Jim Schwartz and Jim Caldwell have already proven to be fundamentally different coaches. That dichotomy continues as we look at how the coaches have handled the Detroit Lions practice squad. Schwartz stocked the squad with developmental players, hoping they could eventually be called upon to fight for playing time in future seasons.
Caldwell seems to have a different approach. Though there is a fair amount of developmental guys, there are others who could contribute from day one and were a tough call to cut off the 53 man roster.
OG/C Rodney Austin – Austin is a familiar face for the Lions having made the practice squad in 2012 and 2013 and even get called to regular duty later in 2013. Austin may have been a developmental pick back then, a raw and undisciplined guard out of little Elon, but that isn’t as much the case anymore.
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Austin has been studying to take over the swing guard position from Dylan Gandy the past few years and narrowly lost out to him in 2013. With Gandy gone, he was unable to win the position outright and earn a spot on the regular roster, but he passed through waivers unclaimed and returns to the Lions practice squad. Some question the Lions insistence of keeping only one reserve interior offensive lineman, but Austin is a worthwhile safety net if someone goes down for an extended period of time.
CB Mohammed Seisay – A reserve DB at Nebraska, expectations were hardly high for the athletic Seisay. A hard worker who quickly became a favorite of the coaches, Seisay was showing better than former 5th rounder Chris Greenwood in training camp and recent 4th rounder Nevin Lawson.
His technical limitations were evident, but his instincts (His biggest question mark) were excellent. He was finally able to show that during the preseason contest against the Bills and put that final push to his practice squad spot. Seisay is purely a developmental prospect and a call up would be unlikely at any point in the season.
OT Michael Williams – A 7th round pick in 2013, few would have expected such a smooth transition to a new position when the former tight end was moved to offensive tackle. A camp injury made matters even worse for him as he was unable to gain much ground and it was believed it would stunt his development.
Williams was having none of that, however, as he quickly launched himself up to clear contention with Cornelius Lucas for that 4th OT spot. Williams was a tough cut to make as he had enough tape that it lowered his chances of clearing waivers. He made it through and is now sitting as a call up for the Lions if one of their tackles goes down and they need more depth. Due to his position change, he’s still developing as well.
DT Xavier Proctor – Proctor came out of nowhere in 2013 as an undrafted free agent out of NC Central. He wasn’t the best young DT in camp, but his 6’6″ 272 lb. frame allows a lot of room for improvement.
His camp was somewhat lackluster, as was his preseason, but on a renewed defense that values players who can rush both inside and out it is hard to deny the upside Proctor brings. Lions would be better suited to bringing in a free agent if someone goes down injured than calling up Proctor, but he’s one to watch in 2015.
RB George Winn – Preseason superstar George Winn made his name by finding holes and running through them as hard as he could. He showed better than expected speed and anticipation to go along with a hard nosed, slippery running style reminiscent of 2012 Joique Bell. Ball control became an issue, however, and made him a difficult cut.
Winn has been around the league for a while after going undrafted out of Cincinnati, so it’s not surprising he cleared waivers. He could be a swift call up in the case of an injury in the Detroit Lions backfield, if a somewhat risky one.
S Nate Ness – Ness was a bit of a surprise to me as he came in relatively unheralded to the Detroit Lions practice squad. Long, quick, athletic safeties can never be found easily and it isn’t a tough decision when you watch his improvement over the preseason. Hauling in two interceptions is a good way to get attention, and those picks more than made up for mistakes he made earlier on.
Ness is going to take some time to develop both in the defensive scheme and at an NFL level. The game is still too fast for him and defensive backs coach Alan Williams is the perfect person to help bring out that potential.
LB Julian Stanford – Stanford is physically similar to Tahir Whitehead in that he is a lanky, fast, athletic hybrid type LB that might not be the most technically sound. Also like Whitehead, Stanford is strong on special teams and should be able to fill in at multiple positions on teams if someone goes down. He won’t be a consistent fill in at linebacker if called up, but he’s a player who can do it all and he should surprise people with a few flash plays.
WR Andrew Peacock – In the four days I was in camp, I saw Andrew Peacock drop eight passes. Out of the 90 players in camp, he was firmly the 90th best on my list. When the lights came on, and game time noise erupted, Peacock became a different receiver. More confident, prepared, and ready to showcase possession skills. He dropped a pass in the first game, but every other play he was involved in was excellent. Not too proud to admit my mistakes, he was the first name on my Detroit Lions practice squad wish list.
TE/LS Jordan Thompson – Thompson is a call up most fans would be very surprised of. Not likely to fill in for very long at tight end, Thompson is a favorite of special teams coach John Bonamego and is likely the successor to pro bowl long snapper Don Muhlbach. Thompson had some rough moments as a snapper in camp, but I’d be willing to bet those get worked out over the course of the season with a coach like Bonamego and a mentor like Muhlbach.
FB/TE Emil Igwenegu – One of the first players the Lions looked at when cut from his original team, Igwanegu was brought in when the Lions showed they were unimpressed with former FSU standout Chad Abrams. Igwenegu has some experience with the Philadelphia Eagles, called up after injuries mounted in their TE corps. Igwenegu will be a fullback on the Lions, and should have a smoother than expected transition if called on to take over for either Collins or Owens.