ALLEN PARK -- Linebacker Ernie Sims and safety Daniel Bullocks, the Lions' two top picks in this year's NFL draft, could both be in the starting lineup for the season opener Sept. 10 against the defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks.
Sims, the Lions' first-round pick, got his first start in the third preseason game Friday night at Oakland after drawing solid reviews from coach Rod Marinelli throughout training camp.
Bullocks, the second-round pick, is pushing veteran Terrence Holt for the starting free safety job while putting in time at both free safety and strong safety.
While Marinelli is reluctant to commit a starting job to either of his young defensive players, it is apparent they are proceeding at a pace the Lions had hoped for when they drafted them in April.
Sims, in particular, has made a strong case for himself at the weak-side linebacker position. He was solid in the preseason opener against Denver, got his first sack in the second game at Cleveland and had three solos among his four tackles at Oakland in the third game.
"I like his awareness, his instincts," Marinelli said. "He has great explosion
in his hips and he's got great instincts in the running game."
Sims' sack against the Browns came on a blitz, but it was the result of hard work and perseverance more than an artistic success. He was initially blocked, but kept going until he finally got to Browns backup quarterback Ken Dorsey.
"He just kind of bounced around and stayed alive and kind of wiggles through them and got it," Marinelli said. "Nothing great but he just stayed alive."
Bullocks is perhaps a step behind Sims in the competition for an opening day starting assignment but he has shown he can play either safety position in a defense that uses the strong and free safeties almost interchangeably.
"He is really a load as a tackler," Marinelli said. "He can tackle. He's got good ball skills. He's got a lot of talent back there, so we've just got to let him compete, let these guys get after each other and let it all shake out."
With the league mandated first roster cutdown just around the corner, the Detroit Lions made their first cuts over the weekend.
The team dumped P Adam Anderson, TE Kori Dickerson, WR Brett Fischer, S Vernon Fox, WR Paris Hamilton, QB Joel Klatt, FB Will Matthews, DT Marcus Parker, K Matt Prater, CB Harrison Smith and TE Jed Weaver, leaving the ball club with 76 players on the active roster. They must reach 75 by 4 p.m. on Tuesday, August 29.
Marinelli said that the release of the players, including Fox, Detroit's 2005 Special Teams MVP, was difficult. However, the moves were made well before the deadline to give each player an opportunity to latch on elsewhere in the league.
"I thought it was important (to release them early)," he said. "Some teams keep them a little bit longer; I don't believe in that. It gives these men a chance to go out and find work right now. I said everything about them the other day at the luncheon. That was important to me to express my feelings at that luncheon, and not so much in a team meeting, of how hard these men worked to earn a living. You've got to appreciate that. They're out there battling to find work and to earn a living and to follow a dream. They're working from March all the way till this point. I have the utmost respect for men that come out and do those types of things - it's impressive. They've all done a great job as Lions. I'd like to wish them all the very best, but that's the tough part of the job and we've got a few more still to go, but we'll clean up and get going."
More cuts are expected on Tuesday.