It's the first preseason game. Not much to see here, but in reality there are players fighting for their professional lives throughout the preseason. With that said, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions will square off in Week 1 of the NFL Preseason at Heinz Field Friday night, and while most fans are familiar with the Steelers' lineup, what can you expect from the other side of the field?
We were able to ask editor of Pride of Detroit (SB Nation's Detroit Lions website), Jeremy Reisman, a series of questions related to the game tonight.
Time to go behind enemy lines and learn a little bit about the upcoming opponent.
With many of the Lions' starters likely sitting out of the preseason opener, who is someone that will play the Steelers should keep an eye on?
Keep an eye on second-round draft pick DT A'Shawn Robinson. He's firmly behind Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker on the depth chart, but he should be making a big impact on the team as a rotational player in his rookie year. Also, undrafted free agent WR Jay Lee has been making splashes in training camp. He's making a real push to make the final 53-man roster and it'll be interesting to see what he can do in a game-like scenario.
What were your impressions of the Steelers during the two intersquad practices?
Just how good Antonio Brown is. For whatever reason, Brown doesn't seem to get the attention he deserves over flashy guys like Odell Beckham Jr and Dez Bryant. But he reportedly had every single one of the Lions defensive backs falling over themselves in practice. There's no question in my mind Brown is best wide receiver in this league, and he's going to dominate fools again in 2016.
Which rookies are you expecting to make an impact with the team this year?
Taylor Decker is going to be the team's starting left tackle this year, and we'll probably see him get a lot of reps in on Friday night. As mentioned above, Robinson, too, will get a lot of play this year. However, outside of that, the Lions aren't really going to get a lot of contributions right away from their rookie class. Third-round center Graham Glasgow isn't expected to win the starting job right away, and neither is fourth-round safety Miles Killebrew.
Do you expect the Lions to be in contention this year or are they in danger of regressing?
A lot of things have to go right for the Lions to contend for a playoff spot in 2016. They need to be completely healthy on defense, as their depth is severely lacking. Even more important, however, is how the offensive line performs. They were absolutely atrocious in 2015, but if they can even rebound to an average squad, the Lions may be able to build something resembling a running game for the first time in five years. If those two things happen, the Lions could legitimately contend for the NFC North this year. I know that sounds crazy in a division with the Packers and Vikings, but a lot of people forget Detroit nearly swept the Packers last season if it weren't for a Hail Mary.
Where is the team's biggest weakness? Where is its biggest strength?
Linebacker is the biggest weakness of the team right now. With DeAndre Levy still on the Non-Football Injury list due to a mysterious ailment, Detroit has almost nobody to replace him. The Lions are equally thin beyond their starters in the secondary.
I'm going to sound like a madman, but I think the Lions' biggest strength is their receivers. Before you say I'm desecrating Calvin Johnson's grave, hear me out. The Lions added two players with over 60 catches and 750 yards last season (Anquan Boldin and Marvin Jones). They also are expecting much bigger things out of tight end Eric Ebron this year (presuming his recent injury is short-term), and running back Theo Riddick is looking to improve upon his 80-reception (yes, 80) season. That's a lot of weapons for a team that is looking to replace a potential Hall of Famer.