The Detroit Lions just have the worst injury luck this year, especially when it comes to the cornerback position. The unit is already missing 2020 third overall pick Jeff Okudah, who tore his Achilles in the season opener, and 2021 third-round pick Ifeatu Melifonwu, who has been injured reserve since suffering a leg injury in Week 2.
Now the Lions could be down two more starters this week against the Philadelphia Eagles. Starting nickel cornerback AJ Parker and undrafted rookie Jerry Jacobs were not seen at practice on Thursday during the portion open to the media.
Parker suffered a neck injury in the second half of last week’s game against the Los Angeles Rams. Initially, head coach Dan Campbell said he believed Parker would miss some time, but on Wednesday, the rookie nickel was listed as “limited” for the Lions’ walkthrough practice, and Campbell indicated he was better off than initially believed.
“That’s day-to-day. I would say AJ is better than we thought he was when I talked to you guys last,” Campbell said Wednesday.
If Parker can’t go this Sunday, Campbell indicated this week that Jacobs could slide inside to the nickel position. However, with Jacobs missing Thursday’s practice—though it’s unclear why at this point—Detroit’s secondary issues are beyond dire at this point.
The coaching staff has made one thing clear, though. Undrafted rookie Mark Gilbert, whom the Lions acquired by signing off the Steelers practice squad two weeks ago, will be part of the game plan this Sunday. Campbell indicated the team views him as an outside cornerback, but Aaron Glenn said his amount of playing time against the Eagles remains up in the air.
“That’s the plan, to get him out there and see exactly what he’s got,” defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said on Thursday. “You never know until you put a player out there. I can’t sit there and promise you he’s going to get 20, 30 plays, but I’m sure he’s going to have some plays on special teams and we’ll see exactly what he’ll be able to do for us on defense.”
If Jacobs is out, it would seem likely that Gilbert or Bobby Price steps into his spot at outside corner. But that still leaves the Lions still playerless at the nickel cornerback position. Detroit does have a couple of options on their practice squad, however, in veteran Nickell Robey-Coleman and yet another undrafted rookie in Shakur Brown.
So to recap:
- Second-year CB Jeff Okudah - Out for season
- Rookie third-round pick CB Ifeatu Melifonwu - Still on IR
- NB/KR Corey Ballentine - On IR
- Undrafted rookie NB AJ Parker - Neck injury, could be out
- Undrafted rookie CB Jerry Jacobs - Missed practice for an unknown reason
- Undrafted rookie CB Mark Gilbert - Could potentially start, will definitely play
- Undrafted converted safety Bobby Price - Could potentially start
- Starting nickel: Potentially Jacobs, if healthy. If not, the Lions will have to resort to their practice squad
Or to put it more succinctly, there’s a very real chance the Lions start their third undrafted rookie cornerback on Sunday, and even an outside chance they start a fourth one, too.