When the Detroit Lions signed defensive end George Johnson back in April, I wrote this:
At this point, Johnson looks like a camp body. He is slated to be behind Ziggy Ansah, Jason Jones, Devin Taylor and Darryl Tapp on the depth chart, and the Lions also recently added Kourtnei Brown. And considering the Lions could still use a draft pick on a defensive end, Johnson's chances of sticking around as a member of the 53-man roster don't seem great, but I suppose it's a bit early in the year to be thinking too much about that.
A bit early indeed. Fast forward to now and Johnson has made it clear that he's far from a camp body. He had an outstanding training camp, and he has been impressive in the preseason as well. He went from being toward the bottom of the depth chart at defensive end when he first joined the team to starting last week, and he's really made it clear that he deserves to be on the Lions' 53-man roster.
The problem -- and the reason he was originally viewed as a camp body -- is that the Lions don't exactly have much flexibility at defensive end or on the D-line in general. At defensive end, we know that Ziggy Ansah, Jason Jones, Devin Taylor and Larry Webster aren't going anywhere, and the top four at defensive tackle is pretty much set with Ndamukong Suh, C.J. Mosley, Nick Fairley and Caraun Reid. Darryl Tapp has also been viewed as a pretty safe bet to make the team at defensive end given his connection to Jim Washburn, so that's nine spots right there. How can the Lions make room for Johnson? Here are three different options:
1. Simply cut Tapp and give his spot to Johnson
This is by far the simplest solution for the Lions. Instead of worrying about making room for six defensive ends and 10 defensive linemen, the Lions could just part ways with Tapp and go with Johnson in that spot. Tapp's veteran presence and his ability to potentially contribute as a pass-rushing linebacker were big reasons behind why the Lions signed him in the first place, and it's not like he's done anything to play his way down the depth chart, but sometimes tough decisions have to be made when numbers are so tight at certain positions.
2. Go with six DEs and take away a spot at another defensive position
If the Lions want to keep both Tapp and Johnson and don't want to take away a spot on offense, then they will have to take away a spot at linebacker, cornerback or safety. Considering there's already a limited number of spots for the Lions in the secondary, the most likely solution here is to keep only five linebackers. Although the Lions would be limiting their overall depth at that position, Tapp's versatility would help make up for it a bit. Plus, someone like Travis Lewis is probably only going to play on special teams unless there's a rash of injuries at linebacker, so this would really affect the kick and punt cover units more than anything.
3. Go with six DEs and take away a spot on offense
If the Lions are set on six defensive ends but don't want to decrease their depth at other defensive positions, then the offense will have to lose a spot. This could mean keeping only five backs and only five wide receivers, or this could mean going all the way down to only four backs. In this scenario, Mikel Leshoure, George Winn, Montell Owens, Kevin Ogletree and Kris Durham would be among the players on the chopping block. I suppose the Lions could also consider going from nine to eight offensive linemen, but cutting Rodney Austin would leave them without much depth at offensive guard.
I'll reveal my preferred solution in my next 53-man roster prediction, but how would you go about finding room for Johnson? Vote in the poll below and leave your thoughts in the comments.