Detroit Lions Still Making Moves, Practice Squad Formed

Embed from Getty Images

Players Clear Waivers and Head To Practice Squad

Roster changes weren’t finished even though the Detroit Lions had finalized their 53 man roster by the Saturday afternoon deadline.

Josh Bynes designated IR

Josh Bynes (knee) headed to the injured reserve on Sunday leaving a significant hole in the Lions linebacking corps. However based on the timing of the designation we should expect to see him back by mid season. This came as a shock as this injury was not originally thought to be that serious. In the short term it’s a huge blow to the Lions linebacker depth, but hopefully this means that Jon Bostic will be ready sooner after breaking his foot in mid august.

Bynes started eleven games last season and was second on the defense with around 80 combined tackles, starting in the preseason before Deandre Levy returned. To make up for these losses, expect fifth round rookie Antwione Williams, to take on the role as primary backup. Williams has looked good at all three positions in the limited time he’s had to play. We will see if his early success can hold up but hopefully limited playing time during the regular season won’t hold him back.

Expect that the Lions will use their nickel and dime packages more often, trying to capitalize on their stronger depth in the secondary with Quandre Diggs and potentially Miles Killebrew picking up a larger load then previously anticipated.

Thurston Armbrister claimed from Jacksonville

The Lions brought in linebacker Thurston Armbrister to help with depth at the position. A undrafted free agent played the entire 2015 season with Jacksonville, earning three starts. Armbrister should be a great short term addition. He was cut because the Jaguars linebackers are stacked right now. He’s one dimensional when compared to the other guys they kept, so I’m not concerned about his performance.

I expect him to be primarily a special teams contributor until he gets up to speed with the Lions defensive system. If he is impressive it could mean he pushes Jon Bostic off the roster or he serves as insurance in case Bynes can’t come back at mid season. While I would like to see depth signed at wide receiver, the injuries to Bostic and Bynes forced the team to bring Armbrister in.

Embed from Getty Images

Lions bring in Khari Lee from Chicago Bears

On Tuesday, Lions brought in recently waived Bears tight end Khari Lee to fill out the roster. It is clear that only one of either Bynes and Bostic will be eligible to return this season. The Lions do not need to designate which player will return off IR, due to a new rule change this season. However, based upon the early prognosis, of Jon Bostic is most likely to be returning. It will come down to who is healthiest at the point of eligibility.

As for the team’s newest addition, it seems quite clear that they are not happy with their present tight end depth. The team is now currently running with four active players at that position: Eric Ebron, Orson Charles, Cole Wick, and now Lee. Along with the suspended Quarless and Brandon Pettigrew who currently sits on the physically unable to perform list.

Matching the number of tight ends and receivers you have on your team is typically a less then ideal situation, however it serves a purpose. The next two weeks will essentially serve as an extended try out against a very beat up Indianapolis Colts and the lowly Tennessee Titans. Whichever tight end impresses the most stays, the other two go and Quarless reenters the roster.

Detroit Lions finalized practice squad

Yesterday the Lions practice squad was finalized after sitting for a while at nine players. Seven of the ten were returning players that got cut down at the 53 man deadline: Jake Rudock-QB, Jace Billingsley-WR, TJ Jones-WR, George Winn-RB, Brandon Thomas-G, Alex Carter-CB, and Charles Washington-DB.

Practice Squad gets Jake Rudock

Rudock’s play was solid but not enough to get him on to the active roster, only primarily playing against backups and scrubs. Rudock came out and impressed despite the talent he was put up against. He can manage a game well, he doesn’t get excessively flustered under pressure, and he can be an accurate passer. Great traits to see in a quarterback’s early years. His performance and the excitement surrounding his playmaking abilities bodes well for his development into a quality backup for Stafford long-term.

Rudock’s favorite target in the offseason Jace Billingsley faced similar circumstances to Rudock in the offseason. Unlike Rudock however he came to Detroit as a complete unknown UDFA buried behind scores of talent and proven veteran receivers. In spite of all this he still made enough of an impression to stick on the practice squad and he is one of the better stories of the offseason. He will be interesting to watch develop going forward.

Embed from Getty Images

TJ Jones was a surprise cut

TJ Jones was a huge surprise cut as Bob Quinn kept 11 d-linemen but only four wide receivers. While Jones had a bit of a down offseason, he was rested for the fourth preseason game incorrectly signaling that he was safe from the cut list.

So far during the Bob Quinn era in Detroit, it has been made clear that there is no ‘chill’ and no one is truly safe. Clearly this guy sees things others don’t because I thought for sure Jones would get claimed and Quinn came out of this smelling like roses. Hopefully Jones can recapture some of the breakthrough flashes he showed last season and be ready to be called up if any injuries pop up this year.

George Winn is a mainstay on the practice squad who was almost a lock to stay there this season. He will continue to be a great insurance policy to have should there be any injuries at running back this year. More likely than not he will never see any carries but will be a great special teams contributor should he be called into action.

Brandon Thomas did not make active roster

Some expected recent pickup Brandon Thomas to make the roster after the Jeremy Kerley trade, however at this point he is simply too raw. He is a great stash player to place on the practice squad as he has some obvious talent. He was a third round pick in 2014 out of Clemson. I truly believe he could offer stiff competition for a position next season. His development throughout the season will be watched closely.

Alex Carter has been disappointing since being drafted in 2015. After missing some offseason activities to finish his degree at Stanford University, Carter suffered an ankle injury that left him out his entire rookie year. That left him behind the eight ball this offseason, and the player already projected to be a bit of a project simply wasn’t up to standards.

With that being said there is still a lot of promise surrounding this young player. He still has the potential that was seen in him when he was drafted, he’s an intelligent player and he truly wants to be in Detroit. Those are all great ingredients for developing a player, lets see if he can be made into something.

Embed from Getty Images

Charles Washington, like his UDFA rostered counterpart Adarius Barnes, is a relative unknown. Coming out of Fresno State as a safety, he played both strong and free positions in camp as well as nickel and dime corner. I honestly don’t know much else about him other then the fact that again like Barnes if you hear nothing it must be a good thing. That and he took fan favorite Isaiah Johnson’s practice squad spot so he must be pretty good, or at least more diverse then Johnson was. I think best case we are looking at a future Don Carey replacement in Washington and that would be pretty great.

Three acquisitions to make note of

Brian Leonhardt – TE: A third year pro UDFA out of Bemidji State, Leonhardt offers a spare tire for our slapped together tight end position. He’s a big bodied blocking tight end that can start if anything happens before the return of Andrew Quarless or Brandon Pettigrew. He serves as insurance to have a decent option on the practice squad in case the Lions decide to send Cole Wick there when Quarless returns and he gets claimed on waivers. I would suggest that the Minnesota native is making a very temporary stop here while the Lions get their ducks in a row, but stranger things have happened.

Isaac Fruechte – WR: Another Minnesota native and Vikings cut, Fruechete has a much better chance of sticking around. At 6’3 he is already the tallest Lions receiver and just missed out on a roster spot in a very tight battle. While he didn’t have a big preseason, Fruechte offers decent speed for his size and potential as a vertical threat if Corey Fuller continues to not live up to expectations. He needs more time to develop but if still around by next offseason it will be interesting to see his progress.

Steve Longa – LB: An acquisition from the Seattle Seahawks, Longa rounds out the practice squad. He’s a wide guy with relatively unimpressive numbers and poor coverage skills but loves being a football player and has a nose for contact. He could eventually work into being a positional contributor down the road but I think his niche will be as a special teams player, which I see him doing well. If he can find a way to be better at his position, I think it’s quite possible for him to hit an active roster in the near future.

Quick Thoughts:

  • After relatively impressive off-seasons where they flashed talent, both Jay Lee and Quinshad Davis were sent packing without practice squad offers. Lions instead went for Issac Fruechte as their big bodied practice squad wide receiver. It has yet to be seen if Fruechte is any better or has as high of a ceiling as those two, but based on Bob Quinn’s success with roster moves to date he must be seeing something.
  • Detroit is running very thin at outside wide receiver. Newcomer Fruechte would be the latest outside receiver signed to the team, and putting Anquan Boldin outside as his speed deteriorates with age is less then ideal. The team is very deep at slot receiver so if they do add a fifth guy to the roster expect that player to be able to play on the outside.
  • The signing of Adarius Barnes has been simply stunning, almost everyone completely forgot he existed and yet he’s on the final roster. Special teams considerations and the lack of readiness displayed by Alex Carter probably played into the decision, but it’s still shocking to see. If he continues his solid play, expect him to quickly start gaining more playing time as Bademosi is rested for special teams use, making Barnes the defacto dime cornerback.
  • It was just announced at the writing of this piece that Tavon Wilson was awarded the starting spot at strong safety over Rafael Bush. He took over the role in game three of the preseason and looked solid throughout the preseason. While this is somewhat of a shock as many viewed Bush as the clear cut starter (or didn’t think Wilson was anything more then a special teamer) it was clear from day one of camp Wilson had started to turn the corner and was beginning to show the promise he presented coming out of college.

Follow @adam_ostermeier on Twitter and join the discussion in our Reddit community!

More From The Detroit Lions Podcast

About the Author

Chris is the founder of everything you see here. A former radio presenter and Detroit native, he now resides in sunny California – and like so many of us, he found himself marooned on an island devoid of other Lions fans. After spending a few years in the Detroit Lions Reddit community he decided to start the Detroit Lions Podcast. Its become the #1 Detroit Lions podcast, and regularly ranks with the top podcasts in Detroit. With a mixture of pre-recorded shows, live & recorded phone-ins, and live post-game broadcasts - this is his slice of Honolulu Blue heaven.