The preseason is in the books and the Lions front office and coaching staff now has the unenviable task of telling 22 players their dream of playing football for the Detroit Lions this year is over.
The Lions, along with the other 31 teams in the league, are required to have their roster down from 75 players to 53 by 6 p.m. Saturday.
Unlike years past, when the next 36 hours would have been little more than a forgone conclusion on which names were on the cut list, the Lions have a number of difficult decisions to make. There are players who'll be cut from this roster who will help other teams this year.
“You want to try and get the best 53, but you also need to balance out your roster and have enough guys that can cover kicks, return kicks, play in different packages and different things like,” head coach Jim Schwartz said.
“When it comes to those final spots, it’ll be very important.”
So, who helped themselves in Thursday’s, 35-13, win in Buffalo?
MATT WILLIS, WR
Matt Willis showed Thursday night that he could do a little bit of everything. He got open as a receiver. He made tough catches. He played well on special teams. He blocked downfield.
The Lions have a tough decision to make when it comes to the fifth receiver spot – if they keep five receivers – with
Willis was the team’s second-leading receiver this preseason behind
We’ll find out if the Lions do keep five receivers or potentially keep four tight ends and four receivers with rookie tight end
STEVEN MILLER, RB
The Lions have liked Miller ever since they went to his workout at Appalachian State and saw that top-end speed on display.
The biggest thing Miller had to prove over the preseason is that he could field punts and kicks. He never really returned punts in college and the Lions needed to know he could be trusted back there. He proved that over the preseason.
He had a nice 34-yard kickoff return to start the game. He also had a 34-yard run as a running back later in the game. He averaged 6.0 yards per carry in Buffalo.
Miller did fair catch a punt return that he probably shouldn’t have. From the press box vantage point, the play looked like it was set up for a big return.
“Coach just told me to get out there and run so I was running all over the field today,” Miller said after the game. “I’m just thankful for the opportunity, it didn’t matter where they put me I just wanted to go out there and make some type of play.”
THEO RIDDICK, RB
Schwartz talks all the time about how much he likes versatile players. In a passing offense like the one the Lions feature, running backs like Bush and
Riddick is a former receiver from Notre Dame and understands the passing game very well as a running back. He had to touchdown catches from
“He’s a guy that played a lot of wide receiver at Notre Dame, so you expect him to be good in the passing game,” Schwartz said of the team’s six-round pick in April.
“I thought he’s had a good camp and he’s played well in the preseason games. He’s run the ball inside. He’s run the ball outside. He’s been valuable in the pass game. He’s been good.”
Riddick scored three touchdowns -- two receiving and one rushing -- in four preseason games.
He, along with Miller, is very much in the mix for that No. 5 running back spot.
Riddick is probably a more complete running back at this point and can return kicks if needed.
DIDN’T HELP THEMSELVES
CHRIS GREENWOOD, CB
By no fault of his own, Greenwood hasn’t been able to show coaches and front office personnel a whole lot his first two seasons because of injury.
It's that availability vs. ability argument.
The talented former fifth-round pick out of Albion only made his preseason debut last week.
Greenwood was available Thursday and played 23 snaps on defense and 11 on special teams.
Unfortunately, he was beat on the only Bills touchdown of the night – a 79-yard touchdown pass from Thaddeus Lewis to Marcus Easley. Greenwood was simply outrun on the play.
He was also beat earlier in the game, but the ball was overthrown to the intended receiver.
Greenwood did do a couple of good things in the game, but how much of that was overshadowed by the big play he gave up?
MIKEL LESHOURE, RB
Leshoure has had a solid preseason, averaging 4.2 yards per carry, but the Lions were hoping the explosive plays that were missing from his game a season ago would be showcased in the preseason.
That didn’t happen. Leshoure’s longest run was 14 yards.
He still has a role on this team as a power back – he had nine touchdowns last season – but it appears Bell is the bigger threat to break a big play in both the running and passing game.
That means he’ll probably take some carries away from Leshoure this season.
BRANDON HEPBURN, LB
Hepburn is a young linebacker the Lions selected in the seventh round of the draft in hopes that he could develop into a role on defense.
The rookie had one more shot to make a good showing in Buffalo and finished with just one tackle.
In the final preseason game, coaches and front office staff wanted to see effort, execution and young players showing something. They wanted some young players to stick out.
Hepburn didn’t do that in 16 defensive snaps and 18 special teams plays and he looks to be on the outside looking in at linebacker.