Detroit Lions Cuts: Tracking Players Dropped from 2011 Roster
In 2009, just before the Detroit Lions' first rookie draft under head coach Jim Schwartz, the new Lions skipper said their number one need was "talent." Nearly a decade of Matt Millen drafts, combined with several wholesale system changes, had left the Lions' roster nearly devoid of useful players.
For years, Lions fans could count on any player with a pinch of productivity under his belt, a dash of untapped potential or even a familiar name finding a spot on the Lions' roster. This season, that will be different.
In 2011, the Lions invited more NFL-caliber players into camp than they could offer jobs. For the first time in a long time, good players—players who could help the Lions win this year—will be given a firm handshake and cab fare to the airport.
Yet, other NFL teams might be salivating at the chance to sign some of those very same players. The Lions are finally good enough that their trash can be another team's treasure.
We'll continually update this slideshow with the latest Lions who've had to turn in their playbooks, along with their new team name as they sign elsewhere in the NFL.
Dave Rayner, Placekicker
Dave Rayner, Michigan native and former Michigan State University standout, was signed last season by the Lions to fill in for the injured Jason Hanson. Rayner answered the call of duty by converting 13-of-16 field goal attempts, including the overtime game-winner that stopped the Lions' road losing skid.
Some thought Hanson's 20-year reign as the Lions kicker might end with Rayner's coronation, but the Lions released Rayner in their initial wave of cuts. According to the Detroit Free Press, Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said Rayner's release was timed with "A little bit of an eye toward respect for Dave," giving him plenty of time to find a gig elsewhere.
As it turns out, he didn't need the courtesy. Per Mike O'Hara of FOX Sports Detroit, Jerry Jones had his personal private jet flown to Metro Detroit to fetch Rayner and deliver him to Dallas. Rayner will be expected to win the Cowboys' kicking job this season.
UPDATE: Rayner went 0-for-2 in his one preseason game as a Cowboy, and didn't look good doing it. Rayner was released by the Cowboys and is again a free agent.
Jerome Felton, Fullback
Jerome Felton was the Lions' fifth-round pick in 2008, Matt Millen's final draft class. A tantalizing mix of athleticism and power, the 6', 245 lb. Furman product never quite converted his raw tools into polished production.
Felton entered the NFL as a receiving fullback in the mold of Richie Anderson, but his blocking and running improved every season.
Yet, whenever he was offered the opportunity to play a significant part in the offense, he struggled to capitalize.
Felton's role in the Lions offense will be likely be played by third TE/H-back Will Heller.
UPDATE: Per Aaron Wilson of Scout.com, Felton has been claimed off waivers by the Carolina Panthers. The Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles also put in claims, but lost on priority.
Mike Bell, Tailback
Bell and former Eagles RB James Harrison were invited to compete for the chance to replace Leshoure in the Lions' tailback stable.
Both signees started slow, but Bell never seemed to find traction. When he didn't see the field in the "dress rehearsal" against the Patriots, his release seemed inevitable.
Demario Ballard, Wide Receiver
Demario Ballard turned the heads of fans, media and teammates alike when he stepped onto the Lions' Allen Park training field this August.
Standing 6'6" tall, the 26-year-old unknown from D-II school Western Oregon made a lot of impressive plays before the signed free agents were allowed to report.
Once players like Rashied Davis and Maurice Stovall got on the field, Ballard had precious few reps with which to polish his game and make an impact.
With just a few years of organized football experience, Ballard is intriguing enough of a physical prospect to merit a practice squad look.
Marcus Harris, Wide Receiver
Eight months removed from a spectacular senior season at Murray State, wide receiver Marcus Harris joined the Lions as an undrafted free agent.
The numbers didn't work out for him from the get-go, as a minimum of four WR roster spots were spoken for, and the Lions likely won't keep six.
Michael Johnson, Defensive Back
Michael Johnson, former seventh-round pick of the New York Giants, came to the Lions with five seasons and 30 starts under his belt.
He also brought a special connection to Detroit: per MLive.com, Johnson is the younger brother of Reggie Brown.
Brown, the Lions' 1996 first-round pick, nearly died on the field in his second season after suffering a spinal cord contusion during a tackle.
While Lions fans will always have a soft spot for Brown, whose impressive career was cut far too short, the Lions likely never had a 53-man roster spot for his brother.
Montavious Stanley, Defensive Tackle
Perhaps, no position group in the NFL this season is as hard to crack as the Lions' defensive tackle corps.
With Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams, Sammie Hill and Nick Fairely holding death grips on what may be the only four available spots, former Jaguar Montavious Stanely had no chance.
Dejuan Fulghum, Linebacker
The reigning SWAC Defensive Player of the Year, Dejuan Fulghum, is used to being the captain and focal point of a defense.
Fulghum had very little time to make the jump from his FCS school, Texas Southern, to a suddenly stacked Lions linebacker corps.
Richard Dickson, Tight End
Richard Dickson, former LSU tight end, was a fan favorite this preseason, if only because he can be referred to as "Dick Dickson" in polite company.
The Lions were likely never keeping more than three pure tight ends, and Joe Jon Finley had seemed to be ahead of Dickson on the depth chart.
Nick Harris, Punter
Training camp battles have never been Nick Harris's thing. Selected by the Denver Broncos in the 4th Round of the 2001 NFL Draft, Harris failed to beat out incumbent Tom Rouen, and was waived before his rookie debut. The Cincinnati Bengals claimed the consensus All-American; he started for them in 2001 and 2002 before being released in 2003.
The Lions' punter, John Jett, became injured that season, and the Lions signed Harris to fill in. He "filled in" from that day during the 2003 season until the Lions made their 2011 cutdown to 53. Harris leaves as the Lions' all-time leader in punts and punting yards, and No. 2 on the list in gross punting average.
Per the Detroit Free Press, Harris said his "contract" and "age" were the tiebreaking factors that gave the edge to Donahue.
Robert Callaway, Defensive Tackle
Robert Callaway opened a lot of eyes in the 2011 preseason. He had five total tackles and a sack in very limited reps. His physical dominance of opposing teams' second- and third-team offensive linemen left a observers thinking he'd catch on in the NFL this year, even if not in Detroit.
That theory will be put to the test, as the Lions released him while cutting down to 53. Callaway could play 5-technique DT in a 4-3 system, but the 6'-5," 312-pound Callaway could develop into a two-gap nose tackle for a 3-4 team.
UPDATE: Per MLive.com, Robert Callaway has been signed to the Dallas Cowboys practice squad.
Quinn Pitcock, Defensive Tackle
Quinn Pitcock's road to NFL success has been surprisingly long and bumpy for a talented third-round pick out of Ohio State. After his rookie season, he retired from the NFL while struggling with depression, ADHD, and video game addiction.
Pitcock finallly got help and rehab, and decided to resume his playing career. After being waived by the team that drafted him, the Indianapolis Colts, he camped with the Seattle Seahawks last summer--but did not make their final roster. While he made a positive impression in Lions camp this year, he could not crack an overloaded DT depth chart.
Pitcock won't begin this season on the Lions, but that doesn't mean his NFL career has ended.
Keyunta Dawson, Defensive End
Keyunta Dawson, another former Indianapolis Colt defensive lineman, had just a few weeks in Detroit during which he could make an impression. The 6'-3," 254-pound Dawson doesn't fit the physical prototype for an end in this defense--but then, neither did 2010 7th-round pick Willie Young, and he's grown beautifully into his role.
Unfortuantely for Dawson, Young's strong play this preseason shut the door on Dawson's chances to make the active roster.
Rudy Niswanger, Center/Guard
One of several journeyman center/guards the Lions brought into camp, Rudy Niswanger spent the 2010 season on the Kansas City Chiefs' roster--but not playing in the games. The 2006 undrafted free agent found himself riding the pine after two years as the unquestioned starter. What happened?
The Chiefs were not satisfied with the then-27-year-old's performance that they brought back 37-year-old Casey Weigmann to replace him. Still, a player that young with that much starting experience was worth evaluating as a possible upgrade of the Lions' incumbent reserve C/G Dylan Gandy.
Ian Johnson, Tailback
Ian Johnson is part of college football history: he scored the two points that put the Boise State University Broncos over the mighty Oklahoma Sooners in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. Then, Johnson proposed to his cheerleader girlfriend on national television.
Unfortunately, camp tryouts with the Vikings, Cardinals, and now Lions have not led to an NFL job offer. Though he ran hard and looked good against third-string opposition, he may lack the burst to carry the ball for a living.
Kirk Chambers, Offensive Tackle
Kirk Chambers, a former 2004 fourth-round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns, failed to catch on in his first two seasons there. After a year out of football, he spent time with both the Bills and Bengals across several seasons.
This season, he camped with the Lions--but with Jeff Backus, Gosder Cherilus, Jason Fox, and Corey Hilliard definitely ahead of him, and seventh-round draft pick Johnny Culbreath fighting for a spot, too, Chambers simply didn't have a place.
Nate Vasher, Cornerback
Nate Vasher's story is confusing, and unfortunate. A fourth-round draft pick of the Bears in 2004, he was pressed into starting service early, and answered the bell in a big way. In 2005, Vasher intercepted eight passes and was named All-Pro. Since then, he's struggled with injuries, consistency, and (apparently) confidence.
In his first three seasons in the NFL, Vasher hauled in 16 interceptions. In the subsequent four years, he's picked off just just one pass each. Though he showed well in the preseason, the Lions appear to have chosen youth over Vasher's experience.
Cobrani Mixon, Linebacker
Cobrani Mixon, Kent State's 2010 1st Team All-MAC linebacker, was brought in as an undrafted rookie free agent. With the Lions keeping linebackers like Ashlee Palmer and Isaiah Ekejiuba for their special teams ability, there was barely a spot for 5th-round pick Doug Hogue, let alone a free agent lilke Mixon.
With natural size at 6'-1," 240 lbs., Mixon may get a camp invite next year if he can't catch on elsewhere.
Ricardo Silva, Safety
Ricardo Silva turned a lot of heads when he intercepted Tom Brady in the Lions' third preseason game. Many Lions fans thought the huge (6'-3," 225 lb.) safety had just made the roster. However, the Lions need Erik Coleman's veteran presence behind Louis Delmas and Amari Spievey, and 2010 Pro Bowl alternate and special teams captain John Wendling plays safety, too.
The Lions were unable to keep five safeties; they'll hope Silva clears waivers, and lands safely on their practice squad.
UPDATE: The Lions have signed Silva to the practice squad.
Prince Miller, Cornerback
Prince Miller, a teammate of Matthew Stafford's at Georgia, has camped with the Ravens, the Patriots, the Ravens again, and now the Lions. The former South Carolina Mr. Football was competing with Aaron Berry, Nathan Vasher, and Paul Pratt for one spot, and he just couldn't stand out enough.
Miller may have shown well enough to get a look-see elsewhere.
Donald Thomas, Guard
Donald Thomas was a 2008 sixth-round draft pick of the Miami Dolphins, and the 6'-4," 310-pound UConn product earned the starting right guard job on the third day of training camp. Late in his first season, though, he suffered a Lisfranc injury, and missed the rest of the year.
Thomas spent much of last season out of football, until the Lions picked him up in late November. Apparently he just couldn't recapture his rookie form.
Nate Hughes, Wide Receiver
Nate Hughes, a standout at Alcorn State, went undrafted as a rookie. He camped with the Chiefs in 2008, then with the Jaguars in 2009. The Jags put him on IR in 2010, only to release him with he got healthy. Hughes looked good in both camp and preseason, and per Dave Birkett Hughes has been signed to the practice squad.
Aaron Brown, Tailback
Aaron Brown, the Lions' 2009 6th-round draft pick, had finally begun to round his skill set out. Besides his pure home run speed, in the 2011 preseason Brown had flashed the ability to run inside and outside. He'd also ironed out his tendency to forget which play he was supposed to run, or to pass block.
Unfortunately, the Lions have three other tailbacks who run well after the catch, and none who can push a pile forward two yards. Brown was released to make room for former Redskins power back Kieland Williams.
Derrick Williams, Wide Receiver
For the first time, Martin Mayhew has released one of his own top draft picks. Derrick Williams was one of the Lions two 2009 third-round selections; he was expected to contribute right away as a returner and eventually as a slot receiver.
Williams showed promise as a receiver right away, save for inconsistent hands. Unfortunately, he also struggled to field punts, and often couldn't keep track of when he was supposed to be on the field, and when he was supposed to get off the field—a big problem for a special teamer.
Over the next two seasons and offseasons, Williams slowly progressed as a receiver, and in the 2011 training camp really impressed coaches and media with his ability to get open and make tough catches. Unfortunately, when the preseason started, the drops returned; the Lions couldn't hold his roster spot on potential any longer.
Matt Clapp, Fullback
When multidimensional fullback Jerome Felton was released, some thought it cleared the way for Matt Clapp, a purer masher. Unfortunately, the Lions liked Felton's multidimensionality. The pass-first offense requires a deft blocking and receiving from the fullback; Clapp was too one-dimensional to merit an active roster spot.
Zac Robinson, Quarterback
A former seventh-round draft pick of the New England Patriots, Zac Robinson was rumored to be pushing Drew Stanton for the Lions' third quarterback spot—but Stanton's preseason performances were stronger against stiffer competition.
Robinson is young enough, and talented enough, to be somebody's third quarterback. If the Lions didn't already have two of the better backup quarterbacks in the NFL, he might have been the Lions'.
UPDATE: The Bengals claimed Zac Robinson on waivers. Bittersweetly, for fans of Michigan football, they released former Central Michigan standout Dan Lefevour to make room.
Dan Gerberry, Center/Guard
Along with Rudy Niswanger, and incumbent Dylan Gandy, Dan Gerberry was in the mix for the Lions' swing guard/center backup role. Unfortunately, the 25-year-old out of Ball State couldn't beat out Gandy. Perhaps the Lions will make developmental center a priority in the next draft.
Joe Jon Finely, Tight End
The Lions picked up former Oklahoma tight end Joe Jon Finley off waivers from the 49ers. Finley did nice work in the back half of several preseason games, and was even named captain for one of them. However, tight ends won't figure as heavily into this season's edition of the Lions offense, and they just didn't have enough spots.
Gijon Robinson, Tight End
A late invitee to Detroit Lions training camp, Gijon Robinson had a lot of established competition at both fullback and tight end. The former Missouri Western State standout (yes, really, Missouri Western State) just couldn't get a foothold on the Lions' roster.
Lt. Caleb Campbell
One of the most interesting bottom-of-the-roster stories of the last few NFL seasons has been Lieutenant Caleb Campbell. A star safety for Army's academy team, Campbell was granted permission to leave school early to join the NFL.
He made Lions history as Matt Millen's final draft choice. Then, the night he reported to Detroit, the Army did an about-face, and recalled him to active duty. Campbell spent two years as an assistant coach and recruiter for the US Army, then finally returned to Allen Park. He made last season's practice squad as a linebacker, and was activated late in the season.
However, over the 2011 offseason, the Lions add two new veteran starters at linebacker, and they simply ran out of spots for Campbell. It remains to be seen if he is re-signed to the practice squad.