NFL Nation: George Johnson

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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- When the Detroit Lions halted contract talks with Ndamukong Suh prior to the start of training camp this season, it became the latest in a line of risky chances in their attempt to retain the All-Pro defensive tackle.

Through 13 games this season, Suh has shown exactly why it is so dangerous for Detroit to let him reach free agency. He is too valuable to the Lions -- the most critical player on the league's second-ranked defense -- and they can't let him walk away to another team.

Everything that happens with the Lions' defense starts with the 6-foot-4, 305-pound Suh in the middle of the defensive line. The pressure the Lions put on opposing quarterbacks? It doesn’t happen without Suh consistently taking on double- and triple-teams. The Lions’ run defense, rated tops in the NFL? It starts with Suh drawing all that attention.

Suh, the No. 2 pick in 2010, is playing better than ever. It's why not securing him to a new deal was such a risk, although it's possible he may not have wanted to get a deal done then since free agency can be tantalizing.

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh
AP Photo/Paul SancyaThe Lions will tell you that Ndamukong Suh's value goes well beyond his 5.5 sacks this season.
As much as he was worth to Detroit before the season, he may end up being more valuable now.

“Suh was a force,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said after Detroit beat Tampa Bay 34-17.

That quote could come from almost any Lions game this season. Suh has been a dominant presence on the interior of Detroit’s defense, playing 81 percent of the Lions' snaps, according to Pro Football Focus -- and if there’s one reason the Lions should pay him at the same level as J.J. Watt and Gerald McCoy to ensure his presence in Detroit for the next four to six years, it is that.

If the Lions can’t re-sign Suh, at this point it is worth considering using the franchise tag, even if it costs the Lions over $26 million in 2015 to do so. To this Detroit defense, he is worth investing that type of cash.

Yes, either one of these options could cause some salary-cap issues for the Lions in the immediate future, but the likely escalation of the cap could make Suh more affordable given his relative worth to the Lions.

“He’s the player he is for a reason,” linebacker DeAndre Levy said. “Guys are keyed in on him, and I like playing behind him. Obviously. There’s been times this year where guys will stay on him a little bit longer on the blocks and I’m able to run through, and times they come up on me faster and he has a one-on-one block and he wins it.

“The whole front line, they’ve been doing it all year. He’s just on another level.”

Suh might not have overly dominant stats (5.5 sacks and 38 tackles), but his value comes in what he does for his teammates.

“When you have Suh, it makes it so hard on an offense,” defensive end George Johnson said. “A lot of teams plan for Suh. They want to stop him. They want to slow him down, but at the same time, you have four other good defenders out there on that defensive line who are going to get pressure.”

Due to Suh, when the Lions rush smartly -- and they have pretty much all season -- Johnson and fellow defensive ends Ezekiel Ansah, Jason Jones and Darryl Tapp receive favorable solo matchups.

This creates larger lanes for Levy and Tahir Whitehead to burst through. This helps with rushing passers -- the Lions had 14 quarterback hits Sunday.

This is something Johnson didn’t appreciate until he started playing with Suh this season.

“When somebody is so dominant like that and people just want to stop him, it makes it so much easier for us,” Johnson said. “It frees us up. It’s like once we start getting going, they start taking their focus off of Suh and stopping everybody else, but that’s when Suh gets going.”

On the field, Suh has been going all season, and that's why the Lions have to keep him from going once it is over.
DETROIT -- Observed and heard in the locker room following the Detroit Lions' 34-17 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
  • Pettigrew
    Pettigrew
    Tight end Brandon Pettigrew was benched for a quarter against the Buccaneers for what Lions coach Jim Caldwell called an unspecified violation of team rules. The Lions started Joseph Fauria in Pettigrew's place, but Pettigrew entered the game at the start of the second quarter and played the rest of the way for Detroit.


    "It was punishment for something that I did," Pettigrew said. "It was a quarter of play that I cost the team. It's over with."
  • George Johnson laughed for a second when he was asked whether he felt bad for Tampa Bay quarterback Josh McCown, who was sacked six times and hit 14 times by the Lions. He said that, yeah, he did feel a little bad for McCown after it was all over.


    "We want to win just as bad as them so you can't feel too bad," Johnson said. "But at the end of the game I can feel bad for him."
  • Wide receiver Corey Fuller was seen on the field exchanging jerseys with Tampa Bay safety Bradley McDougald. While I was unable to ask Fuller the reasoning after the game, the two were at Kansas together at the same time before Fuller transferred to Virginia Tech.
LONDON -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Detroit Lions' 22-21 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
  • Ross
    Looking around Wembley Stadium on Sunday before the game, Lions wide receiver Jeremy Ross said that “it felt like the Pro Bowl because there were a lot of different jerseys out there in the stands. It was just different, constant noise.” From a quick count prior to the game, at least 20 teams were represented by jerseys on the concourse as well as jerseys from college teams Oregon and Texas Tech.
  • George Johnson was walking out of the locker room Sunday with a giant smile on his face, saying “I love our kicker, man.” He should, after Matt Prater made the game-winning field goal as time expired.
  • Lions owner Martha Ford made the trip to London to watch the team play, as she has done most weeks. Seeing her waiting with her family after the game, she seemed quite pleased with the team’s second straight come-from-behind win, smiling along the way.
  • One difference between the international and American media: At least one member of the international media was seen posing for a selfie with cornerback Cassius Vaughn, who laughed after he took it as he was walking out of the locker room toward the bus.
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DETROIT -- On Saturday evenings, during the team’s final meeting of the night before a game on Sunday, Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell ends those sessions with the same message every time.

Above all else, win. No matter what.

It’s a simple message, really. But too often in the recent past for the Lions, it has been the opposite. This used to be a team that would give away fourth-quarter leads and hand victories to opponents. This was a team last season that held leads in the fourth quarter of almost every game in the second half of the season and found ways to lose time and time again.

This is part of why Caldwell is here, because of those collapses. So with four minutes left Sunday against the New Orleans Saints and the Lions needing two touchdowns to win and an offense struggling without Calvin Johnson, they needed Caldwell’s message to somehow resonate.

They needed a spark to resurrect an offense that was built to have many weapons to endure in the face of injuries, not to collapse when Johnson wasn’t in there.

“Just hard finding good rhythm,” tight end Brandon Pettigrew said. “These defenses are putting together great game plans as well, so it’s tough to kind of get through that sometimes.”

The Lions are hoping the double-digit deficit turned 24-23 win over the Saints in the last 3 minutes, 52 seconds is the ignition for the rest of the season.

Facing third-and-14, Matthew Stafford threw the ball up to his hot receiver, Golden Tate. And 73 yards later -- 65 of them from Tate after the catch -- a Lions offense that gained 187 yards through three quarters had a touchdown, a belief and that offensive spark.

“That play he made on that long touchdown is as good a play as I’ve seen in a long time,” Stafford said. “Just to catch it at a standstill, basically I just threw him a ball up. He was hot. He was calling for it. Wanted it.

“I gave him a chance on a ball and he came back, caught it and he did the rest. It was pretty impressive.”

The Lions' defense saw that and started pressuring Drew Brees even more on the chances it could get. On a third-and-9, the offensive spark turned into a defensive play. George Johnson pressured his man from the side and forced Brees off rhythm. His pass to Marques Colston ended up intercepted by Detroit safety Glover Quin.

Johnson said the Lions knew at some point Brees was going to have to hold the ball a split-second longer to make a play. It led to the pressure and the pick.

And Caldwell’s message of believing took hold even more: Above all else, win.

With 3:10 left and 14 yards and an extra point between a loss and an improbable victory, the Lions ran four times, passed twice and received one pass interference call. Then, five yards from the end zone on third down with 1:48 left, Stafford saw Tate bracketed by the Saints and Corey Fuller breaking toward the middle of the end zone.

Fuller started in Johnson’s place Sunday, and in the biggest spot of his career Fuller made a play reminiscent of his mentor. He leaped, controlled his body and got both of his feet down. It was the definition of a role player with a massive play.

“It was a toe-touch,” Pettigrew said. “That’s real Calvinish. I’m not taking anything away from him, but that was pretty good. That’s pretty good.”

That is an offensive spark completed for a team in desperate need of one -- for one day and for the rest of the season.

“Games in this league are crazy,” Caldwell said. “You don’t know exactly how they are going to turn out.”

Down 13 with under four minutes left and no Calvin Johnson -- no, no one could have seen this coming at all. Except maybe Caldwell with his message: Above all else, win.

MINNEAPOLIS – Quarterbacks are taught to always keep their eyes downfield. Feel the pressure, but elude it and make the play.

Then these same quarterbacks run into the Detroit Lions defense, and something changes.

[+] EnlargeNick Fairley
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltNick Fairley and his cohorts on the Lions' defensive line made life tough for rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
“Recently, we have seen quarterbacks not even looking downfield,” linebacker DeAndre Levy said. “They are kind of taking their eyes off the receivers and looking at the rush. Whenever you can get in a quarterback’s head like that, it helps everybody.”

That type of pressure ended with eight sacks Sunday in a 17-3 victory over Minnesota – the most by a Lions team since Nov. 23, 1997 against Indianapolis. It led to 12 quarterback hits and a Minnesota offensive line that couldn’t protect its rookie quarterback and led Vikings coach Mike Zimmer to lament, “We physically got beat.”

It’s a pressure that allows Detroit’s linebackers and secondary to break on routes and to defend passes, such as the six they defended and three they intercepted Sunday, including two by Tahir Whitehead.

It’s a pressure that helps the Lions deal with a day when two offensive stars – Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush – were out and they missed two more field goals. No matter -- the Lions are 4-2 because of a defensive line that, when it plays well, can dominate.

“No one can stop us if we do our technique and assignments correct,” defensive tackle Nick Fairley said. “No one can score on us, no one can run the ball, no one can pass the ball. It’s up to us.

“We make teams, basically as a defense, we try to make it go on our terms.”

Those terms have stifled almost every opponent this season. No team has gained more than 350 yards on the Lions. Three teams have been held to less than 225 yards, including the Vikings, who gained 212 yards Sunday.

This starts with the defensive front. The pressure they provide flusters opposing quarterbacks and takes the pressure off the secondary – an issue that plagued the Lions last season.

“It helps us tremendously because we know if we cover early on in a down and just a little later, you know we’re going to get a coverage sack,” Whitehead said. “If we don’t get a coverage sack, we’re going to apply pressure and the ball is going to flow and maybe you get a pick.”

Consider what Bridgewater said Sunday, that “everything happens so fast for me.” He’s a rookie, so part of that is expected. When you’re facing the Lions, everything lately appears at warp speed. Aaron Rodgers, widely considered one of the best quarterbacks in the league, entered Sunday with his season-low in completion percentage (59.3) and QBR (47.7) against Detroit. So did Eli Manning.

Detroit’s defensive line won those two games. In them, they felt close to being able to do what they accomplished Sunday: Control another team. It’s a performance Lions coach Jim Caldwell called “smothering.”

“It’s important for them to be really strong at what they do,” Caldwell said. “Our defensive line creates so many problems because of the fact that they don’t allow you to run the ball consistently against us and then also they can put pressure on the passer.”

That was what Lions general manager Martin Mayhew envisioned when he drafted three of the four defensive line starters in the first round in 2010 (Ndamukong Suh), 2011 (Fairley) and 2013 (Ezekiel Ansah).

“Every game should be like this for this D-line we have now, you know what I’m saying,” Fairley said. “From the guys that are setting the edges and the guys in the middle, we have a D-line that can get after quarterback and any O-line.”

In almost every game this season, they have.
Johnson
MINNEAPOLIS -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Detroit Lions' 17-3 win over the Minnesota Vikings.
  • The Lions' defensive line gave George Johnson, the former Vikings defensive end, their game ball. He had a massive game -- five tackles, 1.5 sacks, two quarterback hits -- and said it is the first game ball he has ever personally received, either in college at Rutgers or in the NFL.
  • Speaking of Johnson, he wore a Superman undershirt for the first time Sunday for the game against Minnesota. The reason? He told his wife he "felt like Superman when I go out there and play." So he's been meaning to do it, but this was the shirt's debut. He's planning on doing it from now on, too.
  • Lions owner Martha Ford was driven up to the team's locker room in a golf cart. As she waited to enter the locker room, she was told about the Packers-Dolphins game, still in progress.
  • Wide receiver Ryan Broyles was not targeted Sunday against Minnesota and was barely used in the game plan against the Vikings. He voiced his frustration after, tweeting:

DETROIT -- A week ago, Jonte Green was picked on by Oakland during the Raiders’ game-winning drive. On Friday, he didn’t see any time until the fourth quarter against Jacksonville.

In his short work Friday, the cornerback battling for a spot on the roster ended up with a big play. Green picked off a Ricky Stanzi pass on the Jaguars’ second-to-last drive to secure a 13-12 win for Detroit -- its third straight game decided by a single point.

Here are some other thoughts from the Lions’ third preseason game:
  • Tahir Whitehead received the surprise start over Ashlee Palmer at strongside linebacker Friday night and took advantage. The third-year pro from Temple had four tackles in the first two series and ended up around the ball the entire game. Already likely on the roster due to his special-teams skills, he has been trying to make a push to show he can be an NFL linebacker, too. He took a step toward that against the Jaguars.
  • George Johnson received valuable chances while Ezekiel Ansah was injured. Now that Ansah is back, at least in a limited role, Johnson is still making as many plays as possible. Johnson sacked Chad Henne in the first half and had at least one more really strong pressure. He is also consistently on the Lions’ nickel pass-rush unit at defensive end. Seeing him play this much with the first group bodes well for his chances to make the roster. He also showed up on special-teams units throughout the game, so he can be versatile there, too.
  • Quarterback Matthew Stafford was 10-of-16 for 98 yards and an interception. He was really good on some throws but fell into the old habit of forcing the ball to Calvin Johnson on others -- including the pass he had intercepted. Stafford moved well in the pocket though, and did well to evade Jacksonville's rush.
  • The Lions should be pleased with their pass rush against Jacksonville. Johnson and Devin Taylor picked up sacks and there were numerous other quarterback pressures -- including a roughing-the-passer call on Ndamukong Suh that earned a flag. That some of the pressure came from linebacker Stephen Tulloch and cornerback Bill Bentley is another sign of the type of blitzing the Lions are going to do this season.
  • Hello, penalties. The Lions brought in Jim Caldwell to instill discipline and cut down on penalties. The Lions failed there Friday, committing 15 penalties for 131 yards -- not the statement a team preaching discipline wanted to make. Detroit had 16 penalties for 106 yards in the first two games combined.
  • It was not a good night for George Winn. He saw some running back reps with the first team, but also committed his second fumble of the preseason. For a player trying to make the roster as the last running back, that won’t help his cause. His competition, Mikel Leshoure, didn’t do a ton but did have a 30-yard run in the fourth quarter. Leshoure then fumbled on the next play.

Lions Camp Report: Day 5

August, 1, 2014
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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • Rough day for the first-team offense during a two-minute drill situation. Defensive ends George Johnson and Darryl Tapp -- neither of whom is expected to be a first-team defender this season -- had touch sacks of Matthew Stafford. Stafford and the offense also went three-and-out on one possession with the quarterback being forced to throw away multiple passes when no one was open. Not surprisingly, Ndamukong Suh was also causing havoc up the middle. The second team fared better, scoring a touchdown and having Giorgio Tavecchio also make a 41-yard field goal to close practice. Jim Caldwell didn't seem too concerned, though, with any of the issues the first-team offense was having.
  • Why not? Well, the first-team offense still has Calvin Johnson, who made two exceptional catches Friday to show why he is the top receiver in the game. He grabbed a touchdown in 7-on-7 after the play was whistled dead, but the way he plucked it was exceptional. There was another play in which a Stafford pass looked like it was headed nowhere, then Johnson came out of his break, dove perfectly on the low ball and caught the ball in front of Chris Greenwood in 11-on-11. It was one of those plays that no defensive back can do anything about. And that has nothing to do with Greenwood, as other cornerbacks will attest to.
  • This was perhaps the best day for Detroit's kicking competitors thus far. Combined, Nate Freese and Tavecchio went 11-for-11, including Tavecchio's 41-yarder to end practice in a two-minute situation. Both also made field goals from 53 yards during a special teams section of practice. Meanwhile, Sam Martin is having a great camp punting. He continually boots punts of more than 65 yards and appears stronger than his rookie season already.
  • Among the defenders who stood out was rangy cornerback Mohammed Seisay. The Nebraska product, whom I wrote about more in depth here, is still a longshot to make the roster. However, with uncertainty in the final one or two cornerback spots, a strong camp could make him a consideration. He read a pass to tight end Eric Ebron perfectly during one-on-ones and broke the play up well. He wasn't the only defensive back to grab attention, as Darius Slay continued to have a strong camp, including a good pass breakup in the one-on-one session.
  • Mentioned Kevin Ogletree on Thursday and he put together another good practice, but Corey Fuller is starting to catch some notice as well among wide receivers. He caught a long pass in the two-minute drill from Dan Orlovsky after easily beating Greenwood. He also had nice catches during the receiver-vs.-defensive back session on both Nevin Lawson and Cassius Vaughn. He is a much more confident player than he was a season ago and looks like a completely different one -– an assessment he said he agreed with following practice.
  • The Lions return to practice at 10:30 a.m. Saturday for their final day of the first week before taking Sunday off. Like Friday, Saturday is expected to be a fully-padded practice.

Lions Camp Report: Day 3

July, 30, 2014
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DETROIT -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Detroit Lions training camp:
  • George Johnson, a defensive end who played with Tampa Bay and Minnesota before coming to the Lions, spent time with the first team for the second straight day. He has a long way to go to make the roster for multiple reasons, however. The Lions are without the likely starter at his spot, Ezekiel Ansah, as he remains on the PUP list recovering from shoulder surgery. Another potential open defensive end, Devin Taylor, is competing for the starting closed defensive end spot.
  • The Lions were in shoulder pads for the first time during camp and it led to a little more physical play. Brandon Pettigrew was actually tackled by Jason Jones in a period of 11-on-11 and Mikel Leshoure was hit by DeAndre Levy after catching a pass.
  • In the daily kicking battle, Giorgio Tavecchio made all five of his field goal attempts. Nate Freese made four of five after having his first attempt from 30 yards blocked. On Tuesday, both Freese and Tavecchio missed 49-yard field goals to end practice. On Wednesday, Tavecchio made his practice-ending kick, while Freese missed his again. After practice, Freese could not explain what happened on the block and said he is still working on timing with holder Sam Martin and long snapper Don Muhlbach, but that they are close. On his missed field goal to end practice, Freese said it was his fault he missed the kick and the operation was good.
  • Both Reggie Bush and Jeremy Ross had nice plays in various times. Ross had an impressive one-handed catch during skeleton drills that would have been a difficult touchdown. Bush, meanwhile, made a play in 11-on-11 and then made a nasty cut on linebacker Tahir Whitehead for what would have been a large gain if the team was in full pads and tackling. The play of the day might have gone to Golden Tate, who converted a 3rd-and-4 play with a well-thrown slant pass over the middle from Stafford. Then he had the defense chase him all over the field.
  • Another day, another drop for Lions rookie tight end Eric Ebron. To be fair, this play was a little bit more difficult than a garden variety play, as he had to turn around to make the catch. But the pass hit Ebron squarely in the hands on a deep route along the sideline with DeJon Gomes in coverage and it is a play Ebron would be expected to make in a game during the season. For as many good plays and highlight reel plays Ebron has the capability of making, seeing him drop routine-or-close-to-it passes should be a concern even if it is early in camp. He is still learning the offense, but at some point it should be instinct as well. Ebron did rebound later in practice with a difficult catch on a short route for a touchdown.
MINNEAPOLIS -- When the Vikings made their final round of cuts Aug. 31, trimming their roster to 53, they had a nine-man group of defensive linemen that looked like this:

Jared Allen, Brian Robison, Kevin Williams, Letroy Guion, Fred Evans, Sharrif Floyd, Everson Griffen, Chase Baker and George Johnson.

Williams
Griffen
The group was highlighted, as usual, by two productive pass rushers, but four of its nine players were over 30. The group lacked bulk up the middle and depth at the end of the group, and the Vikings were waiting on a breakout year from Griffen that never really came.

Six months later, after a sweeping set of changes precipitated by a new coaching staff, the Vikings' top eight defensive linemen currently look like this:

Robison, Floyd, Griffen, Evans, Linval Joseph, Corey Wootton, Tom Johnson and Baker, with a draft pick or two possibly coming.

Five players in that group will be 27 or younger by the start of the season. Robison and Evans will be the oldest at 31, and in Joseph, the Vikings have their first true road grader since Pat Williams.

It's a striking overhaul to a position that had been the Vikings' hallmark for years under Allen and Kevin Williams. This group still could be the identity of Mike Zimmer's defense, but it figures to be younger, nastier and tougher up the middle, befitting a defense that's designed to be structurally sound and stout against the run.

In some ways, this had been coming since last spring, when the Vikings drafted Floyd, decided not to pursue a contract extension for Allen and asked Williams to void the 2014 season on his contract while taking a $2.5 million pay cut in 2013. Both Allen and Williams sensed it at the end of the season, giving a handful of valedictory speeches in December press conferences and talking about how their relationship would continue once they were done playing together.

Allen and the Vikings decided to part ways before the start of free agency, and while general manager Rick Spielman said the Vikings would keep the door open for Willliams, it seemed obvious the Vikings had other plans. Williams said Wednesday he hadn't heard from the Vikings in a week, and the team signed Johnson to add depth at the three-technique tackle position the same day. And then, to make the inevitable somewhat official, he told the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Thursday night he was even more sure his time with the Vikings was over.

It's a coldly efficient way for one of the Vikings' great defensive players to see his time with the team end, but it's the order of the NFL in 2014. The Vikings have swept through their defensive line remodel with little attachment to their past, and they've come out from at least the first phase of it with a markedly different look to the group. The ultimate success of their plan will depend on young players -- most notably Griffen and Floyd -- turning their potential into legitimate production, but at some point, the Vikings had to detach from their past and attempt going in this direction.

Raymond, Hodges make debuts

September, 29, 2013
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LONDON -- Hello from Wembley Stadium, where we're about an hour from kickoff between the Vikings and Steelers. We already knew four of the Vikings' seven inactives on Friday, with Chris Cook, Jamarca Sanford, Rhett Ellison and Christian Ponder out, and the absences of Cook and Sanford helped put a pair of defensive players -- veteran safety Mistral Raymond and rookie linebacker Gerald Hodges -- on the active game-day roster for the first time this season.

Raymond was one of the Vikings' two starting safeties at the beginning of last season, but a persistent ankle injury opened up a chance for Sanford to take his starting spot, which he hasn't given back. Now that Sanford is out with a hamstring injury, Raymond will at least have a chance to re-assert himself, though the fact Andrew Sendejo will start in Sanford's place probably shows how far Raymond has fallen in the Vikings' eyes.

Hodges, the Vikings' fourth-round draft pick, hasn't found his way onto the field yet. I'd expect to see him mostly on special teams today, where he'd likely join former Penn State teammate Michael Mauti.

In addition to Sanford, Cook, Ellison and Ponder, defensive linemen Chase Baker and George Johnson and guard Jeff Baca are inactive for the Vikings.

Three rookies sit for Vikings

September, 8, 2013
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DETROIT -- We already knew Kevin Williams would sit out the Vikings' 2013 season opener against the Detroit Lions, but the 32-year-old tackle will be accompanied in street clothes by three Vikings rookies -- linebackers Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti, and guard Jeff Baca.

Mauti could have factored in on special teams, but the Vikings have enough other linebackers -- Audie Cole and Larry Dean among them -- who can help there that the rookie will have to wait at least another week to get back into a game that counts for something. His last meaningful action came last November, when he tore his ACL for the third time in college against Indiana. Hodges wore his teammate's No. 42 in the Lions' final home game, and the rest of Mauti's teammates wore a decal with his number on their helmets, to thank him for his leadership in the wake of NCAA sanctions.

Safety Mistral Raymond also sits for the Vikings, after beginning last season as a starter. There aren't many surprises in the rest of the Vikings' inactive list. Here is the full group:
One other note on Williams: With the veteran out, Letroy Guion moves from the nose tackle to three-technique spot and gets the start today, with Fred Evans at the nose. We'll see plenty of Sharrif Floyd today, but the Vikings are trying to ease the rookie into his first NFL game, especially after he missed the team's final two preseason games after a knee operation.

Bucs activate Da'Quan Bowers

October, 25, 2012
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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers just pulled a bit of a surprise.

Only hours before the Thursday night game with the Minnesota Vikings, the Bucs announced they have activated defensive end Da’Quan Bowers from the physically unable to perform list. They waived cornerback LeQuan Lewis to create the roster spot for Bowers.

With the Bucs only practicing once in a short week and the game being played on artificial turf, I didn’t think we’d see Bowers until next week. But the Bucs obviously are up to speed on the progress of his recovery from a torn Achilles tendon and whether or not he’s in football shape.

Still, I’d look for them to bring Bowers along slowly. I’d expect them to use Bowers along with George Johnson as part of the defensive end rotation behind starters Michael Bennett and Daniel Te'o-Nesheim.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers could soon have defensive end Da'Quan Bowers back on the field.

After tearing an Achilles tendon in May, Bowers has been on the physically unable to perform list. But he’s eligible to begin practicing this week, and coach Greg Schiano made it sound like Bowers will start getting a look Wednesday.

“We need to see how he responds to doing that and then we will act accordingly,’’ Schiano told the media Monday. “As I said, if there is any question, we are going to wait. We are not going to put him in harm’s way. He is excited to play. He is chomping at the bits. We got to hold him back until we know it is all good.”

It would be wise to be cautious, because Bowers is coming back fast after a serious injury. Once he begins practicing, the Bucs have a three-week window in which to decide if they want to activate him or shut him down for the season.

If Bowers is healthy enough to return, it could be a huge boost for the defensive line. Bowers was expected to start at defensive end along with fellow second-year player Adrian Clayborn. But, after Bowers' injury, Michael Bennett took over the starting job.

Bennett has played well, but the Bucs lost Clayborn to a season-ending injury.

The Bucs have been using Daniel Te'o-Nesheim in Clayborn’s place, with George Johnson as the third defensive end. Even if Bowers comes back as only a part-time player this season, he could make a big impact as a situational pass-rusher.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ defensive front, one of the biggest bright spots this season, has suffered a major blow.

Second-year defensive end Adrian Clayborn will miss the rest of the season after suffering a right knee injury in Sunday’s loss to Dallas, coach Greg Schiano said Monday afternoon.

Clayborn led the Bucs with 7.5 sacks last season and had been joining with end Michael Bennett and tackles Roy Miller and Gerald McCoy to give the Bucs a productive front four this season.

Without Clayborn, the Bucs likely will turn to either George Johnson or Daniel Te’o-Nesheim as the starter opposite Bennett. They also may have to add another defensive end for depth.

"We have some internal alternatives,'' Schiano said. "We just have to work our way through it.''

But there could be a wild-card in all this in a few weeks. Da’Quan Bowers is eligible to begin practicing after the sixth week of the season. Bowers is on the physically unable to perform list after suffering a torn Achilles tendon in the offseason.

The Bucs have said Bowers’ rehabilitation is ahead of schedule. General manager Mark Dominik previously expressed optimism that Bowers, who showed some promise as a rookie, would be able to return later this season.

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