After dealing with a personal issue and being unable to practice for most of training camp, the Detroit Lions announced that they are moving on from CB Quinton Dunbar ahead of their first preseason game.
The 2021 free agent was expected to compete for a starting role at one of the outside cornerback spots, but it was quickly clear that he had fallen behind Jeff Okudah and Amani Oruwariye in the competition. Still, Dunbar was holding a key role as a veteran third corner and provided the Lions with solid depth at the position if something were to happen to either of their up-and-coming youngsters.
Unfortunately, Dunbar’s departure leaves the Lions in a precarious spot, but they appeared to be planning for this situation during the past week of training camp.
“Mike Ford is going to transition a little from nickel going to outside,” coach Dan Campbell said. “We’re going to get a pretty good look at him out there, too. So it just - he gives us more flexibility and a guy who’s done it and played it, knows it. That was really kind of the premise behind doing it.”
Ford, entering his fourth year in the league, has seen time both on the outside and in the slot over his career, but he had been exclusively repping as the team's starting nickel throughout camp. And for all intents and purposes, he was showing signs of improvement.
“I would say I’m comfortable at both, but I’ve been making some plays out in nickel,” Ford said after practice this week. “I’m learning the position day-by-day, getting better at it. That’s just a good thing hearing from you to hear that one of my other brothers spoke on me being good at nickel.”
So what happens now on the outside—Will Ford be the Lions’ new third outside cornerback or will he maintain his starting nickel role?
The answer is probably both... for now.
After Ford, the Lions' outside depth is inexperienced. With Dunbar missing practices, third-round rookie Ifeatu Melifonwu has been repping with the second team, as has UDFA rookie Jerry Jacobs and second-year CB Alex Brown. Everyone else has been primarily working out of the slot. Therefore, if the Lions are in a pinch and need a reserve to step in for Okudah or Oruwariye, Ford is the likely call until Melifonwu is ready.
In the slot, in addition to Ford, the Lions added Nickell Robey-Coleman for depth, with reserve nickel Corn Elder out with injury, and rookie A.J. Parker rounding out the group. Both Robey-Coleman and Elder bring NFL experience, and while both are capable of stepping into the slot and contributing, can either beat out Ford for the starting role? So far in camp, Elder hasn’t been able to, and the verdict is still out on Robey-Coleman. Therefore, this also seems like a role where Ford leads the way.
So for now, Ford becomes a very valuable player in the Lions' secondary and will hold two key roles. The Lions are surely hoping Melifonwu, Robey-Coleman, or Elder can elevate their games and take one of those jobs off Ford’s plate, but none are there at the moment.