Detroit Lions tight end Eric Ebron, left, talks with head coach Jim Caldwell during NFL football practice in Allen Park, Mich., Monday, Aug. 8, 2016. Ebron left the team's annual mock game on Saturday on the back of a cart due to an injury. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Detroit Lions tight end Eric Ebron, left, talks with head coach Jim Caldwell during NFL football practice in Allen Park, Mich., Monday, Aug. 8, 2016. Ebron left the team’s annual mock game on Saturday on the back of a cart due to an injury. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

The Steelers will hold two joint practices with the Detroit Lions this week; leading into their opening pre-season game against those very Lions on Friday night.

The joint practice is a good time for the team to practice “Situational Football” as Mike Tomlin described it.  It’s also a good time for some guys to get some opportunities earlier than normal to prove their worth and solidify their jobs.

While practice is not the same as even a pre-season game, the level of intensity picks up a notch or two when you involve other teams.  The competitive juices will be flowing and the hits will be harder than normal.

The first set of guys to look at will be at the left tackle spot. Alejandro Villanueva and Ryan Harris are battling for that starting job, with Villanueva listed as the current starter on the first depth chart released the other day.  Villanueva has some experience from last season as the starter and filled in admirably enough that the Steelers were willing to let Kelvin Beachum leave but not enough that they were ready to officially hand him the job, hence the signing of Harris off of the defending Super Bowl champion Broncos roster.  Both men will be fighting hard in these practices.

It will also be interesting to watch Sammie Coates who is poised to have a big year and needs to step up in the place of Martavis Bryant. Getting him extra work is pertinent to his growth and development.

Another spot to keep an eye on will be at right outside linebacker. Jarvis Jones is listed as the top guy but let’s all be honest with ourselves here, James Harrison is the better player. How much Harrison practices in these circumstances is up for debate, as he really doesn’t need it but Jones certainly does. These practices give him a shot at further along his game play in a more real atmosphere.

Strong safety will see a current battle between Robert Golden and Shamarko Thomas, though don’t count out Sean Davis. All three will need to play out practice against Matt Stafford so that will be a good test for each man. That same test will be presented to Ross Cockrell who currently sits at the number two corner with rookie Artie Burns injured.  Cockrell can help solidify his starting role if he plays well in these practices.

While these joint practices aren’t quite a pre-season game, they are a level up from a typical day in Latrobe and will provide for some intense play, heated positional battles and perhaps a glimpse at what 2016 will hold.

Mike Pelaia hosts the website Steel Nation Association http://www.steelnationassociation.com– Covering the Steelers and helping Children’s Hospital All Day Everyday. You can e-mail him at mike@steelnationassociation.com.

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