The Detroit Lions cut their initial roster down to 53 players Saturday, like every team in the NFL. While there might be some waiver claims made later Sunday and a practice squad will be set, there are things that can give some clues about the 2015 version of the Lions.
Here are things that stood out about the moves Martin Mayhew, Jim Caldwell and Co. made Saturday afternoon.
1. Larry Warford might not be ready for Week 1: The Lions kept five interior linemen, which likely means there is at least some concern about Warford’s status for the season opener against the Chargers. The right guard is Detroit’s best offensive lineman and the Lions need him back as soon as possible. The fortunate thing for the Lions is Taylor Boggs, the aforementioned fifth interior lineman, had a really strong camp, so he was a worthy keep on the roster. If Warford ends up ready to go, figure that Boggs will be an inactive for Week 1.
2. The returner will be new: With the Lions cutting Jeremy Ross, it means the team will have a new kick and punt returner in 2015. It isn’t entirely clear who that will be yet, but Ameer Abdullah will be the likely option. The Lions might consider Josh Wilson or TJ Jones at returner as well, especially if Abdullah ends up being the main running back against San Diego. Jones showed some spark as a punt returner and he has been on special teams as well so he could end up being the No. 4 receiver ahead of Lance Moore based on special teams work. The Lions spent a good part of their pre-draft visits looking at potential return specialists and let the return job be a wide-open competition during camp, so Ross was always in trouble.
3. Talent too deep to keep three quarterbacks: Kellen Moore didn’t help himself during training camp by consistently looking inconsistent, at best, throughout the preseason. But he wasn’t helped by players at other positions emerging and forcing the Lions to consider keeping them, including linebacker Brandon Copeland and Boggs. Injuries to Warford and DeAndre Levy might not have helped Moore’s case, either, but for the first time under Martin Mayhew, Detroit will not keep three quarterbacks on the initial 53-man roster. Something else to watch Sunday will be if Moore clears waivers and comes back to the Lions on the practice squad. That would keep the quarterback room intact, something that could be important in week-to-week preparation for starter Matthew Stafford.
4. Copeland the surprising keep: Of all of the moves Detroit made, keeping the former Penn linebacker was the one I least expected. Copeland, who said this season was likely going to be his last chance to make the NFL, had done well on special teams throughout the preseason and also offers positional flexibility. Copeland did some pass rush work with his hands on the ground during training camp and also plays his traditional linebacker position. That flexibility, combined with special teams value, might have kept him around. Something to watch, though, is the health of Levy. Keeping seven linebackers could be a signal the Lions aren’t completely confident Levy will be ready for Week 1, but that will become clearer Monday and Wednesday.
5. This isn’t final: Don’t be surprised if the Detroit roster looks a little bit different in the next 24 hours. The Lions don’t have the highest waiver claim, so it is possible they will put in claims and not get the guys they want. But it wouldn’t be shocking to see a player or two get claimed by the Lions. I wouldn’t even begin to guess who those players are, but offensive tackle would be a position where Detroit could look to upgrade. Also, the Lions will put together their initial practice squad Sunday. Some names to keep an eye on after roster claims are made would be Moore, George Winn, Casey Pierce, Torrian Wilson, Larry Webster, Kerry Hyder, Isaiah Johnson and Brian Suite. But almost anything can happen when it comes to the practice squad.