Rookie defensive end Austin Bryant admittedly was a bit rusty Wednesday in his return to the practice field for the first time since injuring his pectoral muscle the first week of training camp.
Bryant was placed on injured reserve to start the season. With his return to practice Wednesday, the Lions now have 21 days to evaluate him during practice and decide if they want to activate him to the 53-man roster or keep him on IR the rest of the season. He can be activated and play in a game any time the Lions deem him ready.
“It felt great to get back out there,” Bryant said in the locker room after practice. “It’s been a long process, but finally got a chance to strap it up again.”
Bryant (6-6, 261) was Detroit’s fourth-round pick in this year’s draft. He had 30 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks combined his last two seasons playing on a talented Clemson front four that had three players drafted in the first round and Bryant going in round four.
View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019.
“I would say for us right now just taking it day by day with him would be getting him out and putting him in some situations where communication, alignment, stance – trying to be consistent with some of the technique work,” Lions head coach Matt Patricia said. “We still have to, really, reteach and relearn and put him in a lot of different scenarios to get caught up.”
If and when Bryant is able to return to action, he should provide some depth and pass rush ability on the edge upfront for Detroit. He could provide some versatility, too. He can play inside and outside upfront, and was working with the linebackers during individual drills Wednesday.
Bryant, who played through a pectoral injury his senior season at Clemson, has certainly been unlucky on the injury front over the last year, but says he’s using it as motivation to come back and make an immediate impact if given the OK.
“It’s been tough,” he said. “Especially the whole draft process. Couldn’t do anything. When I got here I couldn’t do anything. To finally get cleared and to have another little mishap to prolong it even more was tough.
“But I just had to be patient. I don’t think I’ll forget this experience that I’ve had. God willing everything goes smooth in the future, but I’ll never forget having to be patient. You come in as a rookie and you want to play right away. To have to sit back and wait, I think it’s kind of helped me more than anything. I’ve got fresh legs.”
THIRD DOWN SUCCESS
Quarterback Matthew Stafford is having a terrific season thus far. He’s seventh in the NFL with a passer rating of 105.3 and his 16 touchdown passes trails only Russell Wilson (17).
But Stafford’s been particularly good on third down, and that’s been especially important for a Lions' offense that’s struggled to the run the ball with any real consistency this season.
Detroit ranks in the top half of the NFL in third-down efficiency (40.8 percent), but Stafford is among one of the best third-down quarterbacks in the league so far this year.
His rating shoots up to 118.2 on third down. He’s completing better than 64 percent of his passes on third down and he has six touchdown passes and no interceptions. Only Derek Carr (139.6) and Patrick Mahomes (135.3) have a higher passer rating on third down than Stafford this season.
“I think it takes the guys up front, doing their job and keeping me upright, the running backs protecting, and guys on the outside running and catching the ball,” Stafford said of his play on third down this year. “It’s a total team effort on third down and I’m just kind of the byproduct of it.”
In a time when it seems like booting a kickoff through the end zone and not risking a long return is the norm in the NFL, Patricia and the Lions have elected to go another route.
The Lions are opting to kick it short and cover the return 75 percent of the time, by far the highest percentage in the league. San Francisco is next at 57 percent. The Lions and 49ers are the only teams in the league opting to kick and let opponents return more than 50 percent of the time.
Opponent average starting position following kickoffs is the 23.0-yard line, which ranks the fourth best in the NFL.
TOUGH TASK AHEAD
The Lions play in Oakland Sunday and their defense will have a unique challenge trying to pressure Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who has been sacked just eight times all year.
Oakland hasn’t allowed a sack in three straight games, and is the only team in the NFL to have four games this year in which they haven’t allowed a sack. Only Pittsburgh (7) has allowed fewer sacks than Oakland.
Detroit’s defense ranks 25th in the league with 13 sacks on the year.