If the Detroit Lions are going to win their third straight and improve to 4-1 on the season, they're going to have to do it without some key contributors on both sides of the football as they host the Carolina Panthers at Ford Field Sunday.
Veteran wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown is inactive and won't play after dealing with an abdomen injury that kept him out of practice all week. St. Brown leads the Lions in targets (35), receptions (26), receiving yards (331) and is tied for the team lead in touchdown receptions with two. Detroit's offense will need a complete team effort to replace St. Brown's production.
The Lions will also be without rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs, who injured a hamstring at practice Friday. Gibbs has been a big part of the passing game early in the season with 14 receptions and is averaging 4.6 yards per carry. David Montgomery will handle the load in the backfield for Detroit, with Craig Reynolds and Zonovan Knight in reserve. Knight was a very capable pass catcher for the New York Jets last season.
The good news on offense for Detroit is second-year wide receiver Jameson Williams will make his 2023 debut after having his gambling suspension reduced from six to four games. Williams brings a speed and explosive element to a Lions' offense that faces a pretty good Panthers' pass defense Sunday that ranks sixth in the NFL allowing just 176.8 yards per game through the air. Detroit also elevated practice squad wide receiver Dylan Drummond for today's game and he could see some reps in the slot along with Kalif Raymond.
The Lions also get back starting right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who has missed the last two games with a knee injury. Detroit's expected to have their top five offensive linemen start together for just the second time this season and not since Week 1 in Kansas City.
Defensively, Detroit will be without rookie nickel cornerback Brian Branch, who's been dealing with an ankle injury suffered last Thursday in Green Bay. Branch sat out practice all week. He's been one of Detroit's best defenders early in the season with 25 tackles, three tackles for loss, four passes defended and an interception. Veteran Will Harris is expected to step into the nickel role in place of Branch today. Harris has 38 starts to his credit over his five NFL seasons.
"Will's somebody we've got a lot of trust in," Lions head coach Dan Campbell said this week. "He's banked a lot of nickel reps and there again, Will not only to be able to play nickel, but also outside corner, safety in a pinch, he's just got so much versatility for us. So, that's good."
View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Thursday, October 5, 2023.
Campbell said the hope is to get Branch back for next week's game in Tampa Bay. Safety Kerby Joseph, who has missed the last two games with a hip injury suffered Week 2 vs. Seattle, is active today. Joseph led the Lions with four interceptions last season.
Veteran cornerback Emmanuel Moseley is also making his Lions debut today. He was a big free-agent signing but has been working his way back from a torn ACL suffered last season in San Francisco and a hamstring injury he's been dealing with for a couple weeks now. He's expected to work into the mix on the outside. Edge rusher Julian Okwara is also making his season debut after coming off injured reserve this week.
Joining St. Brown, Branch and Gibbs on Detroit's inactive list today are tight end James Mitchell, defensive lineman Levi Onwuzurike and defensive lineman Brodric Martin.