Rookie cornerback A.J. Parker and fourth-round linebacker Derrick Barnes have been making so many plays that even the casual fans have taken notice.
Parker’s rise in Detroit Lions camp can only be described as meteoric. As an undrafted player, Parker entered camp behind the likes of Mike Ford and Corn Elder on the depth chart at the nickelback position. Since then, Ford has been moved to the outside while Elder spent most of camp sidelined with an injury. That has given Parker first-team reps, and in just a week or two, he’s established himself as a playmaker.
In Saturday’s game against the Steelers—and against a first-string offense, no less—Parker earned the highest PFF grade of any Lions defender while racking up two tackles for loss and a pass breakup.
Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn has certainly taken notice. And while he wanted to make sure the media knew he hasn’t won the nickel job yet, he also made another thing very clear: He’s not afraid to play a rookie when the regular season comes around.
“I learned this from a big-time scout back in the day: you can’t be afraid of young players,” Glenn said. “You can’t do it, and he’s a young player. If he’s going to make plays for us, he’s going to be on the field, and we know there’s going to be growing pains, but like with all rookies, we’re going to continue to coach and get him to where he needs to be.”
It’s the same story for Barnes. While he doesn’t have a direct route to a starting job with Jamie Collins Sr. and Alex Anzalone firmly entrenched as the team’s starters, Glenn basically said he’s going to find a way to put Barnes on the field.
“If you’re a good player, I’ll find a way to put you on the field. Simple as that. He’s a good player, so we’ll find a way,” Glenn said.
That being said, neither Barnes nor Parker are there yet. The plan is the same as it’s been since they arrived on the team: take it slow.
“(The) thing that we want to make sure we do is bring him along slowly. (Parker) still has a lot of things he needs to get better at, and we’re actually going to continue to help him with that.”
The biggest concern with young players is that they’ll make mistakes. And if a player makes too many mistakes, it can hurt their morale or confidence. We saw that happen to Jeff Okudah last season when the Lions threw him into the fire.
But Glenn believes it’s his job to keep the confidence high because in this business, you’re going to give up plays. You’re going to make mistakes. That’s the nature of the game.
“The one thing we will do, we will continue to get their confidence up,” Glenn said. “We’re not going to put them in a position or allow them to not have confidence, even if they do make mistakes. It’s our job as coaches to make sure we lift them up and let them know, ‘Listen, you’re a rookie, things like that happen, but it’s not okay,’” Glenn said.
So don’t be surprised to see Barnes, Parker, and the rest of the Lions’ rookie class to see the field early and often this season.