The Detroit Lions held 22 of their top players out of Friday’s 21-16 preseason victory over the New York Giants, which meant more time for bubble players to earn their way onto or off of the roster. Here are six players who helped or hurt their chances:
OLB Julian Okwara: He logged three second-half sacks to spark the Lions’ come-from-behind victory and had a good pass rush on the Giants’ final offensive play, forcing Tommy DeVito to step up in the pocket and airmail an interception to Brandon Joseph. Okwara still is striving for the consistency Dan Campbell wants; he didn’t have a tackle in the first half despite starting and playing most of the game. But he hasn’t lost the pass rush skills he showed with five sacks in the 2021 season.
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TE James Mitchell: Mitchell isn’t a bubble player. His roster spot is secure. But after a rookie season in which he caught 11 passes in 14 games, he had an impressive preseason debut Friday — three catches for 53 yards. Mitchell has impressed as a blocker all training camp, and on Friday he showed some catch-and-run ability that could make him a dangerous complement to Sam LaPorta this fall.
WR Chase Cota: The Oregon product has flown far under the radar in the battle for a receiver job this fall, but he led the Lions with four catches and 60 yards receiving Friday. Two of Cota’s catches came on third down, all four went for first downs and he had a fifth nullified by penalty. An undrafted rookie with good size (6 feet 4, 205 pounds), Cota earned a bump up the depth chart and more playing time with the second-team offense next week, Campbell said.
PR Maurice Alexander: Alexander had a quiet day as a receiver, catching one pass for 7 yards, but he scored on a 95-yard punt return early in the second half that helped flipped momentum the Lions’ direction. Like Cota, Alexander has been a somewhat forgotten man in the battle for back-end jobs at receiver. But he has special return skills (as he showed in the USFL last season) and plays like Friday’s help everyone around the NFL take notice. “This is one of the best days of my life, honestly,” he said. “One of my best football moments ever.”
TE Daniel Helm: Helm has only been with the Lions a week, so he’s getting acquainted with the offense and his teammates. But he had a couple rough moments Friday. Helm was penalized twice — for an offensive pass interference that nullified one Cota catch and a false start — and he got driven back on a block when Nate Sudfeld had a ball tipped at the line of scrimmage. The Lions are set with their top three tight ends (LaPorta, Mitchell and Brock Wright), but Helm will need a better showing against the Jacksonville Jaguars next week if he wants to earn a practice squad spot.
RB Mohamed Ibrahim: Injuries are an unfortunate part of the NFL, but Ibrahim has to be kicking himself over a missed opportunity. The undrafted rookie out of Minnesota was in line for heavy playing time Friday before he left in the first half with an undisclosed injury. He finished with four carries for 9 yards, while Devin Ozigbo and Benny Snell combined for 54 yards on 17 carries after signing this week. The No. 3 running back spot is wide open following the retirement of Justin Jackson, and Ibrahim needs to stay healthy to have a chance at winning it.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit Lions stock watch: Maurice Alexander, Julian Okwara get boost