Kerry Hyder. Joe Dahl. David Blough.
Every year there’s someone who cements their place on the 53-man roster with a strong showing in the fourth preseason game.
Hyder did it in 2016, when he opened eyes with a three-sack performance against the Buffalo Bills. Dahl did it 2018, earning a roster spot that he parlayed into the starting left guard job last season. And Blough’s 115-yard passing day in last year’s exhibition finale with the Cleveland Browns was enough to convince the Detroit Lions to trade for him, even though he threw two interceptions in the game as well.
The NFL eliminated preseason games this summer because of the coronavirus pandemic, and Lions coach Matt Patricia said Monday that has teams worried they’ll miss out on players like Hyder, Dahl and Blough when they set their 53-man rosters this week.
Teams have until 4 p.m. Saturday to finalize cuts.
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“I think that’s the way everyone feels across the league,” Patricia said. “This is going to be a year where guys might fall through the cracks, and we might be sitting here in a couple months from now and find someone, or someone might emerge from someone’s team that no one knew anything about.”
The Lions are treating this week like any other last week of the preseason in that they’re using it to try and make sure no one falls through the cracks.
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While preparation for the Sept. 13 season opener against the Chicago Bears continues, the Lions have their second controlled scrimmage of the summer planned for Wednesday at Ford Field and Patricia said that will weigh heavily in final roster decisions.
“I think it’s a big week,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity and one of the things that we try to do as a staff and understand that maybe where we are on the roster and some of the battles that we still have in front of us and some of the guys that are competing for certain spots and make sure that we put those guys in situations.
“Sometimes I hate to manufacture the game, but sometimes we have to do that. We have to kind of manufacture those situations and see what the battle, see what the competition looks like and get a good eval. We’re going to have to do that this week, absolutely.”
While most of the Lions’ 53-man roster appears set, several intriguing position battles remain.
Jack Fox and Arryn Siposs are running neck-and-neck for the punting job, with special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs saying over the weekend the two were essentially deadlocked in four of the six categories he evaluates punters on, and split on the other two.
Undrafted rookie Steven Wirtel has had a strong summer in his push to wrest the long-snapping job from Don Muhlbach, the longest-tenured Lion.
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Defensive linemen Kevin Strong, Frank Herron and rookie John Penisini are vying for, at most, two backup jobs.
And on offense, if the Lions keep six receivers, which seems probable, they’ll have to go short-handed elsewhere, at running back, tight end or on the offensive line.
“The urgency’s got to go through the roof (this week),” said second-year running back Ty Johnson, one of the Lions’ bubble players. “You know you got cuts coming up and then you got Week 1. September, that’s when football comes around, so just the urgency level has to be at an all-time high, really, and anything can happen. So it’s just lay it out on the line, on the field, show the coaches what you got and then go from there.”
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Johnson, a sixth-round pick in 2019, is vying for perhaps one backup job behind Kerryon Johnson, D’Andre Swift and Jason Huntley in the backfield, where injuries have clouded the decision and new practice squad rules give the Lions more options.
Swift and Bo Scarbrough returned to practice on a limited basis Monday after missing nearly two weeks with injuries. Scarbrough played well late last season for the Lions and would add a power element to the offense, but he has an extensive injury history and Ty Johnson adds more value on special teams.
Both backs are eligible for the practice squad, which has expanded from 10 to 16 players this season and includes more exemptions for veterans.
Given the constraints of the preseason, with no exhibition games to evaluate, teams may be less active on the waiver wire this weekend and more inclined to keep players they’ve had in camp on their practice squads.
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That, Patricia said, is where some of the under-the-radar players who otherwise might have earned a roster spot in preseason games will emerge this fall.
“I’ve said it before, we only have so many games, so we need practice to be able to evaluate our team,” Patricia said. “I think that’ll really carry in this year from some of those guys that maybe we’ve had a chance to see in the preseason games where we can get them through the practice squads and spend some more time with them and see that growth and development here over another month. We may be able to find those guys then.”
Contact Dave Birkett at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Lions content.