Earlier in the day, we examined seven players to watch for the Detroit Lions’ preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday night. Most of those guys have their roster spots nearly guaranteed, so the only thing truly on the line for them is using the opportunity to get better.
But once the second and third-strings step into the game, the stakes get much higher. Players are fighting for jobs, and how they perform under the bright lights at Heinz Field could be the difference between sticking with Detroit and finding another place to play football. After all, more roster cuts are due in another three days.
Here are seven depth players who currently find themselves on the roster bubble that could use a great performance against the Steelers.
WR Tom Kennedy (#85)
Kennedy has slowly climbed up the depth chart. This week at practice, he appeared to jump Victor Bolden, who struggled in the preseason opener with a drop and a muffed punt. Kennedy, meanwhile, has consistently made plays in camp, led the team in receiving yards last week, and can also bring some of the same returning skills as Bolden. If he continues this trend, he could slip into the Lions’ 53-man roster as a potential WR6 .
G/C Evan Heim (#64)
Heim is admittedly a long shot to make the roster. Detroit’s offensive line depth, including Heim, has been downright awful. But Saturday night could provide a unique opportunity to Heim to make an impression. Late in Thursday’s practice, Heim was seen taking practice snaps on the sideline, suggesting he may get some reps at center this week.
Detroit needs someone trustworthy behind Frank Ragnow, and there isn’t a clear backup on the roster right now. Evan Brown is the presumed leader in the clubhouse, but if Heim can show a quick transition to center, he could find a way on the roster.
LB Anthony Pittman (#57)
Jahlani Tavai has struggled under the new scheme, despite his determination to get his body right. And while fans are ready to move on, there needs to be someone who is clearly better than him to replace his roster spot. Unfortunately for the Lions, Shaun Dion Hamilton was likely the best candidate for that, and Detroit put him on IR this week.
Anthony Pittman may be the next man up. And while he’s flashed at times during camp, he still needs to show a lot more to give the coaching staff confidence in giving him a spot on the roster. He does have intriguing athletic traits, though.
EDGE Charles Harris (#53)
For whatever reason, Harris did not receive any snaps in the preseason game last week. Maybe that means he’s safe. Maybe it means he’s in trouble. Maybe he has an injury, or maybe he was just the guy who had to sacrifice snaps so the Lions could get a long, long look at Julian Okwara.
Either way, with Austin Bryant nipping at his heels, Harris would benefit from a good outing on Saturday night... if he even plays.
CB Bobby Price (#47)
Detroit has an outside cornerback problem. The depth there is not good, and there’s no clear answer on the roster. As a result, the Lions shifted Price from safety to cornerback late last week. Since then, it’s been a pretty significant adjustment for Price with some understandable struggles in camp.
”I’ve always played safety so just trying to figure out when I transition my eyes, when I’m supposed to look back,” Price told the Detroit Free Press this week. “Just working press-jam. Just different techniques at corner.”
Price may lock up a roster spot simply due to his importance on special teams, but he could solidify that spot by showing some serious week-to-week improvement on the outside.
RB Craig Reynolds (#46)
What will Reynolds’ encore look like?
He was the feel-good story of last week, joining the team a day before the game, then immediately going out and rushing for 49 yards and a touchdown on just six carries. It’s far too early to hand him the RB3 job over players who have been here since the beginning of camp and shown flashes of their own, but if Reynolds continue to show last Friday wasn’t just a flash in the pan, he could be this year’s Cinderella story.
DT Bruce Hector (#76)
Kevin Strong has been the depth defensive tackle that has gotten a lot of attention, but don’t sleep on Bruce Hector, either. Hector had four tackles against the Bills and one of Detroit’s two sacks on the night. He’s been a consistent force in practice, as well, albeit with the second and third team defenses.
Unfortunately for both Hector and Strong, defensive tackle happens to be Detroit’s deepest position. But with injuries to John Penisini, Da’Shawn Hand, and (possibly) Nick Williams, there could be a surprise spot on the roster available.