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Detroit Lions roster bubble watch: Injuries complicate secondary decisions

With a couple of new injuries, the Detroit Lions secondary roster predictions just got a lot more difficult.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

While the Detroit Lions offense struggled against the Jacksonville Jaguars in the team’s second preseason game, there were a decent amount of plays being made on the other side of the ball. In total, the Lions defense racked up seven tackles for loss, four passes defended, two sacks and an interception.

Several Lions defenders let their presence be known, others faded into the background, and, unfortunately, a couple likely saw their roster chances decline because of an on-field injury.

Let’s revisit the Lions’ roster bubble on defense and predict the fates of the those players.

Detroit Lions Bubble Watch, Week 4: Defense

Player Jeremy Reisman Erik Schlitt Ryan Mathews Hamza Alex Reno John Whiticar Morgan Cannon TOTAL CHANGE
Player Jeremy Reisman Erik Schlitt Ryan Mathews Hamza Alex Reno John Whiticar Morgan Cannon TOTAL CHANGE
EDGE James Houston IN IN IN IN IN IN IN 7 0
EDGE Romeo Okwara IN IN IN IN IN IN IN 7 0
DT Levi Onwuzurike IN IN IN IN IN IN IN 7 0
DT Christian Covington OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT 0 0
LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin IN IN IN IN IN IN IN 7 0
LB Anthony Pittman OUT IN IN OUT IN IN IN 5 +1
CB Starling Thomas V IN IN IN IN IN IN IN 7 0
CB Steven Gilmore IN OUT IN OUT OUT IN IN 4 +4
S Saivion Smith OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT IN OUT 1 -4
S Ifeatu Melifonwu IN IN IN IN IN OUT IN 6 +2
S Brady Breeze OUT OUT OUT OUT IN IN OUT 2 0
S Brandon Joseph OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT 0 0
K Riley Patterson IN IN IN IN OUT IN IN 6 0

Edge defenders

  • James Houston: 7 “IN” votes (no change)
  • Romeo Okwara: 7 votes (no change)
  • Julian Okwara: 1 vote (no change)

Okay, I lied. Technically, James Houston is still on Bubble Watch, but after another strong preseason performance, he’s made more than enough of a case to convince Detroit to keep him around. He probably doesn’t belong on this list any longer.

Unfortunately for Julian Okwara, it wasn’t nearly as memorable of a performance as his preseason opener. Although, it’s worth noting he did notch a sack that was erased by a penalty.

Defensive tackle

  • Levi Onwuzurike: 7 votes (no change)
  • Benito Jones: 1 votes (up 1)
  • Christian Covington: 0 votes (no change)

Like Julian Okwara, it was a bit of a letdown game for Levi Onwuzurike on Saturday after a strong showing vs. the Giants. That said, he’s still healthy and that likely matters most.

I opted to put Benito Jones in after back-to-back strong showings in the preseason. Plus, he should serve as decent insurance options for both Onwuzurike and rookie Brodric Martin—whose development still has a long ways to go.


  • Jalen Reeves-Maybin: 7 votes (no change)
  • Anthony Pittman: 5 votes (up 1)

Dan Campbell expressed confidence in both of these players after Saturday’s preseason game.

“I feel like (Jalen Reeves-Maybin) Germ, we know exactly what he is and what he brings to the table. I feel like Pittman is doing a really good job, and now is getting better.”

But add these two to the four linebackers who are presumed in (Jack Campbell, Alex Anzalone, Derrick Barnes, Malcolm Rodriguez) and you’re at six. That may be a little much with some of the injuries already incurred in the secondary, but it’s hard to justify cutting either of these players with the amount they contribute on special teams.


  • Starling Thomas V: 7 votes (no change)
  • Steven Gilmore: 4 votes (up 4)
  • Chase Lucas: 1 votes (down 2)

Now that Starling Thomas has added kick returner to his resume, he’s about as close to a lock as an undrafted rookie can be. But he’s not the only undrafted rookie defensive back starting to make waves. After notching an interception and a pass breakup against the Jaguars, Steven Gilmore is now in on the majority of our roster predictions.

That comes at the expense of Chase Lucas, who has struggled defensively in the preseason. There’s also some extra roster room, because of the next position.


  • Ifeatu Melifonwu: 6 votes (up 2)
  • Saivion Smith: 1 votes (down 4)
  • Brandon Joseph: 0 votes (no change)

It is near impossible to predict the Lions’ safety depth right now after both Ifeatu Melifonwu and Saivion Smith left Saturday’s game and did not return. Campbell didn’t offer much reassurance about either’s condition after the game.

“We’ll know more tomorrow, but I think they could be down a little bit here,” Campbell said. “I don’t know how long that is, but I think it could be a long shot for Carolina.”

Melifonwu has had a long injury history in his short NFL career. So the Lions may no longer trust him. That said, he had been making a lot of strides on defense and special teams, so perhaps the Lions are willing to be patient.


  • Riley Patterson: 6 votes (no change)
  • Parker Romo: 1 vote (no change)

No changes in the kicker department, which makes sense given we didn’t get a whole lot more information on the battle last week. That said, Patterson handled both kickoffs and the extra point on Saturday, which feels telling about the standings of both kickers.

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