By Ashley Dunkak
This week is a nerve-wracking one for many on the Detroit Lions roster. Teams have to be down to 53 players by Saturday, so dozens of cuts will be made in the next few days.
Running back Joique Bell played in all 16 games for the Lions in 2012 and recorded 52 yards on five carries Thursday against the New England Patriots, so he should not be in danger of getting cut. On his third team in three years, though, Bell is familiar with the uncertainty that the week of final cuts brings.
“You can only control your attitude and your effort,” Bell said. “Let everything else fall in line. I’ve been from team to team, so I know what it’s like. Never count the numbers. Just go out there and play your game, and everything else will be fine.”
Over the weekend the Lions cut four players – defensive end Ronnell Lewis, cornerback Myron Lewis, wide receiver Cody Wilson and safety Chris Hope. Tuesday the Lions severed ties with five others, including placekicker Havard Rugland, the YouTube sensation better recognized as “Kickalicious.”
While many believed Rugland never really had a shot at winning the job over veteran David Akers, who is entering his 14th NFL season, here are a few quick looks at players who have slightly higher odds of staying on with the Lions – maybe.
Detroit cut a pair of tight ends, Matt Veldman and Cameron Morrah, to help get the roster down to 75, but the Lions still have four on staff. Veterans Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler are not going anywhere, but Detroit will likely go down the road without either Michael Williams or Joseph Fauria, both rookies.
Since Williams broke his hand against the Patriots, the Lions might be able to keep both him – on injured reserve- and Fauria for the time being, but eventually a decision will probably be made.
Quarterbacks targeted Fauria three times against New England, and he made the most of his chances, catching three passes for 44 yards and a touchdown. The rookie, who scored 12 touchdowns as a senior at UCLA, is a big target at 6-foot-7, a little taller than other Lions tight ends.
“The battle at the tight end position, it’s extreme,” Fauria said. “It’s big. We’re really deep. We’ve got some good players. It’s good to learn from the vets like Brandon and Tony, and I’m excited to learn, and I’ve been learning ever since I’ve been here. And I’m trying to prove that I can play, play with them and help them win.”
Fauria has been shadowing the long-timers closely in an effort to pick up any extra edge he can.
“Be it in the video room or just at practice field, whether it be a release on a route or whether it be steps on a block, I learn from them every day,” Fauria said, “and they’re tremendous helpers and leaders. They’re great vets and great pros.”
Williams is 6-foot-5 but has 20 pounds on Fauria, which could be helpful when it comes to blocking.
Another rookie trying to make the team is offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle out of Texas Tech. Schwartz said the Lions have used Waddle at both the left and right tackle spots but that Waddle has been playing more on the right side recently.
“He’s got great size, his technique continues to improve, and I think the thing that we probably like the best about him is he’s played the best in the games,” Schwartz said.
6-foot-6 and 320 pounds, Waddle has gotten the attention of his teammates as well, and for more than just his bulk.
“He’s not a typical rookie,” fellow tackle Jason Fox said. “He hasn’t made mistakes like a rookie normally does. He’s came in and battled and done well. And he’s probably the biggest guy in the room too. That helps. He’s came in and done some really good things.”
Quarterback Kellen Moore is another who may or may not remain with the Lions. Detroit traded away Thaddeus Lewis, and Schwartz called Moore a much improved player.
“He’s played well when given the opportunities and improved a lot over the course of the season last year but then particularly in our offseason program and training camp and in all facets – his understanding of our offense, his understanding of what defenses do, and then physically he’s improved also,” Schwartz said.
As rough as the week of final cuts is on the players who get the ax, it is no picnic for the coaches who deliver the news either. Schwartz said the process is particularly painful when the players being jettisoned have done everything asked of them.
“Guys have worked very hard, put their whole heart and soul into trying to find a niche, trying to contribute. It’s always difficult to say goodbye to those guys,” Schwartz said. “But if those guys all keep in mind the fact that they’re working to improve as football players, and if they do a good job with that, then they’ll be in a better position when camp’s over. But it’s always a very difficult time.”