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Friday, September 29, 2023

Detroit Lions host 7 players for tryouts as injuries mount

ALLEN PARK — The Detroit Lions are dealing with several injuries across the board, so it’s no surprise to see the team host seven players on tryouts, per Tuesday’s transaction wire.

As expected, they placed defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson (pectoral) and edge rusher James Houston (ankle) on injured reserve. Running back David Montgomery (thigh) is day-to-day. And after missing last week’s game, starting left tackle Taylor Decker (ankle) still isn’t completely out of the woods. Offensive guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai is also nursing a knee injury that knocked him out of the overtime loss in Week 2.

The list of players visiting Allen Park featured some familiar ones, including former Michigan State defensive end Kenny Willekes, Western Michigan defensive back Darius Phillips and Saginaw Valley State running back Nate McCrary. Linebacker Mitchell Agude (Miami Fl.), running back Abram Smith (Baylor), defensive back Chris Jackson (Marshall) and linebacker Jordan Smith (Alabama) were also on the list.

Related: Lions elevate ex-Jets RB to main roster after David Montgomery injury

Related: Lions still hope to get back C.J. Gardner-Johnson this season, but they’re hurting

Willekes appeared in six games with the Minnesota Vikings in 2021. The 2020 seventh-round picks notched 2.5 sacks in those appearances, but that was the last time he was on an NFL field. Willekes was released by the Vikings back in May. Phillips brings 56 games and 10 starts across five seasons under his belt. He intercepted four passes in eight games while with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2019. Phillips spent four seasons with the Bengals, appearing in nine games for the Denver Broncos last season. He’s also returned 30 punts and 25 kickoffs, which could be useful with Lions running back Craig Reynolds likely seeing a larger role.

McCrary has bounced around the league with the Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers. Agude went undrafted, then was among the final cuts after spending training camp with the Miami Dolphins. Smith spent time with the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings, then led the XFL in rushing yards with the DC Defenders this past season.

Gardner-Johnson is out indefinitely with a torn pectoral muscle. Lions head coach Dan Campbell said there is a chance the starting safety could return this season, though. Luckily for the Lions in this tough situation, they have veteran safety Tracy Walker waiting in the wings. But that’s about where the good news stops.

Cornerback Emmanuel Moseley still isn’t expected to debut in Week 3 while dealing with knee and hamstring issues. Moseley was working back from an ACL injury suffered last season when a hamstring issue happened. Decker remains day-to-day. And Vaitai’s status is murky in the short term, with the offensive guard expected to avoid injured reserve. The Lions reportedly signed guard Kayode Awosika from their practice squad. Awosika was elevated for last week’s loss to the Seahawks, and saw game action with the Lions last year.

Montgomery suffered a thigh bruise in the loss to the Seattle Seahawks. He scored in back-to-back weeks and has been the power option the Lions have leaned on to start the year. Rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs is expected to see a larger role, while Reynolds should also see a bump in usage. The Lions signed running back Zonovan Knight from their practice squad. And Knight was impressive as a rookie with the New York Jets last year. The former NC State star was eventually bumped out of that crowded backfield in New York, though.

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