It’s that time a year, the time where difficult decisions must be made.
The Detroit Lions will be purging their roster to 53 players by Saturday at 4pm, trimming down from 80.
With several highly contested positional battles this year, there are sure to be some surprises as no one – outside of the Lions’ brain trust – can truly predict what the outcome will be.
With that said, I’m going to give it a shot.
Below, I’ve outlined – by position – who I believe will fill the Lions’ 53-man roster.
Comment: This one is easy. There was speculation that Zac Robinson would push Stanton for the No. 3 gig. That speculation will come to an end. Robinson does have potential and represents a solid third developmental quarterback. Still, in 2010, the Lions witnessed firsthand the value of having depth at quarterback and they will keep Stanton, who would be the better option if thrust into a starting role.
Also, Robinson is eligible for the practice squad but would be exposed to waivers and could draw interest from other teams. Don’t be surprised if another team takes him.
Wide Receiver (5)
Comment: There was some competition for these five spots but it became pretty clear about mid-way through camp that Davis and Stovall were going to lay claim to the jobs. I don’t think this will be a tough decision to make and the Lions are thrilled with the talent and depth they have at this position.
Derrick Williams was next in line for a roster spot but simply didn’t do enough to win the trust of the coaching staff. I would expect him to get another look somewhere else. The Lions will keep either Tim Toone, Domonique Barnes or Nate Hughes on the practice squad. Hughes would be my choice.
Running Back (4)
Comment: Best and Morris are locks. Through camp, I would have given Brown the edge but Harrison has come on strong at the end (and the coaching staff was patient with him due to his late arrival). If the team opts to keep only three backs, look for No. 3 to be Harrison.
Fullback Matt Clapp won’t make the squad. Jerome Felton would have been a better option but the Lions knew they weren’t going to keep a fullback and released him to give him a fair opportunity to make another team. The fullback position is not a significant cog in their offensive machine and tight end Will Heller can fill in if needed.
Tight End (3)
Comment: This position was locked down from day one, with only injury opening a spot. Lots of talent and versatility amongst this group. Look for Heller to also fill in as fullback when needed. If the Lions decide to part ways with an additional running back (Brown), they may consider retaining Joe Jon Finely.
Offensive Line (9)
Starters: Jeff Backus (T), Rob Sims (G), Dominic Raiola (C), Stephen Peterman (G), Gosder Cherilus (T)
Comment: The starting five spots weren’t heavily contested, although a lot of reps were giving to the depth players at tackle due to injury. Hilliard makes the team easily and is a prime backup at all positions save for center. Fox is also safe. Niswanger will edge out Dylan Gandy as a backup guard / center. He’s had a strong camp for a reserve offensive lineman and brings some good experience with him to the position. It would be too difficult for the Lions to let go of Thomas in favor of seventh-round draft pick Johnny Culbreath because of experience and practice squad eligibility.
Defensive Line (9)
Ndamukong Sugh (DT), Corey Williams (DT), Kyle Vanden Bosch (DE), Cliff Avril (DE), Nick Fairley (DT), Sammie Hill (DT), Andrew Fluellen (DT), Lawrence Jackson (DE), Willie Young (DE)
Comment: The biggest issue here is the lack of spots available. The Lions have tremendous talent at the position. Quinn Pitcock and Robert Callaway have both had impressive camps but would have to beat out Fluellen for the last spot – and I don’t see that happening.
MLB/OLB DeAndre Levy, MLB, OLB Stephen Tulloch, OLB Justin Durant, OLB Bobby Carpenter, OLB Ashlee Palmer , OLB Doug Hogue, OLB Isaiah Ekejuba
Comment: The Lions may be forced to keep seven linebackers. Levy, Tulloch, Durant and Carpenter are all locks and they will need to keep Palmer to provide depth. Ekejuba is too valuable on special teams to let go and Hogue was drafted with the knowledge that he would probably be a developmental pick. The only way the Lions will let Houge go is if they are confident he’ll reach the practice squad.
Defensive backs (9)
Chris Houston (CB), Eric Wright (CB), Louis Delmas (S), Amari Spievey (S), Brandon McDonald (CB), Aaron Berry (CB), Alphonso Smith (CB), Eric Coleman (S)
John Wendling (S)
Comment: One of the fiercest battles came in the defensive backfield. Houston and Wright figure to be the opening day starters, while Berry and McDonald battled for the primary backup roles and the nickel position. Alphonso Smith hasn’t practiced with the team throughout training camp and it’s not entirely inconceivable that he’d start the season on the Reserved/Non-football injury list. However, if he does, the Lions will do this based on his health and readiness for the season not to free up a roster spot for someone else.
The battle at safety has been interesting. With Delmas and Spievey locked in as the starters, there has been fierce competition for the backup roles. Eric Coleman, who figured to be a starter prior to camp, should win a job as a reserve. The interesting thing is; the play of Ricardo Silva. He has looked strong in games and has caught the eye of the coaching staff. Still, this staff values special teams contributions and should keep Wendling because of his prowess in that department.
Silva is eligible for the practice squad and the Lions would love to keep him. The question is, has he put too much on tape to fly under the radar?
Special Teams (4)
Jason Hanson (kicker), Ryan Donahue (punter), Don Muhlbach (long snapper), Stefan Logan (kick returner)
Comment: Hanson’s only real competition for the kicking job was himself. When he proved his health and ability the job was his. The Lions cut Dave Rayner early to give him a fair shot at finding another job.
As for the punting battle, the Lions will go with the young leg in Donahue. He and Nick Harris have been pretty even with each other but a telling sign is that Donahue received a lot of the holding duty on field goals and extra points during the last two games.
Logan is a surefire keeper as a return specialist. He started training camp practicing as a receiver then moved over to running back. He was moved back to receiver recently but doesn’t figure to be on the field for the offense much, either way.
As the team’s top long snapper, Mulbach will make the team with Raiola being the backup .