Former Viking to Try Out for Lions

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A handful of players from the Minnesota Vikings 2023 roster remain unsigned, and one man will try on the Detroit Lions for size.

Former Viking to Try Out for Lions

He’s defensive tackle T.J. Smith, and he’ll attempt to make Detroit’s summer roster next week.

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ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler tweeted Wednesday, “Free agent defensive tackle T.J. Smith will participate in Lions rookie minicamp as a tryout player next week, per source. Smith spent the last three seasons with Minnesota.”

Smith has notably spent the last three seasons in Minnesota, seeing action in four games and a total of 86 defensive snaps. He was a depth defensive tackle behind Harrison Phillips during the last two years and evidently wasn’t a priority to re-sign this offseason.

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The veteran defender first entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Los Angeles Chargers in 2020, where he landed on the practice squad and experienced no regular season playing time. He lasted in Los Angeles for about a year and a half before a release halfway through the 2021 season. The Mike Zimmer version of the Vikings signed him thereafter, and Smith stayed on the purple team’s roster in varying capacities through the end of 2023.

For now, these men would be Smith’s competition at defensive tackle on the Lions’ current roster:

  • D.J. Reader
  • Alim McNeill
  • Tyson Alualu
  • Levi Onwuzurike
  • James Houston
  • Mekhi Wingo
  • Chris Smith
  • Mathieu Betts
  • Nate Lynn

Detroit will likely keep about 5-7 of those players on the active roster in the regular season, so Smith faces an uphill climb in making the next team and, subsequently, the active roster later this summer.

Choice for the NFC
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Without Smith, this is Minnesota’s defensive tackle situation, which many argue leaves a lot to be desired:

  • Harrison Phillips
  • Jerry Tillery
  • Jonathan Bullard
  • Jonah Williams
  • Jaquelin Roy
  • Levi Drake Rodriguez
  • Tyler Manoa
  • Taki Taimani

Many expected the Vikings to splash in free agency for a defensive tackle like Christian Wilkins, Arik Armstead, or the aforementioned Reader, but those candidates were apparently too expensive. Then, the draft arrived last week, and general managers went on a run in Round 2 selecting defensive tackles, leaving Minnesota out in the cold without a 2nd-Round pick to partake.

Lions fans react to a touchdown scored by 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey during the second half of the Lions’ 34-31 loss in the NFC championship game in Santa Clara, California, on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024. © Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK.

Detroit’s defense ranked 13th per DVOA in 2023, a vast improvement from 2022. Other former Vikings on Detroit’s roster at the moment include Marcus Davenport (outside linebacker) and Shane Zylstra (tight end).

Smith turned 27 two weeks ago.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

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