Allen Park — The Detroit Lions made a surprising roster move on Tuesday, releasing backup quarterback Josh Johnson and signing Jeff Driskel.
Driskel, a sixth-round pick in 2016, began his college career at Florida before finishing out at Louisiana Tech. After being drafted by the San Francisco 49ers, he was waived that September and claimed by the Bengals, where he spent the past three years.
After landing on injured reserve with a hamstring issue, he was waived by the Bengals last week with an injury settlement. Days later, he worked out with the Lions and the team liked what they saw.
"He’s definitely a player that we’ve looked at in the past and looked at through preseason," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "We just had the opportunity to bring him in and take a closer look. He’s an athletic guy. He’s a big guy. He’s got a strong arm. He can do some of the movement stuff, so just a skill set that we thought was fitting to some of the things that we do.”
In 2018, the 6-foot-4, 235-pound Driksel appeared in nine games for the Bengals, including five starts. He completed 105 of his 176 passes for 1,003 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. He also showcased his mobility, rushing for 130 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries.
It's unclear whether Driskel will immediately move into Detroit's backup quarterback role, directly replacing Johnson, or will slot behind undrafted rookie David Blough, who was acquired in a trade last month from the Browns.
Regardless, it's a unique situation, since neither player spent training camp with the Lions and the team is presumably trying to evaluate one, or both, as a longer-term solution behind starter Matthew Stafford.
"We put them in certain situations (in practice) for them to show us the skill sets that they have," Patricia said. "And practice is very competitive. It's one of the reasons we have competitive practices is to make the team better. That's not only the guys that play on Sundays, but that's everybody that's on our team."
Driskel is the eighth quarterback to be on Detroit's roster since the start of the offseason.
Johnson departs after earning the backup job in the preseason, despite being on the roster for just three weeks at the time the team trimmed its roster to 53 players. Signed as an injury replacement in mid-August when Tom Savage suffered a concussion in the preseason opener, Johnson quickly surged past David Fales on Detroit's depth chart, and fended off Savage to secure the job heading into the regular season.
"As far as Josh Johnson is concerned, he did everything we asked," Patricia said. " I have all the respect in the world for Josh Johnson, his competitive nature and the way he conducted himself. Sometimes, with roster movement, this is kind of what happens. We're always doing whatever we can to help the team."