The Detroit Lions could be getting a big defensive piece back before the season ends. Pass rushing specialist James Houston told a group of reporters on Wednesday that he expects to return before the regular season ends and could help the team’s playoff push.
“It’s looking like the timeline is before the playoffs, I should be able to get some games in,” Houston said, per MLive.com.
Houston suffered a fractured ankle back in Week 2 during a special teams play. He has since been rehabbing, spotted as recently as Halloween in a boot. But over the last few weeks, Houston has been seen on the practice field getting some work in.
In mid-November, coach Dan Campbell suggested that if Houston were to return this season, it wouldn’t be until late December.
“We’d be shooting for (a) December (return),” Campbell told 97.1 The Ticket. “But he’s still got a ways to go, and that’s probably more late December if it’s going to happen.”
Last year, Houston was a large part of the team’s late defensive success. After being promoted from the practice squad in late November, he finished the 2022 season with 8.0 sacks in just seven game appearances—several with just a handful of snaps.
Houston had to work his way back up the depth chart this season, and he wasn’t getting a ton of playing time early in the season. However, the Lions have since struggled to find a consistent pass rusher opposite Aidan Hutchinson during the season. Charles Harris, the starter at the beginning of the season, was relegated to just three defensive snaps this past Sunday. Players like Julian Okwara, Romeo Okwara, Jack Campbell, and Derrick Barnes have all tried their hand at the edge position, but to little avail.
In other words, getting Houston back could be a pretty big deal for a team that has produced just 25 sacks on the season (27th) and only 14 turnovers (t-23rd).
“I feel like I’m a game-changer,” he said per MLive. “I make some very explosive plays, and I feel like that’s what the team needs. They need turnovers, they need explosive plays to swing that momentum in our favor, and I feel like that’s something I’m really good at.”
That said, Houston will likely have to split playing time with veteran Bruce Irvin, whom the Lions signed a few weeks ago. Irvin had a solid debut with Detroit last week against the Saints, and Campbell suggested his role could increase.