When the Detroit Lions selected Penn State cornerback Amani Oruwariye in the fifth round of the 2019 NFL Draft, suddenly fans were much more optimistic about the draft class. A talent that some pegged as a Day 2 pick, Oruwariye had the physical tools (6-foot-2) that the Lions seem to really like, giving him the opportunity to someday grow into a starter.
Oruwariye took his first significant step towards that on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, as he took his first NFL snaps on defense, logging nine defensive plays in the game. It was a small step, but a significant one, according to defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni.
“(It’s) really, really important for him,” Pasqualoni said a on conference call on Tuesday. “We’re just happy that he’s starting to come around, and he’s getting healthy again. He’s a big, long guy. He’s a great guy, works really hard. So, we’re just hoping that he can continue to have good practices and continue to rehab and get healthy and be available.”
Oruwariye’s development has been slow in Detroit, partially because of injuries he’s had to battle through. A knee injury suffered on special teams against the Chiefs had him scratched for the next four games, just as Oruwariye was starting to make a case for some playing time.
“Amani was close probably a couple of weeks ago to kind of having a little bit more of a role for us on the team in general,” head coach Matt Patricia said on Tuesday. “Usually, those roles for younger players, they occur on special teams—kind of some of the special teams depth, special teams skill areas that we need. He kind of missed a couple of days of practice there with a little bit of an injury.”
But after rehabbing, getting healthier and serving some time on special teams, Oruwariye finally got some playing time on Sunday, getting the nod over reserve corner Mike Ford in the second half.
Though Oruwariye wasn’t targeted in any of his nine defensive plays, Patricia came away hopeful about his limited playing time.
“I thought he played hard, I thought he played aggressive, I thought he tried to do what we asked him to do in both phases, special teams and defense,” Patricia said. “Hopefully, we’ll just continue to try to build from there.”
With the Lions currently at 3-6-1, the secondary struggling, and Oruwariye continuing to get healthier, there’s a good chance we see more of rookie corner as the season goes on. That may be critically important to this team, as the futures of starting cornerbacks Darius Slay (signed through 2020) and Rashaan Melvin (unrestricted free agent in 2020) are currently unclear.