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NOTEBOOK: Lions activate edge rusher James Houston from IR

The Detroit Lions' pass rush is getting an infusion of young talent late in the year.

The team elevated James Houston to the active roster from injured reserve Thursday after opening his practice window three weeks ago. Houston has been on IR since breaking his ankle Week 2 in a loss to Seattle.

"Every time I go on the field, I want to do my job. I'm a playmaker at heart," Houston said in the locker room Thursday. "I want to be able to affect the game in any way that I can and be able to change the game."

Houston said this is what he envisioned after being hurt Week 2, being able to come back late in the season and make an impact in a big game.

The Lions waived linebacker Julian Okwara to make room for Houston on the roster.

Houston's return could help a Lions' defense that has struggled to generate consistent pressure with its four-man pass rush at times this season.

Defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson has been terrific all season and we've seen his sack numbers (7.0) and quarterback hits (15) spike over the last three games. The Lions are hoping Houston can give them something on the other side they haven't had consistently all year.

"It feels like we're really getting the pieces coming together right now," Hutchinson said of Houston's return. "It's very exciting. I can't wait for James to get back. I know he's kind of getting his feet (under him). I don't know how much he's going to play but it's going to be good to get him back."

Houston, a sixth-round pick by the Lions in last year's NFL Draft, had eight sacks in seven games as a rookie after opening the season on the practice squad. He is one of the Lions' most naturally gifted pass rushers with elite burst and bend coming off the edge. How quickly Houston can knock off the rust and adjust to game speed will ultimately determine how often he sees the field.

"Whenever you're coming off an injury, any player, it's just a matter of how fast you can get your confidence back in your own abilities, your body," Lions head coach Dan Campbell said last week. "You're rusty. It takes a minute to get used to what it is, cause it's not going to feel like it did before, it just never does. So, a lot of that will be just time on task, getting out there moving, running and see how far he can come."


Rookie tight end Sam LaPorta ended up playing 45 snaps (80 percent of the offensive snaps) last week in the win over the Rams, despite hyperextending his knee the week prior.

"That almost might be 45 more snaps than I thought this time last week we would get," Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said Thursday. "So, I tell you, man, the kid just continues to impress. It's one way or another. It's what he does on the field.

"And listen, I know he only had the three catches for limited amount of yards, but the touchdown speaks for itself. The third-and-21 that he did everything he needed to do just to get us a little bit closer to kick the field goal. And then what he does in the run game goes unappreciated by most. So, the guy – I mean it's incredible for a rookie. It really is."

LaPorta has 86 receptions for 889 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season and counting.

LaPorta was listed as a limited participant in Thursday's practice. We'll have to monitor that Friday.


Third-down defense and red-zone efficiency have been two big areas of emphasis for Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn over the second half of the season. Over the last month in particular, including Sunday's win over the Rams, Detroit has been pretty darn good in those areas.

"That's something that we've talked about for the past couple of weeks and if you look at our numbers, that's where we've improved for the most part because once you get into this situation and you're going into playoffs and you're trying to get to the Bowl, those two situations are vital for a defensive team to be at their best," Glenn said.

"And we've been pretty good on third down, we've been pretty good in the red zone. Now, it wasn't our deal during the season, and we understand that, but we emphasize that. And our guys are doing a good job right now."

Over the last five weeks opponents have been just 20-for-58 on third down (34 percent) and 5-for-12 (41 percent) in the red zone.

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