Lions bubble watch Week 3: Players trending up, down on defense

Pride of Detroit

On Monday, we talked about the players on the Detroit Lions offensive roster bubble, and now it’s time to turn our attention to the defense.

There have been more injuries to the defensive side of the ball, which makes some of these roster projections really difficult to make. Add on top of that the fact that there are several positions on defense that didn’t have clear leaders in the pack (see: linebacker), and it’s fair to expect some serious changes week-to-week.

That is certainly the case this week, as we have seen some serious shakeups at the defensive tackle and edge defender positions. Additionally, there was a complete shift in the kicker camp battle.

Here’s a look at how the roster bubble on defense has shifted after two weeks of training camp.

Previously:

Week 3 Bubble Watch: Defense/ST

Player Jeremy Reisman Ryan Mathews Mike Payton Hamza Alex Reno Erik Schlitt John Whiticar Chris Perfett Jerry Mallory TOTAL Change from last week
Player Jeremy Reisman Ryan Mathews Mike Payton Hamza Alex Reno Erik Schlitt John Whiticar Chris Perfett Jerry Mallory TOTAL Change from last week
DT Jashon Cornell IN IN IN IN IN IN IN IN IN 9 +1
DT Bruce Hector OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT 0 -1
DT Demetrius Taylor IN IN IN IN IN OUT OUT IN IN 7 +7
DT Isaiah Buggs OUT OUT OUT OUT IN IN OUT OUT IN 3 +2
EDGE James Houston OUT OUT IN OUT IN OUT OUT OUT IN 3 -2
EDGE Austin Bryant IN IN IN IN IN IN IN IN IN 9 +4
EDGE John Cominsky OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT 0 -1
LB Jarrad Davis OUT IN IN IN OUT OUT IN IN OUT 5 -1
LB Josh Woods OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT 0 0
LB Shaun Dion Hamilton OUT OUT OUT OUT IN OUT OUT OUT OUT 1 +1
LB Anthony Pittman IN IN IN IN IN IN IN IN IN 9 +1
CB AJ Parker IN IN IN IN IN IN IN IN IN 9 0
CB Mike Hughes OUT IN IN IN OUT IN IN IN IN 7 -2
CB Chase Lucas IN IN IN IN IN IN IN IN IN 9 +1
CB Bobby Price IN OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT 1 +1
CB Mark Gilbert OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT 0 0
S C.J. Moore IN IN IN IN IN IN IN IN IN 9 +2
S Brady Breeze OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT 0 0
S JuJu Hughes OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT IN OUT 1 +1
K Austin Seibert IN IN IN OUT IN IN IN OUT IN 7 4
K Riley Patterson OUT OUT OUT IN OUT OUT OUT IN OUT 2 -4

Defensive tackle

  • Jashon Cornell — 9 “IN” votes (up 1)
  • Demetrius Taylor — 7 (up 7)
  • Bruce Hector — 0 (down 1)
  • Isaiah Buggs — 3 (up 1)

Out of nowhere, Demetrius Taylor shoots up the board here. Seeing as this didn’t really come at the expense of another player, this is likely the reaction to an injury. Perhaps a delayed reaction to Josh Paschal’s surgery. Despite the fact that coach Dan Campbell said Paschal was “ahead of schedule,” we have yet to see the rookie come close to suiting up, and he remains a candidate to start the year on PUP.

This could also be a response to the injury to Levi Onwuzurike. It’s still not clear what is going on with him, but he’s been gone for a full week now. Taylor, an undrafted rookie, has been showing up early and often at camp, and could be the insurance option for Onwuzurike. Here’s what Campbell had to say about him this week:

“Every day he makes a play or two. Just everyday he does something to where he flashes. He gets under guys, he plays with really good leverage, he’s strong, he’s stout, he’s got a quick first step, and so, he’s a nuisance. He’s a nuisance for those guys on offense. Now, there were some things in the scrimmage where he got moved a little bit in some of these double teams which is where he’s going to have to – that’s going to be an area of where he’s going to really try to anchor in there, and he’s got to be perfect on those things because he’s not a huge guy. But I’ll tell you what you – somebody that maximizes everything he’s got, it’s him.”

Edge defender

  • Austin Bryant — 9 (up 4)
  • James Houston — 3 (down 2)
  • John Cominsky — 0 (down 1)

Bryant continues to shine on a daily basis, and while the Lions (again) deal with injuries at the position, he’s putting himself in the best spot to succeed. Bryant came along last year and finished strong, but it’s clear his game has risen to a new level now.

“I’ve come a long way,” Bryant told the Detroit Free Press. “I don’t think I’m a finished product yet, but I’ve come a long way from where I started and I’m so grateful to God and I’m grateful for the people that helped me become what I’m becoming and still in the process of being, so I’m just grateful for this process.”

Bryant has already come a long way in bubble watch, too. He started as a unanimous “OUT” and now he’s a unanimous “IN” in a matter of just two weeks.

Linebacker

  • Anthony Pittman — 9 (up 1)
  • Jarrad Davis — 5 (down 1)
  • Josh Woods — 0 (no change)

OFF THE BUBBLE: Malcolm Rodriguez (presumed in)

Rodriguez has been so good in camp, and it seems like he gets daily praise from Campbell, so we can stop pretending he’s on the roster bubble. He could very well see defensive snaps in Week 1 of the regular season.

As for depth beyond him, it appears Anthony Pittman has assumed a strong lead among the rest. The Lions are using Pittman in a variety of roles defensively, including off the edge, but Campbell reminded the media of where his true value will lie with this team.

“His special teams has got to be number one for him,” Campbell said. “It still does, it’s got to be the number one thing that he does, and he’s got to improve even from last year. He did some really good things for us, he was part of our core and that unit that I thought played pretty well.

“We believe that he can take another step in that area, but I think the beauty of Pitt is just that, man. If he can continue to get better as an inside backer, the MIKE in particular, then bump him out and play SAM linebacker, which is a little bit new for him in a sense. That’ll take a minute, but yet he’s got the physical attributes to be able to do that, and he’s got some length, and he’s got speed.”

Cornerback

  • AJ Parker — 9 (no change)
  • Chase Lucas — 9 (up 1)
  • Mike Hughes — 7 (down 2)
  • Bobby Price — 1 (up 1)
  • Mark Gilbert — 0 (no change)

Rookie seventh-round pick Chase Lucas is now a unanimous in after slowly getting more time with the second-team defense. He’s also been repping high on special teams, so the 25-year-old rookie continues to find as many ways to contribute on the field as possible.

His rise comes at the expense of veteran corner Mike Hughes. It seems recently Hughes has shifted to more outsider cornerback. Is that a sign he isn’t cutting it at nickel? Are they simply trying to get more reps for the rookie? It’s hard to know, but I generally view positional changes this late in the game to be a not-so-good thing.

I switched my vote from Hughes to Bobby Price, because Price continues to be a huge special teams standout, continually repping with the first team on just about every special teams unit. I admit the team may view Hughes’ versatility as a big strength, but he’s best on the inside and I don’t think keeping three nickel cornerbacks would be a great use of roster space.

Safety

  • C.J. Moore — 9 (up 2)
  • JuJu Hughes — 1 (no change)
  • Brady Breeze — 0 (no change)

Moore’s return to practice this week bumps him up to a unanimous “IN” from our staff. Perhaps the biggest sign that Moore is still a special teams dynamo is that he immediately took over first-team reps at the personal protector position on punt coverage. That’s one of the more important positions, and it was one it appeared they were ready to hand to Tracy Walker. But on Moore’s first day back, he reassumed the duties.

Kicker

  • Austin Seibert — 7 (up 3)
  • Riley Patterson — 2 (down 4)

No surprise. After Seibert’s excellent scrimmage performance—which included a 63-yard make—he jumps ahead of Patterson in the kicker race. But don’t just take our word for it, Campbell literally crowned Seibert the current leader of the pack on Monday.

“I felt really good about Seibert,” Campbell said of the scrimmage. “I feel like he’s, right now, if you’re asking me today, he’s a tick better.”

Seibert clearly has a stronger leg than Patterson, but the accuracy is almost even between the two. One thing that may make a big difference in this matchup, however, is kickoff skill. Here’s Campbell again:

“One of the areas – to be able to, on kickoffs, to depth, hangtime, and pinpoint right or left really, really helps your kickoff team immensely.”

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