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Lions vs. Steelers snap count observations: Detroit gives hints to upcoming cuts

The Lions’ snap counts from Saturday night were very telling.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The next round of roster cuts is on Tuesday. By 4 p.m. ET on that day, the Lions must again trim their roster by five, getting down to 80 players for the final preseason game later this week.

According to Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell, Saturday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers was enlightening for him as a talent evaluator. Obviously not pleased with the team’s performance in the first half, Campbell said that some players proved they belong on this roster, while others clearly didn’t.

“There’s some guys that maybe were counted out that have a chance of making this team. And then there’s some ones that maybe everybody thought was gonna make it and they’re not gonna make it,” Campbell said per The Athletic’s Chris Burke.

Saturday’s performance is one way to predict some of the roster cuts. Another way is to look at the snap counts from the game. If a roster bubble player barely played, it’s not a great sign. If they got a long look, it’s likely because the team is intrigued. So let’s take a closer look at Saturday’s snap counts.

Offense:

Quarterbacks

David Blough: 36 (59% of plays)
Tim Boyle: 25 snaps (41%)

Tim Boyle started and played into the third quarter, typically a good sign for his roster chances. However, David Blough outsnapped him significantly simply because he kept drives alive longer. Boyle only had one drive last longer than five plays. Meanwhile, all three of Blough’s drives went for seven plays or longer.

Running backs

Godwin Igwebuike: 20 (33%) — 8 special teams snaps (32%)
Craig Reynolds: 17 (28%) — 3 (12%)
Dedrick Mills: 13 (21%) — 3 (13%)
Jermar Jefferson: 11 (18%) — 9 (36%
Jason Cabinda: 7 (11%) — 7 (28%)
Javon Leake: 0 (0%) — 2 (8%)

The four players likely in contention for the RB3 spot—Igwebuike, Reynolds, Mills, and Jefferson—split time almost evenly, although the order of appearance should be noted. Jefferson was in first, then Milles, then Igwebuike, then Reynolds.

As for Javon Leake, it appears his time on this roster may not be long. He only got two special teams snaps, and his two kick returns went for just 26 yards combined.

Tight ends

Alize Mack: 33 (54%) — 2 (8%)
Brock Wright: 22 (36%)
Darren Fells: 15 (25%) — 2 (8%)

The Lions tight end competition has narrowed itself considerably due to injuries. At this point, it is quite literally a two-man race. Alize Mack continues to see the field before Brock Wright, and it can’t be a good sign that Wright was taken off special teams this week after playing over a dozen snaps there last week.

Wide receivers

Tom Kennedy: 42 (69%) — 1 (4%)
Geronimo Allison: 30 (49%) — 6 (24%)
Quintez Cephus: 21 (34%) — 9 (36%)
Breshad Perriman: 21 (34%)
Victor Bolden: 13 (21%)
Amon-Ra St. Brown: 11 (18%) — 1 (4%)
Damion Ratley: 11 (18%)
Javon McKinley: 9 (15%)
Darius Jennings: 6 (10%) — 3 (12%)
Sage Surratt: 3 (5%)

While Tom Kennedy continues to make the most of his time, a guy like Victor Bolden does not. Bolden’s playing time is way down, and he’s been taken off special teams completely—a daunting sign for his roster chances. Perriman, Cephus, and Ratley made their preseason debuts after overcoming injuries, but Cephus was the only one to log a reception against the Steelers.

Offensive tackles

Matt Nelson: 61 (100%) — 2 (8%)**
Dan Skipper: 40 (66%) — 2 (8%)
Penei Sewell: 21 (34%)
Darrin Paulo: 0 (0%) — 2 (8%)

Nelson played every single snap on Saturday at left tackle, replacing Taylor Decker. That’s likely a good sign for him, although Dan Skipper looked decent on the other side. Penei Sewell got about a half’s worth of play, which would have amounted to more snaps had the offense gotten anything going.

Darrin Paulo is in trouble.

Guards/centers

Evan Brown: 61 (100%) — 2 (8%)
Logan Stenberg: 50 (82%) — 2 (8%)
Tommy Kraemer: 50 (82%) — 2 (8%)
Halapoulivaati Vaitai: 11 (18%)
Jonah Jackson: 11 (18%)
Evan Heim: Did not play

Well, the Lions have clearly made a decision on backup center. Evan Brown played there the entire game, after the Lions decided to scratch Evan Heim completely. Obviously, it seems like Heim will not make it past the next round of cuts.

Usage here made the Lions’ offensive line depth abundantly clear: outside of the five starters, the Lions seem to value Matt Nelson, Dan Skipper, Evan Brown, Logan Stenberg and Tommy Kraemer (Edit: Oops, forgot Tyrell Crosby). If the Lions keep 10 linemen, those are all of them. If they only keep nine, one of those players is out.

Defense:

EDGE:

Julian Okwara: 37 (58%) — 9 (36%)
Austin Bryant: 35 (55%) — 9 (36%)
Charles Harris: 23 (36%)
Robert McCray: 22 (34) — 9 (26%)
Rashod Berry: 14 (22%)

With Charles Harris back in the game after taking last week off (for an unknown reason), it becomes a three-man race for two or three reserve roles behind starters Trey Flowers and Romeo Okwara, both of whom sat out on Saturday. Julian Okwara seems like a shoo-in, leaving Bryant and Harris to battle out for the final spot or two.

Defensive tackle

Bruce Hector: 32 (50%) — 6 (24%)
Miles Brown: 24 (38%)
Jashon Cornell: 20 (31%) — 6 (24%)
Levi Onwuzurike: 17 (27%)
Kevin Strong: 15 (23%) — 6 (24%)
P.J. Johnson: 15 (23%)
Alim McNeill: 14 (22%)

For the second straight week, Hector led interior defenders in snaps, as he continues to make a positive impression. However, it’s interesting to see Kevin Strong’s playing time decrease drastically. Did he already win a spot based on his performance in camp and Week 1 of the preseason, or did he have to make room for Levi Onwuzurike’s debut? Something to keep an eye on.

Linebackers

Jahlani Tavai: 39 (61%) — 11 (44%)
Jalen Reeves-Maybin: 39 (61%) — 10 (40%)
Derrick Barnes: 25 (39%) — 12 (48%)
Anthony Pittman: 20 (31%) — 16 (64%)
Tavante Beckett: 5 (8%) — 9 (36%)

With the starters out, the Lions basically rolled with just two units at linebacker. Tavai and Reeves-Maybin played for well over half the game, giving themselves every opportunity to make a positive impression (and squandering it). Barnes and Pittman were the next two in and looked much more comfortable, albeit against Steelers backups.

Beckett got on the very last drive of the game, replacing Pittman. Given that Tavai’s roster spot absolutely should be up for grabs, it doesn’t look like Beckett is the player who could threaten it. Pittman appears to be in better standing with the coaching staff.

Cornerbacks

AJ Parker: 30 (47%) — 4 (16%)
Mike Ford: 27 (42%) — 13 (52%)
Jeff Okudah: 25 (39%)
Amani Oruwariye: 25 (39%)
Ifeatu Melifonwu: 21 (33%) — 10 (40%)
Jerry Jacobs: 20 (31%) — 10 (40%)
Bobby Price: 16 (25%) — 11 (44%)
Nickell Robey-Coleman: 16 (25%) — 4 (16%)

It’s time we talk seriously about AJ Parker. Not only did he rep with the first-team secondary on Saturday, but he logged the most snaps of any cornerback. He also led the team in tackles—two of which were for losses—and logged a pass defended. The Lions’ nickelback job may be up for grabs with Mike Ford transitioning to outside corner and Nickell Robey-Coleman still coming along slowly. Even if both of those players make the team, Parker could not only make the roster but start on Sundays. Not bad for an undrafted rookie.

Safety

Jalen Elliott: 34 (53%) — 19 (49%)
C.J. Moore: 28 (44%) — 14 (56%)
Will Harris: 25 (39%)
Tracy Walker: 25 (39%)
Alijah Holder: 16 (25%) — 8 (32%)
Dean Marlowe: DNP

After the game, Dan Campbell specifically mentioned Jalen Elliott as someone who stood out in a positive manner, so he may be someone to keep an eye on. I’m not sure what to make of Marlowe not playing on Saturday, as many assumed he was the team’s third safety on the depth chart. Perhaps being the oldest player in the room, the Lions simply did not need a longer look at him.

Special teams

Scott Daly: 7 special teams snaps (28%)
Jack Fox: 7 (28%)
Randy Bullock: 3 (12%)
Zane Gonzalez: 3 (12%)

The kickers split snaps on Saturday. Each successfully kicked an extra point, and each was responsible for two kickoffs. However, it’s worth noting that it was Bullock who took the all-important onside kick attempts and succeeded.