The Detroit Lions played their first game of the preseason on Friday evening and there’s much that can be speculated based on the players that took the field.
Preseason games are meant for evaluation of the players on the roster, specifically some of the guys who are competing for roster spots.
With predictions already made on the offensive side of the ball, it’s time to take a dive into Detroit’s defensive and special teams units and try to piece together what the roster may look like to start the season.
Defensive line (9)
In: Michael Brockers, Aidan Hutchinson, Alim McNeill, Levi Onwuzurike, Romeo Okwara, Julian Okwara, Charles Harris, Josh Paschal, Jashon Cornell
Out: Eric Banks, Isaiah Buggs, John Cominsky, Demetrius Taylor, Bruce Hector, Austin Bryant
The Lions have changed their scheme from a 30-front to a 4-2-5 defense, which means that they will need more defensive linemen rostered than they did last season.
What makes this group interesting is their positional versatility. Julian Okwara has practiced a small amount at off-ball linebacker this offseason, while many of these other players have been placed on the edge and interior of the defensive line.
Expect Hutchinson and Romeo Okwara to be the starting defensive ends, assuming Okwara is taken off the PUP list before the season begins. His younger brother Julian and veteran Charles Harris should be mixed in heavily to the rotation.
On the interior of the line, Michael Brockers should be the starting 3/4i defensive tackle while Alim McNeill plays nose tackle. Onwuzurike, Paschal, and Cornell lack the size to play the zero-technique role full-time, but are versatile enough to plug in at about any spot on the line that they are needed at.
Players like John Cominsky and Demetrius Taylor have had their flashes in training camp, but could unseat Cornell for that last roster spot.
In: Alex Anzalone, Chris Board, Derrick Barnes, Malcolm Rodriguez, Anthony Pittman
Out: Jarrad Davis, James Houston, Josh Woods, Shaun Dion Hamilton
As mentioned earlier, the Lions will frequently utilize just two off-ball linebackers in their defense for 2022. As of now, Anzalone seems locked in as a starter while the other spot will be fought over by Barnes and Board.
Rodriguez and Pittman will be vital special teams players on kickoffs while also providing solid depth at the position. Pittman and Barnes also have been cross-trained as pass rushers for specific defensive subpackages.
Davis, Woods, and Hamilton are all veteran players who will have to prove themselves as special teamers if they want to secure a spot on the roster.
In: Jeff Okudah, Amani Oruwariye, Will Harris, Mike Hughes, AJ Parker, Jerry Jacobs
Out: Mark Gilbert, Cedric Boswell, Saivion Smith, Chase Lucas, Bobby Price
One of the biggest battles throughout camp and the preseason is for the starting cornerback job opposite of Oruwariye. Right now, Okudah and Harris seem to be the top contenders there.
At the nickel cornerback spot, Mike Hughes and AJ Parker will have to compete to see which one will start and which one will be the backup. Hughes also has some experience on the outside, which could make him a more desirable candidate to keep on the roster. Rookie Chase Lucas has an uphill battle ahead of him if he wants to unseat those two and should be a quick add to the practice squad if he is cut.
It should be noted that Harris also has slot experience and should not be counted out for that role just yet. Harris also played safety throughout college and the entirety of his NFL career up to this point, which makes him a versatile tool for defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn to keep around.
Jacobs is currently on PUP as he continues to recover from his season- ending knee injury last year. If he is inactive to start the season, it’s up to Gilbert, Smith, Price, and Boswell to fight for that spot. Gilbert had some flashes of potential in a very limited role last season, but Price also can play safety which ups his value.
In: Tracy Walker, DeShon Elliott, Kerby Joseph, Ifeatu Melifonwu, C.J. Moore
Out: Brady Breeze, JuJu Hughes
Walker and Elliott’s names should be written in pen at the top of the depth chart as the starting free and strong safeties, respectively. Behind them stand rookie Kerby Joseph and corner-turned-safety Ifeatu Melifonwu who will provide depth while primarily contributing on special teams.
Moore’s roster spot is given not for his talents on defense, but his strengths as a gunner and contain man against punt and kick returns. He’ll be a tough man for either Breeze or Hughes to unseat.
Special teams (3)
In: Austin Seibert, Jack Fox, Scott Daly
Out: Riley Patterson
The only job that isn’t decided on is the kicker, and it’s not an easy choice between Seibert and Patterson.
Seibert has the stronger leg of the two and is capable of hitting a field goal longer than 50 yards. Seibert, on the other hand, is way more accurate but is inconsistent when the field goal attempt is over 50 yards.
Whoever the Lions opt for will be a good choice as both performed well last season. It will be up to them and only them during the final two preseason games to take a lead in this kicking competition.