The Detroit Lions opened their preseason with an impressive 21-16 win against the New York Giants. With many of the anticipated Lions’ starters enjoying a restful night off, the spotlight pivoted towards the fresh talent making their NFL debut.
Several of the Lions’ undrafted rookies expressed the overwhelming emotion when stepping onto the Ford Field turf for the first time professionally. Among them, LB Trevor Nowaske and DT Chris Smith stood out, each vying for a valued spot on the roster. Their ties to Detroit added an extra layer of significance to their NFL debut.
Chris Smith Reflects on His NFL Debut in Detroit
After the game, I had the chance to chat with Chris Smith, who was playing his first game in his hometown of Detroit. When asked about his feelings playing for his hometown team, Chris shared:
it was surreal, you know, playing for your hometown. I played here in high school so it’s so cool just being able to play here now as a professional. And to have my mom watch me in the stands was just so, so huge. Just being out here, you dream of this your whole life.
I was curious about his approach for the remainder of training camp and what he aimed to achieve. Chris’s response was focused:
Just trying to be consistent on film and stacking up days back to back. Especially in camp, just making sure you’re being consistent. And just continually improving every day. So that’s the goal. Just showing I’m dependable.
A brief snapshot of Chris reveals a formidable 6-1, 305 lb. defensive tackle who finished his college career at Notre Dame. He was a grad transfer for the Fighting Irish after completing his undergrad at Harvard. Smith joined the Lions as an undrafted rookie free agent this past May. But Chris’s roots go deeper in Detroit, having made a mark at Cranbrook Kingswood High School in Bloomfield Hills.
John Scott Jr., the Lions’ defensive line coach, has shared words of high praise for Chris. Earlier in training camp he commented: “Chris is a technician, man. He does some things naturally that we don’t even have to coach here… He works his tail off… Very coachable kid.”
Trevor Nowaske: A Dream Come True at Ford Field
Post-game, fellow beat writer Jeff Risdon of Lions Wire, posed a question to Trevor Nowaske about the feeling of representing Canton, Michigan and stepping onto Ford Field for the first time.
With genuine emotion, Trevor replied:
I don’t know if I could put it into words. It was such an unreal experience, you know, like you said, being from Canton, you know, honestly, just being a Lions fan my whole life and now kind of coming to fruition, just being on the team. It’s still kind of settling in, you know, I don’t really have words to describe it, but, you know, glad we could go out there and get the win and just an unreal experience tonight.
Intrigued, I wanted to delve deeper into what raced through his mind during his very first play, which was a special teams coverage on a kickoff. Trevor painted the picture:
My heart was beating for sure. You know, whether it was on defense or special teams, I knew that first play, just gonna have a bottle of emotions. My whole family’s here, so it was really cool to experienced that with them. I feel like I just kind of blacked out, you know, I don’t even really remember it. Just kind of running down and all of a sudden, you know, you’re done. And I’m like, ‘oh my gosh, this is my first NFL play.’ So, pretty surreal, for sure!
When I asked him about his goals for the remainder of training camp, Trevor’s focus was evident: “Right now I’m taking it a day at a time and trying to do one thing every day to catch someone’s eye…. There’s a lot of work to be done.”
The Canton-native’s football journey began at Salem High School and later flourished at Saginaw Valley State. As a tenacious linebacker, his athleticism fueled a physical approach to the game. There, he was a force to reckon with, racking up 98 total tackles, four interceptions, and seven pass breakups. Nowaske’s special teams contributions might be his ticket to securing a roster spot, but he certainly fits the mold of the type of player that the Detroit Lions want in their building. In the words of his former SVSU coach, Ryan Brady, “he’s the total package.”
Nowaske’s Preseason Stats vs. the Giants:
- 3 total combined tackles, including one on special teams.
Chase Cota: The Quiet Sleeper
While I couldn’t secure a post-game one-on-one with wide receiver Chase Cota, his performance certainly made a statement. Standing at 6-4 and weighing 205 lbs, this UDFA rookie from Oregon put on a show in his preseason debut, making a persuasive case for his spot on the roster.
On Friday night, Cota led the Lions with:
- Targets: 7
- Receptions: 4
- Yards: 60
He made critical catches at just the right moments.
Lions’ head coach, Dan Campbell, shared his insights on Cota’s impressive game:
Yeah, I would say he’s kind of the quiet sleeper… When you get a guy who’s where he’s supposed to be, he’s accountable, he can really play all the positions and now he’s making these plays. He’s starting to produce… So, that was good to see… Cota has done a good job. It really showed up tonight and it’s like OK. It catches your eye, right? Because you’re like the lights are on and all of a sudden this guy is making some serious plays, so that makes me want to give him more reps. Let’s bump him up a little bit, better group, better comp, and see where he can go.
UDFA Rookie Stats from the Game:
- RB Mohamed Ibrahim: 4 rushes for 9 yards.
- QB Adrian Martinez: 4-out-of-7 completions for 37 yards. 5 rushes for 14 yards.
- WR Dylan Drummond: 2 receptions on 4 targets for 12 yards.
- S Brandon Joseph: 3 solo tackles and 1 interception.
- Steven Gilmore: 1 tackle.
These undrafted rookies will continue to be tested throughout training camp and upcoming preseason games. Their growth and consistency will determine their true potential as the regular season approaches. There’s promise, but also much work ahead.
For more from our Detroit Lions beat writer, Matt Broder, check him out on Twitter here: @mattbro21
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Original Photo Credit: © Junfu Han/Detroit Free Press / USA TODAY NETWORK