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5 things to watch for as Detroit Lions battle Patriots in third preseason game

Lions host Patriots at Ford Field

New England Patriots QB Tom Brady and Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford meet on the field after a game at Gillette Stadium (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images).
New England Patriots QB Tom Brady and Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford meet on the field after a game at Gillette Stadium (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images).

DETROIT – The score doesn't matter yet, but the third NFL preseason game usually gives fans the best glimpse of their team before the regular season rolls around.

On Friday, the Detroit Lions will host the New England Patriots in what figures to be the last major test for starters before the opener Sept. 10 against Arizona.

GAME TIME: 7 p.m. 
TV: FOX

As position and roster battles reach their most critical stages of the off-season, here are five things to watch for during Friday night's game:

Kenny Golladay

The Lions' third-round pick absolutely stole the show in the team's first preseason game, catching three passes for 53 yards and two touchdowns. The 6-foot-4-inch wide receiver demonstrated his ability to make tough catches in traffic, and he looks like he could be a viable end zone target for Matthew Stafford when the season begins.

Stafford desperately needs a receiver such as Golladay to emerge and compliment the skill sets of Golden Tate and Marvin Jones. Tate and Jones are both solid receivers, but Golladay can be more effective in the red zone and on medium third downs.

In the second preseason game against the Jets, Golladay only had one target among the Lions' 30 pass attempts. He hasn't played a snap in an official NFL game, so it's unfair to expect game-to-game consistency from Golladay, but the Lions would love for him to bounce back against the Patroits.

Ameer Abdullah

Bob Quinn doubled down on Ameer Abdullah during the 2017 NFL draft, electing not to pick another running back despite the team's clear struggles in that regard.

Abdullah has shown flashes of promise between injuries, but he's only received 161 carries through two NFL seasons. Last year, he had an excellent opener, rushing for 63 yards and catching five passes for 57 yards and a touchdown.

The 24-year-old has a lot on his shoulders heading into 2017, so it's most important for him to avoid injury Friday. The Lions have already taken a critical blow this preseason, as 2016 sacks leader Kerry Hyder will miss the entire year.

Abdullah only has five carries this preseason, so he'll probably get a chance to stretch it out a bit more against the Patriots.

Defensive line

What was the Lions' greatest strength three years ago has become a major question mark.

Star defensive end Ezekiel Ansah is on the physically unable to perform list, and while he might be able to return for the start of the season, he might not be the same after his absence. Ansah missed a month last year after suffering an injury against the Titans, and he didn't appear to be at 100 percent throughout the rest of the season. He finally broke out in the playoff loss, making nine tackles and two sacks against Seattle.

Hyder's injury stings, as the Lions struck gold when he made eight sacks his rookie year. Hyder will miss the entire season, opening up another hole on the end.

A'Shawn Robinson has impressed during the preseason, getting in on run stops and knocking down a pair of passes against Indianapolis. He was a first-round talent who fell to the Lions in the second round of the 2016 draft, so he could be a major asset this season.

Fellow second-year lineman Anthony Zettel could play a major role on the this season after playing in 13 games as a rookie. The sixth-round pick out of Penn State made three tackles against the Jets.

Young Gators

In the NFL, teams expect their first- and second-round draft picks to contribute right away, and that will be the case for the Lions this year.

Detroit had a glaring need at linebacker after last season, and first-round pick Jarrad Davis was brought in to lead the pack alongside Tahir Whitehead. So far, Davis appears up to the task, making three tackles in limited time through two preseason games.

Teez Tabor is more of a wildcard, as his below average speed raises concerns about his ability to cover NFL receivers. He's had mixed results throughout the summer, but the Lions drafted him to be part of the rotation right away in a thin secondary.

The two former University of Florida stars will be thrown into the fire as the Lions look to patch up holes in the defense. Friday's preseason game will be an important test against Tom Brady, perhaps the best quarterback in NFL history.

Second cornerback battle

Heading into the preseason slate, the Lions felt comfortable with three of their starting players in the secondary -- Darius Slay, Glover Quin and Tavon Wilson -- but the second cornerback spot is up for grabs.

Slay received a four-year contract extension last summer, making him the clear No. 1 cornerback of the future. But beyond Slay, there's an obvious drop-off at the position.

Tabor was drafted to be a starting cornerback, but Jim Caldwell would likely prefer not to start him right out of the gate. That leaves a combination of Nevin Lawson, Quandre Diggs and Jamal Agnew to battle for the spot.

Playing against Brady is the ultimate test of a secondary, even in the preseason, so Friday could be a major factor in the coaches' decision.