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Decisions due soon: Projecting Lions’ 53-man roster

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Dan Orlovsky

Allen Park – With the third exhibition game this weekend, the Detroit Lions are nearing roster cuts. On Aug. 30, the team must reduce its 90-man roster to 75 players. And after finishing out the preseason slate at home against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 1, NFL teams are required to submit their 53-man rosters by Sept. 3 at 4 p.m.

With that in mind, here’s our first stab at projecting the Lions’ 53-man roster.

QUARTERBACKS (3)

In: Matthew Stafford, Dan Orlovsky, Jake Rudock

Out: None

Analysis: Rudock has played his way into being valuable enough to retain, but expect the Lions to keep Orlovsky for the comfort factor. If Stafford were to go down with a season-ending injury, 2016 would be lost, but if he gets knocked out for the second half of a game, there’s more faith in the experienced veteran’s ability to temporarily steer the ship.

OFFENSIVE LINE (9)

In: Riley Reiff, Laken Tomlinson, Travis Swanson, Larry Warford, Taylor Decker, Joe Dahl, Graham Glasgow, Geoff Schwartz, Michael Ola

Out: Cornelius Lucas, Corey Robinson, Gabe Ikard, Chase Farris, Luke Marquardt, Lemuel Jeanpierre

Analysis: In recent years, the Lions have carried a fourth, developmental tackle, but the team’s youthful depth is on the inside with this current group. The severity of Ola’s injury might lead to Lucas making the 53-man, but Dahl or Schwartz, even though they’ve been practicing exclusively at guard, can slide to tackle in a pinch.

Zach Zenner

RUNNING BACKS (5)

In: Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner, Michael Burton, Dwayne Washington

Out: Stevan Ridley, George Winn

Analysis: When the Lions signed Ridley, he looked like a near lock with $250,000 guaranteed, but it hasn’t played out that way. Zenner has been effective as the second-team back and contributes more on special teams. Washington over Ridley and Winn is a tough choice, but the rookie is proving capable on special teams and he’s made the most of his limited touches in the exhibition games, showing the ability to power through contact.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)

In: Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, Anquan Boldin, Andre Roberts, TJ Jones, Corey Fuller (PUP)

Out: Jeremy Kerley, Quinshad Davis, Jay Lee, Jace Billingsley

Analysis: Kerley is a tough cut because he’s such a sharp route runner from the slot, but Boldin’s addition made him expendable, especially since there’s enough potential return men on the roster. Roberts makes it because of his versatility, both on offense and special teams. Fuller won’t count against the 53-man roster and it will be surprising if he plays a down for the Lions this year.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

In: Eric Ebron, Matthew Mulligan, Cole Wick, Brandon Pettigrew (PUP)

Out: Orson Charles, Andrew Quarless, Adam Fuehne

Analysis: There’s still a possibility Pettigrew gets cleared before the start of the season, and if he does, that will bump Wick from the roster. Although the team isn’t commenting, Ebron should be ready for Week 1 and Mulligan is a good fit as a powerhouse blocker who can help the offensive line in both pass protection and run blocking in limited snaps.

Caraun Reid

DEFENSIVE LINE (10)

In: Ezekiel Ansah, Devin Taylor, Wallace Gilberry, Brandon Copeland, Haloti Ngata, Tyrunn Walker, A’Shawn Robinson, Stefan Charles, Caraun Reid, Anthony Zettel

Out: Gabe Wright, Kerry Hyder, Deonte Gibson, Quanterus Smith, Louis Palmer, Khyri Thornton,

Analysis: The Lions have some tough decisions along the defensive line. Wright and Thornton have had their moments during training camp, but Stefan Charles’ contract, which includes $550,000 in guarantees, is a tiebreaker. Reid, who hasn’t looked sharp coming back from offseason ankle surgery, could get bumped for Thornton, the steadier offseason performer. On the outside, Copeland’s special teams ability make him a smart keeper, while Zettel can be developed, even if he’s not active on game days.

LINEBACKERS (5)

In: DeAndre Levy, Tahir Whitehead, Kyle Van Noy, Josh Bynes, Antwione Williams

Out: Jon Bostic, Chi Chi Araguzo, Zaviar Gooden, Khaseem Greene, Dominique Tovell

Analysis: With the Lions planning to be in nickel two-thirds of the time, and a number of versatile linebacker options, the team doesn’t need to keep six at the position. Bostic might be put on short-term injured reserve after foot surgery. If that’s the case, the Lions will have to keep him on the 53-man roster for 24 hours, cutting and re-signing a player like Copeland.

Alex Carter

DEFENSIVE BACKS (10)

In: Darius Slay, Nevin Lawson, Quandre Diggs, Darrin Walls, Johnson Bademosi, Alex Carter, Glover Quin, Rafael Bush, Tavon Wilson, Miles Killebrew

Out: Don Carey, Isaiah Johnson, Crezdon Butler, Charles Johnson, Rashaad Reynolds, Keith Lewis, Adairius Barnes

Analysis: Carter is the conundrum. He’s struggled all offseason and looks far behind his teammates, including some of the undrafted rookies. But there’s still big potential there, and given that seven players are inactive each game day, he’s a player worth stashing and continuing to develop. That comes at the expense of better special teams contributors, Butler and Carey.

SPECIALISTS (3)

In: Sam Martin, Matt Prater, Jimmy Landes

Out: Don Muhlbach, Devon Bell

Analysis: Landes or Muhlbach is still a coin flip at this stage. Landes offers youth and a long-term answer at long snapper, while the veteran Muhlbach is still the more consistent option right now. Special teams errors can be devastating, particularly botched snaps on punts and field goals. But as long as Landes doesn’t make any significant mistakes in the remaining exhibition games, it still feels like the Lions will lean toward keeping the guy they drafted.