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What Detroit Lions snap counts vs. Giants tells us about positional battles

A closer look at the Detroit Lions’ snap counts against the Giants in the preseason opener and what it means for the team’s roster battles and 53-man roster.

New York Giants v Detroit Lions Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

The way the Detroit Lions used their personnel during the preseason opener against the New York Giants can be very telling as to where the roster currently stands. Starters were rested, and young players got a lot of playing time, but the amount of playing time—and when they came into the game—typically indicates what the coaching staff currently thinks of each player.

So let’s break down the snap counts from Friday night’s game and see what we can deduce from the performances.

Offense

Quarterbacks

Nate Sudfeld: 51 snaps (71% of snaps)
Adrian Martinez: 21 (29%)
Jared Goff: Did not play (DNP)
Teddy Bridgewater: DNP

Sudfeld essentially got three quarters of play on Friday, and while you may think Martinez outplayed him and could take over the QB3 battle behind Bridgewater, coach Dan Campbell thoroughly squashed that. Here’s what he said about working Bridgewater into the QB rotation next week.

“The plan right now would be Martinez is going to get a little bit less because Teddy needs to start getting some, so you’re looking at Nate and Teddy right now. Adrian is the one who’s probably going to have to take a little bit of a backseat and not get as many reps.”

The competition in the QB room is Sudfeld vs. a roster spot, not Sudfeld vs. Martinez for QB3 (at least for now).

Running backs

Devine Ozigbo: 27 (38%)
Benny Snell: 21 (29%)
Jahmyr Gibbs: 18 (25%)
Mohamed Ibrahim 6 (8%)
Jermar Jefferson: DNP
Craig Reynolds: DNP
David Montgomery: DNP

The Lions are a little beat up at running back, and unfortunately, that included the primary depth on the team. This could have been a huge opportunity for both Jermar Jefferson and Mohamed Ibrahim to make a case for the RB3 or RB4 spot, but Jefferson was scratched and Ibrahim suffered a leg injury that limited his playing time significantly.

That said, the Lions got a good look at rookie Jahmyr Gibbs’ potential with about a quarter of play. And new additions Devine Ozigbo and Benny Snell made cases for roster spots late.

Tight ends

James Mitchell: 34 (47%) — 6 special teams snaps (24%)
Daniel Helm: 33 (46%) — 11 (44%)
Sam LaPorta: 16 (22%)
Brock Wright: 9 (12%) — 3 (12%)
Darrell Daniels: DNP

The Lions got a long look at Mitchell, which is not surprising considering how much time on task he needs now that he’s nearly two full years removed from his ACL tear. He responded well with three catches for 53 yards, including a nice 32-yard catch-and-run.

Elsewhere, the Lions got a somewhat brief look at rookie Sam LaPorta, while newly-added Daniel Helm held down things for most of the second half.

Also, Brock Wright’s nine snaps are probably a very good sign he’s a roster lock at this point (if there was any question about that).

Wide receivers

Jameson Williams: 51 (71%)
Chase Cota: 42 (58%) — 9 (36%)
Dylan Drummond: 35 (49%) — 6 (24%)
Antoine Green: 28 (39%) — 13 (52%)
Trey Quinn: 17 (24%) — 9 (36%)
Maurice Alexander: 10 (14%) — 9 (36%)
Kalif Raymond: DNP
Josh Reynolds: DNP
Amon-Ra St. Brown: DNP
Marvin Jones Jr.: DNP
Denzel Mims: DNP
Trinity Benson: DNP

As promised, Jameson Williams played for nearly three full quarters, and while he only caught two of seven targets (plus a two-point conversion), Campbell came away overall optimistic about his performance.

“I just wanted (him) to get lined up (with) urgency, route definition, detail, finish. And I thought for the most part he did that, and there again I got to watch the tape, but he was in it and I thought he cut it loose and look, it’s not perfect, but not everybody’s perfect out there either. We got so much to clean up across the board, but I was more positive with the way that he showed up. I thought he did some really good things.”

Elsewhere, Chase Cota made the most of his time on the field, catching four passes for 60 yards. Both rookies Dylan Drummond and Antoine Green also made the most of their ample time on the field—and Green’s 13 special teams snaps should provide Detroit with a good assessment of his value in that aspect of the game.

Speaking of special teams, Maurice Alexander’s punt return was the highlight of the day, but he only played 10 offensive snaps. He may need to show value elsewhere because the Lions already have their punt returner in Kalif Raymond.

Meanwhile, Mims and Benson continue to fall behind because of injury.

Offensive tackles

Matt Nelson: 51 (71%) — 3 (12%)
Germain Ifedi: 51 (71%) — 3 (12%)
Connor Galvin: 19 (26%)
Obinna Eze: 19 (26%)
Max Pircher: 2 (3%)
Ryan Swoboda: 2 (3%)
Taylor Decker: DNP
Penei Sewell: DNP

Nelson at left tackle and Ifedi at right tackle was the lineup through the first three quarters, but it was a rough day for Nelson. Galvin and Eze were the backups and provided a little more steady play—albeit against worse Giants players.

Unfortunately for Pircher and Swoboda, they only got time in the game to watch Martinez take knees to close out the contest.

Guards/centers

Brad Cecil: 63 (88%) — 3 (12%)
Colby Sorsdal: 37 (51%) — 2 (8%)
Darrin Paulo: 37 (51%) — 3 (12%)
Kayode Awosika: 35 (49%) — 3 (12%)
Bobby Hart: 35 (49%) — 3 (12%)
Ross Pierschbacher: 9 (12%)
Graham Glasgow: DNP
Halapoulivaati Vaitai: DNP
Jonah Jackson: DNP
Frank Ragnow: DNP

After Pierschbacher suffered an early injury, it was Brad Cecil who took over center for the rest of the game. It was a good opportunity to make his case among an offensive line that has struggled to display its depth in training camp.

The “starters” at guard were Paulo (left) and Sorsdal (right), which is probably a good indication of where the depth chart stands right now. That means Awosika has some work to do after getting some first-team reps as a Jonah Jackson replacement earlier in the week during practices.

Defense

EDGE:

Romeo Okwara: 44 (75%)
Julian Okwara: 30 (51%) — 10 (40%)
James Houston: 23 (39%) — 10 (40%)
John Cominsky: 12 (20%) — 2 (7%)
Josh Paschal: 12 (20%)
Charles Harris: DNP
Aidan Hutchinson: DNP

Many were surprised to see Romeo Okwara out there at the end of the game, but it speaks to the Lions’ talent of depth at the position. Also, looking at the roster, there weren’t a lot of other options to throw out there. Cominsky is a roster lock and both Charles Harris and Aidan Hutchinson had the night off. It’s a little surprising to see such a low snap count for second-year Josh Paschal, but he also plays many of his snaps on the interior—where there are far more bodies on the roster.

Julian Okwara and James Houston may be battling for one of the final roster spots, and Julian made quite the impression with a three-sack performance. He’s got to still be considered the underdog in this equation—and Houston had a few nice plays despite being kept off the box score—but it’s also interesting to see both of them get 10 special teams snaps. That could be a key to this positional battle.

DT:

Benito Jones 24 (41%) — 4 (16%)
Levi Onwuzurike: 22 (37%)
Chris Smith: 22 (37%)
Brodric Martin: 21 (36%)
Christian Covington: 14 (24%)
Cory Durden: 13 (22%) — 4 (16%)
Isaiah Buggs: 11 (19%)
Alim McNeill: DNP

The Lions got a pretty even mix of players at the defensive tackle position, and only Alim McNeill got the night off. It’s obviously good to see Levi Onwuzurike take on a significant load of snaps given the nature of his back injury history, but he was repping very late in the game, signifying he still has a long way to earn his roster spot.

Brodric Martin saw just over a third of the game in his NFL debut, while veteran Christian Covington saw under a quarter—likely because Detroit has a pretty good idea of who they have in him.

Linebackers

Jack Campbell: 25 (42%) — 1 (4%)
Anthony Pittman: 24 (41%) — 7 (28%)
Jalen Reeves-Maybin: 21 (36%) — 7 (28%)
Malcolm Rodriguez: 18 (31%) — 3 (12%)
Trevor Nowaske: 15 (25%) — 3 (12%)
Derrick Barnes: 15 (25%) — 3 (12%)
Alex Anzalone: DNP

It was Derrick Barnes who got the start at MIKE linebacker next to Malcolm Rodriguez, which is not a surprise considering Barnes started during joint practices. Still, the Lions got plenty of looks from first-round rookie Jack Campbell, who played into the third quarter. Campbell looked solid in the run game and tallied a pass breakup, too.

Meanwhile, Pittman and Reeves-Maybin held down the fort for most of the second half, with Trevor Nowaske getting some play late in the game.

Cornerbacks

Starling Thomas V: 32 (54%) — 12 (48%)
Khalil Dorsey: 27 (46%) — 10 (40%)
Chase Lucas: 26 (44%) — 12 (48%)
Steven Gilmore: 22 (37%) — 8 (32%)
Will Harris: 22 (37%) — 3 (12%)
Tae Hayes: 20 (34%) — 8 (32%)
Brian Branch: 16 (27%) — 1 (4%)
Cam Sutton: DNP
Emmanuel Moseley: DNP
Jerry Jacobs: DNP

As it’s been for most of camp, Starling Thomas and Will Harris were the “starting” outside corners with the true starters scratched for the game. Thomas got a little extra time with the next group, seeing as he’s a rookie.

Brian Branch didn’t get a ton of work as the starting nickel, and that’s likely because he’s headed for a serious role when the regular season rolls around. That left Chase Lucas—one of the team’s most versatile defensive backs—with a ton of opportunities to play. Per PFF, he played exclusively at nickel in this game.

Amongst the depth, Khalil Dorsey manned an outside role for nearly half the game, while Steven Gilmore and Tae Hayes split time in the second half.

Safety

Saivion Smith: 32 (54%) — 19 (76%)
Ifeatu Melifonwu: 32 (54%) — 9 (36%)
Brady Breeze: 27 (46%) — 10 (40%)
Brandon Joseph: 27 (46%) — 7 (28%)
Tracy Walker: DNP
Kerby Joseph: DNP
C.J. Gardner-Johnson: DNP

Pretty clear split here. Saivion Smith and Ifeatu Melifonwu were the starters in the first half. Brady Breeze and Brandon Joseph took over in the second half. That’s a pretty good indication of where the depth chart lies right now.

But with maybe only one roster spot for those four players, it’s worth noting how much of a special teams role Smith played (76%) vs. Melifonwu (36%). If the Lions deem their defensive skills comparable, Smith could get the edge over Detroit’s former third-round pick.

Special teams

Jack Fox: 8 (24%)
Scott Daly: 6 (24%)
Parker Romo: 6 (24%)
Riley Patterson: 2 (8%)

After Romo missed a joint practice for the birth of his child, it’s no surprise to see him get the majority of reps during the preseason opener. Here’s the breakdown of each kicker’s work on Friday:

Riley Patterson:

  • 1 kickoff (landed at Giants’ 1-yard line)
  • 1 field goal (39-yarder, good)

Parker Romo

  • 4 kickoffs (1 went out of bounds by technicality, 1 landed 2 yards inside the end zone, 1 landed at the Giants 1-yard line, 1 landed at the Giants 7-yard line)
  • 1 field goal (28-yarder, good)
  • 1 extra point

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