With his 21-day return window expiring, the Detroit Lions had to take edge rusher James Houston off IR or he'd officially be out for whatever's left of the season. On Thursday that move was made, putting him in line to play Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Houston has been sidelined since suffering a broken ankle in Week 2. Head coach Dan Campbell has not exactly sounded optimistic about Houston being activated, offering some variation on "he's better this week than he was last week" recently.
Houston was listed as a full participant in all three practices last week, but he was not activated for the Wild Card game against the Rams.
On Friday, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Campbell tempered any expectations that Houston will indeed play on Sunday.
"We still got to gauge if we feel like he will be ready," Campbell said. "And I know this, he’s better. He’s a lot better this week than he was last week, and that’s the progression of it, right, is every week he should start to get his legs back under him, feel good about it and we got to decide if we really believe that if he goes, are we going to get the production relative to who we’re sitting, for the rest of the team?"
Campbell noted that Houston's readiness would be gauged by his practice performance, while crediting his effort to comeback and how much he wants play.
"I know he wants to go, I mean, who wouldn’t? But he’s done a nice job of coming back", Campbell said.
Detroit Lions: Why was James Houston activated if he's at all uncertain to play vs. Tampa Bay?
So Houston will have Friday's practice left to prove he's ready to play on Sunday. He'll probably be listed as questionable on Friday's injury report, to keep the door open for him to play.
Houston would likely only play a certain number of snaps in his first game in four months, and in certain situations. But there's still so much doubt he can play against Tampa Bay, why bother activating him?
The Lions had to activate Houston on Thursday, so that's the reason they did so and waived Julian Okwara, who had regularly been a healthy scratch lately. And if they think there's a chance Houston can play in the NFC Championship Game or the Super Bowl, should they get there, activating him was the decision that had to be made.
But if it's even a conversation Houston can't offer more production "relative to who we're sitting" this week, as Campbell noted, it's flimsy to activate him in any way based on the hypothetical of one or two more games. There is no tomorrow without a win on Sunday, and Houston being deemed unable to contribute to that effort would just be a tough reality. Activating him only to ultimately have him inactive on Sunday makes very little sense.