'Critical' week for these 5 players on Detroit Lions' roster bubble

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press
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Meaningless football hits its pinnacle this week in Game 4 of the preseason, when starters across the NFL sit en masse and everyone’s attention already has turned to the regular season.

But while there’s little interest in Thursday’s slate of games, there is plenty on the line.

Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia said practices Monday and Tuesday and Thursday’s preseason finale against the Cleveland Browns are “critical” when it comes to evaluating who will and won’t make the 53-man roster.

“I think there’s a lot of examples through the years of guys that have come out and really played outstanding in preseason game No. 4 and practiced really hard in preseason week No. 4 and have earned themselves opportunities on the team,” Patricia said in a conference call Saturday. “It’s still competition. It’s still competition all the way across the board, through the course of the week of practice. We’re still trying to figure out players, we’re still trying to figure out positions, we’re still in a competitive mode, and that’s what’s important for us.”

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NFL teams have until 4 p.m. Saturday to trim their 90-man rosters to 53. Here are five players on the roster bubble who could benefit from a strong showing this week:

WR Travis Fulgham

Lions cornerback Andre Cachere defends receiver Travis Fulgham during practice Aug. 4.

A sixth-round pick out of Old Dominion, Fulgham has done some good things in training camp but has been far too inconsistent to get off the roster bubble. In last week’s preseason loss to the Buffalo Bills, he caught one pass for 15 yards and promptly fumbled the ball away.

Fulgham’s status as a draft pick should help his chances of making the team. Lions general manager Bob Quinn has waived three of his 25 draft picks from 2016-18 before Week 1 of their rookie season. But with some 1,100 NFL players set to become free agents Saturday, Fulgham needs a strong week to show the Lions he’s worth hanging onto.

QBs Josh Johnson/David Fales/Tom Savage

Josh Johnson passes Friday against the Bills.

OK, so this is three players at one position, but it gives you an idea of where the Lions’ backup quarterback competition stands. Savage hasn’t played since suffering a brain injury in the first quarter of the preseason opener, but he’s close to returning and could lock up the backup job if plays well and stays healthy. Fales had a strong showing against the Houston Texans, but hasn’t done enough to inspire confidence in his abilities as a backup. And Johnson is the well-traveled vet who’s in the midst of a whirlwind few weeks.

Matthew Stafford won’t play Thursday and there’s no telling how much work he’ll get in practice. That means Johnson, Fales and Savage, if he’s cleared, will handle quarterback duties and have a chance to prove they're worthy of a roster spot.

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CB Dee Virgin

Virgin has taken first-team reps as a gunner on punt team and could punch his ticket to the 53-man roster with a strong showing on defense Thursday. Darius Slay, Rashaan Melvin and Justin Coleman are locked in as the Lions’ top three cornerbacks, fifth-round pick Amani Oruwariye is ticketed for backup duties (but not necessarily a spot on the gameday roster) and Jamal Agnew could be the return man.

The Lions might be able to make room for one more cornerback, especially given the uncertainty about Teez Tabor’s health. Virgin’s special-teams value is a plus, and if he shows something on defense it’ll be tough to send him packing. Remember, Adairius Barnes won a roster spot with an impressive preseason Game 4 performance three years ago.

DL Mitchell Loewen

Mitchell Loewen practices Aug. 2 at Ford Field.

Like at receiver, the Lions seem to have a pretty clear-cut playing group on their defensive line – Trey Flowers, Damon Harrison, Mike Daniels, Da’Shawn Hand, A’Shawn Robinson and Romeo Okwara – with maybe one or two backup spots up for grabs.

The Lions thought enough of Loewen to claim him off waivers late last season and the versatile lineman has shown some intriguing potential the past few weeks. If he has another strong game against the Browns, he deserves to make the trip to Arizona on Sept. 8.

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G Beau Benzschawel

The Lions have kept at least one undrafted rookie every year under Quinn. In 2016, Barnes and Cole Wick made the initial 53-man roster. In 2017, Jeremiah Valoaga, Alex Barrett, Tion Green and Storm Norton were in. Last year, it was Brandon Powell.

Benzschawel and safety C.J. Moore are the undrafted rookies who seem to have the best shot this year. Benzschawel has taken second-team reps at guard in recent weeks and offers more upside as a ninth offensive lineman than Andrew Donnal. Injuries to Tyrell Crosby (concussion) and Frank Ragnow (ankle) may factor into the Lions’ roster decisions on the offensive line, but Benzschawel can help his cause with a strong showing this week.

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Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Read more on the Detroit Lions and sign up for our Lions newsletter.

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