Lions notes: Cota shows punt return ability in push for roster spot; Houston racks up TFLs

Detroit News

Detroit — If the deciding factor to winning an NFL roster spot is versatility, Lions wide receiver Chase Cota added another line to his resume in the team’s second preseason game by handling punt returner duties in a pinch.

With regular return man Kalif Raymond held out of the game and logical replacement Maurice Alexander battling an undisclosed injury, the Lions approached Cota about handling punts the day before the game. And despite not practicing it this offseason, and only fielding one during his five-year college career, he was thrilled to be presented the opportunity.

“It had been a while, for sure, but I was excited,” Cota said after Saturday’s 25-7 preseason loss to the Jaguars at Ford Field.

“(Special teams coordinator Dave Fipp) displayed a lot of confidence in me, so I was excited to go out there and get a couple.”

There weren’t many opportunities, but Cota impressed on the one he did get a chance to return, bringing it back 28 yards. He also added two catches, including a 1-yard touchdown grab, building on his team-leading four receptions for 60 yards in the preseason opener.

Cota said things really started to click for him during the first set of joint practices, when the Lions hosted the New York Giants the previous week. Being able to win matchups against unfamiliar defensive backs provided a confidence boost that has carried into the preseason games.

Although no one from the team has said anything definitive, Cota is operating under the impression the Lions will carry six receivers on the roster into the regular season, and he’s pleased with the position he’s put himself in to claim one of those jobs.

“I’m always on top of everything and know what I’m doing,” he said. “I’m always confident and I feel like I give (the coaches) confidence.”

In addition to Cota, the Lions unexpectedly tested another rookie on kick returns, using cornerback Starling Thomas V in the role to start the game against the Jaguars. He averaged 33 yards with a long of 37 on his two returns.

“We think, skill set-wise, they were a couple of guys we were intrigued by, and wanted to see what it looked like in real time,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said.

Lift off

Second-year defensive end James Houston has spent much of the offseason working at the back end of Detroit’s depth chart, and he didn’t even start Saturday’s preseason game despite the starters and several key backups being rested.

Still, despite his uncertain role, he reminded everyone of his playmaking potential against the Jaguars, racking up four tackles for a loss, including a sack.

“I did feel like he showed up and did some good things today,” Campbell said. “I wasn’t able to watch him the whole game, but I felt like I watched him enough to feel like you could feel his presence out there which was good.”

Houston, a sixth-round draft pick a year ago, lit up the stat sheet after getting promoted off the practice squad ahead of the team’s annual Thanksgiving game, racking up a staggering eight sacks in a part-time role across seven games last season.

Injury update

The Lions escaped the game against the Jaguars with relatively few injuries, but they might need some extra safety depth next week after Saivion Smith and Ifeatu Melifonwu got banged up.

“We’ll know more tomorrow, but I think they could be down a little bit here,” Campbell said. “I don’t know how long that is, but I think it could be a long shot for (the preseason finale against) Carolina.”

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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