Rolan Milligan and Alex Carter have a problem. In a few weeks the Lions will be dropping from 90 players on their active roster down to 53. At the safety position the Lions have three players that are definitely going to make the team.
Glover Quin just inked a two year contract extension, and is the leader of the secondary. He will be the starting free safety. Tavon Wilson has not been playing due to an upper body injury, but will likely be the starter at strong safety unless it is more serious than the Lions let on. Were there an injury to Quin, Wilson would likely slide over to the free safety spot and make room for his understudy.
Miles Killebrew had a very promising rookie season, and has been playing well in Wilson’s absence. In the Lions three safety sets, those are the players that will be on the field. Milligan and Carter have no clear opening to get on the field regularly for the Lions’ defense. The Lions already have their up and coming safety prospect for the coaching staff to pour effort into.
That leaves special teams as the place where they need to differentiate themselves. Don Carey signed an extension in November that made it clear the Lions value his presence there. The betting odds favor Carey being the Lions fourth safety because he is one of the league’s best special teams players. The two safety hopefuls have three paths ahead of them.
Milligan and Carter are going to have to either beat out one of the NFL’s best at the role, convince the Lions that they’ve got enough long term potential to eventually make up for the short term drop off, or be good enough to force the Lions to keep a fifth safety.
The Battle So Far
Carter is well known to Detroit Lions fans. He was a third round draft pick in 2015. He has yet to prove to the team that he belongs in the league. A plethora of injuries have kept him off the active roster at cornerback. The Lions moved him to safety rather than simply washing their hands of him. He has looked relatively comfortable in the safety role he has been given. He broke up a deep pass that had been overthrown in the first preseason game against the Colts. Alex Carter has logged two tackles in the preseason, and been around the ball regularly in kick coverage.
Milligan took a less direct route to the Detroit Lions. I did a deeper profile on him HERE a few months ago. He started at a tiny college before securing a scholarship at a school that dropped their football program a year later. He latched on where he could for his senior year, and he fell through the draft process. Milligan spent the 2016 offseason with the Cowboys. He was released with an injury settlement, and did not sign with another team until joining the Lions. Milligan has also been buzzing around the field on various return coverage teams. Look at any return and as likely as not he’s in the frame when the play ends.
Milligan also iced the Jets game. He stuffed Bryce Petty on a third down scramble that turned first and goal in to fourth and three. He then took the ball out of Jets rookie Jordan Legett’s hands for an interception that finalized the game for the Lions. If he ever really had a chance, he is making it hard to cut him. If not, he’s putting a very nice audition tape out there for other teams. Wearing the same number as another player, both Milligan and Matt Asiata wear 41 on game day, is not a great sign for his chances.
Rolan Milligan vs. Alex Carter
This week and next, after the starters have had a seat, and the players who are locks to make the final roster have put on baseball caps, watch for Alex Carter and Rolan Milligan. The score of a preseason game doesn’t really matter. In the fourth quarter it will be Alex Carter vs Rolan Milligan more than it is The Detroit Lions vs. The New England Patriots. This is one of the better battles in the preseason for the Detroit Lions.