Allen Park — For even the most dedicated Detroit Lions fan, it’s difficult to keep tabs on the full 90-man roster. Sure, you might know the starters, the projected backups, the draft picks and the big-name undrafted rookies, but there’s always a couple guys who completely fly under the radar, even if they’ve been on the team the entirety of the offseason.
Tavante Beckett falls into that category. He’s one of those undrafted rookies who get dismissed because they played for a smaller college program or don’t have some gaudy physical attribute that causes them to stand out from the pack.
Beckett does in fact stand out, but not in the way you’d want as a football player. Listed at 5-foot-11, 220 pounds, he’s easily the smallest linebacker on the roster.
Even in a league where speed and instincts can overcome being undersized, the gap almost feels too large in this instance.
Yet, after the first two rounds of cuts, and no pressing needs for inside linebacking depth, Beckett is still with the Lions heading into the third preseason game. And after only seeing 16 defensive snaps in the first two exhibition contests, he’s primed for a sizeable increase in playing time as he auditions for a spot in this league, even if the most likely route will be through the practice squad.
“We loved his tape in college,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “He’s a football player, he’s very instinctive. There’s limitations to him, but yet he needs physical growth, strength and conditioning. To be in our program a year will do wonders. But he has instincts and he’s kind of a ball guy. He can sniff out the football.
“He’s improved,” Campbell said. “This will be a great chance for him to get a good load in this game and to see what he looks like. … we anticipate him getting a heavy load this game.”
Beckett barely played against the Steelers last weekend, but in his limited opportunities, he consistently found himself in good position. He’s also been a regular contributor on special teams, while faring well in those drills on the practice field. Maybe that’s not all that surprising for a player who racked up nearly 10 tackles per game the past two seasons at Marshall.
“It’s hard not to notice him,” defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn stated. “Fast, quick, aggressive. The plays that he came in the (Steelers) game and made, man, he showed out.”
More unexpected contenders
Beckett is one of dozens of players still on the roster who might lack ideal physical gifts, but are finding ways to produce. A couple others, such as defensive tackle Bruce Hector and wide receiver Tom Kennedy, have produced at such a high level compared to expectations, they’re pushing for spots on the 53-man roster.
Campbell acknowledged there’s clear value in sending a message to players that if you work hard enough, and do things the right way, you can earn a spot in this league.
“I think it’s big to reward a guy who does it the right way, and, oh by the way, produces,” Campbell said. “Where it’s hard is it’s easy to say, ‘This guy does it right every day. He does exactly what you’re asked to do, but physically he’s just not good enough’. You hate it for those guys, because ultimately there’s not enough in their body to do it. That’s not their fault.
“If you have a team full of those guys, it’s hard to win,” Campbell said. “I hate to say it but that’s the reality. But guys that give you everything that they have and do it the right way and maximize their ability and can produce and you can see it in the game? It’s hard not to reward those guys and want them on your team. Because you see it, there’s evidence.”
WR Kennedy remains in play
Kennedy remains in the mix at wide receiver, which Campbell said multiple times throughout the week, continues to be a wide-open competition.
Obviously, the Lions are always looking for playmakers at that position, guys who can gain separation and make it easy for the quarterback, while gaining yards after the catch. But the real key to landing a job for Kennedy and the other contenders will be what they can bring to the table on special teams.
“When you start getting to No. 5 (receiver), if you’re not a three-, four-core guy (on special teams), that’s a problem because we need to have a good ST unit,” offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said. “That’s what we’re looking for.”
Bullock keeps booting
Despite missing several kicks throughout training camp, including a couple more on Wednesday, veteran kicker Randy Bullock is pleased with the progress he’s made during his first offseason with the Lions.
“Yeah, I feel great overall,” he said. “I feel like, for the most part, it’s been a great training camp. There’s been a couple days where I’ve missed a couple kicks. But for the most part, I feel great, mentally and physically, and I’m ready to go.”
There’s certainty been some unique obstacles Bullock has faced this offseason. He’s had two different challengers for his job, worked with two different long snappers, and had a new holder on Wednesday as backup quarterback Tim Boyle took some reps in place of punter Jack Fox.
“The way I view it is I’m competing with myself every day,” Bullock said. “If I do my job, I’m in a good situation, I’m in the driver’s seat.”
Fair or not, Bullock enters a situation where he’ll be judged against the legacy of recent Lions kickers, namely Matt Prater and franchise icon Jason Hanson. Bullock, who wears the No. 4 jersey just like Hanson, isn’t oblivious to that history and is hoping to become part of it.
“I’ve actually heard that several times,” he said. “That’s really impressive. That’s awesome. I hope I add on to that. That’s the ultimate goal. I want to be here for a long time, do my job, play at a high level and do my part to help this team win.”
Lions receiver Tyrell Williams didn’t play in the second preseason game and has remained sidelined during the week of practice. Campbell acknowledged the wideout is working through a groin injury, but the expectation is he’ll be ready for Week 1 of the regular season.
Other than Williams, only defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand didn’t participate Wednesday. Cornerback Jeff Okudah, after sitting out a day earlier, was back in uniform but limited.