Despite returning to practice late last week, Detroit Lions edge rusher James Houston will not make his return this Sunday for the team’s regular season finale, according to coach Dan Campbell.
Houston suffered a fractured ankle in Week 2 and has been on injured reserve since. Houston has recently been optimistic about making a big impact for the team late in the season, but Campbell indicated he still has a ways to go.
“He did more this week than he did last week, but he’s still a ways out,” Campbell said on Friday.
That would leave Houston to potentially return during the playoffs—a daunting task for a young player with only nine games of experience in the NFL. Houston hasn’t played in four months, and he only has four practices under his belt since he returned.
And according to Campbell, it’s no guarantee Houston returns for the Lions’ Wild Card playoff game next week.
“It’s a lot to ask,” Campbell said. “Not that it can’t happen, because I know this, he looked a lot better this week than last week or when we got him up.
“And so, whenever you’re coming off an injury, any player, it’s just a matter of how fast you can get your confidence back and your own abilities, your body. You’re rusty. It takes a minute to get used to what it is because it’s not going to feel like it did before, it just never does. So, a lot of that’ll be just time-on-task. Him out there moving, running, and see how far he can come.”
If healthy and effective, Houston would undoubtedly be a boost to a Lions defense that regularly struggles to generate pass rush with a four-man rush. Last year, Houston was a big part of the defense’s second-half turnaround, sacking the quarterback eight times in the final seven games of the season. He believes he can provide that kind of spark again this year.
“I feel like I’m a game-changer,” Houston said in early December. “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.”
But first things first, Houston has to get comfortable in his own game and make sure he’s at a level where he’ll hit the ground running on game day.
“We’re just making sure we’re checking off all the necessary boxes to make sure when I do get back out there I can actually contribute and not just be out there,” Houston said.