The Detroit Lions are heading into the weekend with a completely depleted secondary. Not only have they lost capable starters in Jeff Okudah and Jerry Jacobs for the season due to injury, but they currently have seven defensive backs on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Despite new protocols that make returning from the reserve/COVID list easier, head coach Dan Campbell said he believes it’s “highly unlikely” they’ll get any of those players back this week.
That bad news, but it’s particularly bad news this week with the high-flying Arizona Cardinals offense coming to town. The Cardinals are averaging 8.2 yards per pass attempt—the highest in the league—and quarterback Kyler Murray has the third-best passer rating in the NFL (106.0).
Detroit is especially thin at outside cornerback this week. While Amani Oruwariye has one position on lock—something he’s done for all season—the other position is currently vacant. Last week’s starter, Jacobs, was lost for the season with a devastating ACL injury. His replacement in the game, Nickell Robey-Coleman, is one of the many on reserve/COVID-19.
Even defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn admitted he’s never experienced anything like this.
“As far as I can remember, no I haven’t,” Glenn said on Thursday.
Defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant isn’t sweating it, though. He’s dealt with a shorthanded room all year, and he believes this adversity—as rare as it may be—is just part of the job.
“I use the phrase ‘That’s why they call you coach,’” Pleasant said this week. “This is my job, this is my profession. I take these challenges personally.”
The Lions are almost certainly going to have to rely on a player, or players, that they added to the roster this week. They claimed Saivion Smith off of waivers Tuesday from the San Francisco 49ers. They added Shakur Brown and Chris Williamson to the practice squad, and there’s a good chance both are elevated to the active roster for Sunday. Parnell Motley, who has been on and off the team since September, is also available on the practice squad.
Pleasant wouldn’t reveal which of these cornerbacks was repping as a starter this week in practice nor who he expects to play against the Cardinals, but he did note that he has been encouraged by each addition’s hunger, knowing they’re getting a rare opportunity this week.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t say that all these young men are almost foaming at the mouth for the opportunity to be able to go out and play,” Pleasant said. “Let’s just be real, guys, this is a chance of a lifetime for some of these guys, to be able to come in and get guaranteed opportunity to be able to play.”