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Detroit Lions Bubble Watch: Final roster predictions on defense

Which defenders are in? Who’s out?

NFL: SEP 08 Lions at Cardinals Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NFL cutdown deadline is just four days away. By 4 p.m. ET on Saturday, the Detroit Lions will have a 53-man roster set in stone despite no OTAs, no minicamp, and no preseason. It will undoubtedly be the toughest offseason for personnel departments to make key roster decisions, and some good players will likely have to find jobs elsewhere.

The defensive side of the ball may be the toughest for the Lions staff. With so much roster turnover, there are so many new faces to learn and so little time for those players to get acclimated to Detroit. The Lions did their best to add players already comfortable with the scheme, but for players like Tony McRae, Darryl Roberts, Reggie Ragland, John Penisini, and Bobby Price, it’s sink or swim in a matter of weeks.

Some players have risen to the challenge immediately, while others look like they could have benefitted from the extra preseason reps and offseason workouts.

Here are our staff’s roster predictions for the “bubble” players on defense.

Bubble Watch Week 3: Defense

Player Jeremy Reisman Ryan Mathews Mike Payton Hamza Alex Reno Andrew Kato Mansur Shaheen John Whiticar TOTAL Change
Player Jeremy Reisman Ryan Mathews Mike Payton Hamza Alex Reno Andrew Kato Mansur Shaheen John Whiticar TOTAL Change
DT John Penisini IN IN IN IN IN IN IN IN 8 0
DT Kevin Strong IN IN OUT OUT IN OUT IN IN 5 0
DE Frank Herron OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT 0 0
LB Austin Bryant OUT OUT IN IN OUT PUP OUT IN 3 -3
LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin IN IN IN IN IN IN IN IN 8 0
LB Reggie Ragland IN IN IN IN IN IN IN IN 8 +2
LB Miles Killebrew OUT OUT IN IN IN IN IN IN 6 0
CB Darryl Roberts IN IN OUT OUT IN IN IN OUT 5 -2
CB Dee Virgin OUT OUT IN IN OUT OUT OUT OUT 2 +2
CB Tony McRae IN IN IN IN IN IN OUT IN 7 +1
CB Mike Ford OUT OUT IN OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT 1 -1
S C.J. Moore IN IN IN IN IN OUT IN IN 7 +2
S Bobby Price OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT 0 0

Rising up

LB Reggie Ragland (+2) - Perhaps it was his pick-six during last week’s practice, perhaps it was the words of defensive coordinator Cory Undlin, but Ragland is now unanimously “IN” among our staff. Here’s what Undlin had to say about him (emphasis added):

“Very pleased with where he’s at and his role and how he’s going to help us this year. So, very excited.”

Doesn’t sound like a guy that’s getting cut.

CB Dee Virgin (+2) - One of the trickier positions to predict during roster cuts is the defensive backfield. Do you go with the guys with proven defensive skills, or do you make sure you’ve got guys who can contribute on special teams? Obviously, you want to find a middle ground, but it appears the Pride of Detroit staff is leaning on the special teams contributors, as Virgin was one of the most active on special teams last year.

S C.J. Moore (+2) - Speaking of special teams, Brayden Coombs—the coordinator of that unit—was asked for a player that was standing out in training camp. He proceeded to speak for three or so minutes on Moore alone. Here’s a sampling (via MLive):

“But I would say C.J. Moore is a guy who has had an outstanding camp. I would say, first off, you talk about a great kid. Hard worker — has worked for everything. ... When you talk about a guy that does everything exactly the way we’ve asked, and to be perfectly frank, is a guy I probably underestimated coming in as a new coach. Probably, I was just wrong on, just going off of the tape and my perception of him coming in. Has really kind of took the bull by the horns.”

It’s rare to see a coach single a player out like that. So, yeah, he’s in.

CB Tony McRae (+1) - During training camp, McRae was walking the perfect line of great contributor on special teams, but also a playmaker on defense. As the team’s backup nickel corner in practice, McRae has been able to tally a pass breakup or two per practice.

However, McRae suffered an ankle injury during Saturday’s scrimmage, and that makes his roster spot anything but safe.

Falling down

LB Austin Bryant (-3) - Bryant is still on the Physically Unable to Perform list, and at this point, it just doesn’t seem worth it to take him off of it. Though he had a real chance to contribute right away, he’ll just be too far behind once he actually hits the field. Keeping him on PUP allows you to avoid cutting him while also provides the opportunity for him to return this year after just six weeks.

CB Darryl Roberts (-2) - Roberts is likely the fourth best outside corner on the roster, but this is where the balance between defensive talent and special teams is tough. Roberts can play some special teams—he’s had at least 140 snaps in each of his last three years—but he’s not a stud at it like Virgin or McRae. Roberts will be one of the tougher calls the Lions have to make on Saturday.

CB Mike Ford (-1) - Late last week, Ford rolled his ankle, but luckily, it appeared to only be minor. Still, he hasn’t fully returned to practice since, and for someone as close to the edge of the roster, that’s never good. Still, Ford has special teams talent and some experience on defense. He’ll be a tough cut, too .

No change

DT John Penisini - Even though they ended up re-signing him, the waiving of Olive Sagapolu pretty much shows Detroit is planning on keeping Penisini as the backup nose tackle.

DT Kevin Strong - I’m a little surprised to see only five of eight staffers with Strong in. After placing Jashon Cornell on injured reserve, there isn’t much competition for depth behind Da’Shawn Hand and Nick Williams.

DE Frank Herron - Herron hasn’t received a single vote during Bubble Watch, and he’s been mostly invisible in camp.

LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin - Though his hot start to camp has cooled off a little bit, the staff still unanimously has Reeves-Maybin in. His special teams talent is undeniable, and he still looks the part of linebacker in practice, even with the added weight over the past two years.

LB Miles Killebrew - Six of eight still have Killebrew in, and his special teams skills may carry him onto the roster yet again. But the Lions still can’t seem to figure out just how to use him on defense.

S Bobby Price - Despite some offseason hype surrounding his incredible athleticism, Price hasn’t moved the needle much in camp and remains a long shot to make the roster.