Detroit Lions Training Camp Day 20 Observations: Special teams offer clues to roster cuts

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For all intents and purposes, Friday was the last day of training camp for the Detroit Lions. On Saturday, the team will travel to Pittsburgh. On Sunday, they will face the Steelers for their final game of the preseason. Less than 48 hours after the end of the game, the team will reduce its roster from 80 players to 53.

Although the Lions have dwindled in intensity over the past two training sessions – essentially guided tours on Thursday and Friday – there are still some notable takeaways from those days. It’s not so much what specific tasks each player does, but where they pick up and in what depth chart unit order.

On Friday, several Lions coaches referenced the importance special teams will play in determining the final roster cuts.

“There’s always a tiebreaker, it’s going to be the special teams,” coach Dan Campbell said. “It’s the first one, and I mean if it’s close at all, it has to be someone we know who can help us in the special teams.”

Given the emphasis of the coaches, I paid attention to the players who played an important role in the representatives of the special teams.

If you missed any of our previous observations, you can catch up here:

Attendance/Injury Updates

The usual suspects remained absent for practice on Friday: Levi Onwuzurike, Julian Okwara, Ifetu Melifonwu, Kevin Jarvis, Eric Banks and CJ Moore. That said, Campbell expressed some optimism about Okwara’s progress, noting he could be back in the Week 1 game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

“We hope Philly will be back,” Campbell said. “He probably has the best shot of all to be ready for Philadelphia.”

Elsewhere, the Lions were a little healthier on the offensive line Friday. Tommy Kraemer and Matt Nelson missed Thursday’s practice, but Kraemer was back Friday. Nelson moved a little but remained on the sidelines.

Other new additions to the injured list include cornerback Cedric Boswell, who missed practice Thursday and Friday. On Thursday, he seemed to have some sort of wrap around his right knee, but he was jogging. Defensive tackle Jashon Cornell didn’t practice on Friday either – a curious moment after the Lions welcomed Malcolm Brown for a visit on Thursday.

Special teams contributors

While there were no clearly defined “first team” special teams units, I took note of players who seemed to take starting reps for kick and punt returns. That’s remarkable, because with only a few weeks until the regular season, the Lions probably want to finalize those units as quickly as possible to build some chemistry. Here are the 11 players with the “first team” kick return unit (in no particular order):

  • Godwin Igwebuike/Maurice Alexander split kick return duties
  • Craig Reynolds
  • Tom Kennedy
  • Bobby Price
  • Anthony Pitman
  • Malcolm Rodriguez
  • Shane Zylstra
  • Chris Consulting
  • Brock Wright
  • Will Harris
  • Josh Wood

And here are the 11 “runners” on the kickoff return:

  • Kalif Raymond/Maurice Alexander/Kalil Pimpleton split return rights
  • Bobby Price
  • Will Harris
  • Kerby Joseph
  • Josh Wood
  • Godwin Igwebuike
  • Mike Hughes
  • Derrick Barnes
  • Chris Consulting
  • Anthony Pitman
  • Craig Reynolds

Of these names, a few stood out to me as players on the bubble who might be safer than expected. First and foremost is Josh Woods, a player who has done pretty well defensively over the past few weeks. Last year, Woods was a key contributor on special teams after being a mid-season addition. Having proven himself during the regular season can give him extra consideration during the discount period.

Linebacker Anthony Pittman is also an interesting inclusion in both kicking game drills. Although Pittman’s special teams skills have long been apparent, he’s struggled to find a foothold on defense this offseason. The former UDFA split time between edge carrier and off-ball linebacker, but didn’t stand out positively at either position.

Bobby Price and Godwin Igwebuike continue to be four-phase special teams. Despite some improvements in the cornerback and running back room, their foot on the roster may still be solid.

Finally, Mike Hughes is a notable addition to the punt returning team. Hughes started to see more reps with the first-team defense as his starting nickel. If he can stand out on special teams, it could solidify his spot on the roster, even if he loses the starting nickel job to AJ Parker.

Help with safety

Behind the starting duo of Tracy Walker and DeShon Elliott, the Lions have relied almost exclusively on rookie Kerby Joseph and JuJu Hughes, as Ifaetu Melifonwu and CJ Moore deal with injuries. On Friday, they tried another player: Saivion Smith. At 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, he certainly fits the athletic profile of a safety. Earlier this week, defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant praised Smith’s consistently high level of effort.

“This guy just fought no matter what you asked him to do,” Pleasant said. “Last year we brought him here to Arizona the short week, he comes on special teams and goes to make a play. You hear Coach Dan talk about courage, he embodies it. You just have to keep playing well. »

The more a player can show they can do, the better their chances of making the roster. With the Lions tight to safety, Smith is someone who could sneak onto the roster while the Lions heal in the secondary.

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