Lions GM Bob Quinn faces difficult D-line decisions

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Lions general manager Bob Quinn, right, will have some tough calls to make as the team cuts its roster down to 53 on Saturday.

Detroit — The fourth exhibition game was supposed to clear some things up at the bottom of the Lions’ roster. Instead, a handful of performances from the team’s 31-0 beatdown of the Buffalo Bills has made general manager Bob Quinn’s weekend a little more difficult.

NFL teams are required to submit their 53-man rosters by 4 p.m. Saturday.

“I think it shows that we’ll have to let go of a lot of good football players, let me put it that way,” coach Jim Caldwell said after Thursday’s exhibition finale. “When it all boils down to it, across the board, number of different positions, that’s certainly going to happen.

“But that’s the way it’s supposed to be. They’re supposed to make it tough on you. The effort was good, they played well down the stretch. They hung in there. I thought they executed well, so yeah, there’s going to be a number of them across the board we’ll have a little difficult time determining who’s on the 53.”

Quinn’s difficult choices begin along the team’s deep defensive line. The Lions could enter the regular season carrying as many as 10 linemen and still have to let a couple of worthy players go.

At defensive end, three players have been battling for one, possibly two jobs.

Brandon Copeland, who was with the Lions all last season as a hybrid linebacker and defensive lineman, has primarily worked with the second unit all offseason. Statistically speaking, he’s had a quiet preseason, but made a big play against the Bills, coming up with an interception on a pass deflected by rookie teammate A’Shawn Robinson.

Copeland also gets a little boost as a known commodity on special teams, something Caldwell and Quinn have said is important in the evaluation process.

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Rookie Anthony Zettel is in the mix, too. The sixth-round draft pick has shown steady improvement throughout the exhibition slate, forcing a fumble last week and recording a sack, batted pass and quarterback hit against the Bills.

The third player in the competition is Kerry Hyder, who delivered the performance of a lifetime Thursday. He racked up three sacks and generated quarterback pressure on more than another dozen snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.

“I know all three of us defensive ends have been improving every week, so they have definitely a tough call for who they’re going to keep,” Zettel said.

On the interior of the defensive line, the situation is similar. There’s a job, maybe two — depending on how Quinn structures his roster — with four players having a case. Khyri Thornton has been the most consistent from the group, and the fact that he only played a handful of snaps early against the Bills suggests he’s likely to stick.

But what about Caraun Reid, Gabe Wright and Stefan Charles?

Reid and Wright were draft picks from the previous front office regime. Simply put, there is no loyalty to their continued development. Charles was one of Quinn’s first free-agent additions, netting $550,000 in guaranteed money as part of his one-year deal. But again, the general manager has shown no hesitation to move on from his other offseason signings, releasing Geoff Schwartz and Stevan Ridley and trading Jeremy Kerley.

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If it boils down to preseason performance, Reid seems like the most likely to make the roster. After offseason ankle surgery led to a slow start, he’s shown rapid improvement, racking up three tackles-for-loss against the Bills.

On the offensive side of the ball, the receiver battle got a little more interesting with Thursday’s performances. Veteran Andre Roberts, who appeared to be a near-lock entering the contest, couldn’t corral either of the two targets thrown his direction. Meanwhile, undrafted rookies Jace Billingsley and Jay Lee took advantage of their extended playing time, combining for 13 receptions, 158 yards and two touchdowns.

And there were others, too, who will at least make Quinn think twice before crossing off their names. Players like running back George Winn, who ran hard and made a big tackle on special teams, and undrafted rookie cornerback Adairius Barnes, who broke up three passes.

Will any of these last-ditch efforts be enough to upset the applecart? That remains to be seen. But when you shut out your opponent, 31-0, you know a lot of players made the most of their final audition.

Twitter: @justin_rogers