Detroit — The last tweet posted by Detroit Lions defensive tackle Nick Williams offered praise and solidarity with Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley, one of the faces of the NFL’s ever-decreasing group of players holding out from getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
On Saturday, Williams, who has been outspoken with his skepticism of both the science and media coverage from the onset of the pandemic, landed on the COVID-19/reserve list. That, along with other depth issues at the position, forced the Lions to add two defensive tackles ahead of Saturday’s practice at Ford Field.
“I am not against vaccines, but I do believe a person has a right to choose which ones they want to receive,” Williams tweeted in June. “All the players in the league won’t be receiving the COVID vaccine but some guys will and that’s totally fine. That’s their decision.”
The league isn’t requiring vaccines, but has encouraged inoculation, significantly reducing restrictions for players who do. Last week, the Washington Post reported that more than 90% of the league’s players have received at least one vaccine dose, while Lions coach Dan Campbell said more than 80% of his team’s roster was vaccinated by the first day of training camp.
Williams, who signed with the Lions as a free agent ahead of the 2020 season, appeared in 14 games, including 13 starts last year. After agreeing to a pay cut this offseason, he has primarily been working with the first-team defense during the first week of training camp.
With Williams absent from Friday’s practice, Da’Shawn Hand and Jashon Cornell each got reps with the top defensive group. Second-round draft pick, Levi Onwuzurike, who recently returned to practice after dealing with a minor injury, also figures to see increased opportunity on the practice field.
With Williams out, and John Penisini and Michael Brockers also recently held out of practices, the Lions added Michael Barnett and P.J. Johnson.
Johnson returns to the Lions after two years. A seventh-round draft pick for the franchise in 2019, he didn’t make the team or practice squad coming out of his first training camp. In the time since, he’s had brief stints with four other teams, but has yet to appear in a regular season game.
Barnett went undrafted out of Georgia last year before signing with the New England Patriots. He spent much of his first season on injured reserve and was waived by the franchise in April.