Joint practices provide an up close and personal opportunity for an NFL team to scout players from an opposing team, which can impact the eventual construction of a 53-man roster. A year ago, safety Jason Pinnock and tight end Lawrence Cager ended up with the New York Giants after their joint workout with the New York Jets.
With the Giants holding joint practices with the Detroit Lions on Tuesday and Wednesday I asked Jeremy Reisman of SB Nation’s Pride of Detroit for a handful of Lions ‘bubble’ players to keep an eye on over the next couple of days.
Here is Reisman’s list, and his explanations:
QB Adrian Martinez
Unless the Lions stop playing footsie with Teddy Bridgewater and actually sign him, the Detroit Lions’ backup quarterback spot is pretty secure with Nate Sudfeld. The only other active reserve quarterback right now is rookie Adrian Martinez. The Kansas State product has had a rough couple weeks of training camp – struggling with accuracy and slow processing – but he has some intriguing physical tools (strong arm, good mobility) that could make for a decent developmental backup. The Lions drafted Hendon Hooker to be that guy, but he remains on the Physically Unable to Perform list. Martinez is still a long-shot to make the roster, but if Hooker isn’t ready to go by Week 1, they may want Martinez to stash on the practice squad.
If the Lions do sign Bridgewater, you could do a lot worse than Sudfeld as a backup. In camp, he’s shown a surprisingly strong arm and decent poise in the pocket. At the very least, he’s a good resource in the film room as someone who has been around for six years.
Edge Julian Okwara
The team’s third-round pick in 2020, Okwara has struggled with injuries much of his career. He now enters the final year of his rookie deal underdeveloped and buried on the depth chart. He flashed pass rushing potential at Notre Dame, but he has failed to develop into a more well rounded player. Coach Dan Campbell didn’t mince words last week about Okwara’s lack of progress.
“He’s a flash player, man. He does something really impressive and then it just kind of reverts back at times,” Campbell said. “He doesn’t use what he’s been taught and so he – man, he just has to continually put on tape what he’s been taught and those little flash plays, they have to become the norm. We’re at the point now, we’re year three with him, with us, and so those things have to show up every time because he’s too talented, he just is.”
With James Houston showing more progress both as a pass rusher and as an occasional coverage linebacker, Okwara is on the outside looking in, despite solid physical tools.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: This would be an interesting case of turnabout is fair play, since the Giants lost edge defender Romeo Okwara — Julian’s older brother — to the Lions a few years ago after final cuts].
LB Anthony Pittman
Pittman has been a core special teamer for years in Detroit and is a high-character person. But with the draftings of Derrick Barnes, Malcolm Rodriguez, and Jack Campbell in three consecutive years, the Lions roster may not have room for a player who excels mostly at special teams.
That said, Pittman brings a little versatility on defense, too. While primarily an off-ball linebacker, under both Matt Patricia and Dan Campbell Pittman has been given some edge/pass-rushing responsibilities and he doesn’t look out of place there.
Safety Ifeatu Melifonwu
The Lions made a ton of additions to their secondary this offseason, including versatile cornerbacks like C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Brian Branch, who can both play some safety, too. That could mean the Lions move on from Melifonwu, the team’s third-round pick in 2021. Melifonwu has had a rough two years in Detroit. He was shifted from corner to safety after an injury-riddled rookie season, and then was hampered by injuries again in 2022. He’s already looked a lot more comfortable at the safety position this offseason, but he has also missed time at training camp again with injuries.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Practice begins at 10:30 a.m. Big Blue View will not be in Michigan for the practices, but we will still have full coverage. Visit Pride of Detroit for the Lions’ perspective.]