Orchard Park, N.Y. — The Lions are giving 11 starters the night off in tonight’s exhibition finale against the Buffalo Bills as they’ll give back-end players a chance to compete for a spot on the 53-man roster.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Calvin Johnson, running back Reggie Bush, center Dominic Raiola, left guard Rob Sims, tight end Brandon Pettigrew and wide receiver Golden Tate are all inactive. On defense, tackle Ndamukong Suh, end Jason Jones, cornerback Rashean Mathis and safety James Ihedigbo won’t play.
However, there are a couple injury concerns for the Lions. Second-round pick Kyle Van Noy is inactive for the second straight week. The team said last week he’s been dealing with an abdominal injury, but Van Noy said he’s concerned it might be a sports hernia, which would sideline him for at least a month. The Lions drafted Van Noy hoping he could provide pass rushing at the strong-side linebacker position.
Safety Don Carey (hamstring) is also inactive, which will give undrafted rookie Jerome Couplin another chance to impress in his quest to win the final safety spot on the roster.
Ihedigbo, Van Noy and Carey did not make the trip to Buffalo.
With so many regulars sitting out, there are many changes to the starting lineup. Most notably, Tahir Whitehead will start at strong-side linebacker over Ashlee Palmer for the second consecutive game. Whitehead had 10 tackles and three sacks last week against Jacksonville.
Defensive tackle Nick Fairley will start in Suh’s place next to C.J. Mosley, giving him another chance to win back his starting job from Mosley.
Defensive end Devin Taylor will start for Jones. Cornerback Bill Bentley will start for Mathis. Safety Isa Abdul-Quddus will start for Ihedigbo, who also rested in last week’s game.
On offense, Dan Orlovsky will start at quarterback, but Kellen Moore will likely see extended playing time. Joseph Fauria is listed as the starter for Pettigrew, but rookie tight end Eric Ebron should play plenty with the starters, too.
The wide receiver competition should play out early, too. Kris Durham will start for Johnson and Kevin Ogletree for Tate, and they’ll have the first chance to fight for a spot on the roster.
Theo Riddick is starting for Bush, and Joique Bell probably won’t play much as he’s effectively a starter. Rookie Travis Swanson is starting at center and veteran Garrett Reynolds is at left guard.
Thursday’s game was the first reunion for Jim Schwartz, now the Bills’ defensive coordinator, and the Lions, the team he coached the past five seasons. Several players and coaches greeted Schwartz before the game, and some wished him well earlier this week.
But there were several other players and coaches on the field connected to both teams.
Bell’s career started in Buffalo, which signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Wayne State, and he spent a couple weeks on the practice squad as a rookie in 2010.
Palmer’s career also started in Buffalo in 2009 as an undrafted free agent, but he’s been with the Lions since 2010.
Lions general manager Martin Mayhew was drafted by the Bills in the 10th round in 1988, but he spent most of his career with Washington and Tampa Bay.
Lions running backs coach Curtis Modkins was Buffalo’s offensive coordinator from 2010-12. Former Lions coaches Danny Crossman (special teams) and Todd Downing (quarterbacks) are both with the Bills now.