expected to make his first start of the preseason Sunday with the Lions holding Goff out of action until their Sept. 11 season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Boyle and Blough, who started last week’s win over the Indianapolis Colts, have alternated days working with the second- and third-team offense since spring and are in what Campbell called a “neck-and-neck” battle for what could be only one roster spot.

The Lions kept three quarterbacks — Goff was the starter, Boyle his backup and Blough the No. 3 — last season, but they may not have that luxury with a deeper roster this fall.

“That position as a whole, I think it always comes down to three things,” Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said. “It comes down to decision-making, accuracy and toughness. And I think when you look at all those guys, including Jared, not just the backups, they have over the course of the preseason shown ups and downs in each one of those facets right there. And I think from that backup spot we’re trying to figure out, ‘Hey, who’s the most consistent really at the end of the day with the accuracy, with the decision-making? Who we can trust the most when — if given the keys to the car.”

Neither Boyle nor Blough has much experience in the driver’s seat, and the few times they’ve had control of the wheel they’ve veered off the road.

Boyle went 0-3 as a starter last season, completing 64.9% of his passes and throwing three touchdowns against six interceptions. Blough has attempted just 10 passes since his rookie season in 2019, when he went 0-5 as a fill-in starter for Matthew Stafford.

While Campbell said it is “a possibility” the Lions bring a backup quarterback in from another team — the Steelers’ Mason Rudolph is one potential experienced cut candidate — both Boyle and Blough have shown promise at times this summer.

Boyle was erratic with some of his passes in the Lions’ preseason-opening loss to the Atlanta Falcons, but led the 18-play, 85-yard game-winning touchdown drive last week against the Colts.

Blough threw for 141 yards in a quarter and a half against the Falcons, but fumbled a shotgun snap late in that game that led to Atlanta’s go-ahead touchdown and was 16 of 22 passing for 76 yards with one touchdown and one interception in Indianapolis.

“I just want to prove that they can trust me and I appreciate coach Campbell a lot for the opportunities he’s given me,” Blough said. “I haven’t got to start a game in a long time and it means a lot but you’ve got to capitalize and keep taking advantage of them. Ups and downs, but that’s life.”

Boyle said he and Blough are both accustomed to fighting for jobs given they entered the league as undrafted free agents. That’s why they’ve championed each other throughout their roster battle, and why they will remain close no matter what happens next week.

“I know it doesn’t mean a whole lot to the guys who are going to be strapping up their helmets on Sept. 11 against the Eagles but it’s a big evaluation game for us,” Boyle said. “The third preseason game, I know David’s fired up, I’m fired up, so it’s just going to be fun for us to get back out there.”

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