Facing questions publicly about the reason why, Lions head coach Dan Campbell kept his explanation simple.
“We base everything off the tape. Period,” Campbell told reporters on September 5. “I’ve spoken to Buggs, that stays between us.”
Controversy has surrounded Buggs for the past few days. On September 3, the defensive tackle scrubbed his Twitter account of all Lions references. That led to fan speculation on Twitter that he could be traded during Labor Day weekend.
But on September 4, Buggs revealed to the media that Campbell told him he will not be on the active roster in Week 1.
“As of right now, they told me that I was not going to play,” Buggs said. “So, that’s what we’ve got, and I’m gonna be straightforward with it, because they were straightforward with me with that. And, as of right now, I will not be playing.”
Lions to Make DT Isaiah Buggs Inactive in Week 1
Campbell declined to answer on September 5 whether Buggs was in a slump or if other defensive tackles are currently performing better than expected. But the head coach made it clear that Buggs isn’t one of the team’s best options at defensive tackle right now.
“We feel like the guys that are best prepared to go this week, for this game, those are the guys that will be up,” said Campbell.
Without Buggs, the Lions will likely play Alim McNeill and Levi Onwuzurike a significant amount of snaps in Week 1. Onwuzurike will be playing his first game since undergoing back surgery last September.
“He’s been through a lot, and through it all, the guy has never complained,” Campbell told reporters. “I know it hasn’t been easy, but he never gave in. He just kept looking for solutions, he kept working, he kept trusting what was being told, and man, he’s worked his way back.
Campbell made it sound like Onwuzurike’s return played a role in Buggs’ benching.
“[Onwuzurike is] really coming on now. He gets better and better every day, every game, every rep,” Campbell said. “So now, man, the real growth begins. That’s a credit to him. He puts the work in. So, I’m happy for him, I’m happy for us. He helps us. He upgrades us.”
Fellow defensive tackles Benito Jones and rookie Brodric Martin could also play significant snaps against the Chiefs.
Campbell Leaves Door Open for Buggs in Week 2
Although Buggs won’t be active for Week 1, Campbell didn’t rule out the veteran defensive tackle still playing a significant role for the Lions this season.
“Absolutely. He’s been told that,” Campbell said in response to whether Buggs as a path back to a role on the active roster. “But it’s no different than any of these players, and that includes practice squad players.
“We tell them, ‘You have an opportunity. Make the most of it, and you’ve got to show us in practice.'”
Campbell used edge rusher James Houston as an example. Houston spent the first 10 games of last season on the practice squad. After weeks of impressive play in practice, the Lions finally elevated him to the active roster in Week 12.
Houston then starred in the final seven games, posting 8 sacks, 7 tackles for loss and 11 quarterback hits.
Although he’s still on the 53-man roster, it sounds as though Buggs will receive another opportunity if he earns it in practice.
Buggs is entering his fifth season in the NFL. He recorded career highs of 46 combined tackles and 10 quarterback hits while starting 13 games last season.
From 2019-21, Buggs had 31 combined tackles, 1 quarterback hit and 2 tackles for loss in 29 games for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He only started seven contests during that three-year stretch.