Detroit Lions: Second preseason game preview

The Detroit Lions closed their 14th and final practice of training camp on Wednesday. The two-and-a-half weeks are up, and now the Lions turn their focus to tonight’s preseason contest against the Oakland Raiders.

Thankfully for Detroit and first-year coach Jim Caldwell, the Lions emerge from training camp injury-free for the most part.

The long-term injuries have already begun to pile up around the NFL (Kendall Hunter, Vick Ballard and Glenn Dorsey for example). It’s just a part of the game that will always be a factor, but the Lions have been able to avoid any serious ones thus far.

Some quick Lions’ updates from this week:

•Both RB Theo Riddick and LB Tahir Whitehead, who each left Saturday’s preseason game against Cleveland with injuries, returned to practice on Monday.

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Ansah (94)

•The team claimed second-year WR Conner Vernon off waivers on Monday, waiving rookie WR Quintin Payton to make room for him.

Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah was activate off of the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list on Tuesday, but he won’t be playing tonight in Oakland.

•The Lions held a night practice under the lights at their facility in Allen Park on Tuesday to adjust to different conditions. “The guys get a chance to get a sense of their bodies and their body clocks to feel what that’s like,” said Caldwell.

Now that camp is in the books, Detroit only has three preseason games and a few weeks of normal practice in the 24 days until their season opener. It’s coming people, we just have to hold out a little bit longer.

Detroit heads to Coliseum to take on the Raiders in their second preseason game tonight. With a 10 p.m. ET kickoff time, it’s a good thing the Lions practiced at night on Tuesday. Here’s a look at a few things to keep on eye:

1. Kicking competition

The Lions’ kicking job is still up for grabs between Nate Freese and Giorgio Tavecchio. Neither has created much separation on the depth chart thus far and that needs to change.

Freese drilled two first-half field goals in the Lions’ first preseason game, from 37 and 32 yards out, while Tavecchio was one-for-one on extra point attempts. Side note: the extra point try did come from 33 yards out as the NFL experiments with longer ones this preseason.

At Wednesday’s practice, the kickers had an interesting little competition. As the two rotated field goal tries from 36, 45, 54, 62 and 67 yards out, the rest of the team surrounded them and made a lot of noise to put pressure on the kickers.

Tavecchio came out on top, making three of his five tries (hitting the 36, 45 and 54 yarders); Frees only hit two (the 45 and 54 yarders). It looked like a fun drill that helped simulate a pressure-filled game situation, but how will the two perform in a real game?

2. The fullback position

Montell Owens got the start over Jed Collins in the first preseason game. The versatile special teams standout responded by making a few noteworthy plays, including a huge blitz pickup to protect backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky.

In his first season with Detroit, Owens appeared in only one game, missing the rest of the season to injuries. He hopes to carve out a role for the Lions not only on special teams, where he’s almost guaranteed to be involved, but also at fullback.

Collins, a more traditional lead blocker, will be right on Owens’ heels, trying to prove he should be the team’s starter this season. Who will make the standout plays tonight?

3. Kellen Moore

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Moore (17)

Kellen Moore, entering his third season with Detroit out of Boise State, outplayed Orlovsky by a mile against Cleveland. Orlovsky’s spot behind Matthew Stafford on the depth chart may soon be lost if Moore keeps it up.

Moore finished 11-13 for 121 yards and one touchdown pass, which also happened to be the game winner. The 21-yard strike to Corey Fuller with 1:05 left in the 4th quarter was Detroit’s only trip to the end zone.

After losing veteran backup Shaun Hill this offseason, the Lions are one injury to Stafford away from being in serious trouble. Orlovsky is no Hill, and it’s not even close, so this kind of play from Moore is encouraging.

In my opinion, Moore —who has never played a regular-season snap— deserves the backup spot if he continues his strong preseason. I’ll be watching to see how he and Orlovsky perform tonight.

Tonight’s game can be watched on CBS at 10 p.m. ET.