Lions begin cutting roster down to 53

Cornerback Alphonso Smith was released Friday by the Detroit Lions.

Smith, who made eight interceptions in the last two seasons for the club, entered training camp a month ago as a candidate for a starting job.

But he quickly fell behind rookie Bill Bentley and others on the depth chart.

While Smith was a playmaker in the secondary for Detroit, he simply made too many mental mistakes and that finally caught up to him.

Smith’s departure leaves Chris Houston as the only cornerback on the roster that played last season for the Lions.

“All I can do right now is CRY, but I’m not CRYING to quit but I am CRYING to grind & fight harder!” Smith wrote in a message he posted on Twitter.

Among the notable players who survived the cuts and made the initial 53-man roster are third-string quarterback Kellen Moore and former Wayne State running back Joique Bell.

Many question whether Moore is a NFL-caliber player because of his lack of arm strength/athleticism. The Lions, on the other hand, like his intelligence and ability to run the offense, even if it’s mostly with dink-and-dunk passes.

As for keeping Bell, the team needs an extra running back for now because Mikel Leshoure is suspended for the first two weeks of the regular season.

The roster still could change as early as Saturday if the Lions decide to add a player released by another organization.

The last player cut Friday by the Lions apparently was receiver/return specialist Patrick Edwards. NFL teams had until 9 p.m. to settle on their top 53.

Also released was punter Ryan Donahue. What that means is Ben Graham, entering his eighth year in the NFL, has won the job as the Lions’ punter, assuming they don’t bring in someone from the outside.

In the end, it was experience over youth in that competition.

Donahue, 24, who has one season in the NFL after playing in college at Iowa, and Graham, 38, were locked in a close battle for most of camp.

Graham, however, was the one who responded with a timely 49-yard punt out of bounds late in Thursday’s final preseason game to help the Lions overcome a rally by the Buffalo Bills.

“It was a great punt,” coach Jim Schwartz said after the 38-32 victory. “Ben bailed us out. We were gassed on special teams. Those guys (on the punt-coverage unit) played a lot of football in the second half. We lost a lot of guys (to injuries) … a lot of guys were playing every snap on defense or every snap on offense and covering every kick and we needed him (Graham) to paint the sideline. He did a great job of it.”

Graham, who punted for the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl four seasons ago, responded like a true veteran. It was only an exhibition game, but it was a defining moment in trying to solidify a spot on Detroit’s 53-man roster.

Graham, who is from Australia and played 12 seasons of Australian Rules football, will also serve as the holder for kicker Jason Hanson.

Other players who were released include: cornerbacks Justin Miller, Reshard Langford and Ross Weaver (Michigan State); receivers Maurice Stovall, Lance Long, Nate Hughes and Wallace Miles; linebacker Carmen Messina; tight ends Alex Gottlieb and Austin Wells; defensive tackles Andre Fluellen, Tracy Robertson and Edmon McClam; defensive ends Everette Brown and Ugo Chinasa; offensive guards Rodney Austin and Pat Boyle, and center/guard Dan Gerberry.

Eight players can be added Saturday to the practice squad.

 “It comes down to shades of gray on a lot of guys,” Schwartz said earlier in the week, looking ahead to making the cut down. “It’s always a very difficult time. But if you look historically around the NFL, guys that don’t make your team end up back sometime during the season.

 “When we say so long to some of these guys, it won’t be farewell.  Some of these guys will end up helping us somewhere along the line, whether it’s practice squad or an active roster.”