The Notebook

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NOTEBOOK: Rookies ready for bigger roles after recent roster moves

The Detroit Lions made two moves Tuesday that now puts the spotlight on a couple of their rookies.

The team placed starting running back Kerryon Johnson on IR after he had surgery Tuesday morning to repair the right knee he injured Sunday vs. Minnesota.

That puts Johnson out for at least eight games, which means rookie sixth-round pick Ty Johnson could see more of the workload in the running game starting Sunday vs. the Giants at Ford Field.

“If they call my number then I’m ready to go,” Ty Johnson said Wednesday. “It could be anyone in the running back room. We have a lot of talented guys in there. It’s just one of those things, whoever’s number is called we have to be ready to go.”

Ty Johnson is second on the team with 23 carries in six games and has 83 rushing yards (3.6 average). He’s also caught eight passes for 35 yards.

The Lions also have J.D. McKissic, Tra Carson and Paul Perkins on the roster at running back.

The second Lions move Tuesday was trading safety Quandre Diggs and a 2021 seventh-round pick to Seattle for a fifth-round pick in next year’s draft.

That move likely means we’ll be seeing more of third-round pick Will Harris moving forward.

Harris has seen his defensive reps steadily increase this season as he’s played in just about 37 percent of Detroit’s defensive snaps. His season high was playing 51 of a possible 68 snaps in place of Diggs Week 4 vs. Kansas City when Diggs left the game with a hamstring injury. The two games Harris played the most in this year were against Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers, and the rookie held his own.

Harris has 10 tackles in six games played, and could see a significant uptick in snaps playing in place of Diggs.

The Lions also have Tracy Walker, Tavon Wilson, C.J. Moore and Miles Killebrew (hybrid linebacker/safety) on the roster at safety.

“Will obviously played a lot of football for us here through Kansas City and Green Bay, and those are two really, really difficult quarterbacks to play against,” head coach Matt Patricia said. “I think he did a really job of understanding the roles that we needed him, and how we needed him to play.

“I think he has a skill set that we haven’t really tapped into yet, too. There are some other things that I think he can do to help us, and we’ll see if given that opportunity if he can perform at a high level with that, too. He’s an instinctual player, especially when he’s down close to the line of scrimmage, so we’ll see if he has any opportunity to show us that also.”

Harris said Wednesday he’s grown a lot through the first six weeks of the season, and if his number is called to play more in place of Diggs, he’ll be ready.

DIGGS TRADE EXPLAINED

Patricia’s Wednesday press conference was his first since the Diggs trade. Here’s what he said about the move:

“Certainly, those decisions are very difficult. They’re not taken lightly. There are certainly things that we try to do to help the team get better in the long run for us, and certainly in a situation where we think moving forward, hopefully, we have some players that can still help us, even if we do make a move like we did yesterday.

“Those other guys are going to have to step up. They’re going to have to go play and try to do everything they can to help us win, but the team has to push forward and get ready for the Giants. Certainly, Diggs has been a part of our team for a while and (he’s) a great person and all of that, and I wish him the best of luck. In the end, (we’re) just trying to do everything we can to help our team going forward. That’s really kind of the bottom line.”

Diggs’ play on the field had declined early on this year from what we saw last year. He’s currently graded 56th among all players at the safety position by Pro Football Focus.

ALL HANDS ON DECK

The Lions host the New York Giants Sunday at Ford Field, and while the Giants are 2-5 on the year and starting a rookie quarterback, Patricia said there’s a little bit of unknown about the Giants from an offensive perspective because Sunday will be the first time New York will have their full set of skill players healthy.

Sunday is expected to be the first time quarterback Daniel Jones, running back Saquon Barkley, tight end Evan Engram, outside receiver Sterling Shepard and slot receiver Golden Tate are all active and playing together.

“We’re not going to have a chance to see it on film before we prepare,” Patricia said. “We’re going to have to react to it when it happens on the field because they haven’t even seen (all of them together) yet on game day. We get to deal with it first.”

Meet this week's opponents, the New York Giants.

KILLEBREW OPPORTUNITY?

In describing his current depth at safety following the Diggs trade, Patricia mentioned Walker, Wilson, Harris and Moore, but he also brought up former safety turned linebacker Miles Killebrew.

“(Miles) Killebrew would be another one,” Patricia said. “With those guys, they’ll continually push to get better, and they understand that maybe they have to take on maybe a little bit more work load or job responsibility.”

Killebrew was drafted as a safety and played there on defense his first two years, maxing out in 2017 playing 32.4 percent of the snaps on defense.

However, Killebrew played zero snaps on defense last year and was moved to linebacker. He hasn’t played any snaps this year on defense, either, though he’s been a key special teams player.

“I have a lot of confidence in Miles,” Patricia said. “I thought he did a really good job in training camp and I honestly think he did a really good job in preseason. He showed up a lot for us and he is certainly someone that is doing a lot of us currently on gameday on special teams.

“We’ve just been very fortunate that we’ve had some depth at some of those safety, linebacker positions in some of those packages. So far, we’ve had some guys out there playing and he hasn’t had a lot of time on defense. But he is a guy that I do have high confidence in if he has to go out and play a role, that he’ll do it at a high level.”

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