8 Players Who Might Find Themselves on Detroit's Practice Squad in 2014
Every NFL team has a practice squad, a group of up to eight players who are not eligible for active game duty but are part of the team.
Most of these players are youngsters hoping to catch on with a team, or developmental players looking to improve with more reps and NFL coaching.
The Detroit Lions have a few former practice squad players who are now regulars on the active roster, though some were from different teams. Joique Bell, Kris Durham and Corey Hilliard all spent early portions of their careers on practice squads.
There are some rules for eligibility. SB Nation published a handy guide last summer that lays out some of the main points, including:
- Players must clear waivers
- No more than nine NFL games on any active roster
- Two seasons of practice squad eligibility, with limited exception
- Can be signed to active roster by other teams
Who will be on Detroit's practice squad in 2014? Here are eight leading candidates as the calendar turns to July.
Jerome Couplin is the ideal prototype of a practice squad player.
The rookie safety from William & Mary checks many boxes typically associated with practice squad inhabitants:
- Undrafted rookie
- Small-school player
- Better athlete than football player
- Strong depth at the position
Couplin earned the nickname "The Osprey" for his freakish 81" wingspan and athletic prowess. At 6'2" and a sculpted 215 pounds, he's giant for a safety.
His game, notably his coverage skills, needs a lot of polish. Couplin has a long stride and tall gait, neither of which is conducive for changing direction quickly or correcting from a missed read.
The Lions signed him knowing that the depth chart at safety is well-stocked for 2014. Between starters Glover Quin and James Ihedigbo and solid reserves Don Carey and either Isa Abdul-Quddus or DeJon Gomes, there are already five capable players and just four likely roster spots.
That will relegate Couplin to the practice squad in 2014, with the arrow pointing up for a potential promotion in 2015 if he can hone his craft.
Speaking of athletic freaks, I present you with rookie cornerback Mohammed Seisay.
His tale of the tape is highly impressive:
- 6'2", 200 pounds
- 40-yard dash: 4.36 seconds
- Vertical Jump: 39"
- Broad Jump: 11'
- 3-cone drill: 6.5 seconds
Unfortunately, the former Nebraska Cornhusker has never really translated that impressive athleticism to actual football function. In fact, he barely played as a senior despite being healthy; against Michigan, I logged him with just five snaps from my in-stadium vantage point.
The Lions signed Seisay as an undrafted free agent almost entirely on his awesome physical gifts. In that vein, he's the latest version of 2012 pick Chris Greenwood. That cornerback has spent almost all of his first two years in the league on the practice squad.
With Greenwood seemingly at a career crossroad, Seisay can capitalize and take over his spot as the athletic project cornerback. He's a worthwhile project for new defensive backs coach Alan Williams.
If you want to see it for yourself, the YouTube clip of his pro day workout at Nebraska can be found here.
Wide receiver Corey Fuller knows the practice squad well. After all, he spent his entire rookie season in Detroit there.
The 2013 sixth-round pick was not ready to contribute in his first season. While he definitely has the deep speed the Lions covet, his route running and field recognition skills were not up to snuff.
Even after that first year learning the NFL ropes, Fuller is not likely to make the final 53-man roster. He's not going to beat out Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Jeremy Ross, a healthy Ryan Broyles, more polished 2014 sixth-rounder T.J. Jones or Durham for a spot.
So Fuller gets another season to work on his game as a practice squad member. He could face some competition from either Patrick Edwards or Andrew Peacock, other young wideouts looking to stay on the fringes of NFL rosters.
His draft status and size/speed ratio—Fuller is 6'2" and ran a 4.34 40-yard dash at Virginia Tech—still offer a lot of upside. That will keep him in the den for another year of advanced training.
Like Fuller, linebacker Brandon Hepburn is a member of Detroit's 2013 draft class. The Florida A&M product was one of the Lions' seventh-round picks.
He too spent his entire rookie campaign on the practice squad. That appears to be his most likely fate in 2014, as well...if he even makes it that far.
Hepburn is a very easy guy to root for. He's one of the most intelligent guys around, a biochemistry honor student who produced a breakthrough in fighting cancer while also playing football for the Rattlers.
Even though he is a strong athlete and competes hard, Hepburn's football IQ pales to his off-field smarts. He's useful to the practice squad because he can play any linebacker spot as well as special teams units.
Detroit's other seventh-round pick in 2013, Michael Williams, fits a different mold for a practice squad player. He's making a position change from tight end to offensive tackle.
Lions announce TE Michael Williams will move to OT. Still faces uphill battle to roster spot, but he was always blocking focused.— Josh Katzenstein (@jkatzenstein) May 21, 2014
As Katzenstein, from the Detroit News, succinctly notes, Williams is not likely to make the roster at his new position. At this point, he's behind undrafted rookie Cornelius Lucas for the fourth tackle position.
Giving the Alabama product a year on the practice squad gives him the opportunity to get acclimated to playing tackle. He was noted for his blocking prowess as a tight end, so it's more about adding additional bulk and getting comfortable playing next to the guard.
Part of why Williams is transitioning to tackle from tight end is that the Lions are loaded at his old position. With first-round pick Eric Ebron, former starter Brandon Pettigrew and rookie phenom Joseph Fauria all locks for the final 53, there just isn't room for Williams there.
His position change does open the door for a practice squad tight end. Enter former Ohio University Bobcat Jordan Thompson, looking to latch onto a team after unsuccessfully trying out in both 2012 and '13.
Thompson doesn't have overwhelming athleticism and wasn't very productive for Ohio, catching just 60 balls during his time in Athens. His blocking is nothing special either.
So why does he have a chance to stick on the practice squad? Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com provides the answer:
Where he could eventually make the Detroit roster -- or another roster at some point -- is his other ability. Long snapping. Not much was made of this and the Lions have one of the top snappers in the NFL, Don Muhlbach, but Thompson could be a player who gets stashed away on a practice squad for a year or two before being brought up to actually take over the role.
That seems quite plausible. It's not glamorous, but long snappers are sort of like mufflers on cars; they're not something anyone thinks about until there's a problem, but then it's a roaring issue. Having a ready-made replacement already on the team is nice insurance in case venerable veteran Muhlbach gets hurt.
His signing didn't generate much buzz in Detroit, but folks a few miles west in Ypsilanti knew a lot about defensive end Kalonji Kashama.
The Eastern Michigan product is more well-known in Canada. He's a Brampton, Ontario, native who was the 27th overall pick in the 2013 CFL draft.
An impressive showing in the rookie camp convinced Detroit to sign Kashama. As defensive coordinator Teryl Austin told reporters following OTAs (quote provided by Pride of Detroit):
"We saw that he had a nice little burst off the edge and he can run and possibly do some pass rush. Anytime you have a guy that can possibly be a type of pass-rusher in this league, you're going to make sure you further examine him and see if he can really do it."
He's got the prototypical build the Lions have coveted recently for defensive ends, measuring at 6'4" and 270 pounds. He played both end and tackle for the Eagles, racking up 5.5 sacks and nine tackles behind the line as a senior.
His build and his burst offer enough that Austin and the Lions staff could want to examine him up close as a practice squad member in 2014.
The eighth and final practice squad spot could be destiny for one of several undrafted interior offensive linemen currently on the roster.
Alex Bullard gets the nod here, though this spot will be determined over the course of training camp and preseason.
Bullard started 25 games for Tennessee and has experience playing in the mighty SEC at both center and left guard. As Detroit Lions Draft noted, a team source was quoted after the first rookie camp stating, “Bullard creates movement. He’s an instigator. That’s something we value up front.”
In order to make it, he'll have to beat out some other linemen competitors. Those include:
- J.B. Shugarts
- D.J. Morrell
- A.J. Dalton
- Darren Keyton
- Bryce Quigley
All of those current Lions are likely competing for one—if that—practice squad spot in Detroit in 2014.
Of course a more attractive player released by another team could very well usurp a couple of these spots, too.
Jeff Risdon is a Featured Columnist for the Detroit Lions. He is also the founder/editor at Detroit Lions Draft and the Senior NFL/Draft writer at RealGM. You can interact with him on Twitter @JeffRisdon.
All biographical info is from NFL.com, unless otherwise specified.
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