As part of new COVID-19 protocols, the NFL changed its roster restrictions this season to allow every team the ability to protect four players on its expanded 16-man practice squad.
The idea behind the new rule is to give teams insurance for a coronavirus outbreak, guaranteeing that key fill-ins will be available if a late-week promotion is needed.
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“A lot of the protection might be in the case where at the end of the week, maybe you’ve put in a gameplan, you’ve kind of grinded through the week and then other teams might come in and try to grab your guys off your practice squad, particularly the team that you’re playing that week, and try to see what they know,” Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia explained last week. “So that’s kind of one of those deals where that protection helps you there. But I do think it does kind of maybe give the player and the team a little bit more security from a standpoint of, ‘This guy’s here for the week, and now as we prepare for the weekend, he can be part of the gameplan knowing that we have the opportunity to bring those guys up at the end of the week if we need them.’ “
The Lions and most NFL teams submitted their protected practice squad list Tuesday, and the four protected Lions players give us some insight into what else is going on with their roster ahead of Sunday’s season opener against the Chicago Bears.
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• QB David Blough — Blough seems like a natural to protect every week given that he’s the third-string emergency quarterback. Should either Matthew Stafford or Chase Daniel become unavailable for a game, Blough would be promoted to the active roster.
• TE Isaac Nauta — No. 3 tight end Hunter Bryant is expected to be out about two more weeks with the hamstring injury he suffered in training camp. T.J. Hockenson and Jesse James should be able to shoulder the workload Sunday against the Bears, but if something happens to either player in practice or with the virus, Nauta can be elevated to action.
• CB Dee Virgin — Maybe I’m reading this wrong, but Virgin’s protection seems to be more about special teams than anything. He was one of the Lions’ best coverage players last season and has value as a backup on special teams and in the secondary. Given the sheer number of players he could replace in an emergency situation, he might frequently find himself on this list.
• RB Jonathan Williams — Similar to tight end, the Lions are shorthanded at the running back position because of injuries. Adrian Peterson signed this week and should play a significant role against the Bears, but Kerryon Johnson and D’Andre Swift missed time this preseason. Williams is next man up if Johnson and/or Swift can’t go.
The Bears’ practice squad protections include their projected kicker for Sunday, Cairo Santos; third-string quarterback Tyler Bray; running back Artavis Pierce, at a position where they’ve suffered preseason injuries; and backup guard Jamon Brown.
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