'Rookie' Alex Carter searching for improvement as Lions' roster cuts loom

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- He always expected there would be challenges. Alex Carter hadn’t played football for a year, save for a couple weeks of practice before having his season officially end on injured reserve.

So he knew there would be times when he struggled, when things were going to be infinitely more difficult than it might have initially appeared. So he was prepared for being in a tough place throughout the majority of the preseason. And that’s where he is now, entering the Detroit Lions' final preseason game.

And he’s trying not to let it frustrate him, even though the former third-round draft pick has been pretty far down the cornerback depth chart throughout the past month.

“Just come in every day mentally understanding that it’s a job, you have to work at it,” Carter said. “It’s not always going to be easy. It’s not always going to be perfect. My job is to get better every single day.”

He’s also a realist – as are the Lions. Carter admits, “I am a rookie,” even though he was a 2015 draft pick. Detroit appears to be treating him the same way. The way the Lions' coaching staff has spoken about him, it doesn’t sound like they expect a ton out of him in 2016.

And, honestly, he has to make the roster first.

“Anything we get from Alex now, I really look at it as a rookie development,” Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “I think he’s been working hard, it hasn’t always been pretty, but we all know that playing corner in this league is not an easy job.

“He’s going to continue to improve. We’re just going to continue to work and where it shakes out, we’ll figure that out at the end.”

He's one of a few Lions who are in need of a big game to possibly secure an initial roster spot for 2016.

The defensive tackles: I’m going to lump them all here because I believe there hasn’t been a true decision yet on a possible fifth (or sixth) defensive tackle. The top three – Haloti Ngata, Tyrunn Walker and A’Shawn Robinson – are in. Khyri Thornton seems to be in as well. That leaves Stefan Charles, Caraun Reid, Gabe Wright and maybe Kerry Hyder as players aiming for one or two slots. A big game in the finale with a couple of sacks and/or tackles for loss could be enough to make the difference.

Andre Roberts: He seems like the No. 5 receiver now, but pay attention to how much he plays against Buffalo. If he’s in the game late, it might signify Detroit taking a longer look at him. He’s the more veteran option between him and rookies Jay Lee and Jace Billingsley – but both Lee and Billingsley have been good enough in the preseason that they could force a discussion at least with a monster game. Billingsley, more than any other Lions player, has kind of come out of nowhere to push for at least a practice-squad spot.

Orson Charles: The release of Matthew Mulligan might have opened up a roster path for Charles, who was signed in June. With Andrew Quarless suspended the first two weeks of the season and Brandon Pettigrew on PUP, there’s a potential roster spot available after Eric Ebron and Cole Wick. Charles, with a good game, could snag that. This also shows how thin the Lions are at tight end.

Anthony Zettel: He’s flashed at times during training camp, but it isn’t totally clear where he stands in the eyes of the coaches and the front office. He has end and tackle capability, but it is clear Zettel is also a developmental project. Can he shine in the fourth game and push for a roster spot? Like Carter and a couple of other players, his roster status could be determined by health issues elsewhere.

Jake Rudock: Wrote about his progress Wednesday and he’s shown steady improvement, but he should see more snaps Thursday than at any other point. How does he look there? Does he command the huddle well? These are things he has to answer positively in order to feel safe.

Jayson DiManche: He was claimed by the Lions on Tuesday from Cincinnati and the Lions have major depth questions at linebacker. Jon Bostic is out for a while. Josh Bynes has an undisclosed injury and hasn’t practiced or played in a week. Antwione Williams is still learning. So this could mean the Lions have to keep a surprise linebacker to have some depth at the position entering Week 1, particularly if Bynes isn't ready. Detroit claimed him to get a longer look (they saw him play in Week 2 of the preseason) and if he performs well, he could be discussed a bit over the weekend as cuts start coming.