Lions stock report: Who stood out and who struggled in preseason loss to Jaguars?

DETROIT — Dan Campbell walked out for his postgame news conference, initially upset about the final score. His Detroit Lions had just lost a preseason game 25-7 to the Jacksonville Jaguars. There wasn’t much production offensively. His key units couldn’t find a rhythm. It wasn’t particularly close.

Then, mid-sentence, he laughed.

“You don’t like to lose, and you don’t like to lose that way,” Campbell said, right before offering a light chuckle as he rediscovered the bigger picture. “But then also, you try to keep in perspective it is about evaluation and trying to put these guys in position to where you can find out about them a little bit, and I felt like we found out about a few guys today.”

Win or lose, these games tell coaching staffs about the rosters they’ve fielded and who’s done enough to make it.

Here’s our take on how things played out.


Who would you rather be: The Detroit Lions or Jacksonville Jaguars?

Which players helped their stock?

Edge/LB James Houston has had his ups and downs in training camp. He’s been relegated to the third-team defense for much of practice, as he splits reps between edge and Sam linebacker. The results have been mixed, with Houston looking out of place in coverage on occasion. But when the pads go on and two teams meet at Ford Field, Houston reminds you what he’s capable of. Houston recorded six tackles (four for a loss) and a sack Saturday. His most impressive play was a checkdown of running back Tank Bigsby, in which Houston dropped into coverage, recognized the play and used his closing speed to make a play on Bigsby for a TFL. That’s the stuff you want to see from Houston if the coaching staff is committed to this hybrid role they’ve been using him in.

LB Jack Campbell: On a day in which three of Detroit’s top four draft picks rested, Campbell played into the early third quarter. Coming off an impressive debut, the 2023 18th pick looked good again Saturday. He didn’t get the start, but he led Detroit with seven tackles and was good in coverage on the plays I watched. Dan Campbell said the goal was to let him loose and see how he performs. It appears he liked what he saw.

“I feel like Jack has gotten better every time he’s gone out there and suited up,” the coach said.



Lions observations: Jack Campbell is ‘wired to be competitive’ — and he’s showing it

DB Steven Gilmore: His first taste of action didn’t go the way he wanted. Lined up against Tim Jones on the outside, getting the start, Gilmore was well-positioned on a deep ball. C.J. Beathard needed a perfect ball for an completion. And he got one, resulting in a 48-yard reception.

But Gilmore’s response was swift, after he was challenged in the end zone against Jaguars wide receiver Jacob Harris on that same drive. This time, he won — deflecting a pass and breaking up what could’ve been a touchdown. Later in the half, Gilmore was gifted with an interception by Tracy Walker. Overall, a solid effort for Gilmore, who said he received a text from his big bro — Cowboys All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore — after the game.

“Those are the type of things you’re looking for from these young players,” Dan Campbell said. “You give up a big one and then you go right back and you don’t bat an eye. You get a big knockdown in the red zone and he gets a ricochet interception. Those are big.”

WR Chase Cota: Even though his stats were relatively quiet — just two receptions for 9 yards — I thought Cota had a solid day. He made an excellent attempt at a diving catch on the sideline, one that was ultimately overturned. He later caught a 1-yard TD from Nate Sudfeld for the Lions’ only score of the afternoon. The most impressive play of the day was a 28-yard punt return that set the Lions up with good field position. Cota hadn’t actively worked on punt return since college. Don’t overlook that element of his game as he tries to crack the roster. Showing versatility on special teams is how guys on the bubble make the 53.

“Just yesterday, coach (Dave) Fipp (asked): ‘Hey, you ready to start the game on punt return?’” Cota said after the game. “I was like, ‘Let’s do it.’ It’d been a while for sure but I was excited. He displayed a lot of confidence in me, so I was excited to go out there and hopefully get a couple.”

Which players hurt their stock? 

OT Bobby Hart: Hart was flagged for a false-start penalty early in the game, gave up a sack and allowed Jaguars defensive tackle Jeremiah Ledbetter to go virtually untouched up the middle on a handoff that resulted in a forced fumble and a turnover. Not a good day for No. 51.

QB Nate Sudfeld: Sudfeld has thrown three interceptions in about four quarters of preseason football. He finished 9-of-18 for 80 yards, one touchdown and one interception Saturday. Even though Teddy Bridgewater’s numbers were worse, Campbell’s assessment was that he wasn’t helped by drops or pressure from the offensive line. Regardless, his spot is secure. Hard to say the same for Sudfeld.

CBs Saivion Smith and Ifeatu Melifonwu: Two players here for the same reason. Campbell said after the game that Melifonwu and Smith sustained injuries that could keep them out of next week’s preseason finale against the Panthers. If that’s the case, it doesn’t help their efforts to make the 53-man roster.

How did the position battles play out?

• Brian Branch versus Tracy Walker is one battle that has unfolded at training camp. It’s probably less of a battle and more of a preference. When the Lions reconfigured their secondary this offseason, it was assumed that Walker and Kerby Joseph would start at safety, while C.J. Gardner-Johnson would play nickel. As camp has progressed, there’s a clear pecking order starting to take shape. Branch has worked with the starting defense at nickel, with Gardner-Johnson and Joseph back at safety. Walker, meanwhile, has repped as a second-team safety. That trend has continued. Branch, Gardner-Johnson and Joseph all sat Saturday. Walker started at safety with much of the reserves. Branch might have the edge at this point.

• If there were any lingering questions about who is RB3, it certainly feels like those have been answered. Craig Reynolds got the bulk of the work in the opening half with the Lions sitting David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs. Though he wasn’t efficient on the ground with eight rushes for 13 yards — perhaps another product of the offensive line — he did help in the passing game with four receptions for 29 yards. More importantly, the staff trusts him and he hasn’t really been challenged in camp. He’s far closer to a lock than on the bubble, in case that wasn’t clear.

As for others, Jermar Jefferson was next in the pecking order. He returned from a training camp absence this week. If Detroit goes with four backs, Jefferson should get a look. He’ll have opportunities after the retirement of Justin Jackson and an injury to Mohamed Ibrahim. But he has work to do.

• Germain Ifedi and Matt Nelson have been battling it out for the role of OT3. I’m not sure if either player his case Saturday. Ifedi has more game experience than Nelson, but Nelson has been around longer and the staff knows what it will get from him. From watching practice, Ifedi seems to get beat less often than Nelson. But based on how this staff operates, if one is not markedly better than the other, it could be Nelson’s job until further notice.

Lingering thought: How much can we reasonably take away from these performances when the offensive line play is this bad?

First, a preface: There are few NFL teams, if any, whose second-team offensive line is comprised of starting-caliber talent.

It’s one of the most shallow positions in football, so if you have a quality starting five and capable sixth man, you’re already better than most teams. The Lions have that. The problem? None of those players took the field Saturday. That makes it hard to properly evaluate these performances.

Take Bridgewater’s Lions debut, for example. Bridgewater is a veteran QB with north of 4,000 career snaps. His first play Saturday was a 9-yard sack. Against second- and third-stringers, he completed 5-of-11 passes for 34 yards with a passer rating of 52.8. He was often under duress, running for his life behind Detroit’s backup line. He didn’t have a clean pocket from which to operate. Bridgewater is still learning the terminology and playbook, but the offensive line play affected his rhythm more than anything. The unit’s performance also didn’t help the run game and limited some opportunities for the receivers.

“It was tough,” Dan Campbell said. “We couldn’t get in a rhythm. … We were taking turns offensively messing something up.”

At the end of the day, these games don’t matter. The Lions are clearly gearing toward Week 1. But it does make it tougher to evaluate players when trying to project the roster. The reserve offensive line has been that bad.

(Photo of Steven Gilmore: Nic Antaya / Getty Images)

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