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2021 Detroit Lions training camp preview: Defensive players on the roster bubble

A look at the player who will have to fight for a roster spot this August.

Detroit Lions v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

On Monday, we broke down the players on offense who will be entering Detroit Lions training camp on the roster bubble. The picture on that side of the ball is relatively clear compared to the defense. New defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn has his hands full trying to evaluate his roster. There are leftovers from the previous regime that could be rehabilitated, but he’ll have to decide if those projects are worth keeping around or if some of the new faces have bigger potential for 2021 and beyond.

Here are our staff’s thoughts on the defensive players who will enter training camp on the roster bubble.

2021 Bubble Watch Week 1: Defense

Player Jeremy Reisman Ryan Mathews Mike Payton Hamza Alex Reno Erik Schlitt John Whiticar Jerry Mallory TOTAL
Player Jeremy Reisman Ryan Mathews Mike Payton Hamza Alex Reno Erik Schlitt John Whiticar Jerry Mallory TOTAL
DT John Penisini IN IN IN IN OUT IN IN IN 7
DT Brian Price OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT 0
DT Nick Williams IN IN OUT IN IN IN IN IN 7
DT Kevin Strong OUT IN IN OUT IN OUT OUT OUT 3
DT Da'Shawn Hand IN IN OUT IN IN IN IN IN 7
EDGE Austin Bryant OUT OUT IN IN OUT OUT OUT IN 3
EDGE Charles Harris IN OUT OUT OUT IN IN IN OUT 4
EDGE Robert McCray OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT 0
LB Shaun Dion Hamilton OUT IN IN IN IN OUT IN OUT 5
LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin IN IN IN IN IN IN IN IN 8
LB Jahlani Tavai IN IN IN IN IN IN OUT IN 7
LB Tavante Beckett OUT IN IN OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT 2
CB Jerry Jacobs OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT 0
CB Alex Brown OUT IN OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT 1
CB Corn Elder IN IN IN IN IN IN IN IN 8
S C.J. Moore IN IN IN IN IN IN IN IN 8
S Bobby Price OUT OUT IN IN OUT OUT IN OUT 3
S D'Angelo Amos IN OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT IN 2
S Jalen Elliott OUT IN IN OUT IN IN OUT OUT 4

Somewhat safe (6-8 votes)

DT John Penisini (7 votes) — Even though the Lions drafted Alim McNeill, a nose tackle that will likely fit Detroit’s new defensive scheme better than Penisini, our staff believes that last year’s 2020 sixth-round pick showed enough in his rookie season to stick.

DT Nick Williams (7 votes) — The Lions kept Williams around when it would have been completely justifiable to cut him and his big contract. That has to be viewed as a vote of confidence, even with more competition this year.

DT Da’Shawn Hand (7 votes) — It’s interesting to see three defensive tackles from the previous regime all firmly above the bubble entering training camp, but it perhaps speaks to the untapped potential of this group. No one embodies that more than Hand, who hasn’t been able to recapture that magic from his rookie season. But if he can stay healthy, he could surprise people this year. That’s admittedly a big if, though.

LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin (8 votes) — Reeves-Maybin’s special teams ability is likely enough to land him a spot on the 53-man roster. The more pertinent question may be whether this scheme can finally unlock some defensive potential.

LB Jahlani Tavai (7 votes) — Tavai has quite literally worked his butt off to get to a manageable weight. That alone has caught the eye of the coaching staff, who even sees some sideline-to-sideline movement from Tavai necessary for this scheme.

CB Corn Elder (8 votes) — Elder will be in competition with Mike Ford for the starting nickelback job. But even if he loses that camp battle, there’s a pretty good shot he remains on the roster.

S C.J. Moore (8 votes) — Moore was one of the Lions’ leading special teamers last year, and while the Lions have a new special teams coordinator this year, Moore is close to a roster lock due to Detroit’s extremely thin safety room.

50/50 shot (3-5 votes)

DT Kevin Strong (3 votes) — One leftover from the Patricia regime that is going to have significant work to do to make the roster. The additions of Michael Brockers, Levi Onwuzurike, and Alim McNeill have made the DT room a bit too crowded.

EDGE Austin Bryant (3 votes) — Starting training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list is as close to a worst-case scenario for Bryant. With only one or two defensive end jobs up for grabs, Bryant is likely starting August on the outside looking in.

EDGE Charles Harris (4 votes) — One of Bryant’s main competitors for a roster spot, Harris brings the allure of a former first-round pick, but he hasn’t lived up to those expectations. The Lions are his third team already in his fifth season, but perhaps he can lock onto this coaching staff.

LB Shaun Dion Hamilton (5 votes) — If someone is coming for Tavai’s job, it may be Dion Hamilton. At 6-foot, 235 pounds, he’s where he needs to be physically, and he’s one of the Lions’ few depth players with actual NFL experience. He’s started seven games in his career and played in 46.

S Bobby Price (3 votes) — Price and Jalen Elliott may be facing off for one of the final roster spots, and both enter camp in strikingly similar situations. As Erik Schlitt mentioned in his rookie snap count review, both players spent the majority of the season on the practice squad, with Price eventually grabbing a total of 35 special teams snaps toward the end of the season. That may give him the edge up entering camp, but there is a third competitor to talk about. More on that in a bit.

S Jalen Elliott (4 votes) — See above.

Still has work to do (0-2 votes)

DT Brian Price (0 votes) — Price has the benefit of having NFL experience and being hand-selected by this coaching staff. That could be enough to challenge Penisni for the backup nose tackle job, but our staff isn’t buying it yet. UPDATE: Price retired. So.... good call, staff.

EDGE Robert McCray (0 votes) — McCray is a longshot to make the roster, but he’s been through the NFL grind before. He’s gone through three training camps, two with the Chiefs and one with the Browns. But after being waived in September of last year, he spent a year out of football.

LB Tavante Beckett (2 votes) — Like Dion Hamilton, Beckett has the size and speed the Lions are looking for in their new scheme—he may even be a bit undersized. However, Beckett doesn’t come with the experience. After transferring from Virginia Tech to Marshall, Becket was deemed the defensive MVP of his new team in 2019, and named Conference USA’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2020. He’s a likely candidate for the practice squad, but if he can catch on early, he’s got a shot at the 53.

CB Jerry Jacobs (0 votes) — The Lions’ cornerback depth may have an opportunity for one of the Lions’ young, undrafted cornerbacks to sneak onto the roster. Jacobs is a true undrafted rookie with a compelling path to the NFL, meanwhile...

CB Alex Brown (1 vote) — ...Alex Brown went undrafted in 2019 and hasn’t managed to make an impact yet in the NFL quite yet. Though he has a handful of special teams snaps from 2019, he’s got a big challenge ahead of him to make the 53-man roster. And he’s also coming off a torn ACL last year.

S D’Angelo Amos (2 votes) — Amos is the third contender in Detroit’s thin safety room, but his route to the roster may come as the team’s returner. Amos returned five punts for touchdowns at James Madison, including three in one season. He was no slouch as a defender either, picking up 11 passes defended and two interceptions in his final two years in college.